HONOLULU, Hawaii, January 9, 2015 – Make no mistake about it, the recent flap of terrorist attacks against Western citizens in Australia and now France signify an escalation of the conflicting worldviews between two very different ways of life. While proactive security policies are important, how the West ideologically responds to terrorism and civil unrest is far more important in determining the final, strategic outcome of this clash of civilizations than tactical military and law enforcement solutions.
From the outset, the modern West faces a major systemic disadvantage in defeating ideological-based terrorism. While many would be quick to correctly point out that Western nations are military superior to almost any known threat in the world, how military strength is utilized and for what reasons determine results. Carl von Clausewitz teaches us “victory consists not merely in the conquest on the field of battle but in the destruction of armed forces, physically and morally“. At present, the West is militarily indestructible but culturally and morally glass jawed in the struggle against ideological terrorism.
During the 1979-1989 War in Afghanistan, the Soviets were constantly perplexed by the fact that despite daily, wholesale destruction of dozens, even hundreds of resistance fighters on a battlefield, the next day Afghans would return to fight them again as if nothing had happened the day earlier.
From a bean counting perspective, the Soviet Union with her titanic strength of thousands of fighter-bombers, assault helicopters and elite commandos should have been able to handily defeat and hold Afghanistan. Instead, history showed the opposite to be true, because the Soviets were fighting for purely political and economic purposes in the region while their poorly equipped Afghan opponents battled for national and religious identity. The Soviets could defeat their enemies in Afghanistan physically, but not morally.
The late Alexander Solzhenitsyn warned in 1978 “A decline in courage may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days … Of course, there are many courageous individuals, but they have no determining influence on public life. Political and intellectual bureaucrats [in the West] show depression, passivity, and perplexity in their actions and in their statements, and even more so in theoretical reflections to explain how realistic, reasonable, as well as intellectually and morally worn it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice. And decline in courage is ironically emphasized by occasional explosions of anger and inflexibility on the part of the same bureaucrats when dealing with weak governments and with countries not supported by anyone, or with currents which cannot offer any resistances. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists.”
Long before President Obama’s teleprompters and notorious press secretaries, long before the drawing of red lines in Syria and U.N. backed interventions in Libya, long before the abortive invasion of Iraq and all of the modern national security crises that plague the daily news cycle, Solzhenitsyn saw in the 1970s the beginnings of the West’s cultural and moral decline.
Great empires require a unified national identity in order to remain solvent against challenges to their sovereignty. Every empire faces barbarians, but the most successful empires prevail through moral and military superiority. The Chinese tactician Sun Tzu tells us “Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger.” The West’s enemies – however irrational and wicked they may be – have persuaded themselves that they are are righteous crusaders in a mission to destroy a “Great Satan.”
By contrast, the modern West has no such cultural identity to speak of. In America, multiculturalism is at direct odds with American nationalism. The Western obsession with self-defeating checklist multicultural approval and political correctness manifests most absurdly in elections where “American Asians for so-and-so” “Women for this-and-that” “Christians against such-and-such” special interest factions jockey to appoint their preferred candidates and oppose alliances of other factions. In America, recent riots are less about perceptions of justice and more about long seated cultural and racial paranoia. All of these are symptoms of a lack of unified thought and cultural identity.
Western Europeans may rally together for the “nationalism” of a football game and Americans can feel united in taking the Fourth of July off to barbecue and drink together, but Western multiculturalism has no adequate answer for the unified cultural jihad of her enemies.
When radical Islamic forces accuse the West of being infidels, the West somehow presumes eating bacon in greater excess or publishing more pornography in amplified mediums will somehow make the terrorists go away. That may be fine for consumers in countries completely untouched by war, but as history has shown, the West has a moral aversion to prolonged conflict and often surrenders to protracted, bloodied battles.
The West has lost her unique national identity as a result of liberalism and the rejection of the belief in an absolute truth. The modern West speaks of “globalization” and “greater interconnectivity” while her modern enemies sound strangely Westphalian in fighting for cultural/religious sovereignty, national identity, and geographic isolation.
Modern Westerners are weakened by the fact that they cannot take absolute pride in their traditional culture or national identity without being accused of ethnocentrism, racism or military fascism. In America, conservatives who wish to preserve long-held traditions are branded by liberals and libertarians as “dinosaurs” and decried as stealth racists whenever they demand demonstrated patriotism as a prerequisite for national service. This insistence on “anything goes” and “barbecue sacred cows” thinking is both the greatest strength and the worst weakness of the West as a whole.
If the West is to defeat the hordes of barbarians now at the gate, her nations will have to seek renewed national identity and unity of thought. A house divided cannot stand.