The other evening, I found myself wasting time channel-surfing through the dreck on TV, rather than more fruitfully reading Gibbon or Sowell as I might have been. As luck would have it, I happened upon a 1943 film The Life and Death of Col. Blimp. Herewith find the IMDB plot summary of this interesting cinematographic relic:
Portrays in warm-hearted detail the life and loves of one extraordinary man. We meet the imposingly rotund General Clive Wynne-Candy, a blustering old duffer who seems the epitome of stuffy, outmoded values. Traveling backwards 40 years we see a different man altogether: the young and dashing officer "Sugar" Candy. Through a series of relationships with three women and his lifelong friendship with a German officer, we see Candy's life unfold and come to understand how difficult it is for him to adapt his sense of military honor to modern notions of "total war." ... Clive Candy V.C. has fought in the Boer War and the first world war. He still believes he can win any fight with honour and maintaining "gentlemanly conduct". It takes an old German friend of his to point out how much the rules have been changed when fighting the Nazis. We follow this delightful gentleman through his life and the pursuit of his (various) ideals. [emphasis added]
To be clear, General Candy is the Col. Blimp of the title. Col. Blimp was a derisive term used to describe senior British (and occasionally American) military officers in charge at the beginning of World War II who wanted to fight Hitler using the antiquated techniques and "fair play" rules that had held sway during World War I and earlier.
As Norway, the Fall of France, and Dunkirk quickly showed, this plan didn't work out so well. The Col. Blimps were mostly removed from service in the European theater and sent out to pasture in the Far East - leading to the disasters of Singapore and the HMS Prince of Wales.
The point of the movie, and of popular sentiment at the time it was made, is that the Allies had to fight in a manner every bit as determined, hard-nosed, and cold-blooded as Hitler's hordes if there was to be any chance of victory. As one of the movie characters tells Gen. Candy:
If you preach the Rules of the Game while they use every foul and filthy trick against you, they will laugh at you! They'll think you're weak, decadent!
Indeed, the Allies did change their methods of fighting, leading to the firebombings of Dresden and Tokyo and the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Rather than bomb the railway lines leading to Auschwitz and Treblinka and perhaps slowing the Holocaust, we bombed the factories of the Ruhr to slow the Wehrmacht's war machine.
Today, at nearly seventy years' remove, a lot of modern Col. Blimps second-guess the desperate decisions made in those days, having no conception of what it means to have your country's very existence threatened at a time when the very existence of freedom in the world was hanging by a thread.
You may think you know where this article is headed - that we will now discuss the importance of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques on terrorists, and why al Qaeda members do not deserve fair trials or the comforts of the Geneva Convention. That's a valid point - for another time. For now, let us instead consider a recent article by Andrew Breitbart which is making waves across the Internet:
The Democratic Party's attitude to elections is admirable: Win. And recent history has shown it will do anything to do so.
When, if not now, will Republicans develop such a fighting spirit?
Democrats invest - with taxpayer money, mind you - in groups like ACORN that, among other sordid tactics, seek out Skid Row bodies and wheel them to polling places. All the Democratic National Committee needs are vans and smelling salts. Pop culture and the "education system" have done the rest, making "D" the default choice on Election Day...
Republicans, on the other hand, act like a snobby condo board and appear to seek out potential voters for their savoriness. The party expects pre-existing respectable organizations, Protestant churches in particular, to do the heavy lifting. In this day of dwindling Republican appeal, the party's ace in the hole is heard at the end of the polling day: "Have they counted the overseas military vote yet?" It's amazing Republicans ever win.
This observation is painful because it is so very true. How many times have we seen the Democrats kneecapping Republicans in every possible way? ACORN ran an organized campaign to install far-left hacks into Secretary of State offices nationwide for the purposes of manipulating elections to benefit Democrats; as a result, we see close elections being reported as a tiny victory for the Republican, and then mysteriously changing to the other column after interminable recounts under the supposedly fair authority of these carefully-selected Secretaries of State. We hear of repeated attempts to drive conservatives from the public airwaves even more than they already are; for all that the right complains about the overt bias of the New York Times, has any conservative ever advocated that it be banned?
When Republicans are in office, small businesses and churches carry on much as before; when Democrats take over, their core supporters in unions receive lavish rewards at your expense - just this week, the UAW was gifted with effective control of two of the ex-Big Three and the potential for disproportionate clout elsewhere via EFCA. It's fast becoming a requirement to donate to Democrats if you want to stay in business: should the Republican win, he won't mind, but if a Democrat wins, you can kiss your business goodbye if you didn't send the Democrats a healthy check.
There's a problem. For Republicans to copy Democratic techniques would require them to cease to be Republicans in any visible way.
Democrats have long, loudly, and in plain language advocated their belief that government should control private business; for them to exercise this kind of power is nothing more than they promised. Republicans, on the other hand, run on a platform of light regulatory handling; while they could go after Democrat-heavy funding sources, it would violate their principles.
And in recent years, we've seen all too well what happens when Republicans abandon their principles: George W Bush is not highly thought of on the right, in large part because of his profligate spending on entitlements, TARP, and the initial GM/Chrysler bailout; and combined with the usual Democratic venom, the whole Republican party was tarred with the same brush and shellacked at the polls, distrusted by all.
If you run on a platform of clean fighting, winning is not as simple as getting down in the muck to duke it out with sewer dwellers. There is a natural handicap of the moral high ground. Everybody knows about Ted Kennedy's adventures with ladies; no Republican would be allowed to get away with half so many escapades. But Republicans run on "family values"; Chappaquiddick Ted endorses anything but, so he can't be charged with hypocrisy.
There is an answer, though - not an easy one, nor a pretty one, but one founded in history and realism. As Jefferson and Lincoln well knew, and the Supreme Court eventually said, our Constitution is not a suicide pact.
Churchill and Roosevelt did not long attempt to fight the Axis following Marquess of Queensberry rules of gentlemanly behavior and fair play. By the end of the war, they were willing to hit Hitler in the goolies whenever possible, by deception and spycraft as well as neatly ordered uniformed regiments. But they never stooped all the way to his level.
Did the Allied troops kill German civilians? Yes - but not on purpose for that purpose alone, only when there was a related military objective like slowing war manufacturing.
Did the British torture captured Germans? Well, they didn't haul out the thumbscrew and the rack, nor hang people from meathooks as did the Nazis - but, contrary to Obama's flat-out wrong characterization, Churchill was entirely comfortable with what would today be called Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.
In short, the Second World War clearly demonstrates that it is possible to fight hard, even to fight dirty, and to win, without compromising your underlying moral position or principles.
Republicans like to talk about how the Democratic Party is out to destroy everything that makes America American. Do they really believe this?
Churchill knew that Hitler was out to do exactly that to England. Churchill knew that Hitler had to be stopped by any means necessary, yet without turning Britain into a fascist state. He succeeded. It can be done.
At the end of Col. Blimp, even the old duffer recognized that times had changed and new techniques were required, but he didn't sell his soul. He knew what was right, and he'd learned to distinguish the truly important from "the rules."
It's time for Republicans to do the same. A German friend told Gen. Candy:
If you let yourself be defeated by them, just because you are too fair to hit back the same way they hit at you, there won't be any methods *but* Nazi methods!
The Democrats are not Nazis. We are mostly not dealing with murderers or genocidal maniacs, depending on your view of abortion - and even there, our country is not yet so far gone that it's time to resort to armed vigilantism; murdering a murderer is still murder. But for all that the other side is far from being as evil as it's possible to be, still they are worth opposing.
If they aren't opposed effectively, they'll win and keep on winning. If we don't like their methods, then it's essential to do what needs to be done to ensure that those methods don't prevail.
Otherwise, we are no more useful than Benjamin Guggenheim on the Titanic, who said:
We are dressed in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen.
Very noble - and shortly thereafter, very dead. Let's be Americans and fight tooth and nail, true to our principles, but giving no quarter to phony "bipartisanship" unless it helps move the ball in the right direction.
If we do that, we'll prevail.