On the Only Lights Left in the World

 

I am reminded that today is the 80th Anniversary of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. I am embarrassed to admit that my own understanding of our history with respect to this event goes little beyond what was still being taught in schools when I was a kid; the few children’s books that provide a basic overview; stories of the Second World War, which must necessarily describe an event that finally brought the reality of war close enough to home that the United States could no longer sit back, somewhat coldly debating “someone else’s problem.”

I have a friend who was eight years old at the time, in Toppenish, WA, which looked much, much different than it does today – he showed me a class picture from that year and pointed to four young Japanese-American friends of his. They left … and eventually they came back. People leave and come back all the time, and even in the 1930s, you don’t think much of it at the time.

He tells me about the water, which was outside. He tells me about a doctor who had arthritis and used to come over to the ranch in order to get stung by the bees — his Grandfather was a gardener who cultivated flowers and kept bees. The pictures themselves display a massive technological advancement that 80 years can bring, even without observing their content, noting the farming implementations, the styles, the vehicles. Today, I am more struck by what hasn’t changed.

Jim cannot tell me about what his parents were discussing at home during that time; he cannot tell me about whether the totalitarianism that swept through Europe was the envy of his local bureaucrats and intellectuals, or whether they looked over in disgust, and then sat their older children down to talk about the importance of checks and balances, separation of powers, the importance of liberty. I wonder what the doctor thought. Stung by bees; and I’m sure there was some truth behind something like that. Maybe it worked. I suppose you might call it a non-pharmaceutical intervention.

Strange anniversary. Stranger perhaps in 2021 than it was even a year ago. This morning, I opened up CafeHayek and saw an excerpt from a piece that is titled, The Death of Europe:

Europe is on a precipice. It has marched, blindly, towards something very much resembling tyranny. Austria will shortly criminalise those who refuse the Covid vaccine. Germany looks set to follow. Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, is wondering out loud if every member state should do likewise and make offenders of those who reject this form of medication. In Italy you are deprived of your livelihood rather than your liberty if you say no to vaccination: the unvaxxed are not permitted to work. Anywhere. In Greece, everyone over the age of 60 must pay the government 100 euros for every month they remain unvaxxed. As if the Greek government, in cahoots with its masters in Brussels, had not immiserated Greek pensioners enough already.

Donald Boudreaux adds his own thoughts as an aside:

Why are so few voices protesting this hellish tyranny that is now sweeping across the globe? If – and this “if” is big – humanity recovers its senses and liberalism survives Covid hysteria, our children and grandchildren will look back on today’s goings-on with much the same mix of revulsion and “How could human beings have done that?!” with which we today look back on the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre and other brutal religious persecutions.

My goodness. But a person doesn’t even really have to look to Europe. In New York City, the outgoing mayor has announced sweeping mandatory covid 19 vaccinations. Mandates have extended to private sector educators, but they go beyond that:

[NYC health commissioner, Dave A.] Chokshi said the city will also require those aged 5–11 to have at least one vaccine shot in order to enter restaurants and other public venues. The city will also now require people aged 12 and up to get at least two doses of the vaccine to enter these places. Previously, people aged 12 and over only needed one shot to go to restaurants, gyms, and entertainment venues, and anyone younger didn’t need to be vaccinated at all.

Is this our Pearl Harbor? The bombing of London? Perhaps not. Media coverage sounds less like Joel McCrea and more like Lincoln Steffens. World War II had been raging for two years before the United States felt threatened enough to step into the fracas. Eighty years later, a great many of us look out over the world as it descends into quite another form of tyranny – but I’m thinking about Joel and Alfred; I’m thinking about C.S. Lewis, many of whose books began or ended with a wall caving in; I’m thinking about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and wondering whether he ever looked around at his friends in astonishment; I’m thinking about all of the children in brown shirts, in red shirts, in masks, all being taught not to question, not to challenge, all blindly and obediently part of the solution. I am thinking about all the advancements that have been made, and wondering whether I should have ever needed to show proof of a bee sting in order to go watch the symphony. But the more I think about these things, the more I keep going back to Jim and his little Japanese-American friends, who disappeared, and some of whom came back; the more I keep thinking that my analogy is all wrong.

Jim pointed to the two Japanese brothers in the third row. One day, he said, they were just gone, and I never really thought about it until much later. The brothers came back a few years later. The older one graduated valedictorian of his class. The brother and sister, there in the front row — they didn’t ever come back. I think they moved, somewhere, the midwest. Their dad was a farmer, and a good one. Jim’s grandfather knew him.

Whenever someone asks me why I need so many guns, I generally give a sarcastic look of confusion. I have a Walther Model 9, chambered in .25ACP, and, just as when it was popular in the 1920s, it fits perfectly into a vest pocket. Sure, today we find fewer occasions to wear vests, and though the Model 9 most often sits up on a shelf alongside the railroad watch that my dad gave to me, who doesn’t want to have a beautiful little gun that fits perfectly into a vest pocket? Is this a serious question?

What it really reminds me of is the fact that I have too few guns; after all, three of those AR-15’s are chambered in .223. Where is my 300 blackout? Where is my 224 Valkyrie? Notably absent between the 12-gauge shotguns and the 16 is a 20-gauge! Why indeed do I need so many guns, and what need have I of critics, when I have friends like you to constantly remind me of my poverty, to gawk at my glass half empty, to rub salt in the wound of my peasant’s arsenal? And what need do you have of so many shirts, so many shoes, why so many rooms in your house when people could very easily sleep on the living room floor?

Why do I need? Of course, I don’t. I can give you a reason for every little thing that I collect. Why do I need so many tools in my garage; why do I need a bucket of baseballs instead of just one; why do I need anything at all, for that matter, when I could live in a clay pot and carry a lamp around all day? But I’m not a cynic; there is a lot more to life than utility, just as there is a lot more to life than avoiding a virus. I don’t need so many guns – what I do need is for there to be as many guns as possible in the hands of as many people as possible. I can learn that lesson from one of the many superfluous books on my shelf, which references any number of figures who debated the American Constitution; I could learn that lesson from Jim, who used to carry a 1911 on skis, while stationed up in Alaska. Not because of the skis, or the 1911, but because of the friends who disappeared back when he was only eight.

Australia doesn’t have any guns to speak of, but it does now have internment camps. The camps house Australians who have tested positive for a virus so ubiquitous that it has swept across the entire globe; a virus that could easily be made into a textbook explanation for virologists wondering how mutations bring about the common cold, but one that will instead become a textbook explanation for how totalitarianism needs only a spark. It is freedom that requires vigilance, constant attention, constant reminders, and a well-armed militia.

When I think about our internment camps, it may be with revulsion, but it isn’t without a certain degree of understanding. The reality of bombs falling from the sky is indeed a frightening one, and for most people, the attack on Pearl Harbor seemed to come from nowhere. Under those circumstances, fear is powerful, and the tendency for most is to give in to that fear, to one extent or another. During that particular war, fear gave rise to a great many things that should never have been. With so many young men volunteering to fight, a draft was likely unnecessary and even counterproductive. With so much innovation, with expansion of the labor markets; a deregulated economy would likely have produced more than a tightly controlled wartime economy.

In our fear, we turned to power. Much of that power that we relinquished to our government was never returned, and ironically, what we ended up with at the end of the war turned out to be a major push toward giving us the systems that we had just defeated. We couldn’t even learn the lessons that were right before our eyes as we landed in the smoldering ruins of Europe, and as we helped to build it back, we never thought to build back all that we had destroyed at home. Liberty was a casualty that didn’t come home in a body bag; it wasn’t buried with ceremony and tears and recognized with monuments and parades, and 80 years later, we look around and wonder where it went.

Why are so few voices protesting this hellish tyranny that is now sweeping across the globe?

Looking back at history, I can only wonder how long it has been since we’ve actually fought tyranny. Those absent voices are the same ones that have always been absent. Here are the voices who tell us that the only meaningful battles are against some tangible enemy. These are the voices who applaud when we adopt the tactics of the fascist, so long as we defeat the man named Hitler. Tyranny is not something that can be fought in a battle the way we fight individual tyrants; it arises organically among people who have given in to fear. The simple answer is a discouraging one — the voices that would protest hellish tyranny are always loudest when there is no hellish tyranny to protest. They rant about the figures of the past and they call it tyranny. They protest their opponents of today by calling them tyrants, but it is always the man, the politician, the long-dead, or the distant enemy. When tyranny arises, those voices are silent; they are silent because they acquiesce because they are afraid. They cannot fight tyranny because they are the ones who demand it.

Liberty requires one of two things: the absence of fear or the acceptance of fear. There really isn’t any middle ground. Today, we look around and wonder where all of our friends went. We think about the conversation that we were having years ago when Democrats controlled the presidency and Congress, when universal health care was being pushed, Supreme Court justices debated and battled over; those voices talked a lot about tyranny and freedom and liberty, about constitutional protections, checks and balances, presidential overreach. Those voices cried about the tyrant who would rule with a phone and a pen, and then they cried about the tyrant who would rule with a different phone and a Twitter account; they cried about tyrants in the absence of fear.

Obamacare is bad the way the New Deal is bad — it is inconvenient, it is foolish, but it isn’t scary. Democrats, the media, and even a great body of people on the right cried about the tyranny of January 6. Nobody was afraid of January 6. An insurrection requires military force to overthrow a government, and nobody was afraid that a man in a buffalo hat commanded the military force to overthrow even a building, much less a country. The cognitive dissonance of praising six months of violent left-wing riots while crying tyranny over one day of right-wing protesting is only possible in the absence of fear.

Liberty in the midst of fear is difficult. It requires an understanding of the true nature of tyranny, the true source of tyranny. It requires a people who accept fear, who own it, who do not beg to be released from it; people who do not beg for safety.

The speech was a good one, when it was made by a man who was standing in a darkened room that shook from the falling bombs:

It’s too late to do anything here now except stand in the dark and let them come… as if the lights were all out everywhere, except in America. Keep those lights burning, cover them with steel, ring them with guns, build a canopy of battleships and bombing planes around them. Hello, America, hang on to your lights: they’re the only lights left in the world!

That man (though fictional) was surely brave, and his countrymen were brave. I said that a draft was unnecessary because my grandfather was brave — he loved liberty, even if he didn’t fully understand it. Men and women volunteered for the war for the same reason that they joined the workforce at home, for the same reason they made sacrifices that didn’t need to be required of them. Tyranny crept into the United States because the war gave it an excuse to do so, and because people believed they were fighting tyranny when they were only fighting some of the tyrants.

There is a hellish tyranny sweeping across the world. There is a hellish tyranny sweeping across the United States. It doesn’t wear uniforms or jackboots, and it isn’t dropping bombs. It is the same tyranny that we neglected to defeat 80 years ago; the one that finds enemies at home and puts them into camps for their own safety and for that of their countrymen; the one that asks to see your papers; the one that promises to keep you safe by protecting you against your neighbor, and even yourself.

I am less concerned about the lack of voices speaking out, and more concerned about the lack of minds that truly understand just what it is that gives rise to tyranny. Those people we thought were our friends — those voices decrying so many tyrants — they were good at spotting tyrants because that is easy politics; the tyrant is whichever politician I don’t like. They failed to understand that tyranny is not something that appears out of nowhere, brought by some malicious individual. It comes from the ground up and is demanded by the very people it victimizes.

In order to recognize and fight against tyranny, you have to know enough to see it as it arises in yourself. In other words, when you are afraid, when you desire safety and protection, tyranny is something that you must actively reject, even when it means accepting responsibility for whatever it is that frightens you.

Liberty in the midst of fear is difficult.

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  1. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    Flicker (View Comment):
    They are vapors that pass with the morning light.  I would explain this to you without words, but you would be incapable of understanding.

    I don’t know about that.  I just explained something to my chair without words, and I’m pretty sure it got the point.

    • #31
  2. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    @ BDB called this post “magnificent”. Me too. I’ve never called a post that before and I doubt that @ BDB has either.

    I hope you all agree with BDB, and with me except for my grammar.

    Grammar is just a social construct.

    “just”?

    What are social contracts…chopped liver?

    They are vapors that pass with the morning light. I would explain this to you without words, but you would be incapable of understanding.

    That’s not my fault. And if it were, fault is a just social construct anyway.

    So they say.

    But who are “they”, anyway? 

    • #32
  3. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    Hammer, The (Ryan M) (View Comment):

    Ed G. (View Comment):

    ….

    There is a line. It cannot be true that all government action is legitimate because we voluntarily leave here (and if you don’t like it, move or vote for someone else!). I acknowledge that governments must exist, but we greatly limit the authority of those governments. I do not believe that it is constitutional to delegate legislative authority to bureaucrats, for instance, who are not elected. Yet, what are we seeing with the CDC, with Fauci, et. al? We are seeing a sort of nanny-state health-based totalitarianism that is very clearly outside the scope of our “agreed upon” system of governance. But also keep in mind that what we’re discussing is what our response should be – I’m writing in fairly broad terms because I happen to think that the very abuses over which we fight the obvious tyrant (as in WWII) are of a kind that we should be equally vigilant against, no matter how local or how innocuous they might seem (hence, my example of fighting Hitler while ignoring the rise of a tyrannical mindset at home). We do still live in a constitutional republic, and it is still meaningful and effective to change attitudes and minds – I don’t know to what extent this is possible in Europe or Australia, but if enough Americans stood up and simply refused to comply, it would stop here.

    Agreed, this covid stuff is going beyond the legitimate and our mere presence does not confer legitimacy. What if enough Americans don’t agree with us, which appears to be the case at least for now? Of course they’re being propagandized, pandered to, lied to, and incited. So we’re talking about appropriate response to this state of affairs; I say the appropriate response is to counter propaganda with reality and vote accordingly, perhaps some civil disobedience when it comes to objecting to forced medication. But what if the other people would respond to my strenuous objections by saying they heard the objection and overruled it? There is some element built into the system that gives some room for disagreements like this. How much room? Heck, even on a conservative leaning slice of the internet like this thread on this website we won’t be able to agree on where that line should be drawn, on when the next lecel of action is warranted.

    • #33
  4. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    Hammer, The (Ryan M) (View Comment):

    Flicker (View Comment):

    These people I mention can only honestly deny their guilt by having their consciences seared to insensate scar tissue.

    They know, but they deny that they know, and the bottom line is they don’t care.

    Exactly right. I hope that it doesn’t sound like I’m minimizing that truth. DeBlasio is a tyrant, for instance. Newsome, Inslee, Brown… these individuals are corrupt liars and they are knowingly and cynically engaging in power grabs while openly deceiving. Much of the media is equally complicit, and they are not stupid, either. My point that “tyrants do not cause tyranny,” but that people accept and often demand it, should in no way deny the evil of actual tyrants.

    Agreed again. That’s all a thing. I just wonder how much people are demanding it knowingly and how much people think they’re soberly reckoning with extreme circumstances because they are being lied to? I also wonder what it will take for these people to wake up. 

    It also leads me to another wedge issue of the day: breaking up big tech monopoly on the public square because they are ideologically censoring despite the protections the public has extended them in exchange for providing this platform on which the public square exists now. It can be argued that breaking up the big tech monopolies or removing liability protection is tyrannical, but it can also be argued that no one signed up to be defacto force-fed poison and certain protections were only extended in the first place on condition of viewpoint neutrality. 

    • #34
  5. Hammer, The (Ryan M) Member
    Hammer, The (Ryan M)
    @RyanM

    Ed G. (View Comment):

    Hammer, The (Ryan M) (View Comment):

    Ed G. (View Comment):

    ….

    There is a line. It cannot be true that all government action is legitimate because we voluntarily leave here (and if you don’t like it, move or vote for someone else!). I acknowledge that governments must exist, but we greatly limit the authority of those governments. I do not believe that it is constitutional to delegate legislative authority to bureaucrats, for instance, who are not elected. Yet, what are we seeing with the CDC, with Fauci, et. al? We are seeing a sort of nanny-state health-based totalitarianism that is very clearly outside the scope of our “agreed upon” system of governance. But also keep in mind that what we’re discussing is what our response should be – I’m writing in fairly broad terms because I happen to think that the very abuses over which we fight the obvious tyrant (as in WWII) are of a kind that we should be equally vigilant against, no matter how local or how innocuous they might seem (hence, my example of fighting Hitler while ignoring the rise of a tyrannical mindset at home). We do still live in a constitutional republic, and it is still meaningful and effective to change attitudes and minds – I don’t know to what extent this is possible in Europe or Australia, but if enough Americans stood up and simply refused to comply, it would stop here.

    Agreed, this covid stuff is going beyond the legitimate and our mere presence does not confer legitimacy. What if enough Americans don’t agree with us, which appears to be the case at least for now? Of course they’re being propagandized, pandered to, lied to, and incited. So we’re talking about appropriate response to this state of affairs; I say the appropriate response is to counter propaganda with reality and vote accordingly, perhaps some civil disobedience when it comes to objecting to forced medication. But what if the other people would respond to my strenuous objections by saying they heard the objection and overruled it? There is some element built into the system that gives some room for disagreements like this. How much room? Heck, even on a conservative leaning slice of the internet like this thread on this website we won’t be able to agree on where that line should be drawn, on when the next lecel of action is warranted.

    Fortunately, individual rights still matter, and they do not have the right to force you to accept these things.  I am shocked (and extremely discouraged) that courts have seemed unwilling to stand up to this madness.  DeBlasio’s mandates are just as illegal as Biden’s (federalism does not cure illegality).  But it really is a sort of madness, and I do think that people will eventually wake up. 

    • #35
  6. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Hammer, The (Ryan M):

    Donald Boudreaux adds his own thoughts as an aside:

    Why are so few voices protesting this hellish tyranny that is now sweeping across the globe? If – and this “if” is big – humanity recovers its senses and liberalism survives Covid hysteria, our children and grandchildren will look back on today’s goings-on with much the same mix of revulsion and “How could human beings have done that?!” with which we today look back on the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre and other brutal religious persecutions.

    My Goodness. But a person doesn’t even really have to look to Europe. In New York City, . . . .

    Nazis and southern slaveholders didn’t always know they were doing evil. It seems obvious now, and it should have been obvious then, but it wasn’t obvious–not to the sinners who needed to know it the most.

    To help us not do evil that will be obvious in the future but not to us, we’ve learned rules. Rules about things like the rights to life, liberty, freedom of religion, and freedom of speech; honesty; and minding our own business most of the time while doing our best to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

    I think it will be obvious in the future that many Covid policies were badly, badly wrong. I think it’s plain enough now, but if it’s not, then here’s a major clue: Covid policies are going against all the rules we learned about all the other times humans did terribly, terribly wrong things to each other.

    But there is evil, knowing evil, involved. I’m sure of it. as a minor example, every governor who requires masks and physical distancing and closing of particular businesses, but chooses not to wear masks, or distance, or who leaves open or otherwise patronizes his favorite shops, they know what they are doing is something akin to lying; they know that the directives they are giving are not functionally protective — otherwise they would be following their own directives.

    And though I can’t prove it, Facui must absolutely know that he has been wrong for close to a year now regarding the vaccine, and masks, and physical distancing. He is not stupid, he is lying and in the process hurting others, to preserve his own interests — most obviously, to not get into trouble or be proven wrong about anything.

    These people I mention can only honestly deny their guilt by having their consciences seared to insensate scar tissue.

    They know, but they deny that they know, and the bottom line is they don’t care.

    Well, that’s true.

    And it’s also an old rule. The negative Golden Rule. Good ol’ Confucius!

    In this case, silver is better than gold.

    • #36
  7. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    @ryanm

    As wonderful as your dichotomy of freedom vs. fear is, (and it is indeed) it doesn’t explain the fundamental reason to love freedom. Your Grandfather loved liberty  because he believed that a free people can live beautifully in freedom. In terms of economics, it’s easy to compare Solyandra with Tesla. But most people don’t care about economics. They care about morality and those who resist tyranny tend to be the people who believe that people can be more virtuous and and more beautiful under freedom.

    If freedom just enables people to do drugs, binge Netflix and make trashy excuses for art, I would not freedom worth defending. If freedom lets regular people produce more wealth to be directed towards their families and their communities and it lets the creative types create some really moving pieces of literature or film than it might be worth picking up a gun for.

    • #37
  8. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    @ ryanm

    As wonderful as your dichotomy of freedom vs. fear is, (and it is indeed) it doesn’t explain the fundamental reason to love freedom. Your Grandfather loved liberty because he believed that a free people can live beautifully in freedom. In terms of economics, it’s easy to compare Solyandra with Tesla. But most people don’t care about economics. They care about morality and those who resist tyranny tend to be the people who believe that people can be more virtuous and and more beautiful under freedom.

    If freedom just enables people to do drugs, binge Netflix and make trashy excuses for art, I would not freedom worth defending. If freedom lets regular people produce more wealth to be directed towards their families and their communities and it lets the creative types create some really moving pieces of literature or film than it might be worth picking up a gun for.

    I agree with you also. Some no man is an island and few could or would even want to be, the next best is freedom under federalism and su sidiarity. The really important things should be decided as locally as possible. That too sometimes involves some degree of compromise. Some call it subordination, I’m not so sure that captures my idea of living in the world free though.

    • #38
  9. Hammer, The (Ryan M) Member
    Hammer, The (Ryan M)
    @RyanM

    Oh, in case anyone cares… The movie is “Foreign Correspondent,” Alfred Hitchcock. Great movie.

    • #39
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