Impromptus

Taking a hill, &c.

by Jay Nordlinger

Earlier this week, I had a blogpost on the defense budget. It was called “Decline Is a Choice. A Bad One.” It began,

“Last year, when President Obama nominated Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense, I said, ‘The president wants a Republican war hero to preside over the gutting of American defenses. Hagel will be his cover.’ Even as I said it, I was hoping it wasn’t true. But it is true, I’m afraid.”

Whenever you write as I did, people tell you about Eisenhower and the “military-industrial complex,” as though you never heard of that phrase, or the speech in which it was used.

What Eisenhower said was important — particularly for January 1961 (which is when he gave the speech).

In any event, I was especially interested in an Eisenhower statement that a reader shared with me. Ike said some version of this:

“You have a hill. A good platoon could take it, but would have heavy casualties. A good company could take it with fewer casualties; a bad company might not be able to take it. What do you do? You make it the objective for a two-battalion attack, and they’ll take it without firing a shot.”

Our reader (a retired captain in the infantry) said, “Overwhelming force saves soldiers’ lives.”

Yes. I don’t mind a little redundancy in the military. A related point is, the stronger your defenses, the less likely you are to have to use them. “Peace through Strength” is not a mere slogan.

A different reader, who works in the defense arena, made a very important point:

“You surely have heard the joke that, given the overwhelming predominance of entitlement spending in the federal budget, the United States is not a nation but instead a pension plan with an army.” I had never heard that, but it is a good joke.

Well, continued our reader, “the military is itself increasingly a pension plan that also fights wars on occasion.”

Yes. That is a huge problem. Because, if you attempt to do anything about this — if you attempt to enact some reform — someone, or many someones, will say, “Why are you breaking faith with our warriors?”

Con Coughlin, in the Telegraph, had a blunt blogpost: “America’s enemies will be delighted by the latest cuts to its military strength.” Sure.

And Janet Daley, in the same newspaper, or at the same website, had a blunt question: “So tell me, those of you who have demanded for years that America and the West should end their ‘domination’ of geopolitics, and their interference in the affairs of far-flung nations: is this what you wanted? A free-for-all for rogue states, lunatic extremists and long-dead imperial powers, in which the lives and freedoms of populations caught up in the murderous power play would count for nothing?”

One more go, from Daley: “If Ukraine — or Syria for that matter — eventually finds its way to some form of stable democracy, it will have been with precious little help from the West, which seems to be either uninterested (America) or useless (the EU). So I ask again: is this what those who longed for a post-American, post-Western world had in mind?”

Some of them did, yes. Some of them, no. And they should reconsider. In America, the Obamite Left and the Paulite Right are teaming to gut our defenses and relinquish world leadership. Most other people are indifferent, I think — and to be indifferent is to cast a vote, in a sense. Because the most energized will get their way.

Do you know what I mean?

Earlier this month, I had a “Hillsdale Journal” — some notes on a visit to Hillsdale College, in Hillsdale, Mich. In the current National Review, I have a piece on the college (and higher education generally): “A Campus Apart.” I’d like to make some further points here.

Hillsdale College is an odd place — at least from my perspective — because the overwhelming majority are conservative. I’m used to places, certainly campuses, where the overwhelming majority are liberal, or rather, left-wing.

As I say in my magazine piece, I am acutely sensitive to those in a political or philosophical minority. I have had ample experience in such a minority. Very, very few on the left have said, “You know, Jay’s here. Jay’s among us. We’d better cool it on the politics — or at least speak in respectful tones.” They have just used their majority numbers to plow through.

Consider mealtime: Have you ever been at a table where you were the only conservative? And others mocked or scorned your point of view, or acted as though you weren’t there? Now and then, I’ll be at a table with conservatives, plus one or two liberals — outnumbered liberals. And I will do anything to keep the conversation from politics (unless a purpose of the gathering is political). I don’t want anyone uncomfortable, as I have been so many times.

In the summer of 2012, some of us cruised around the Great Lakes, in a trip sponsored by two conservative magazines: The American Spectator and NR. There were some other passengers on that cruise — people unaffiliated with us magazine junkies and righties. Some were apolitical, some were liberals. I cringed whenever we got obnoxious, conservative-wise.

In a little speech at the end, I thanked the “minority” cruisers for putting up with us. I said, “I’ve been in an ideological minority for most of my life. ‘I feel your pain.’”

Couple of years ago, I was speaking to a lot of groups, because I had just published a book. These groups were conservative, most of them — well, all of them, really. Which was a pity. Anyway, often, behind the audience, I’d see a woman working the bar. Or a guy working the sound equipment. Now and then, I could sense they were not conservative — that they were not with me, entirely.

So I’d alter my remarks, just a bit — I’d forgo certain gibes, for example. Why make people more uncomfortable than strictly necessary? I was pleased when they’d smile along with me (and along with the conservative audience, whose smiles they could not see). (A speaker sees everyone — including those sleeping or tweeting.)

In a talk to Hillsdale students, I said, “Don’t forget to be nice to your liberals! I’m sure you are. Don’t do unto them as they have so often done to us . . .”

Hillsdale offers what I call “normal college” — the kind of college, or curriculum, that was routine until recent times. They teach the Great Books, the American Founding, the Judeo-Christian heritage, and all that jazz.

These days, such teaching is thought of as right-wing. But it shouldn’t be. It should be — should still be — normal. Just college.

I had a memory of visiting Bob Jones University, the fundamentalist Harvard in Greenville, S.C. (I’ve taken to calling Hillsdale “the conservative Harvard.”) This was in 2000, when BJU was undergoing one of its periodic bouts of revilement. I wrote a piece titled “Most Hated U.”

The president at the time was Bob Jones III — today, it’s his son Stephen. BJ3 told me something like the following:

“You know, we at Bob Jones simply do what Harvard, Yale, and the other ivies were set up to do, all those years ago: We are training young people in the Bible and sending them out as Christian scholars and examples into a wild and sinful world.”

He has a point, you know. On a building at Harvard — Emerson Hall — is engraved a Scripture: “What is man that Thou art mindful of him?” How in the world is something like that not sandblasted off? Maybe they keep such things as quaint reminders of a benighted past.

I also thought of this, when visiting Hillsdale and reflecting on changes in American culture, including the universities: When Bill Buckley wrote God and Man at Yale in 1950 and 1951, he portrayed that university as a sinkhole of secularism and leftism.

Today’s Hillsdale, I bet, is about the same as the Yale that shocked and offended a young Buckley.

In my “Hillsdale Journal,” and in my magazine piece, I write about the debates and fights that take place on that campus. They are internecine fights, of course — intra-Right fights. Conservatism versus libertarianism, one guy’s idea of Christianity versus another guy’s idea of Christianity, etc. The conservative media have their fights too, of course: We factionalize, and tear into one another.

There are always people who consider themselves the One True Conservative. Everyone else is a heretic.

But when you go out into the big broad world, you see how much in common you have with your general political brethren. I mentioned something in my Davos journals, in the last decade. (These were journals from the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, held in the Swiss village of Davos.)

The tenor would be strongly anti-American. And such liberals as Congressmen Barney Frank and Sander Levin would come off as General George S. Patton.

I swear. I swear.

Oh, I have much more to say, but I’ve gone on too long, haven’t I? And I haven’t given you any music. Or any language. Well, let’s knock off, and indulge in those things another day.

Have a great weekend, y’all, and thanks for joining me.

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