Aristotle thought courage the preeminent virtue. Without it, there could be no morality. Virtue becomes a mere abstraction, a high-sounding platitude that is easy to live by in one’s sleep.
The present generation may be the most abjectly cowardly cohort in memory. When the Sony Corporation was victimized by North Korean–sponsored hackers upset over Sony’s new movie The Interview, it caved and withdrew the film. The Obama administration so far has offered no real support. Instead it blamed Sony for its appeasement. By joint inaction both Sony and the United States government sent the message that foreign dictators can determine what Americans see or read, as long as their targets are private citizens.
Or is it even worse than that? In 2012, when Islamists attacked the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Obama took the cheap way out and blamed an obscure U.S. resident for making a low-budget video faulting Islam. Indeed, in a speech at the United Nations Obama damned the video rather than the true culprits, al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic terrorists, for the violence against Americans. It was, after all, reelection time, and the last thing Obama wanted was an incident to upset his dual narratives that al Qaeda was on the run, and that his new, kinder approach to radical Islam had lessened global tensions.
The moral cowardice became worse when a federal judge jailed Nakoula Nakoula, the video-maker, while the architects of the attack roamed free in Libya. Note that Obama never mentioned the issue of free speech during that incident, much less that any U.S. resident while on U.S. soil has a perfect constitutional right to make a film caricaturing anyone he wishes. Note again that Hollywood said not a word about the silencing of a video-maker. Apparently cowardly celebrities were more invested in Obama’s reelection than they were in the principles of free speech, transparency, and honesty.
Imagine the Greatest Generation withdrawing movies deemed critical of Nazi Germany. In 1940 Hitler promised to ban all films made by the MGM studio because of the release of The Mortal Storm. That movie was an indictment of the totalitarianism and anti-Semitism of the Third Reich. MGM in the end ignored the threats, and so had its films banned in Nazi Germany. Would the current generation instead have withdrawn The Mortal Storm and have been content to send bodyguards to protect its star, Jimmy Stewart, from German threats? Stewart, remember, would later lead B-17 and B-24 bombers over Germany.
President Obama hinted that he might someday retaliate against North Korea in a “proportionate” fashion. Would our grandparents have warned Japan that after Pearl Harbor we might conduct a similar raid against Tokyo Bay? Was the U.S. response that in fact followed, and flattened Japan, “disproportionate”? What happened to the idea that wars are prevented by creating deterrence — or the notion that aggression is unwise because the response will certainly be unpredictable, if not disproportionately severe?
We are currently witnessing a wave of mob bullying over a supposed epidemic of campus rape. University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan in knee-jerk fashion banned on-campus fraternities, on the basis of nothing more than an eighth-grade-level mythographic story in Rolling Stone. Actress Lena Dunham in her memoir falsely fingered an innocent man, who she claimed attacked her while at Oberlin College. So far there has been no downside for the author of the Rolling Stone piece, the false accuser quoted therein, President Sullivan, or Ms. Dunham. So does lying for a supposedly good cause bring with it immunity?
Feminists — as well as the White House — cite statistics to the effect that one in five coeds is sexually assaulted. But that startlingly high figure derives from a flawed government survey; it is over 20 times greater than the number of sexual assaults off campus, according to the statistical evidence. When the accusations from Dunham and Rolling Stone collapsed for want of proof, feminists resorted to the argument that the allegation of sexual assault should not be subject to the same rules of evidentiary proof as other crimes, given its odious nature. Would this generation have rewritten Euripides’ Hippolytus? In the new version, because of the fact that Phaedra left a note alleging that Hippolytus had raped her, would we have to assume that he really did — or at least that he did something culpable to force poor Phaedra to the desperate act of suicide? The Greeks called their plays tragedies; we would rename them therapies.
We could also rewrite To Kill a Mockingbird. A therapeutic-minded conciliator Atticus Finch might have suggested to his client Tom Robinson that he should plead guilty regardless of his insistence that he had been framed by a vindictive young female accuser who falsely claimed she had been raped. After all, in such a he said/she said case, the victim alleging sexual assault should always win greater credence.
Last week President Obama abruptly renewed diplomatic relations with the Castro dictatorship in Cuba, citing the supposed failure of a half-century of isolating the Castro regime. Obama’s supporters claimed that the shunning had achieved little and pointed to our normalization of relations with other Communist nations, like China and Vietnam. But neither of the latter two countries is 90 miles away from our shores, and neither once threatened to obliterate U.S cities with missiles based on its territory.
By Obama’s logic of foreign relations evaluated on the basis of regime change, what has normal treatment of the late Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela achieved — other than the ruin of the country? More importantly, in a half-century of shunning Cuba, the U.S. has drawn attention to the Castro kleptocracy, its gulags with thousands of political prisoners, and its sending of Communist expeditionary forces around the world, from Africa to South America.
With the Cuban economy tottering because of the collapse of the Soviet Union and, now, the loss of its Venezuelan subsidies, and with the Castro brothers blathering in their dotage, it is hardly the time to normalize relations. Would this generation have advised Ronald Reagan in 1981 to ease up on the Cold War, given that after a half-century Eastern Europe was still under the boot of the Soviet Union, and the Communist apparat still ran Russia? What was the point of NATO? Had it ever made a dent in the Warsaw Pact? What had our hostility really achieved? Were there not still political prisoners in the Soviet Union? In similar fashion, the World War II generation surely would have dropped the oil embargo of Japan, given that it had not curbed Japanese aggression in China, and in retrospect was cited as a reason for Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.
Moreover, Obama had six years to offer a radical change in U.S. policy toward Cuba. But as in the case of his blanket amnesties, he held off in fear of popular disapproval. Only the fact that he will not face another election, combined with his egocentric desire for some sort of legacy, which he so far has not achieved, prompted his action. Executive orders are easy when the president no longer has to face elections.
From enforcing immigration law to dealing with the Iranians, the Obama generation’s mode is to take the path of least resistance, one designed to dovetail with the current therapeutic national mood. Our premodern enemies enjoy the pretensions of postmodern America, a sort of cowardice always contextualized by convoluted rationalization and high-minded platitudes.
The next two years will be as interesting as they are dangerous.