In these days that in many ways are similar to the years of decadence and blindness foreshadowing the two great wars of the past century, our attentions are focused mainly on internal dangers to the republic. As they gather strength from victory to victory, we are witness to a geometrically accelerating descent of culture, the enthusiastic burial of tradition, an educational system enchained in political cant and sexual claptrap, and a constant tide of attacks upon religion, constitutionalism, individual responsibility and initiative, the free market, and American nationhood itself. The chaos of this sparking decay is reminiscent of what one can see when flying at night over widespread thunderstorms. Distant lightning strikes scattered in the darkness are like fireflies on a June lawn: As soon they light, they disappear as others flash elsewhere. Because each is destructive, disorienting, and part of the same storm, it is impossible to prioritize them.
By the same token, one cannot have a strong defense without a strong economy, which cannot exist for long without the disinterested rule of law, which in this country cannot exist absent constitutionalism, which cannot exist without decent education, which cannot exist in a putrefying culture — this order being by no means a hierarchy but only one thread in a web of interdependency that heretofore has provided Americans, if unevenly, with safety, prosperity, dignity, and purpose. All are necessary and none alone is sufficient.
Thus the beleaguered condition, as in fighting a swarm of bees, of that segment of the electorate, the Right, that neither believes everything is going swimmingly nor is content with just bread and circuses. Like a presidential candidate who must appeal to every facet of what he hopes to forge into coalition, people often suffer through the confusion of addressing everything at once. But in so doing they mostly relegate to equal or inferior status the one factor most influential upon all the others and recognized by the Founders as primus inter pares — defense, for the simple reason that without it the others cannot exist.
Whether by distraction, ideology, hostility, an impulse to suicide, or simply ignorance of history, we are steadily creating the conditions for either a major lost war that suddenly and radically will alter both our position in the international system and our way of life, or a spiritless twilight of surrender that will have the same effect, and into which the present administration has led our first steps. Lost in the clutter of materialism and the disharmony of our many arguments, we have become blind to a great wave that builds beyond the horizon.
War breaks the hearts of families and nations. It upends economies, often stimulating but distorting them as well, and other than in exceptional circumstances leading to debt that can be sustained only by the diminution of the nation itself. War enslaves populations to a cause, creates unbearable grief and suffering, and can break political consensus and harmony for generations. Think of what the past 14 years of very limited war have brought, and then consider the potential effects of a nuclear detonation in a major city; an EMP attack resulting in helpless anarchy and scores of millions dead; an epidemic of newly emerging pathogens that would fell similar millions; a long, hard-fought struggle with an ascendant major power; a nuclear exchange with an emerging or established nuclear power; or the insidious and expanding consequences of the continual boil-over in the Middle East.
Though these dangers may not be entirely clear or immediately present, they are on their way, and we are neither prepared nor even holding against the pressure of their approach. As Europe dissolves and cannot mount its own defense, Russia strengthens and probes. Iran has built a toxic, genocidal bridge from Afghanistan to the Mediterranean. If Israel doesn’t strike, Iran will underwrite its attempt to dominate the Arab and Islamic worlds with both the power of nuclear weapons (now, incredibly, in effect guaranteed by the West) and the reappearance of Russia in the Middle East, a highly dangerous non-inevitability prevented, until President Obama, by every administration since Nixon’s. China will neither relinquish its aggressive claim to the South China Sea nor allow economic dislocation to do anything but slow the momentum of its military build-up. These are just the beginnings of challenges that, absent our own counter-preparations, promise to be overwhelming.
Not only is our response totally insufficient, this administration and our elites, and the bulk of European governments and their elites, are throwing open the gates. If you are an enemy of the West, you can spit in their faces and they will lick your boots, confining their aggressive and critical impulses to their own peoples and foundational principles.
And yet we can indeed have once again the sound policy, strategic sense, political solidarity, and necessary armaments to deter our enemies and, if deterrence fails, soundly defeat them. But we lack perspective, sobriety, the will to self-preservation, and leadership. This is as apparent in the semi-anarchic politics of the United States as it is in the necrosis of Europe. In this election season, as the world unravels, America needs neither joyful tortoises, felonious pantsuits, ancient socialists, libertarians hypnotized by wishful theory, or a raging, egomaniacal mogul with all the finesse and understanding of a rabid hippopotamus. They will not do.
Now ignoring the lessons and sacrifices of the past and sleep-walking into lost wars and all that will follow, the American people need a candidate and president who will make the approaching dangers and gathering storms his overriding theme. Would that God in His goodness inserted into presidential politics someone whose motto, devotion, and insistent message was “No more lost wars.” For it is on the avoidance of war, the deterrence of war, and victory in wars thrust upon us that the future of this nation rests. All good works, hopes, and dreams are of no avail if they cannot exist in a state of peace behind a shield of strength.
– Mr. Helprin, the author of Winter’s Tale and A Soldier of the Great War, is a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute, a defense consultant, and a veteran of military service in the Middle East.