1) American Sniper and American Decadence.
Some people are throwing hissy-fits over the success of Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, a movie adaption of the autobiography of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, who was credited with 160 confirmed kills in Iraq.
(Who would have thought a man so opinionated could be so passive aggressive?)
Watching it I did not feel that the movie was, as has been suggested, pro-war propaganda; it was rather a biography of a man who was pro-war, which in Eastwood’s hands is not the same thing.
War movies nowadays tend to be about tortured, introverted soldiers struggling with moral dilemmas against the backdrop of systematic injustice committed by by the U.S. Government. American Sniper acknowledges that some people feel that way, but the main character does not: he is unconflicted about the killings, convinced of the justice of the cause, and at peace with his conscience. His inner conflicts lie elsewhere.
Does the film imply that Chris Kyle was right? In the movie, his wife and friends don’t think so, and no one is ever proved right or wrong. Ambiguity is typical of Eastwood’s films.
I think it is ironic that while Hollywood likes it soldiers (and citizens) to be morally conflicted and cynical about America, such soldiers and citizens do not win wars, they lose them. Right or wrong, it is the Chris Kyles of the world that defend nations in times of need, not the Dances with Wolves types.
2) Decadence and Fascism.
It is safe to say we live in a decadent culture in which the virtues once associated with proper manhood, virtues which are utterly necessary in times of crisis, are called into question. Such a culture cannot defend itself against aggressors.
Take for example the reaction of politicians and media types to Islamic terrorism. Why are newspapers and politicians so reluctant to mention the motives of the killers? Why do they always insist that Islam is a “great religion”, or “a religion of peace” as if they were somehow experts in Muslim theology qualified to give such an opinion? Why do they call Muhammad “The Prophet” when they would never (and in a secular country should never) publicly refer to Jesus as “The Lord”?
For public and rhetorical purposes, they accord Islam more respect than any other world religion, despite it having done less to deserve respect. Islam is beyond criticism. To hear them talk, you would think Islam is the One True Faith.
Why? Because they are cowards. Cowards, they blame the actions of the terrorists on the victims. Cowards, they refuse to name the evil they face. Cowards, they expect their own citizens to humor the aggressors. Cowards, they pretend there is no real conflict.
They are cowards because they have long since abandoned any notion of what is right, and what is wrong.
The problem is that historically there is another side to Western decadence. Our weak-willed leaders can scrimp and bow all they want to fanatical terrorists, but enough people will eventually see through their cowardice and start looking for another kind of leader. They will ditch the weak leaders and go with ones that promise strength, national pride and victory.
The will ditch the Wiemar Republic, and choose the Reich.
And why the hell shouldn’t they? If the old notions of right and wrong, just and unjust, heaven and hell are indeed gone forever, if there is no God and no devil, who wouldn’t rather chose pride, blood and dominance over gutless pandering to barbarians?
This is the second great irony: the decadent path, abandoning values and pursuing a policy of moral equivalency, does not protect a nation from falling into fascism, but causes it. Fascism is one more stage of the same process of cultural decline.
3) Decadence, Fascism and the Foundation.
Tolerance, discretion, introspection, and love for peace are all virtues. So too are courage, patriotism, loyalty, and (sadly) the capacity to pull a trigger on the rare occasion it is necessary, and then move on with your life.
But virtues without a solid foundation become vices. If the first set of virtues turned vices are the what marks our contemporary leadership, the second set of virtues turned vices are where people turn after they are fed up with weak leadership.
What we lack is something to ground these virtues, put them in the proper order and give them a heart. It might be faith in God, or a confidence in absolute values, or just a sense that the truth is knowable. We had better find it fast.