Sunday, July 10, 2005

Belief and Will

Wretchard at the Belmont Club describes the courage and dedication of our soldiers fighting in Afghanistan, and suggests that bin Laden must be shocked that he is not refighting Mogadishu, but instead is facing another Guadalcanal.

In my undergraduate military history survey, the professor began the first lecture by stating: "The history of warfare is the history of technology." Throughout the semester, he elaborated his belief that technological innovations (from the crossbow to the atomic bomb) were the decisive factors in battle.

I think instead that the decisive factors are belief and will. Belief in the rightness of your cause, and the will to keep fighting. The atomic bomb only brought about the Japanese surrender after the second use, and required a successful bluff by Truman that there were more to come. Technological superiority, kill ratios, tactical maneuvers, and the rest are only relevant to the extent they impact the enemy's will to continue the fight.

Unfortunately, there are large segments of our society today that have neither belief nor will. Fortunately, the enemy is not monolithic in this regard either.

Still, I often think of the Battle of the Bulge, in which the Allies took 80,000 casualties (including 19,000 dead) in a 6-week period, just months away from final victory in Europe, and wonder how the media of today would have reported the outcome.


Blogger truepeers said...


Much of the media of today could not have reported on the Battle of the Bulge, most simply because they have limited capacities to understand, let alone empathize and mourn with the kind of men (or with anyone else) who fought such battles. If transported back in time machines, today's media people would be very much out of place and time, and they would turn hysterical and run away. Btw, if you're looking for new topics, I'd be interested in your analysis of hysteria - if the term seems useful to you - as it relates to contemporary media and cultural phenomena.

2:10 AM  
Blogger Goesh said...

The media of today back then would have focused on 'short rounds', artillery that fell short of the intended enemy targets and hit American troops instead. There has been lots of that and technology certainly has reduced those errors. They would have ignored the massacre of American POWs by ss troops. There would have been a major media blitz over Patton slapping a solider, more than what transpired. There would have been lots of reporting every time an outfit ran low on ammo or food and supplies. Certain elements of the media would have encouraged troops at the Battle of the Bulge to file lawsuits over the lack of winter clothing. Most of all, they would have deemed the 5000+ young men that fell on D-Day victims of bad planning and an ill-conceived war. They pretty much would have glossed over the death camps and they would have had countless articles about the sabotage and resistance following the final surrender of the Germans. Ever wonder why there is little collective mourning when a journalist gets blown away in a combat zone these days? That says alot right there, doesn't it? the Public isn't quite as stupid as some people think.

5:19 AM  
Blogger erico said...

I don't have any quotes in front of me, but if memory serves (and please correct me) Neitzsche saw and identified his society's illness with some accuracy--it was nihilistic at core. Western society has unfolded this nihilism further over time, breaking down beliefs once accepted. Neitzsche saw that each one of us internally, as well as a social body, must have the Will to overcome, but the rub is that simultaneously we recognize that our belief, what undergirds our project, is groundless. That god is dead is something of a lament for him, looking at its effects on a once-vibrant culture (though, of course he was virulently anti-Christian). We must have the will to strike forth, though we have no reason but Will itself. The creature able to do so would be called the overman. The creature who apprehended this situation, and stayed with it, might go mad, might be a prophet, and might ask whether it truly is better to be a suffering human with intellect than a happy pig.

Hence the prospect of choosing some notion of Evil, some notion of Good, by which to guide a life, to build up a society, is not the difficult part, but to really believe in it with intellectual rigor and honesty. That is to say, if you feel the rub, the bite of nihilism, the gap between theory and experience. The media you speak of has accepted their form of Good, for example. Tolerance. And Evil, "Only a Sith would speak in absolutes". Because then you can be one of the popular people, sort of the in crowd for the alienated. I, for myself, must choose time and again to pursue truth, goodness, beauty, and a loving God, and this entails accepting suffering. I say this only to suggest we not cover up too quickly the process of finding in favor of 'the answers'. I believe truepeers's understanding of scapegoating would apply, and I'm also suddenly aware of the Nazi's propaganda which made use of Neitszche's thought, fairly or unfairly. Thanks for your time.

2:41 PM  
Blogger truepeers said...

erico, the irony is that Nietzsche railed against nihilism, but today's left uses Nietzschean ideas (see, e.g., Foucault) to nihilistic ends.

Whether on left or right, i think we need to move beyond Nietzsche and notions of a will to power. Even if you cannot believe in God, it is clear from what you just said that you still believe in the human need for all that is good and beautiful. So, maybe you just need to explore where this need comes from in an anthroplogical, not religious, sense. It is wrong to say that our notions of the good are simply the product of a religion in which we can no longer believe. This is wrong because religion does not create the idea of the good; rather it is the idea of god, or the good, that founds the institutions of religion. The idea of the good must and will continue whether religious insitutions exist or fade away. So we need to get back in touch with the foundations of what is true and beautiful, and understand god either in a traditional religious sense, or in some new anthropological sense.

Once we do this, we will come to understand what it means to be human in a way that will give us the faith in our humanity and history that we need in the present struggle against the nihilism of our times.

6:52 PM  
Blogger erico said...


Thank you for your response. To avoid any misunderstanding, I should declare myself as a Christian, a Catholic at that. And a poor one, undoubtedly. If I adopt a Neitschean voice it is only to give him his due. I have enjoyed his writings, but since lost my romantic attachment.

I do feel keenly, at least at times, what I like to call the tears at the bottom of the world. It does seem that my heart knows what it needs. Hard experience has its own lessons, that a cold and indifferent universe does not care a whit to fulfill the heart's yearning, and we must grow up. And the romanticism of "Finding Neverland" once again is so patently absurd, a bedtime story we are asked to take seriously in the face of great loss. (the above clause is sufficient to review the movie).

I do not intend to be indulgent. Rather, to get at what is at stake. For example, Cardinal Schonborn's recent Times article about evolution has occasioned debate once again over the threat evolution poses to the believer. Ultimately, what is one protecting as a believer reacting against evolution? The notion that one's tears are not worthless. Do not disappear into the void. The unbeliever experiences this wound, too, merely by having grown up. For them, when the question surfaces, it is a question of theodicy. Of the existence of a good God and the terrible suffering of living beings that fuels our short brutish life on earth. In an ungraced vision of the world, pain is prior to love. And how to break through, or allow this God of love to break through to you? I was reading Amy Wellborn's blog on the evolution question and found it quite intelligent in presenting various evolutionary theories, debates, questions. But it seems to me a commenter James hit the nail on the head:

The development of life as revealed by science is a violent and chaotic process, full of false starts and dead ends, with no sign of intelligent guidance or purpose, indifferent to suffering and all other moral concerns. It appears that human beings evolved at all only because of a series of accidents, including a massive impact event that wiped out the dinosaurs.

It is hard to see how this scientific picture of the world can plausibly be reconciled with the Christian doctrine that the world is the product of a benevolent and omnipotent creator God.

Yes, you can reconcile them if you make certain assumptions: that all the suffering is somehow necessary or good, that all the apparent chaos and randomness is actually part of a plan that we do not understand. But that takes a real leap of faith.

And of course leave it to Andrew Sullivan to call Pope Benedict an idiot because of the Shonborn article. Rene Girard points out the irony of the Left, so intent on seeing the victim, hearing the victim (good things), becoming blind to their own scapegoating, hiding from themselves behind political correctness and a sense of moral superiority.

I suppose I've meandered back to the topic of the media, so I'll close now with some semblance of relevancy to the original post. all the best.

10:13 PM  
Blogger truepeers said...


biological evolution and human cultural evolution are quite different phenomena. I believe in both of them. Cultural evolution had a beginning, a moment of creation of a human consciousness that was and still is unlike anything in the animal world, just as biological evolution had a beginning in some earlier time. Religion, in its essential phenomena, remembers the creation moment of culture, of humanity, and not, in my view, the creation moment of the biological or physical world. Thus, to my mind, religion goes out of its area of expertise when it posits creation stories for the universe as a whole. But religion is yet far superior to anything the materialistic scientists have to offer on the question of cultural origins. Both science and faith have their areas of expertise and if they would only respect this and not try to colonize each other, we would see that the gap between science and faith can be made very small indeed.

10:34 PM  
Blogger Dreamer said...

Loved your breakdown, Goesh

I think it would be catchy if some creative author out there in blogosphere would write something satirical on the subject.

11:09 PM  

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