Living your Life the Way You Choose

I was reading this article by Jason Sanford, and was thunderstruck by this paragraph:

Toward the end of World War II, Robert Heinlein wrote a letter to well-known SF fan Forrest Ackerman, whose brother had recently been killed in battle. In the letter Heinlein, who had served in the U.S. Navy, explicitly condemned the many SF fans who considered themselves superior to ordinary people yet hadn’t lifted a finger to help win the war. In Heinlein’s words, these fans were “neurotic, selfish, (and) childish” individuals who needed to tackle “the problems of the real world.”

However, if these fans had written their own letter to Ackerman I have no doubt they would have defended their lives and choices in equally blunt terms (after all, there are very few SF fans who aren’t opinionated about life and politics).

While Heinlein wrote from a military point of view about his desire for self-sacrifice and a sense of duty, these fans would probably have replied that they supported their country by making their own individual choices.

The best way to defend freedom, in this opposing view, was to embrace freedom by living your life the way you choose.

My comment: contemplate that last sentence carefully, if you will.

Mr Sanford does not credit the opposing view to Heinlein’s civic militarism with any of the views I heard from the lips of the antiwar crowds of my youth.

Their objection was either procedural (the Vietnam War has not been declared by Congress as the Constitution provides) or isolationist (the Vietnam War served no vital American interest) or humanitarian (war in general is so dreadful and tragic that it can only be waged for clear and clearly moral purposes, that is, for self-defense only) or sentimental (the Communists were poor and weak, and America big and strong, so we should not pick on them) or partisan (by no coincidence, always in favor of the Communists).

In those days, any argument, sound or un, was promoted to defend the Reds by their ideological fellow travelers and cellmates here in the US, including, incredibly and ironically, the anti-war movement. Since Socialism is based on the promise of violent world revolution, this is as odd as Hitler preaching Zionism. While Stalin was busy making wars and proxy wars around the world, and orchestrating famines and genocides in Russia, the Reds and their useful idiots here at home urged the rather asymmetrical doctrine that we should surrender and disarm in the name of peace, while our enemies should be funded and equipped and applauded, also in the name of peace. A war is only a war if we fight. If they fight, even if they fight us, it is not war. Logic is not central to the intellectual scheme of international socialism.

What I did not hear, even at the nadir of the 1970’s, was an argument so utterly lacking in sense or in a sense of shame as the argument that shirking one’s duty to defend one’s national liberty or aid one’s sworn friends and allies fulfilled that duty, on the ground that letting brave men die while you stayed at home and shagged their girlfriends, smoking weed and joining campus riots, was an exercise of liberty.

Mr Sanford attributes to the antiwarriors a creed so vile and incomprehensible, yet so smug and self-congratulatory, that expressions of exasperation simply run out of breath.

The argument is that doing anything or doing nothing, no matter what honor and duty and love of home might say, is a morally superior position to fighting in the defense of the Republic of free men, or aiding a sworn ally against a common foe, because being free to shirk one’s duty exercised that freedom, and, aye, defends it!

The argument rests on the assumption that the mere act of choice, independent of the content of the choice, acting like the sanctifying oil poured on the head of an anointed king, makes the shirker, the coward, the hippy, the sloth and the whining rotter into not merely the equal of the silent and heroic men who lay down their lives for high causes, but into their superiors.

For the rotter is not merely sacrificing life and limb to stand between his loved home and war desolation, nay, he is actually DEFENDING freedom by cowering on a soiled mattress in some unsanitary nook where the Draft Board cannot find him, drinking cheap hooch, and committing petty crimes for spare change between bong-binges. If this is what he chooses to do, who are we mere mortals to criticize? His choice is his choice, and choice is sacred and sublime!

Note this argument is never used to defend a good act, but an evil one. “Why did you struggle and scrimp and save and work hard to give your wife and children a good life?” No one answers: because it is my choice, and none have the right to interfere! “Why did your beat your wife and abandon your children and run off to Spain with the parlor maid, Busty LaHotza?” No one answers: because it was my duty and my joy to bring happiness to others.

This is satire, of course. Mr Sanford is mocking the modern habit of hold aloft a loathsome vice, decreeing it for some facetious reason to be a virtue, and then pompously to claim the moral high ground: the draftdogers and cowards and traitors are here puffed up because they are more heroic than heroes—they alone have the courage to be craven!

Mr Sanford is much more imaginative than am I by inventing so perfect a logical satire on the modern cult of narcissist whim-worship, the Nietzschean triumph of the will over the conscience.

He is also crueler than I would ever be, putting such an argument in the mouths of a generation of stinky hippies too old and gray to raise an objection.

Sound or unsound, the stinky hippies actually had reasons for opposing war, as did the Quakers and conscientious objectors before them, and nearly all the human race. Everyone hates war. When Sherman said ‘War is Hell’ he was not expressing approval.

But no one in all of time ever made an argument as grotesquely shameless and self-congratulatory and psychotic as this one: the true way to defend liberty is by shallow and shameless selfishness and dereliction both of duty and of common sense, abandoning the defense of liberty to its enemies.

By thunder, had I been alive at the time of the American Revolution, and it had been proven to me by a time traveler that a belief in the equality and liberty of man would one day give rise to a doctrine of utter depravity laved in the grease of self-righteousness, on the same day, I would have taken the king’s coin and joined with the Redcoats. I mean, King George was a bad king, but he would not live forever, and a better Monarch, or a Parliament more respectful of the rights of common Englishmen may have eventuated. (Of course, had the time traveler shown me where these same doctrines of total depravity and total selfishness have led in the soulless nation that used to be England, I would have stayed with Washington, that fine gentleman of Virginia, and not bothered to die so that my daughters could one day wear the veil in Englandistan.)

At least with a king lolling around somewhere at the top of the social pyramid, no one can be so grotesque as to aver that the state exists merely to supplement one subject’s own personal vices, and all the king’s horses and men merely to flatter one serf’s own ego.

That particular madness comes of taking Republic ideals, driving past their logical extreme of libertarianism, past the pathless outlands of Anarchy, and off the brink of madness.

An anarchist at least makes the understandable, if vicious, claim that he owes the state no loyalty, and recognizes no authority: the argument here is that betraying authority is provoked by love for what the authority was erected to defend, ergo the state is owed disloyalty! The highest form of loyalty is betrayal!

I wish I could compliment Mr Sanford, but I cannot. He is being too vicious and sarcastic even for me.

(Wait. You don’t think he is expressing his own opinion here, do you?)