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Civilization is Vulnerable to Cowardice and Betrayal

July 30, 2009

Defend Civilization Itself

By Mark Helprin

Posted July 26, 2002

I had wanted to speak to you tonight about defense, about the campaign in Afghanistan, and the war against terrorism — to shower you with facts and figures, which would support my contention that, in regard to the defense of this country, three administrations in a row have not done, and are not doing, enough. Three administrations in a row have not appreciated, and still do not appreciate, the gathering storm. I had wanted to do that, but the president of a surrounding college said, wisely, “Remember the occasion.” And I shall, for it is a most worthy occasion, and he is right, it must take precedence over policy, which not only blows with the wind, but disappears with it.

The graduates tonight cannot know what is in their parents’ hearts. You have been spared that, until you have children of your own, who are about to take the first step in leaving you . . . forever. Among those of false and mechanistic emotion, the expectation is that your parents will be overjoyed. But in a world where things matter, where love is understood in its relation to mortality, and where there is the courage of commitment — which is to say, in this world — they cannot be overjoyed. And this I know not only because I once left my own parents, and then they left, me, forever, but because I have two daughters of your age, and although they must, it breaks my heart to see them go.

My heart will have to wait, however, because by tradition in this the very last act of your extraordinary secondary education I am obliged to impart to you some sort of resolution for which, given the nature of that education, you are particularly suited. It is also my hope that, in regard to resolution, I can outdo the deservedly most famous high school commencement address in all of history, Clarence Darrow’s command to a 1918 graduating class: Get out of here, and go swimming. That’s admirable, but I would like to add just a little more, and to lengthen it by only a third. My charge to you, then, taking into account who you are and the nature of this institution, is: Get out of here, go swimming, and defend Western Civilization. Admittedly that is a bit more than Darrow asked, but then again he was a Progressive, and Progressives are notoriously permissive with their young. I know that such a charge is most ambitious, but it comes at the right time, both in history and in your lives.

There is a time to lay down arms, and there is a time to take them up, and that we are now in a time to take them up is self-evident. Those for whom it is not self-evident, who would challenge the right to defend against and preempt barbarous attacks upon our persons and our country, and who would instead substitute a distorted inquiry that would end in the condemnation not of the terrorists but of the terrorized, do not find the need to defend their civilization — Western Civilization — self-evident. Nor do they find the action of doing so congenial, in that it is something from which they habitually abstain. This is a serious charge, and I have drawn a clear line, but I mean to, so let me give you an example.

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A Stick in the Mud

July 28, 2009

From Kenneth Clark’s BBC series Civilisation: