John A. Howard
John A. Howard is Senior Fellow at the Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society. A highly decorated veteran of World War II, he served in the Eisenhower Administration and later became President of Rockford College.
An Iran armed with nuclear weapons and led by the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could be the gravest danger ever to confront Western Civilization. Iran's President openly and brashly defies the United Nations and the countries that have been pressuring him to cease enriching uranium, a process essential for nuclear weapons. He declares that Israel must be eliminated and, "If America and its allies do not abandon the path of falsehood, their doomed destiny will be annihilation."
It is easy to discount these threats as the bluster of a tin-horn tyrant. However, his uranium enrichment is said to be moving ahead unchecked, and past history indicates there is virtually no likelihood that the influential countries of the UN will impose sanctions severe enough to convince Iran of anything.
It needs to be remembered that Ahmadinejad is not impelled by dreams of power or empire or personal glory. Rather, he is driven by a burning compulsion to Islamify the world. Unlike civilized people, he would not have the slightest hesitation to use his weapons of mass destruction to slaughter millions of people. That action he would regard as a triumphant step in ridding the world of Infidels. Such bloodthirstiness is so appalling that the American mind is disinclined to consider it a real possibility in evaluating the Iranian threat. Yet there are regular news reports of the inhuman savagery of Muslim fanatics who torture their captives before assassinating them.
Without a trace of compassion for infidels, Ahmadinejad, made invincible by his new weapons, might well close the Strait of Hormuz. It is the narrow waterway adjacent to Iran through which passes 40 percent of the world's oil. The sudden devastating consequences of that action for all aspects of modern life are inconceivable.
How should America react to this nightmare? One option is to do nothing and hope it goes away. Another is to launch a preemptive assault on Iran. Both could result in such comprehensive disaster that one gropes for something else. It would be well to seek guidance from the recorded wisdom of minds that have analyzed the problem of world conquest by terrorism and military might. Wisdom, which used to be highly esteemed in America, denoted a knowledge of what is right and what is good, coupled with sound judgment of what will achieve those goals. In this era, notions of good and right have largely been supplanted by individual judgments. The American culture has so denatured itself morally that a decision of what to do in an unfathomable crisis will probably fall to the shifting sands of partisan politics. Another potential disaster?
There is one extraordinary source of such wisdom. For more than four decades he has studied the circumstances and causes of internationally imposed tyranny and he has labored to share his knowledge with unreceptive Western nations. The accuracy of his predictions and analyses commend him to a worried Western world.
Twenty-eight years ago in a notable speech he said:
How short a time ago, relatively, the small world of modern Europe was easily seizing colonies all over the globe . . . usually with contempt for any possible values in the conquered peoples' approach to life. . . . We now see that the conquests proved to be short-lived and precarious and this in turn points to defects in the Western view of the world which led to these conquests. Relations with the former colonial world have now switched to the opposite extreme, and the Western world often exhibits an excess of obsequiousness, but it is difficult yet to estimate the size of the bill which the former colonial countries will present to the West, and it is difficult to predict whether the surrender not only of its last colonies, but of everything it owns will be sufficient to clear this account.
This remarkable discernment is an excerpt from the Commencement Address Alexander Solzhenitsyn delivered at Harvard University in 1978. The speech was widely reported in the news and in journals of opinion. Many of the reactions, ranging from that of First Lady Rosalyn Carter to Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.'s, complained about what they judged to be Solzhenitsyn's inability to understand the United States. A current reading of his text suggests that what he did understand was human nature and human institutions, the solid foundations of wisdom.
During the 1960s Solzhenitsyn wrote a series of novels powerfully attacking the Communist totalitarian system, with the title The Gulag Archipelago published in the underground press. Solzhenitsyn became widely known to the outer world in 1972 through his Nobel Prize speech. It was entitled "A World Split Apart." In that text, he observed that down through the ages, societies have developed their own views and scales of values according to local circumstances and personal experience. Different values prevailed in different places and that variance among scattered societies didn't pose a global problem. However, the advent of instant worldwide communications swiftly destroyed the foundation of that placid coexistence.
A wave of events washes over us and, in a moment, half the world hears that splash. . . . In various parts of the world, men apply to events a scale of values achieved by their own long-suffering, and they uncompromisingly, self-reliantly judge only by their own scale of values and no one else's. . . . [M]ankind is not at fault; that is how he is made . . . Given six, four or only two scales of values, there cannot be one world, one single humanity; the difference in rhythms, in oscillations will tear mankind asunder. We will not survive together on one earth, just as a man with two hearts is not meant for this world.
When Solzhenitsyn voiced those two fateful facts about mankind, the intolerable incompatibility of conflicting value systems, and the fact that such incompatibility is an inherent feature of human nature--he was referring to the seemingly irresistible spread of Communism across the world. Those observations apply just as directly to today's powerful global aggression by Muslim fanaticism.
Two centuries before Solzhenitsyn, another of Western Civilization's wisest analysts was France's Charles de Montesquieu. In his magnum opus, The Spirit of Laws, he analyzed different forms of government. In the second chapter of Book IV, he wrote:
As honor has its laws and rules . . . it can be found only in countries in which the constitution is fixed, and where the nations are governed by settled laws. . . . Honor is a thing unknown in arbitrary governments, some of which have not even a proper word to express it.
When a Western nation with its fixed constitution signs a treaty or other formal agreement with a despotic government, the Western nation expects to honor the agreement and observe any compromises it entails. The despotism will only abide by the agreement as long as it serves its own best interests. America never understood this awkward, built-in pitfall in its relationships with Soviet Communism, and is equally naive in its efforts to arrive at peaceful negotiations with North Korea and Iran.
What Solzhenitsyn has told us is not that the conflict of value systems is a problem for which we must find a solution. It is, instead, that the world's value systems have been placed in a giant caldron where they are stewing and jostling against one another until the seething process boils down to a single regnant cultural ethic.
Terrorism and violence are the means Muslim fanaticism has chosen to try to achieve its dominance in the world. The campaign to kill Americans and their allies was formally declared a God-given duty for Muslims in a communique issued by the World Islamic Front on February 23, 1998. It was made known to the West in the British newspaper, The Guardian. Osama Bin Laden and high-ranking religious figures in Egypt, Pakistan and Bangladesh signed the document.
Here is an excerpt:
[I]n compliance with God's order, we issue the following Fatwah to all Muslims: The ruling to kill Americans and their allies--civilians and military--is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible . . .
Shortly after 9/11, Newsweek published a map identifying Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Syria, and Afghanistan as nations with state-sponsored terrorist activities. The article indicated a Bin Laden presence in all those countries and 27 others. The system for producing young fanatic militants is worldwide. A December 15, 2003, U.S. News and World Report article stated:
. . . the Saudi rulers decided to insure their pre-eminence in the Arab world by a financial investment of $70 billion. With these funds they created 1,500 mosques, 210 Islamic Centers, 202 colleges and 2,000 schools in non-Islamic counties. These institutions spread the radical Wahhabi form of Islam among the young people they serve.
The article continued:
Saudi Arabia's quasi-official charities became the primary source of funds for the fast-growing jihad movement. In some 20 countries the money was used to run paramilitary camps, purchase weapons, and recruit new members.
These are the fanatic suicide bombers surfacing in growing numbers around the globe.
Military action is the means by which America and some other nations are trying to blunt and suppress the violent Muslim jihad. If this effort fails, Muslim tyranny may well come to dominate the world.
However, America's fighting in the Middle East is increasingly challenged by a sharp division of opinion about the justification for carrying on the war.
Solzhenitsyn has much to say about such challenges. In a 1976 interview (Interviewed by Michael Charlton in London. Published in Chicago's Elite, September/October, 6) he said that his outlook on life had largely been formed in concentration camps:
[T]hose people who have lived in the most terrible conditions, on the frontier between life and death . . . they all understand that between good and evil there is an irreconcilable contradiction . . . one cannot build one's life without regard to this distinction.
He regarded the tyranny of Soviet Communism as extreme evil and a life of freedom as a good of the highest order:
[W]e can't comprehend how one can lose one's spiritual strength, one's will-power, and possessing freedom, not to value it, not to be willing to make sacrifices for it.
In his Nobel speech, he said:
The spirit of Munich has by no means retreated into the past. It was not a brief episode. I even venture to say that the spirit of Munich is dominant in the twentieth century. The intimidated civilized world has found nothing to oppose the onslaught of a suddenly resurgent fang-bearing barbarism except concessions and smiles. The spirit of Munich is a disease of prosperous people; it is the daily state of those who have given themselves over . . . to material well-being as the chief goal of life on earth.
On September 29, 1938, the governments of Great Britain, France, and Italy signed a pact with Hitler to cede to Germany the Sudetenland, the Western part of Czechoslovakia. They had no authority whatsoever to give part of one country to another, but what the Munich Pact signified was that the three other countries would not go to war with Nazi Germany if it seized only that one small piece of property. That act of international cowardice at Munich opened the door for Hitler to seize Austria the same year and begin his military conquest of other nations.
In his Harvard speech, Solzhenitsyn stated:
The Western World has lost its civic courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, in each government, in each political party, and, of course, in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling and intellectual elites, causing an impression of a loss of courage by the entire society.
It was, he said, the recognition of the irreconcilable difference between good and evil that provided the boldness and tenacity to stand firm against the evil of a tyrannical government. In Russia as in America, the definitions of good and evil were elements of the Christian faith.
In Solzhenitsyn's response after receiving The Templeton Prize, he said:
It was Dostoyevski who drew from the French Revolution and its seething hatred of the Church the lesson that "revolution must necessarily begin with atheism." That is absolutely true. . . . Within the philosophical system of Marx and Lenin, and at the heart of their psychology, hatred of God is the principle driving force, more fundamental than all their political and economic pretensions.
In the Western tradition, the believer who has an absolute and ultimate allegiance to God does not readily yield to the demands of a tyranny that conflicts with religious requirements. A nation of believers cannot be ruled by an authoritarian government. Religion has to be stamped out. It was the deeply religious Polish people who held freedom to be more important than life who stood up against Soviet Communism. That was the beginning of the unraveling of the Soviet empire.
There is truth in the old axiom that there are no atheists in a foxhole. When the Muslim terrorists attacked America on 9/11, what had been a nation with religion largely excluded from public life suddenly found God. There was a spontaneous response throughout the land of prayer and religious services in homes and hamlets, towns and cities by people of every religious affiliation, and earnest, forthright supplications to God by our President, mayors, governors, and other public officials. For a moment Americans reasserted themselves as a people of faith. However, after the shock and horror of 9/11 wore off, the event tended to settle into history as a monstrous blitzkrieg which the nation survived. And then life resumed its course with religion safely barred once again from public activities.
If this analysis of President Ahmadinejad has substance, a nuclear-armed Iran could produce a long-term global foxhole. Thinking parents will realize that the best protection they can provide to their children for living under the perpetual threat of fanatical terrorist regimes is to help them develop a solid religious mooring that will shield them from a life of uncertainty and fear. As a nation, the United States will have to decide whether it will continue to try to negotiate with regimes that have no fixed constitution and no intention of abiding by any agreements that don't serve their interests, or courageously standing firm against tyranny, ready to make whatever sacrifices are required by that stand.
At the conclusion of his 1983 Templeton Prize Address, Solzhenitsyn said:
Let us ask ourselves: Are not the ideals of our century false? And is not our glib and fashionable terminology just as unsound, a terminology that offers superficial remedies for every difficulty? Each of them, in whatever sphere, must be subjected to a clear-eyed scrutiny while there is still time. The solution of the crisis will not be found along the well-trodden paths of conventional thinking. . . . To the ill-considered hopes of the last two centuries which have reduced us to insignificance, and have brought us to the brink of nuclear and non-nuclear death, we can propose only a determined quest for the warm hand of God . . .
Our five continents are caught in a whirlwind. But it is during trials such as these that the highest gifts of the human spirit are manifested. If we perish and lose this world, the fault will be ours alone.
As before, we should listen to the wise. *
"Civilizations die from suicide, not murder" -Arnold Toynbee