Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Musings on courage and cowardice, part 2

"Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is the recognition that some things are more important than fear."
- Irshad Manji

In the first part of these musings, I mentioned certain characteristics I noted about cowardice.

None of these are absolute guarantees of cowardice. There are rude, abrasive, and courageous men and women, for example.

I have even heard of individuals whose cynicism bordered on nihilism, who demonstrated great courage when the s**t hit the fan.

Apparently, while skeptical of any standard of morality philosophy or religion could come up with, when the chips were down they heeded the ethical call of biology - women and children first!

There is one thing though, that I think infallibly demonstrates cowardice at the core: denigrating courage.

John Masters* was an English army officer who became an American writer. He started his career as an officer of Gurkhas - itself no mean accomplishment. During WWII he served with Ord Wingate's Chindits in Burma.

After participating in one of the most hard-fought campaigns in the war, he described his foe as, "The bravest fighting man in the world, the Japanese soldier."

In a previous post http://rantsand.blogspot.com/2006/12/meditations-on-graves.html
I mentioned that the Poles have dismantled the monuments to the army that first combined with the Nazis to invade, then occupied their country for two generations - but would not desecrate the graves of the soldiers of the Red army who died there. Indeed, they have maintained them and assisted Russian families to identify the graves of their dead.

Or consider the 16th century Samurai warlord Uesugi Kenshin, who wept bitterly when he heard of the death of his life-long enemy Takeda Shingen.

Now consider:

- An acquaintance, on hearing that my views on foreign policy had changed after living abroad for more than a decade, emailed to gratuitously insult me, and included sneers at "the gallant Poles."

"Gallant Poles" was a description earned by the Polish airmen who fought in the Battle of Britain. Poland is the only continental European country to send combat troops to Iraq - and doing a pretty good job by all accounts. They also have a contingent in Afghanistan.

Face to face of course, he was polite and conciliatory. Via email he continued to insult me, until I replied in kind. At which point he signed off, with an air of wounded innocence and I haven't heard from him since.

The price of telling people they're being rude - is to be rude.

- Col. Kuklinski was an officer of the Polish general staff, who passed information to the CIA for ten years, after he found that the Soviet plans for the invasion of Western Europe wrote off Poland as expendable if the war went nuclear.

I have heard Kuklinski dismissed with, "He did it for money."

My wife (daughter of a Polish officer herself) said, "If so, then whatever they paid him, it wasn't enough."

Kuklinski's two sons were killed in the U.S. in separate, and highly suspicious "accidents." And if you don't think they were KGB hits, you've got to be naive enough to need a legal guardian, you shouldn't be running around loose or you'll surely harm yourself.

- I once directed a European acquaintance to the examples of Muslim women, who are speaking out against terrorism, intolerance, and oppression of women that includes genital mutilation, "honor" killings and chattel slavery. Women who put themselves at terrible risk to do so.

Women such as:

- Irshad Manji http://www.irshadmanji.com/

- Wafa Sultan

here: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/11/international/middleeast/11sultan.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

and here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Negt6IzxPTo

- Ayaan Hirsi Ali http://ayaanhirsiali.org/

His response?

He called them "coconuts."

(Brown on the outside, white on the inside. I love it when white guys appoint themselves arbiters of who is an "authentic" member of their own race.)

I have to ask, with the example of women like these (and lets not forget the immortal Orianna Fallaci!) - where are the men in public life who can measure up to them?

And why is it that men have to take our inspiration for courage in this day and age, from women?

* Author of a series of novels on the history of British India, told as a generation saga, including: The Deceivers, Nightrunners of Bengal, Far Far the Mountain Peak and his non-fiction memoirs Bugles and a Tiger, and The Road Past Mandalay.


  • At 6:16 AM, Blogger Joseph Sixpack said…

    Very good points. I worked with an Iraqi Colonel on my second tour to Iraq whom I may have fought against on my first tour. Once we realized that this was likely the case, the change in our attitude towards the Colonel and his Soldiers was dramatic. Rather than focusing on the lack of punctuality, the lack of discipline, the sloppy tactics, and the desertion rate, we were quicker to give them the benefit of the doubt due to a shared respect for having fought together, even if the fighting involved trying to kill one another.

    I saw the same sentiments on my third tour when we began to work with insurgents whom we had fought against on my first and second tours. While we did not sympathize with the bankruptcy of what they had previously been fighting for and we were a little frustrated that they had so easily been duped into fighting against us on the grounds that we were "occupiers," there was at least some respect for them for fighting for their country (or at least being motivated by the misconception that they were fighting for their country).

    Terrorists, on the other hand, in spite of their dedication and zeal, got not respect. When some idiot blew himself up at the entrance to an elementary school as the kids were being released, nobody cared all that much when stray dogs began to chomp on the bomber’s remains like giant chew toys. There was just no excuse for engaging in such stupidity, nor was there any respect for someone whose method of fighting is to avoid confrontation with the enemy and to kill and maim helpless non-combatants while ensuring a painless and instant death for himself. I think that "pathetic" is the opposite of "courageous." When a local man attempted to shoo one of the dogs away that was chomping on the bomber’s severed arm, an Iraqi Soldier actually waved the man away and joined in the desecration by urinating on the severed head of the bomber. Normally one of my NCOs would correct the Iraqi Soldiers when they got distracted like this. Instead, we all just kind of nodded and directed our attention elsewhere, acknowledging that he was doing nothing wrong.

  • At 7:33 PM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    LOL! That's rich!

  • At 2:43 PM, Blogger Ted said…

    To reiterate, I DO believe you're taking all this much to seriously.
    Ayn Rand said it best: "The opposite of courage in our time is not cowardice, but conformity."
    I don't believe you to be a coward by any definition.


Post a Comment

<< Home