Almost everyone was wrong as to how the Soviet Union would go out. We almost all thought it would be with a bang, with guns blasting and bodies everywhere. I was there and I was in good company getting it wrong, but Moses Sands said he began to sense in the 1980s that things might be different, “The people weren’t afraid of the government anymore and the government knew it. That doesn’t make for a mutual suicide pact.”
Some are beginning to ask the same thing about the United States, and it’s a question that Moses had been talking about, in a roundabout way, since before 9/11.
Whenever we drove to a taping session (Moses always liked to sit on a rocky promontory) in the high desert, he would speculate on things he hadn’t really thought out completely; questions he hadn’t found an answer to yet, or cures for which he hadn’t been able to find an ailment for yet. He was like an oriental poet, every time he had a dream he had to get up and write a musing about it…only he didn’t write. He’d save it for me.
One of his favorite topics was why some businesses, governments, even cultures, can die so easily, while others will jump right back up after a fall. Is it design? Is it nature? He would point to Lincoln and FDR (actually George Marshall) who by-passed all the military conventions, and dozens of senior officers, to appoint a whiskey-drinking Grant or a paper-pushing Eisenhower, thus winning a war, while the likes of Hitler surrounded themselves with toads. He’d wonder out loud, “Why do we keep pulling rabbits out of the hat? Is there just something in our water…?” Then he’d try to conjure up a link between our results-oriented military leadership and our free society, and from that, the Constitution. (Moses couldn’t comment on a sunset without somehow insinuating the Constitution into the observation. It was his one true obsession.)
He would bring up the “December 6th Syndrome” in business, referring to the fact that all the major commanders in the US military on December 6th, 1941 were desk bound or out of work on Dec 6, 1942 (save MacArthur). “Most every enterprise has a December 7th in its deck of cards, but not every business can do what Marshall did, which was sack everybody in charge from the day before. Show me Forbes’ fifty best run companies, and I’ll show you ten or fifteen who’ll be in bankruptcy within five years, leaving the editors just scratching their heads wondering how they could have missed it. Has America just been lucky? Or is something else?
Moses was always looking for that key to a system, but he always believed it was invisible, found in the heart and soul of an enterprise, a thing beyond the ken of front office bean counters or Wall Street analysts. “In business it doesn’t matter that much if a company fails because someone drove it off the tracks, because there’ll always be someone to step in to fill the vacuum. But in government an entire civilization can fall, for politicians can fake it all the way to the point of certain doom with their power to tax and their liar’s mouth. Used to, it was the press’s job to prevent that. They don’t do that anymore…and that’s why the stakes are so high now.”
That’s why watching American culture go into free fall in the 1990s alarmed Moses. He believed the design (the Constitution) plus the nature of the common man, was the soul of American exceptionalism. He believed it was our common culture, not state management, to be the reason we reacted almost opposite of how history’s other Great ex-Powers responded to greatness, and why we may have the right stuff. “If we lose that…” he’d taper off.
Moses never talked about cultural back-sliding without commenting on the Great Mutiny in India in 1857, when the native Indian military, Hindus and Muslims, rose up to drive their British officers and the East India Company out. Being close to the time of our own Civil War, gentry life among the English there much like the antebellum South, so he thought the parallels too good to overlook.
Sometimes he found grisly humor, and at other times a dark sobriety in the behavior of some of the British in meeting this sudden peril. “One measure of a civilization is how far it will allow itself to get away from any sense of real danger, even when it’s plunked right down in front of its nose, and how quickly, if at all, it can restore a proper respect.” He told the story about one English woman who refused to tear off her crinolines in front of English gentlemen so she could run away from marauding sepoys. She was hacked to death. And his favorite, told just a bit too gleefully for my tastes, was of a foot-stomping teen-age Scarlett O’Hara who squalled because the Indians were storming through the front door.‘Make them go round to the back door, Father’ were the last words her parents ever heard her say.”
But I knew what Moses was referring to; that a loss of any sense of danger can kill. In raising my own sons I recall fretting what might happen if they (we) confronted a sudden danger (we spent a lot of time in the wilds) and when I shouted out to Run or Come Here, they’d just turn to me and give me that “why?” or “I don’t want to” look…as so many kids do. I tried to impress in them a certain command voice that was for real emergencies only, so they’d know to drop everything and MOVE NOW!
Moses’ point about India was made, namely that even though the Mutiny did not end English presence in India, it did remind them they were in a place they were neither welcome…nor entirely safe…. Just like the world in general, so it seems. The Indians might rise up again, but spoiled whiny, teat fits would not ever kill them again. “We read about the tragedy of some toddler slipping under a fence and drowning in a neighbor’s swimming pool, but no one counts the number of children who die each year just because they were never taught the meaning of danger, or how to respond to it on command.”
Then Moses would go on to point out that politicians, as far back as the Middle Ages, reflected the popular urban culture just like they do now, as a warning not to place too much confidence in them. (This is born out in the Federalist Papers.) Farmers, being closer to danger than the more affluent walled-in city folk, had their senses better honed about upcoming peril. That’s why, as the hordes of Genghis Khan’s hordes (the same guy John Kerry lied about in front of Congress) came moving across central Asia in the 13th-14th Centuries, the farm folk simply passed up the normal exchange of au revoirs and “adios’d the hell out of there” (migrated), causing a massive cultural ripple effect that would last centuries. But many city folks, less disposed to give up their comforts, would fall back on their politicians and send out their version of Senator Kerry to wow the barbarians with his superior education and silvery tongue. The khans of course would feast on these vanities and were known to build mounds of skulls that could be seen for miles. The survivors were raped, sold into slavery, and lived in servitude for half a millennium.
How the Mongols scorched Europe and central Asia is one thing that occurs when a whimpering urban culture is married to an appeasing political culture, and it can last as long as the Dark Ages. Moses’ speculated then, and I do now: Is that where America is headed? Out with a bang?
But it is not the only outcome, for, as Moses allowed, there are those with a special chemistry, who seem to carry the gene for redemption. But at what cost?
Moses loved to comment on European culture after World War I and how they, via their politicians, dealt with the rising visage of an Adolph Hitler. “After the carnage of World War I, France, more than all the others, raced right back to 1913 almost like she’d been holding her breath for five years. She was like some girl trying to get through a really dull lecture on moral philosophy, knowing a boy was waiting outside behind the bandstand. She couldn’t wait to lift her skirt and get back to partying. Germany went dark from the beginning, but the rest of Europe, not even England, ever did have that ‘back to God turn-in-the-road’ moment you’d expect after watching 20 million of your men and citizens die in such unimaginable fashion.
“Throughout the 20s and 30s, narcissism, vanity, feeding the appetites…all of ‘em…were up, soulful reflection and repentance were down. So when a Hitler comes up over the horizon, just fifteen years after the last killing spree, there was no deep well of caution to reach down into. There was only the League of Nations, where everyone wore cravats, so their only option was to try to buy Hitler off with respectability, just like they would try to do with Arafat, fifty million souls and thirty years later. It was Genghis Khan all over again, and all over again. I just hope we never send another American to die trying to rescue that bunch from what I suspect is their hell-fer-certain natural end.
“Point is, America was different…and special. Question is, are we still? After the Civil War we took a long pause for reflection about the million who’d died in that holocaust. But instead of turning to partying, drinking and debauching ourselves to death in light of the obvious, that life is short and sometimes harsh, and tomorrow we may die, we clung even harder to God, and decided…for the first time in the history of the world…that sending our men to risk their lives for the safe deliverance and freedom of other men is a noble thing. No other people ever did that. Ever.
“With that same thought in mind, men enlisted to go to France in 1917, and while I admit saving the French is far less noble than freeing black men, there was no lack of honor in the hearts of the men who did it. And during the Great Depression, even after Hollywood had been created and a person could escape to a world of never-ending unreality, and even into the Second World War…every time times got tough, we held to God harder, not less. We didn’t thumb our nose at Him like France. We didn’t act like He existed only at our sufferance, like the Archbishop of Canterbury believes. My own opinion is that this is the major blessing of being low born…the same thing Europe hates us for, by the way.
“Europe is a sinking ship with no anchor, no sextant, no fixed stars in the heaven to steer by, and no excess baggage to throw overboard…unless they can come up with some more Jews. Is this who we want most to be like? This is the question of the times.”
But Moses didn’t like the idea of repeating the Depression or a new blooding as enormous as World War II in order to reset our bearings. He even mused that “…once you reach a certain crook in the road, you can’t go back. All the blooding in the world won’t help guide you back to the straight and narrow. That’s what I worry about.” That’s where the talk always dropped off…what kind of crossroads are we standing at now?
I haven’t spoken to Moses Sands since the fall of 2006 (there’s a story there I haven’t quite figured out how to tell) and assume he finally climbed up on Dodger and took that last ride up into the high county of Alberta. The book he wanted to write will probably never be published, but not because the material for it isn’t all here. Rather, as we both debated, it was being written to a bunch of people who no longer read. With him gone, I have to try to get his message out another way. Some of these essays are but one. I can think of others. But he knew as early back as 2000 that America was in a war, and he wanted to fight it, not make money off talking about it. There was already too much talk.
What we know is that our politicians, our leadership, are no longer a barometer of our national cultural health. Politicians, like bureaucrats, are creatures of nature. (“You should never get mad at dogs for being dogs. But you should shoot the mad ones.”) They will keep feeding the Beast (the bureaucracy) and their own appetites even as the nation starves. It’s their nature. But it’s also their nature to jump when an aroused citizenry says “Jump” with that command voice I mentioned earlier. But how to do it?
Only our culture can save us, for our institutions are under siege. More specifically, the culture of the common man, for only there do democracy and morality fit into the scheme of survival. The rich could always do without both…for awhile, at least.
If it’s true, as some suggest, that we have tossed away our guideposts then all is lost anyway. But mankind and liberty worldwide are also lost and will stay lost until the Chinese discover those same fixed stars in their own firmament, a Jesus, an Adam Smith, a Jefferson, Madison…only when? Two hundred years? They may be inveterate capitalists, but I can find no stars in their firmament that will rise soon.
But if we do still have our soul, must another quarter million die like they did in 1942-1945 before we reach down into our well to retrieve it? Moses hated the idea that we had to be blooded again like those who died in World War II just to win back a place at the table that had always belonged to Good Men in the first place.
This was a major emphasis with him, the high road is ours by right.
I’m sure Moses never knew Barack Obama as a super-star. But he did know his sponsor, George Soros (personally, some years ago), and equated him with bad things. “When you can make a billion dollars without creating a single new dollar, you’re not an entrepreneur, you’re a mountebank.” He went on to say “Good and Evil will always do combat, but the idea that they can sit down at the table peaceably as equals is too stupid even to contemplate. Sam Donaldson used to go on about that all the time. One or the other has to be on top…always. Funniest thing, though, one of ‘em by nature always belongs on top…and funnier still, both of ‘em know it. That’s the advantage we have over Soros. Meet him head to head with the right stuff and he not only has to lose, he knows he has to lose.
What I just wrote here was first written 60 days before Barack Obama was elected in 2008. Moses Sands foresaw the events in the Middle East of this past week, and this past year. He would not have been surprised. He also would not have been surprised that the American people would reach down, find that core, reset their bearings, and run those criminal scalawags to the furthest ends of the earth, and begin fixing all the broken pipes in our foundations that has come from sixty years of neglect, incompetence and mistreatment.