When the Guardians Fail
Robert A. Hall
Robert Frost wrote, “Then leaf subsides to leaf/So Eden sank to grief/So dawn goes down to day/Nothing gold can stay.” As Eden sank to grief, so goeth all nations.
It’s never expected, of course. Christian citizens of the Byzantine Empire at the heights of its glory could not foresee the day in 1453 when Emperor Constantine XI, in a heroic last stand would die fighting the Muslim conquest of once-Christian Turkey. Yet today, it’s unthinkable that the city, now called Istanbul, could be anything but Muslim ruled.
And no citizen of Rome at its height expected the Pax Romana to bow to barbarians.
Americans may believe the United States will last forever. But history shows superpower status does not confer immortality on a nation. Someday, the guardians will fail.
Citizens are naturally suspicious of their guardians. After all, armed protectors, police or military, can be dangerous. It has been likened to the relationship of sheep to sheepdogs. The sheep do not particularly like the dogs. After all, dogs can bite, and the capacity for violence inherent in their job makes the sheep nervous. But without them, the wolves will soon be among the flock, rending and tearing. George Orwell said, “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” That does not make the rough men popular with those they guard.
That John Adams, defeated by Jefferson, packed and went home was perhaps the true American Revolution. That Richard Nixon could be forced from office without one tank in the streets was incomprehensible to much of the world. America’s guardians, with few aberrations, have been protectors of the people, because they have been of the people.
That is rapidly becoming not the case. In WWII, President Franklin Roosevelt’s son, Maj. Jimmy Roosevelt, served as a Marine in combat. It wasn’t thought remarkable, because our citizen military once drew its leaders from America’s elites. The Ivy League was then well represented in the officers’ corps. The guardians were of the people.
Who today expects to see Chelsea Clinton or the Bush twins in uniform? It would create a sensation if they served here, never mind in Iraq. Even if I had not had other reasons, I would have voted for McCain and Palin for allowing their kids to go to Iraq, as, respectively, a Marine and an Army infantryman. (And yes, Biden’s son is going too—as a military lawyer.) Today, few members of Congress or the administration have served. Fewer still of their children are serving. The more prestigious the university, the more likely it is to have driven ROTC and military recruiters off campus. Increasingly, those who for low pay are expected to put their lives at risk for us come from families of those who have served the country, or from immigrants. And those who benefit the most from America—the educated elites, the wealthy Hollywood stars and sports figures—feel the least call to serve.
Worse, perhaps out of hidden shame, they denigrate those who do serve. For every one of us who admired Pat Tillman for giving up a multimillion-dollar NFL career to serve our country, at the cost of his life, I’m sure there were three who secretly thought he was a jerk. As the war on terror drags on, the “we support the troops” mantra is wearing threadbare from poorly-hidden contempt.
Our guardians are growing increasingly disconnected from the society they protect. Leona Helmsley famously said, “Taxes are for the little people.” Increasingly, our elites believe that service to the Republic is for the little people, the contemptible poor who can’t get another job. When the 7,000 defenders of Constantinople fell to perhaps 85,000 besieging Muslims, about 2,000 of the defenders were mercenaries. Next time you rail against illegal immigrants from Mexico, note the number of Hispanic names on the casualty lists from Iraq. They are our mercenaries, Jose and Maria on guard, so Jason and Tiffany can take from the country without risk.
Once protecting the society is held in contempt, once the elites are no longer willing to lead the guardians, the signs of failure are manifest. The world will not appreciate what it will lose until the day America’s guardians fail. We who loved her will hope, like Constantine, to go down in the last melee. And the children of privilege will wonder, “How could this evil happen?” as their daughters don their burkas.