I have too much on my plate today and too little time, but I just had to take a few minutes to follow-up on a theme that started with the British Marines and ended, so sadly, at VTech: passivity.
Two of the best writers out there have written about the fact that our Western culture has made a virtue out of passivity in the face of violence. Mark Steyn views the problem as an infantilization of society that has us completely conditioned to wait for others to rescue us. After explaining his viewpoint, Steyn looks at a Canadian massacre of a few years back (and doesn’t Canada have gun control?) with some of the most frightening facts I’ve ever heard — not because of what the killer did, but because of what the male bystanders did (or, rather, didn’t do):
The cost of a “protected” society of eternal “children” is too high. Every December 6th, my own unmanned Dominion lowers its flags to half-mast and tries to saddle Canadian manhood in general with the blame for the “Montreal massacre,” the 14 female students of the Ecole Polytechnique murdered by Marc Lepine (born Gamil Gharbi, the son of an Algerian Muslim wife-beater, though you’d never know that from the press coverage). As I wrote up north a few years ago:
Yet the defining image of contemporary Canadian maleness is not M Lepine/Gharbi but the professors and the men in that classroom, who, ordered to leave by the lone gunman, meekly did so, and abandoned their female classmates to their fate — an act of abdication that would have been unthinkable in almost any other culture throughout human history. The “men” stood outside in the corridor and, even as they heard the first shots, they did nothing. And, when it was over and Gharbi walked out of the room and past them, they still did nothing. Whatever its other defects, Canadian manhood does not suffer from an excess of testosterone.
Apropos the men in Canada, I read somewhere on the blogosphere, and I can’t remember where, that when the Titantic sank, the men truly abided by the age-old adage of women and children first:
First of all, if you were a man, you were outta luck. The overall survival rate for men was 20%. For women, it was 74%, and for children, 52%. Yes, it was indeed “women and children first.”
The other post I read today on the same these was at Big Lizards, where Dafydd wrote about the peculiar virtue our Western culture has made of not fighting back:
I see the circumstances of the Virginia Tech shooting and of the British hostages as betraying the same very poignant — and dangerous — perspective: helplessness as a virtue.
But the two circumstances also differ in a way that at first appears vast, but upon reflection seems not so great after all. When a soldier, by inaction, renders himself helpless, we call it cowardice; but civilians do not seem to be under the same duty as a member of the military, one who has voluntarily assumed responsibility for protecting and preserving his society.
Surely, however, adult civilians are not completely bereft of any such responsibility; in fact, assuming personal responsibility for the lives and freedoms of others is, by my reckoning, exactly what separates the child from the adult. When a boy or a girl freely accepts that he has a certain duty towards his fellows, even when nobody will ever know whether he fulfilled it or not, that is when boy becomes man and girl becomes woman.
The epiphany is usually a series of small revelations that mount up over time, but it can also strike like the fangs of a diamondback in the dark night of the soul. Either way, dawn can begin at any age past puberty and can take a number of years, or a few short days… or else a lifetime can pass without the change completing.
The epiphany is this: Each one of us is a foot soldier for civilization; when evil threatens, we must do our utmost to thwart it.
Your utmost may be as simple as snitching on your best friend when you discover he has systematically looted the company you both work for… or as profound as Virginia Tech Engineering Professor Liviu Librescu, a Holocaust survivor, who gave his last full measure blocking the doorway to his classroom, allowing his students time to escape out the window.
Steyn and Dafydd are both absolutely right about the way in which Western culture has emasculated itself. It’s confused the cultural virtue of avoiding bullying (a good thing), with the cultural death knell of becoming helpless.
As for me, when I heard about the Marines being led onto waiting Iranian ships, and when I heard about the VTech students lined up to be shot, all I could think of was the Jews passively getting round up by the Nazis. When Israel says “never again,” she means that her citizens will never again allow themselves to be taken without a fight. What the country realized collectively is that, if you’re going to die anyway, take the others down with you — and you may discover that your death toll isn’t as great as you thought. Professor Librescu, having survived the Holocaust, understood this and willingly sacrificed himself that others could live. The passengers on United 93 understood this and, through their sacrifice, may have saved the Capitol. Every member of the armed forces who fights a battle or goes on a rescue mission understands this.
And lest you think that this line of reasoning holds true only in extreme situations of battle or terrorism, it also applies in a microcosmic way to every assault or rape in this country — or so I was told during a long-ago self-defense class. The teacher said that studies about attempted rapes show that women who fight back are more likely to get hurt but (and here’s the kicker) less likely to get killed.