Friday, July 11, 2008

Currently Relevant Lessons From World War II

Written 29 April - Thanks to my friend, A Camel Named Clyde, for a copy of "Intrepid"

Sir William Stephenson led Britain’s intelligence and covert operations against the Nazi’s during WWII, and eventually brought his operations center to New York as a contingency should the United Kingdom fall to Nazi invasion. A secret war was waged against Germany from our shores even before our own entry into WWII.

He stood with Winston Churchill, as both recognized the growing threat from the Nazi’s, long before most of the civilized world believed what was taking place. They prepared for the inevitable before most others would even acknowledge the Third Reich was a menace.

When the appeasers in Europe and his own country had been proven wrong, Hitler’s machine had spread its virus through most of Europe, and England was finally in direct peril, her people finally looked to Winston Churchill. Churchill looked to William Stephenson to wage the secret war they both knew was necessary for survival.

Some years later, after much of the information was declassified and “A Man Called Intrepid” was written on the secret war and Stephenson, he remarked on the kind of leadership and what it would take to stand in defense of future threats to democracy.

His thoughts absolutely hold true today.

“We’re still evolving democratic societies,” he said. “If we want to continue this natural growth, we can’t ignore ideological enemies who want to stunt it – or destroy it. By working through our own democratic institutions, they can disarm us.”

His experience fighting the Nazi’s shaped his way of looking at the world. The struggle against Communism reinforced it. I don’t know if he foresaw the same perils from Islamofascism, but it is without question an ideology that wants to destroy democracy.

For democracies to survive, they require leaders who are willing to acknowledge and act against threats which seek to destroy freedom, leaders who can also bridge the philosophical gaps within a democracy its enemies seek to exploit, and leaders with the courage to do both.

Stephenson foresaw the challenges in democratic societies posed by balancing the secret intelligence services and covert operations necessary to guarding their freedom with protecting individual freedoms.

But, he also predicted the perils within a democracy from those who were power hungry and naïve, when he said, “The easy way out is to pretend there are no crises. That’s the easy way to win elections.”

Through willful ignorance, freedom and democracy are placed in a precarious position by those pretending dangers to it do not exist. Freedom is further jeopardized when courage to face those threats is absent.

In Stephenson’ day, the combination of naivety and appeasement led the world into a more brutal conflict than might have otherwise been necessary. As he reflected, “There were too many men in power who preferred to see no threat to freedom because to admit to such a threat implies a willingness to accept sacrifice to combat it.”

That potential for a delayed, yet larger conflict exists in our country today among those who ignore the threats to freedom and democracy posed by Islamofascism.

In many ways we stand at the same crossroads at which much of the western world stood 70 years ago. Will we be equal to the reality of the present danger and combat it, or will we choose to pretend it does not exist?

In an election year, one can’t help but directly apply Stephenson’s thoughts to our candidates and contemplate that very thing.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton seek to be leaders who are certainly not equal to the perils of the world. John McCain is.

At the local level, Scott Kleeb’s obfuscatory style and unwillingness to answer direct questions leaves far too much unanswered to decide whether or not he is. Tony Raimondo, who previously showed some promise in this area, has taken a decidedly sharp turn to the left. This column had previously seen him as possessing a reasonable stand on the war against terrorism. But his latest rhetoric and TV commercial which disregard Al Qaeda and Iran have lost him that confidence. Mike Johanns and Pat Flynn have shown they remain equal to the task.

For democracy to thrive we must be mindful, as citizens and in choosing those who lead us, of its defense. As Stephenson noted, “there’s a considerable difference between being high-minded and soft-headed” in these matters. When confronted with a very real threat to our freedom, we can’t afford high-minded, soft-headed leaders who pursue an easy way to win an election.

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