How the Maltese Falcon saved civilization (really).
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Sixty-five years ago, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was not squeamish about figuratively using the word to mean “a coordinated battle with a moral core.” He began his order of the day on June 6, 1944 (D Day): “Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade.” He named his bestselling war memoir Crusade in Europe. His 1952 presidential campaign slogan was Campaign for America.
At the Democratic convention of that year, Ike’s opponent Adlai Stevenson tried tweaking his usage: I hope and pray that we Democrats, win or lose, can campaign not as a crusade to exterminate the opposing Party, as our opponents seem to prefer, but as a great opportunity to educate and elevate a people whose destiny is leadership.
Judging by the election returns, Americans did not share Stevenson’s concern. Eisenhower finished his second term in 1959 with a first-time-ever jet plane tour of the world by a chief of state — dubbed “Crusade for Peace.”
You’d have to be taking stupid pills to think that, in America, “crusade” alluded to pogroms or any of the other excesses of the Middle Ages. No one thought that Ike, a Presbyterian, was carrying water for the Catholic Church. In President Bush’s case, he had the additional concern of people thinking he was alluding to the opponents in the original Crusades. What a shame. Had he kept using the term, it would have been a teachable moment for both our friends and foes.
IN A FREE SOCIETY, the morality of a cause is not the icing on the cake — it’s the whole cake. Facing a threat that is both long term and spiritually driven, our values-free ethos disarms us. Conventional wisdom runs that a “decadent” society will collapse due to “divine punishment.” In fact, the process of social destruction need not be deity-driven or even supra-rational. Our inability to operate with a consensus of values renders us incapable of understanding and combating any enemy more complex than a street punk.
Which leads us back to the “third rate burglary”: like its literary avatar, the falcon stolen John’s Grill has never been found, despite a $25,000 reward. It’s been replaced with a specially commissioned sculpture. “It’s a fake of a fake of a fake,” the restaurant owner says, ““but people come from all over the world to see it. A lot of people moved to San Francisco because of that movie.” Both the restaurant’s falcon and the movie’s falcon are what Alfred Hitchcock would term “MacGuffins” — objects of obsessive, misdirected pursuit which drive the story but ultimately prove unworthy of the attention.
In our ongoing existential struggle, the leadership class has displayed a sense of timing and choreography that would impress even the great Director himself. Continually and with tremendous creativity, media, educators and government keep nudging our attention away from the true historic threat and back towards the MacGuffin of “extremism,” “fanaticism,” and “militant-ism.” Will we ever realize we’ve been gamed, correct our mistake and re-focus our pursuit on the genuine bird of value? On that answer hangs our future as free men and women.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online