A few months before, the Germans had, in defiance of the Treaty of Versailles, marched in the Rhineland. A friend of mine and I bicycled to Worms to see what we could see. The town was not in war, yet, but it was the best imitation of a town-in-war I have ever seen. The streets were filled with soldiers. On every corner forests of new sign posts told the way of parking ground for motorized units, regimental headquarters, divisional headquarters, corps headquarters, field hospitals. We elbowed our way the length of the main street and saw not another man in civilian dress. That evening we spent in a beer-hall, in whose upper stories we had rented rooms. The beer-hall was packed with fine-looking young officers, drinking, shouting, singing. The tables were wet with spilled beer and the air hazy with blue cigarette smoke.
I do not know what it was, except that the turn of this reaction was logically due - it was perhaps partly that the beer had loosened up my imagination - but watching the faces of these men, my own age, my own generation, caused me to think of their military culture, for the first time, in terms of me and my culture. For the first time I thought of Germany, not as an academic subject studiously to gather facts about for discussion at home, but as a real, direct and imminent threat to the existence of a civilization which gathers facts and discusses. A schism deeper than the Grand Canyon separated my world from that of the young man across from me, whose face bore fencing scars and carried a monocle over one glassy eye. The fetishes of my world, the values it worshiped, if it did not always attain them, were contained in words like "Reason", "Think", "Truth". His fetishes and his values were "Feel", "Obey", "Fight". There was no base of pride for me in this involuntary comparison; rather, a terror like that which paralyses a child alone in the dark took hold of me. For, my world, with all the good qualities I thought it had, was in terms of force, weak; his was mighty, powerful, reckless. It screamed defiance at my world from the housetops. One had to be deaf not to hear it. (Summer 1936)The title is the chapter heading from HKS's book. Attitude. That seems to be the main problem. There is something quite different about HKS's perspective as well. Notice there is no hint of the American exceptionalism that runs riot among US pundits today, that forms that basis for everything that follows. Why? Two reasons I think. First off let's look at the cultural component. HKS was from the South, Louisiana to be exact. Why should that make a difference? Because he knew what happened to a culture/political community when "history happened" . . . C. Vann Woodward wrote about it in his essay "The Irony of Southern History". There is no trace of American exceptionalism here:
. . . It explains in large part the national faith in unlimited progress, in the efficacy of material means, in the importance of mass and speed, the worship of success, and the belief in the invincibility of American arms.
The legend has been supported by an unbroken succession of victorious wars. Battles have been lost, and whole campaigns - but not wars. In the course of their national history Americans, who have been called a bellicose though unmartial people, have fought eight wars, and so far without so much as one South African fiasco such as England encountered in the heyday of her power. This unique good fortune has isolated America, I think rather dangerously, from the common experience of the rest of mankind, all the great peoples of which have without exception known the bitter taste of defeat and humiliation. It has fostered the tacit conviction that American ideals, values, and principles inevitably prevail in the end. That conviction has never received a name, nor even so much explicit formulation as the old concept of Manifest Destiny. It is assumed, not discussed. And the assumption exposes us to the temptation of believing that we are somehow immune from the forces of history.
The country that has come nearest to approximating the American legend of success and victory is England. The nearness of continental rivals and the precariousness of the balance of power, however, bred in the English an historical sophistication that prevented the legend from flourishing as luxuriantly as it has in the American climate. Only briefly toward the end of the Victorian period did the legend threaten to get out of hand in England. Arnold J. Toynbee has recalled those piping days in a reminiscent passage. "I remember watching the Diamond Jubilee procession myself as a small boy," he writes. "I remember the atmosphere. It was: well, here we are on the top of the world, and we have arrived at this peak to stay there - forever! There is, of course, a thing called history, but history is something unpleasant that happens to other people. We are comfortably outside all that. I am sure, if I had been a small boy in New York in 1897 I should have felt the same. Of course, if I had been a small boy in 1897 in the Southern part of the United States, I should not have felt the same; I should then have known from my parents that history had happened to my people in my part of the world."
The South has had its full share of illusions, fantasies, and pretensions, and it has continued to cling to some of them with an astonishing tenacity that defies explanation. But the illusion that "history is something unpleasant that happens to other people" is certainly not one of them - not in the face of accumulated evidence and memory to the contrary. . .This perspective is something HKS actually had in common with those German officers in Worms. They too knew that history "could happen". What made HKS different is that he was not willing to put his faith in a "great man". One who was thought destined to lead the nation to glory, to revenge over their enemies. This leader would lead and take on the responsibility for the entire people, the army acting as executer of his will, with the responsibility his alone. A pre-modern notion to say the least, but common to all sorts of notions of human perfection requiring blind, unquestioning faith. Something to be rejected by a product of the Enlightenment who also understood tragedy such as HKS. The second reason for HKS's "realism" that precluded the current virus of American exceptionalism, was historically based. He had come of age during the Great Depression, having been born in 1914, so he knew that the US as "the greatest economy in the world" had a hallow ring to it. In fact being a man of his times with critical faculties he could not but notice a strong connection between corporate control and fascism. The Nazis were not anti-capitalist at all, but supported the cartels. Assuming a firm link between democracy and corporate capitalism would have been ludicrous for HKS and many others who considered themselves unclouded by ideology. This brings up the question as to whether there were any similarities between HKS's view and the view he assumed of the German officer sitting across from him at the Worms beer hall. I think we can make an argument that there was a very strong common view. That is in the instrumentality of technology, of the technological approach. That technology was essentially value-less and could be adopted by whatever ideology without being affected or affecting that ideological view. Thus later in his book, HKS advocates the use of strategic bombing to destroy the will of the German people to fight on, in fact he advocated mass destruction of a culture and people to whom he had much affinity. Taking a broader view was Lewis Mumford writing in 1944:
Unlike his liberal and democratic opponents, Oswald Spengler drew the inevitable conclusion from this situation. If values are unreal and if humane purposes are chimerical, then even scientific technique must ultimately become subservient to brute force: the need for rational restraint and self-discipline of any kind disappears. Thus technicism leads directly to irrationality - and the cult of barbarian power salvages the technician's otherwise growing sense of frustration and futility. It is no accident that Germany produced both the most mechanized type of personality in tis robot-like soldiers and civilians, and the most unrestrained reaction against humane discipline, in the form of an exultant sub-animality.
Spengler ignored all the creative tendencies in modern life, except those associated with the machine: little though he relished the thought, his essential creed favored Russia and the US even more than it did the fascist countries. Spengler accepted as "real" only those elements which emphasized modern man's automatism, his deflation of values, his subservience to mechanical organization, and the savage irrationality which takes the place of reason in other parts of the personality. And because these forces cannot be confined within their original frontiers, Spengler predicted, far more accurately that hopeful philosophers, the disastrous downward course that modern civilization is still following at a steadily accelerating pace. Through its emotional impact, Spengler's word as a whole constitutes a morbid Sage of Barbarism. It began as a poem of defeat; it finally became an epic justification for the fascist attack on the very humanity of man - an attack that has already gone so far that even democratic peoples have torpidly swallowed as their own, without retching, the fascist doctrine of totalitarian air warfare: one of the deepest degradations of our age.
Spengler's day is not yet over. These are ominous times and Spengler is like a black crow, hoarsely cawing, whose prophetic wings case a shadow over our whole landscape. The democratic people cannot conquer their fascist enemies until they have conquered in their own hearts and minds the underlying barbarism that unites them with their foes. In the passive barbarism that the US now boasts under the cover of technical progress, there is no promise whatever of victory of even bare survival. Without a deep regeneration and renewal, the external triumph of American machinery and arms will but hasten the downfall of the Western World. Only those who are ready for that renewal with all its rigors, its sacrifices, its hard adventures, and entitled to celebrate even our temporary victories.