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Jewish World Review April 5, 1999 /19 Nissan 5759

Sam Schulman

Sam Schulman
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Colonel Blimp is Alive ...
and in Washington

(JWR) ---- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com)
WATCHING THE CLINTONS' waging the century's last world war made me think of its first.

Then, the commanders of the victorious armies suffered a curious change of image. In Britain, France, and America, intelligent people came to regard the generals who won the war not as heroes, but as blunderers who squandered the lives of their own soldiers --- ordinary men who won the war in spite of the generals' leadership. The English left-wing cartoonist David Low invented the figure of Colonel Blimp, the incompetent mustachioed buffoon who sent young men to their death. A song of the era quoted by the historian Noel Annan gives the flavor:

'Good morning, good morning,' the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line,
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of 'em dead,
And we're cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
'He's a cheery old card,' grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and packů
But he did for them both with his plan of attack.

Colonel Blimp-fatuous, obsessed with drilling and discipline, pompous, snobbish, unimaginative, dining well while his men died in the trenches-came to symbolize the rottenness of a system that was fundamentally incompetent.

The allied forces fought for worthwhile ideals, but their leaders lacked intelligence and ability, and we considered ourselves lucky not to have been defeated. The names of Haig, Kitchener, Pershing, and Foch began to loathed almost as soon as the war was over.

Col. Blimp creator,
David Low
Even as late as the Vietnam war, moviemakers exhumed these names to remind us that generals were oblivious and stupid, war a senseless conspiracy against ordinary people: "Oh What a Lovely War," "How I Won the War," "Charge of the Light Brigade," - "Gallipoli" is a only a hangover from this era.

The Clintons came to adulthood watching these movies. Ironically they have brought to Washington a squadron of renovated Colonel Blimps, now civilians, who once again have landed us in a bad war out of sheer incompetence.

Colonel Blimp has a slick new image. Drilling is out, polling is in; Jamie Rubin's Armani suits have replaced Patton's snazzy jodphurs. But the spirit of Blimpism infects the quality of thought that has gone into the war preparations and strategic planning of Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Madeleine Albright, Richard Holbrooke, James Rubin, Sandy Berger, Bill Cohen, and their predecessors Warren Christopher and Tony Lake. It is not only that their policy decisions are usually wrong. Even common sense fails them: no one can execute their policies with the means they provide. We can't drop a bomb on a Serbian patrol rounding up a dozen Kosavar villagers; our missiles can't turn back an army infiltrating a large area unopposed.

Whence this stupidity? The answer, I think, is vanity. The old Colonel Blimp certainly had his: the obsession with "smartness," with spit-and-polish, with matters of etiquette and gentlemanliness. The vanity of the new generation of Blimps is moral not material or spiritual, and it's far more dangerous.

Our new Blimps are so entranced by their moral quality, their superiority to the Serbs, that they lose the ability to measure their opponents or predict what they will do. The moralist's only weapon is to publicize his own virtue. The strategist knows that his intentions are best concealed.

The perfect example of a policy dictated by moral narcissism is the doctrine that many of the Clinton crew fought for in the early 1980s: the nuclear freeze. If ever there was an action that would make nuclear war more not less likely, it would be this: to signal to our opponents that there was to be a period of time when we chose to be particularly vulnerable to attack. But the consequences of this policy mattered less than its style. The means justified the end: a meaningless gesture towards peace was more important than whether it might really lead to peace.

And now, locked into a policy of bombing that is hastening the very outcome it was intended to prevent, we are in a fin de siecle version of trench warfare.

Our men are not dying, yet, but the quagmire is being prepared-- a moral not a military quagmire. "Escalation"-a word I thought I would never hear again- will be an escalation of moral superiority not arms. The end will involve a stand-off between people who know they are right, and want to be admired for it-our Colonel Blimps-and the Serbs, who will have gotten what they wanted.

What sort of terrible and cynical bargain will these two sides strike with one another?


JWR contributor Sam Schulman is deputy editor of Taki's Top Drawer, appearing in New York Press, and was formerly publisher of Wigwag and a professor of English at Boston University. You may contact him by clicking here.

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©1999, Sam Schulman