Monday, April 20, 2009

The Will to Win

I've just started reading Mark Steyn's America Alone. I know I'm late to the party. But in my defense I probably have 60 books waiting to be read on my shelves. I know the basics, of course. But it bears repeating. The book isn't just about demographics. And it certainly isn't a racist screed about non-whites out-breeding the West. But it is about a lack of will to want to defend the West by Westerners who only want to enjoy the freedoms and prosperity of the West rather than defend the West.

While I believe Western Europeans will rally with whatever level of brutality it takes to defeat the threat of Islam to Europe, despite the demographics, Steyn has a very good point about the importance of determination and spirit. Too many people look at the West and see our technology and GDP and mock the very idea that virtual primitives from the 12th century can defeat us.

A small story from the Crusades illustrates Steyn's very valid concerns about Western Europe's willingness to defend our society. And no worries, it doesn't even involve Moslems, so you are free from the guilt of relativism by judging Islam.

Thomas Madden's A Concise History of the Crusades relates the fall of Constantinople in 1203 during the Fourth Crusade. Constantinople was viewed as the apex of civilized strength in contrast to the poverty and backwardness of the Western Europeans on their way to the Promised Lands, who gazed in awe at the mighty city and its walls (p. 109):

Here these hardy knights of the medieval world came face to face with the still-beating heart of antiquity. No man, said Villehardouin, was so brave and daring that he did not shudder at the sight, and with good reason. Constantinople was legendary not only for its opulence but also for its impregnable fortifications. Beyond those, Alexius III had a garrison three times the size of the crusader army. Beyond those, he had foreign mercenary corps, including the elite Varangian Guard. In its long history, Constantinople had shrugged off armies ten times the size of the Fourth Crusade. To the people of the city, the westerners were an annoyance and an oddity, but not a real threat.

Despite the outward appearance of strength, the defenders were weak at heart despite their numbers and wealth. Only the amazing walls allowed the defenders to boast of their record against attackers.

But the situation devolved until the crusaders attacked the city rather than drawing resources from the city for the march to the Promised Land.

The supremacy of will when technology fails the advanced side is made clear in this passage (pp. 118-119):

A small group of about ten knights and sixty sergeants led by Peter of Amiens landed on a narrow strip of ground outside the wall and near the shore. There they discovered a postern gate that the defenders had walled up. They fell upon it zealously with whatever implements they had on hand. It was hard going and dangerous, for from above the Greeks rained down on them immense stones and boiling pitch, which they deflected with their shields. At last, they succeeded in making a small hole. Peering through, they saw a huge crowd of soldiers inside. Surely, it was suicide to enter. One man, an armed priest named Alleumes of Clari, insisted on the honor of being the first to enter Constantinople. No amount of pleading from his comrades would dissuade him. His brother, Robert of Clari, was particularly upset and even tried to prevent him from crawling through the hole by grabbing his legs. It was no use. Alleumes scrambled through to the other side, where he was faced with an armed multitude.

That should have been that, eh? The defenders should have swarmed Alleumes and killed him, kept the crusaders out, and blocked the hole. But the technical expertise of the Byzantines in defending the walls required the walls to hold:

Then an amazing thing happened. With enormous confidence, Alleumes drew his sword and ran toward the Greek troops. They scattered. Once again, the poorly trained Byzantine troops proved themselves unwilling to fight unless the dangers to themselves was minuscule. Because most of them were provincials, they saw no reasons to risk their lives for the sake of the capital. Alleumes called to his companion, who now crawled through the hole, drew their swords, and kept their backs to the wall. When Greek troops at other locations saw the flight of those stationed near the walled gate, they panicked and abandoned their positions along the walls. Soon there was a snowball effect as the imperial army abandoned the length of the fortification in a mad dash to escape the city--all because of the entry of fewer than a hundred crusaders.

An amazing thing indeed. And while I expect the West to avoid this fate, to meet my expectations it does need to rouse itself from its growing multicultural tolerance for those who hate us and would destroy us.

We are stronger than our jihadi enemies. They have no business being a threat to us. But for that to be true we need the confidence that our society and freedoms are better than the jihadis' sick vision for our society. For that strength to mean anything, we must be willing to use our wealth and technology to defend ourselves and fight those who would kill us.

Steyn thinks the Europeans are not up to the task when confronted with those like the shrieking Alluemes who have entered our figurative walls. I hope he is wrong.

UPDATE: Well. Thank you to Mark Steyn for linking to me as the reader of the day. As I recall, I didn't get anything even remotely similar for my Sarah Michelle Gellar post. Not to seem ungrateful or anything. I'm just saying.