≡ Menu

For A More Poetic Explanation, Read Wilfred Owen’s Most Famous Poem

Here’s a letter to the Washington Post:

Linda Graff writes “As my son prepares for officer training this year, I feel torn: Can I stand in the middle of the street?  I want to support the troops.  I support my son.  I did not support the invasion of Iraq and do not believe we will ‘win’ in Afghanistan.  Is there now a possibility that he could be sent to Libya?  What I learned from my father and several presidents was a healthy disbelief in the idea that our government will do what is right.  I would like to trust the generals and the president to know what is best for our nation and national security, but I am afraid that too many young people have died in vain.  Maybe I am the coward” (“My father the soldier, my son the soldier,” March 19).

Ms. Graff is no coward.  She’s wise.  And the wisest part of her understands what was so well explained by H.L. Mencken:

“It seems to be difficult if not impossible for human beings to avoid thinking of government as mystical entity with a nature and a history all its own.  It constitutes for them a creature somehow interposed between themselves and the great flow of cosmic events, and they look to it to think for them and to protect them.  In democratic countries it is theoretically their agent, but there seems to be a strong tendency to convert the presumably free citizen into its agent, or at all events, its client.  This exalted view of its scope, character, powers and autonomy is fundamentally false.  A government at bottom is nothing more than a group of men, and as a practical matter most of them are inferior men….  Yet these nonentities, by the intellectual laziness of men in general, have come to a degree of puissance in the world that is unchallenged by that of any other group.  Their fiats, however preposterous, are generally obeyed as a matter of duty, they are assumed to have a  kind of wisdom that is superior to ordinary wisdom, and the lives of multitudes are willingly sacrificed in their interest.”*

Indeed and sadly so.

Donald J. Boudreaux

* H.L.Mencken, Minority Report (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997 [1956]), pp. 56-57.