Anyone who engages in a competitive sport has experienced the moment when, even though the outcome of the match or game is theoretically still in doubt, the participants know absolutely who shall prevail. To look in your opponent’s eye and to see that he believes he cannot win brings an exhilarating satisfaction. By the same token, to see in your opponent’s visage the certainty that he will triumph is deflating beyond measure. Perhaps the most famous incident of such a moment in sport occurred in 1964 when, at the end of the sixth round, Sonny Liston peered across the ring at Cassius Clay and knew that his goose was cooked; so he dreamt up a phantom shoulder injury and conceded defeat.
Something similar often happens in the lifetime of a nation or a regime. The nation, or its present government, might appear to be sailing along smoothly, even successfully. But anyone paying attention realizes – generally because of one or more signature events that have happened recently, and because of the peoples’ and the government’s reaction to said events – that the regime (or nation) will not survive. The exact nature of the death scene might not be apparent, nor its timing; but its inevitability is assured and even those who recognize its imminence are powerless to prevent it.
A classic example is the Suez crisis of 1956, following which it was absolutely obvious that Great Britain’s three and a half century role as one of the paramount powers on the globe had come to an end. The nation did not disappear, but England had sunk to the level of a second rate power whose influence in the world was a mere shadow of its former scope. The monarchy continued, the Commonwealth limped along, England retained its permanent seat on the Security Council; but the entire world recognized that Britannia no longer ruled the waves, nor would it ever again.
At the opposite end of England’s reign one finds a moment when its predecessor surrendered the throne – i.e., the defeat of the Spanish Armada by Queen Elizabeth I’s forces in 1588, which marked the end of Spain’s century-long stretch as the world’s pre-eminent power. The Spanish ‘Empire’ lasted until the Treaties of Utrecht in 1713, or perhaps until Napoleon beat them up badly in the early 1800s, or maybe even until the US provided the final coup de grâce 90 years later. But three hundred years before San Juan Hill, Spain’s status as the major world power came to an end, and all knew it.
On the other hand, sometimes when the epiphanous moment occurs, it is not acknowledged, or if it is, its consequences are denied – making for an even more calamitous collapse in the long run. Two examples of the former are Nazi Germany immediately after the assault on Stalingrad stalled and Imperial Japan after the battle of Midway. Regarding the former, certainly many on Hitler’s staff – especially after America entered the fray – foresaw that the tide of the war would change. Some might have favored seeking a negotiated settlement with the Allied powers. But Hitler was blind to the tea leaves, and his was the only opinion that mattered. Had he entered negotiations for an armistice at that point, he might have salvaged some sort of regime – and millions of lives would have been spared. But he failed to recognize the inevitable.
Regarding Japan, in spite of having all the tactical advantages, the Japanese Navy was defeated at Midway, a mere six months after Pearl Harbor. Admiral Yamamoto – who is reputed to have seen the future accurately even as he planned the attack on Pearl Harbor – was in a distinct minority. Overall, Imperial Japanese militants failed to recognize that their war effort was doomed.
Two examples of the latter – i.e., where recognition occurs, but is ignored – are Lee after Gettysburg and Gorbachev after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Both saw the handwriting on the wall — one of them literally. But Lee was unable or unwilling to try to convince his superiors to sue for peace. And although Gorbachev clearly saw that he was playing a losing hand, he fooled himself about the coming total collapse of communism and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Unlike the German military staff or Yamamoto, neither of whom was in a position to change the history that they saw unfolding, both Lee and Gorbachev might have been in such a position.
A common thread in virtually all these scenarios is the presence of war. Indeed, the decisive moment in the death of a nation or a regime is often marked by a military event. But not always. The Brits were actually victorious in the brief 1956 Suez skirmish – admittedly against a vastly inferior foe. It was in the aftermath, in which Eisenhower unceremoniously and unconditionally ordered the English to withdraw, that it became clear that Great Britain – despite its former military élan – was now a zephyr compared to the US and no longer controlled its own fate.
Here are three more such existential moments that did not involve war at the defining instant:
- When de Klerk freed Nelson Mandela, it was completely clear that the days of the apartheid regime in South Africa were numbered.
- A hundred years ago, Argentina was poised to rival the US as an emerging entrepreneurial society. But then they fell off the track by experimenting with collectivist policies. The US left them in the dust. Then when they elected Juan Peron, the Argentineans sealed their fate as a statist and corrupt society.
- It is hard to pinpoint a single event in the last 70 years that heralded the fall of Europe. But after 40 years of self-flagellation for the horrors that they inflicted upon themselves in two world wars, at some point in the last 30 years it became clear that Europe had totally lost faith in its culture, its heritage and its religion. (After all, another word for Europe for centuries was ‘Christendom.’) As the institutionalization of the European Union progressed, it became evident that the Europeans were basically committing political and cultural suicide.
Has the US just witnessed a defining moment? Does the betrayal of the conservative cause by Chief Justice John Roberts – a distinctly non-military event – qualify as such a moment for the US? Certainly some of the conservative pundits think so. And yet the right wing ether is full of hopeful articles about the ‘clever, ulterior’ motives of the Chief Justice and how in the end his ruling will redound to the advantage of the conservative cause. But anyone with his head screwed on straight recognizes that Roberts was intimidated by Obama and the mainstream media, and that he represents yet another in a long line of supposedly conservative Supreme Court justices who have defected to the liberal enemy. Moreover, this monumental surrender is indicative of a loss of faith – both by the people and by so-called conservative leaders – in the nation’s ability to reverse a century long slide into Euro-socialism.
Have we indeed passed the tipping point? It is not unreasonable to survey the wreckage inflicted on the nation since Reagan by progressives (Clinton, Obama) and faux conservatives (both Bushes), and thereby conclude that the Constitutional Republic known as America is doomed, and perhaps has already expired. Our economy is at best in a state of permanent semi-stagnation; our military capabilities are in sharp decline; the progressives control virtually all of the opinion-molding organs of society, which they use to brainwash the people; the federal debt is a major calamity that will wreak havoc very soon; our culture is saturated with pornography, drugs and violence, multiculturalism and secularism; we sit on the world’s greatest energy resources and we refuse to tap it; the federal behemoth consumes a fatal proportion of our GDP and regulates the minutiae of our lives; and worst of all, more than half the population is either oblivious to or favors these developments as evidenced by the, at least, 50-50 chance that it will compound the astounding error of 2008 and re-elect the only anti-American president in the nation’s 236-year history.
One could, on the other hand, claim that the preceding argument is excessively pessimistic. After all, our nation has experienced times of greater stress and weakness than the present: the Civil War, the Depression, the 60s and 70s when society seemed to be unraveling before our eyes. Moreover, as a stock broker said to me in 2010: ‘The market factored in Social Security; the market factored in Medicare; the market will factor in Obamacare.’ And perhaps he is right as clearly the market’s reaction to Roberts’ treachery has been mainly a yawn.
But perhaps the market’s yawn is not one of a large, successful and complex society simply digesting an alien body; but rather that of an organism meekly accepting the inevitability of its transformation under the influence of that foreign body.