As the title notes, countries can be “lost,” but, in this context, what does “lost” mean? Where are the examples? One meaning, certainly, is the ultimate purpose of all national security policies and goals, i.e. to survive.
“Lost” is past tense, an adjective that is final; “lose” is present tense, a verb that is temporary. The conclusion is suspended until it becomes “lost.” Scanning history, in the West we have examples of both. Britain “lost” its colonies, Germany “lost,” the U.S. “won” in both world wars, etc. Many countries win battles and lose wars — ask Napoleon, Robert E. Lee, Adolph Hitler, Hadeki Tojo, Paul Reynaud, and many more. Others lose battles and win wars — ask the Soviet Union in World War II and the American North in the Civil War.
In the context we intend to discuss on June 13, the concentration is on “lose” and what the intellectual classes do in anticipation of loss of country. That means the precipitate events, circumstances that created a “loss” in the first place, not the consequences. The consequence of “lost” is disappearance. It is far more consequential to discover why Rome fell than what took its place. If there are patterns or repetitions as to losing a country, then it is instructive. If it recovers from loss, that is also instructive. A disappearance may be tragic but empty unless we know “why.”
The possibility of a loss, the ultimate conclusion, is fundamental, i.e. “existential.” Avoidance of loss is the purpose of all national security strategies and goals. Without the specter of a final defeat, there would be little or no logic to the term “national security” itself. The word is “national” not “partial.”
Take France, for one. In 1803, Napoleon sold nearly half of North America (Louisiana Purchase) without affecting the home front. In 1871, France surrendered Alsace-Lorraine and stayed intact (and later recovered them). Britain lost its American colonies in 1781 and still went on to build the world’s largest empire. In April 1975, the U.S. evacuated Vietnam after years of war, and few on Main Street seemed to notice. Then the U.S. became the world’s “sole remaining superpower” (alleged). The vast Soviet Empire collapsed in 1991; now, for years, the entire American public has been obsessed that Russia will take democracy away and create a Trump dynasty (alleged).
On it goes, ad infinitum.
The point of the endless quarrelling between Trump and the media appears existential. To pose it in less than apoplectic terms might reduce it to simple, rational issues of political power. Cynics might describe the infighting as between the world’s richest man (Jeff Bezos, owner, Washington Post) vs. the world’s most powerful (Trump). Instead, it is ideological, posed in moralistic, idealistic expressions between good and evil, democracy and despotism. A daily reminder of the terms are inscribed at the top of page one of the Post, every issue, every day and night. “Democracy dies in darkness” is not political philosophy, it is an incessant assertion that the stakes are nothing less than “win-lose.” A Trump presidency, over and over, is “to lose a country” (alleged).
To be sure, there have been times when the threat was real and imminent. It could have been lost from the beginning, most certainly in the Civil War, possibly in the Great Depression. Military coups are frequently mentioned as possible, conspirator theories abound that distant, anonymous groups, families, bankers, and cliques mastermind the country and the world. Conspiratorial accounts of loss have entertained millions through time and circumstance, Propaganda (1928), The Manchurian Candidate (1959), Seven Days in May (1962), None Dare Call It Conspiracy (1972), Critical Path (1982), The Unseen Hand (1982), and The Fourth Reich (2008), to name a few.
Illusion, entertainment, and conspiracy may intrigue the public, but at the same time today’s U.S. political culture hovers between lunacy, exaggeration, and hysteria. President Trump has his share of blame, but the “resistance” in the media, even in comedy and talk shows, appears, on surface, to have reached epidemic proportions. At the bottom of all of it is the ultimate specter, not of Republican gain, not of Hillary’s defeat, but of “loss of country.”
As a demonstration of the depth of intensity, consider how often the American president has been compared to Adolf Hitler. Adolf Hitler! As if Hitler would have a Jewish son-in-law and a Jewish (converted) daughter. As if Trump has announced “A Thousand Year America” and plans on invading Mexico and ending NATO. The U.S. has no concentration camps, no Gestapo, while the media remains free to openly provoke a change in government.
The idea that Trump was an existential threat came well before he even took office. The day after his nomination, The Washington Post ran an editorial that the new Republican nominee was “a unique threat to American democracy.” It’s been downhill since.
Shortly after Trump’s election, a New Yorker column invoked history to indict the President-elect. The author, John Cassidy, announced that “Over Thanksgiving I read up on some history: Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Berlusconi, Putin.” After turkey and pumpkin pie, presumably, this quick study of selective tyrannies came up with a (foregone) conclusion that “Trump’s victory heralds the imposition of Putinesque authoritarianism and maybe even full-blown Fascism.” Soon afterward, New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof, drew upon ancient Rome to condemn the president. Comparing Trump to Caligula and Nero, the first who murdered his mother and the second who burned the city, he concluded that what “…was true two millennia ago … remains true today.” And that the whole lot, “…may not be, er, quite right in the head.”
“Pundits” are allowed free rein to glance at history with imagination to arouse dissent. That may be a quality of equalitarian democracy, whether fault or virtue. But loss of country is decidedly not a subject to be taken lightly, or to serve as a polemical platform against domestic opponents. There is hardly a nation-state, empire, tribe, jurisdiction, or ethnic grouping that has not, somewhere in time, experienced the phenomenon of “loss.” To some, it meant “lost,” and we haven’t seen them since. To others, it was “loss,” and they are still here.
Consider Poland, for one. It was eliminated, “absorbed,” by its three great neighbors, Russia, Prussia, and Austria in 1794. After World War I (1919), it came back to where it was, only to disappear again by two of the original team (Germany, Soviet Union) in 1939. In 1945, it was again “lost” to the one remaining (Soviet Union) but “arose” once more in 1991. How many losses can one nation take?
The subject “loss of country,” be it political theater and polemical or real and historic, has always been dominant in human history and has, in fact, defined the political map of the globe, before and now.
The next time you see the slogan “democracy dies in darkness,” consider the source. Compared to reality, it’s a bumper sticker.
IWP and the American Academy of Distance Learning will co-sponsor an event on Loss of Country on June 13th. More info/register