A few years back I did a review of Andreas Killen’s 1973 Nervous Breakdown. It’s hard to argue against the fact that what we went through in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s was in fact a national nervous breakdown. Two years later, of course, came the fall of Saigon and the real end of the Vietnam War, complete with Chinook helicopters evacuating the American embassy. Our enemies at the time (principally the Soviets) took notice.
As Yogi Berra used to say, it’s deja vu all over again. We’ve had another national nervous breakdown, followed by another defeat in Asia with Chinook helicopters once again evacuating people from the American embassy, this time in Kabul. Don’t think what we’ve been through is a nervous breakdown, after what we’ve been through with Antifa, COVID-19, and the redneck storming of the Capitol? As Ayaan Hirsi Ali notes:
In today’s perverse American culture, however, more attention is devoted to the use of preferred gender pronouns than to the plight of women whose most basic rights — to education, personal autonomy, the right to be present in a public space — are either removed or under serious threat.
And the Chinese, along with the other power challengers in the Islamic world, take note.
In both cases, the national nervous breakdown precedes the national defeat. We lost at home before we lost abroad.
So why does this keep happening, twice in the lifetime of some of us? I don’t have a neat explanation, but perhaps a couple of thoughts are in order.
The first is the perfectionistic streak in our culture. I discussed this in our current state in my recent piece Teaching Secular Blasphemy, but to some extent it’s always been that way. Boomers’ parents, worn out by going through a depression and a world war, wanted to create something of an earthly paradise for their children. Same children have never known how to handle that, as evidenced from Berkeley onwards. Their children and grandchildren are likewise challenged.
The second is that our elites, especially our foreign policy elites, are trained in an unreality formed by a long-running, successful form of government. For all of their pseudosophistication, that renders them narrow-minded and provincial when crunch time comes. All of our efforts for “democracy in the Middle East” and “democracy in Afghanistan” have been expensive failures. It seems that, the more moralism we try to inject into our foreign policy, the less real morality we end up with.
The result is disheartening. How many major defeats can we endure before one takes us down for good? Is the much-vaunted patriotism my father shoved down my throat really justified? How much more do we have to go through before enough people (and more importantly the right people) have a reality epiphany to stop the madness?
Some people blithely tells us that “we’ll come back from this.” Coming back from the last one wasn’t a given and it is less so now than it was then, given the condition of the country and the multiplicity of the opposition. Our last comeback was a great one but I’m not counting on the next one being inevitable.
During the last breakdown, I turned upward, to God, for the ultimate deliverance. That’s what I’m trying to do now. Additionally I try to honour those who have given their best to the service of our country, specifically the veterans I come into contact with. I have at least one Afghanistan veteran in my class this semester; I added a “thank you for your service” to her and the other veterans in the class during the syllabus review, which I have done before. Our country is not worthy of the sacrifices the men and women who have put on the uniform have made.
So we move onward, uncertain of the future that’s in front of us in spite of the vacuous assurances of our elites, remembering this: