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Intellectuals Lie, the Powerless Die By: Ralph Peters
New York Post | Thursday, July 10, 2008


THE greatest lie intellectuals tell us is that "the pen is mightier than the sword." That's what cowards claim when they want to preen as heroes.

Billions of words have been hurled at Sudan's government. The misery in Darfur not only continues but deepens. While intellectuals wrestled with compound sentences, Darfur degenerated from selective oppression to savage anarchy.

Legions of columnists and commentators have deplored Robert Mugabe's monstrous rule in Zimbabwe. But none of the hand-wringing by American, European or even African intellectuals restrained one fist or stopped one club in midair. Guess who "won" that election.

Regiments of professors and pundits have bemoaned China's gobbling of Tibet for half a century. The result? Beijing cracked down even harder.

"Brave" columnists wrote countless columns bemoaning the suffering of the Kurds and the Shia under Saddam Hussein. Their earnest paragraphs didn't save a single life.

Only when better men acted did the surviving victims of one of the world's worst dictatorships glimpse freedom - an imperfect freedom but better than a mass grave.

Nothing positive is going to happen in Sudan or Zimbabwe (or Tibet) until rule-of-law states take action. As outraged activists scribble on, Beijing blithely continues supporting these and other rogue regimes (and our president crawls to the Olympics - it's as if FDR had rushed to the games in Berlin).

There was a good reason the assassins of 9/11 attacked the targets they did, rather than steering those planes into Columbia University or Harvard Yard: They knew that the potency of the intellectual is illusory, that it dissolves at the first shot.

As I pointed out on July 4, even our glorious Declaration of Independence and our Constitution would be no more than bizarre artifacts had they not been defended by patriots willing to fight.

Does anyone really believe that there's anything we can write or say that will persuade al Qaeda to make nice? It's on the strategic defensive today but only because our soldiers and Marines thumped the hell out of its cadres in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The point isn't that military solutions are always the best solutions - any problem that can be resolved without bloodshed should be handled peaceably. But we've got to stop playing pretend: In this hate-plagued, often merciless world, events sometimes demand action, not just talk.

Our diplomats and "distinguished commentators" see the world from the 17th floor of a luxury hotel or the office of an English-speaking Cabinet member. The insular safety of their lives has convinced them that every problem has a peaceful solution if only we can all have a good chat.

But those who rule by the sword (or the fist, or engineered famines or outright genocide) don't want to hash things out. They want to win. No elegant phrase has ever stopped a bullet in midflight.

Please, educate me: In over 5,000 years of more or less recorded history, how many tyrannies have been overthrown by noble sentiments? How many genocides have been averted by reasonable discussions? How many wars have been prevented by Quakers?

As William James - no archconservative - put it a century ago, "History is a bath of blood." It's been a long time since we got badly splashed (9/11's casualties were an average day in Normandy). We're so spoiled that we've forgotten how brutal humankind can be. But our enemies are determined to remind us. Meanwhile, they practice on the innocents close at hand.

If the pen truly were mightier than the sword, the defense industry would be making ink, paper and keyboards, rather than smart bombs and body armor. A pen wielded by a talented writer may wound a target's ego, but a sword will cut off the writer's head.

Pacifists mean well. But they're a dictator's best friends. The man who won't fight for justice abets the terrorist, the tyrant and the concentration-camp guard.

All decent men want peace. But wise men know that not all men are decent.

The use of the pen is an indulgence we can afford only because better men and women grip the sword on our behalf.

Ralph Peters' new book is "Looking for Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World."


Ralph Peters is a New York Post Opinion columnist and the author of "Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World."


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