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
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
"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
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."