Hubris: Impenetrable pride, ancient and ever present lets loose upon civilizations the powers of havoc, destruction, certain peril and lethal folly.
In the 2008 Presidential campaign, the Left characterized President O’Bama as an intellectual of transcendent breath and wisdom; this presumably to comfort an American people weary of “Cowboy” thinking, politics and war. The shtick centered on the President’s Constitutional scholarship. Americans, however, are not yet privy to a single scholarly publication from the President’s Harvard Law Review. Nevertheless, the President, we are told, is a voracious reader of arcane books, gloriously complex, mysterious, and therefore intellectual.
In praise too floridly purple to be true Americans are awash in a rare, Presidential mind moves with the tide of great thinkers living and dead. We are in the company of a Plato or Aristotle, an Epictetus or Marcus Rufus. Indeed, President O’Bama subtly encouraged the perception of his inimitable profundity by a disclosure of the intellectual evolution made him President. In 2009, New York Times book reviewer Michiko Kakutani
wrote an adulatory article about Barrack Obama as a reader. The article lists a number of books that have influenced Obama during his life. In adolescence, he remembers reading James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright and W. E. B. Du Bois during his struggle to come to terms with his racial identity. He also recalls an “ascetic phase in college” when he sought spiritual guidance from “thinkers like Nietzsche and St. Augustine.” 
Professor Thomas Sowell, in his recent treatise, Intellectuals and Society, (Basic Books, 2009), warns of intellectual hubris, ancient and ever present, an impenetrable pride that unchecked lets loose upon civilizations old and new the powers of havoc, destruction, certain peril and lethal folly. In fact, the Intellectual is often more irrational, emotional and dangerously susceptible to the influence of pernicious ideas and theories set upon foundations of fantasy than the man who learns by experience. Bertrand Russell, for example,
… was both a public intellectual and a leading authority within a rigorous field [mathematics] who advocated ‘unilateral disarmament’ for Britain in the 1930s while Hitler was re-arming Germany. Russell’s advocacy of disarmament extended all the way to ‘disbanding the army and navy and air force—again, with Hitler re-arming not far away….
Neville Chamberlain applied his powerful intellect to England’s step-by-step surrender of Europe to Hitler, including at last, shamefully, the well-armed and defensible nation and people of Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain believed, as did Bertrand Russell and so many distinguished intellectuals of the century, that in a triumph of mind over brute force, he had graced England with the peace her people so passionately desired.
Well done. But then Hitler invaded Poland. And so, Chamberlain’s intellectual self-delusion led to a strategic debacle— an irrational denial of Hitler’s ascendant malice, and the waste of life and treasure caused by a merciless war. Chamberlain was not entirely to blame. He was part of an intellectual establishment that following the appalling devastation of the First World War embraced pacifism to its most certain peril and lethal folly.
Professor Sowell writes that George Bernard Shaw, author, leftist Intellectual, and political philosopher of sorts exclaimed while visiting the United States in 1933,
“It is nice to go for a holiday and know that Hitler has settled everything so well in Europe.’…. In 1939, after the Nazi-Soviet pact, Shaw said: ‘ Herr Hitler is under the powerful thumb of Stalin, whose interest in peace is overwhelming. And everyone except myself is frightened out of his or her wits!’
The late, Humanist Mr. Shaw, a talented writer popular in leftist, intellectual circles, passionately advocated what was in his time a progressive cause: the extermination of races considered then to be in so many obvious ways too inferior to bother with—and accordingly, for their own good and the betterment of mankind, were better “put away.” In a black and white video presentation, an emotional, hand-wringing George Bernard Shaw implored scientists to invent a painless, odorless gas would kill off, mercifully, of course, humans far too inferior to meet his progressive vision of Stalin’s materialist paradise. It seemed that twentieth century Intellectuals, even those grandly distinguished, were possessed of a fatal gene (or loose screw) impelled them to snuggle up to the most prurient, indefatigable tyrants and implacable murderers the century could possibly produce. Professor Sowell writes that,
Scarcely a mass-murdering dictator of the twentieth century was without his intellectual supporters, not simply in his own country, but , but also in foreign democracies, where people were free to say whatever they wished. Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Hitler all had their admirers, defenders, and apologists among the intelligentsia in Western democratic nations, despite the fact that these dictators each ended up killing people of their own country on a scale unprecedented even by despotic regimes that preceded them.
America gradually slid into the unholy space abandoned by the French Colonial Empire in Vietnam. The French empire in Indo China was losing its war against a fiercely nationalist Viet Minh. In the Fifties, President Eisenhower, albeit reluctantly, began supporting it. In 1954 Congress financed the offensive planned by the military strategist General Henri Navarre. In “a last fevered burst of French military effort,” the French General invested Fortress Dien Bien Phu in a cunning plan to lure the Viet Minh to their final and most grievous demise. And so they came, well armed and with an attitude.
It seems in retrospect that French martial genius was concentrated in a single gene that died with Napoleon vain ambitions at Waterloo. General Navarre’s Fortress Dien Bien Phu so called, was surrounded by mountains upon which the Viet Minh mounted massive numbers of Chinese artillery. Thereupon, they cannonaded Navarre’s fortress and his tough, elite French Legionnaires into the dust. We may wonder whether General Nevarre was an intellectual bent on ignoring the laws of cause and effect or merely inept. Whatever the cause, the French engaged in a lethal, martial folly. The late author and historian Barbara W. Tuchman describes Dien Bien Phu as the terminal catastrophe upon which America would then launch her own tragic adventure into Vietnam.
The fall of Vietnam did not happen on the battlefield (our American soldiers were courageous, intelligent and good) but in the adoption of a new intellectual theory: The Doctrine of Limited War. America need no longer actually defeat the enemy. Victory, according to the doctrine, is irrelevant. America need only discourage the enemy with limited war until finally frustrated he will realize that accommodation is his only rational alternative.
Kennedy and McNamara turned to the ideas of the new school of defense intellectuals expressed in their doctrine of limited war. Its aim was not conquest but coercion; forces would be used on a rationally calculated basis to alter the enemy’s will and capabilities to the point where ‘the advantages of terminating the conflict were greater than the advantages of continuing it.’ War would be rationally ‘managed’ in such a way as to send messages to the opposing belligerent who would respond rationally to the pain and damage inflicted on him by desisting from the actions that caused them. ‘We are flung into a straight jacket of rationality,’ wrote the formulator of the doctrine, William Kaufman….
The Kennedy Administration’s military provocation of a rational response from the Viet Cong, ignored French and Indo Chinese history, the Viet Cong’s nationalist aspirations, a once malleable Ho Chi Min’s repeated requests for negotiation and the Viet Minh’s inexorable obliteration of the French Colonial Empire. Although supported by American wealth and arms, Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy also ignored the annihilation of an allegedly superior European army at Dien Bien Phu by-- so the French claim as a point of honor— a naïve, culturally ignorant, martially effete, and “thin boned” Asians.
The Kennedy Administration, once joined at the hip with the limited war theory, predicted that the Viet Cong, following the frustration of their Communist ambitions, would act rationally, in their own best interests as their interests were defined by the Kennedy Administration. So passionately was President Kennedy enamored of the theory, the Kennedy crew actually believed that Asian Nationalists who had defeated the French in years of mano a mano warfare, would nevertheless accommodate themselves to American ideals of democracy and paradoxically, an unpopular and virulently undemocratic Diem regime.
The theory of limited war demonstrated a contempt for the facts, ignored national and human psychology, and therefore comprised a most certain peril and lethal folly. Barbara Tuchman’s criticism is dead on.
…One thing was left out of account—the other side. War is polarity. What if the other side failed to respond rationally to the coercive message?
President O’Bama, in our name, has again embraced a certain peril and lethal folly. The President has announced a new nuclear policy: America will not respond with nuclear weapons to an attack on America and American citizens—regardless of the carnage in human life and property—so long as the killers do not possess or intend to possess nuclear weapons. He presumes that America’s enemies will, in a rational expression of self-interest, abandon their nuclear ambitions, lay down their arms and forever abandon war. That the O’Bama Administration has ignored the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il’s April vow to continue making nuclear weapons is of a piece with the Kennedy Administration’s disregard of the psychology, history and ambition of the implacable Viet Cong.
Americans may well ask how the President could embrace a theory that relies on a rational response from an Al Quaida terrorist organization, whose zealots flew two planes into the U.N. Towers, another into the Pentagon, whose “soldiers”, male and female, strap on explosives and look for the nearest school or market— or an Iranian Republic so called that in its last election shot to death or imprisoned dissenters dissatisfied with a rigged vote.
President O’Bama embraces a theory which, however arcane, gloriously complex, mysterious, and therefore intellectual, requires nevertheless that Americans be attacked and killed before deciding the appropriate martial response. The Heritage society characterizes this approach as a primitive throw back to the policy of mutually assured destruction.
The President’s recently released Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) has come under intense criticism for its revision of the U.S.’s declaratory policy, the statement that sets out when the U.S. would consider employing nuclear weapons…. The new NPR goes into considerable, lawyer-like detail about what the U.S. might do in particular circumstances after it was attacked. Emphasis. But it forgets that the basic duty of the U.S. Government – and the basic purpose of the U.S. nuclear arsenal – is not to respond to attacks. It is to prevent them from happening in the first place.
The NPR, by focusing only on retaliation, neglects this fundamental duty. It returns the U.S. – for all the President’s claims to be making a bold new stride towards a world without nuclear weapons – to the Eisenhower-era emphasis on ‘massive retaliation,’ though in the context of a far smaller U.S. arsenal.
That an idea sounds logically consistent proves nothing. Its creator must examine exhaustively the facts as they are shaped by the laws of cause and effect. To paraphrase Professor Sowell: The Architect who conceives and builds a bridge must know that his design will support traffic. A surgeon who cuts into a human heart must know the probable consequence of his surgery. Just as the architect is fused to the laws of design, stress and gravity and the surgeon to the scalpel, anatomy and function of the human body, so must the President look to the laws of cause and effect—or at our certain peril and with lethal folly he will waste American lives. The rest is narcissism.