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Civilization Watch
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
By Orson Scott Card April 1, 2007


Duty. Honor. Country.

Once these words could inspire the hearts of patriots. Now, in our benighted era, the elite in our nation sneer at the words and at those who still believe in them.

But there is such a thing as honor, and whether we name it by its right name or not, we depend on it.

Honor is akin to the word "honest." We say a person is honest if he tells the truth about what he has done and seen in the past.

But when he gives his word about what he will do in the future, and then keeps it, we say that he has honor.

These days, we are judged by the mathematical formulae of credit ratings. We are given points according to how regular and timely our repayments are; it is an attempt to assess honor by keeping a history of how we have performed before.

But credit ratings only touch the surface of honor.

It is honor that causes a football player at the bottom of a heap of players to refrain from pushing the ball just those couple of inches that would make it seem that it had broken the plane of the goal line.

It is honor, in a game of pickup basketball, that makes a player say, "I traveled," when no one noticed it but himself.

It is honor that keeps a married man from flirting with a woman who is not his wife. It is honor that holds parents to their responsibility to their children, sacrificing much so their children can thrive. It is honor that makes adult children care for their aging parents to the grave.

It is honor that makes a child assume the debts of his parents, or a brother to pay the debts of his sibling.

It is honor that makes it possible for us to trust the word of other people, for we know that they would rather keep their word than bear the shame of breaking it.

But ... who acts that way anymore?

The Death of Individual Honor

We teach our athletes today that what the ref doesn't see didn't happen. Lie and win, we tell them.

As we also tell our businessmen: Cheat and win. If your company has so many lawyers that no one can afford to sue you, then you can violate your contracts and steal what you want, because no one has the power to make you stop. And when you've done it often enough, you'll be so rich that Time calls you Man of the Year and people treat you as if you were somebody.

As we tell our politicians: It's all right to accept a bribe that comes to you in the form of faked-up "trades" in cattle futures -- the press is on your side; they'll let it go. And what the press doesn't speak about didn't happen.

The shame of shattered honor is only enforced when we don't like the person who fails to keep his word. "Read my lips: No new taxes," he said, and then we pressed and pushed until he broke us word. Then we had him. For the people who voted for him actually cared about honor, and it cost him votes. While his opponent, who had no honor, was supported by people who did not care about it, and were in fact counting on him to break his word.

Honor means you can be trusted. Dishonor means you can't.

The Honor of Parties

We had an election a few months ago. The Democratic Party achieved majorities in both houses of Congress, but it did not do so by promising to impose a deadline on a war that must be won no matter the length or cost. On the contrary, that majority was achieved only by running Democratic candidates who sounded as Republican as possible in districts that would never have voted for a Nancy Pelosi.

But now in the Congress, the Democrats are enforcing party discipline, so that even if any of those moderate-seeming Democrats were sincere before, they are required to vote against their promises. The Democrats can do this because the press likes the outcome of this breaking-of-word, and the Democrats believe they will pay no political price for being caught breaking promises.

They believe this because it has been true for fifteen years. Honor is something Republicans believe in, so it can be used to destroy them. But because the elitists who run the Democratic Party don't care about honor, it costs the Democrats nothing to break their word.

As an embarrassed Democrat, I am ashamed of my party, because I know that at the grass roots level there are plenty of Democrats who care about honor and wish their party had any. But as long as the press remains silent about Democratic dishonor while harping on any trumped-up charge they can lay against Republicans, it's hard for many people to believe that the dishonor really happened, or that anybody cares that it did.

That's why Clinton could fire all the U.S. Attorneys, but Bush can't fire eight of them. That's why Clinton could scoff at Congressional subpoenas and pretend they had "lost" files they didn't want to hand over, while Bush is pummeled for refusing to respect Congressional demands for things no Congress has ever claimed a right to have.

That's why the politically correct are the main censors and suppressors of free speech in our country today, the deniers of diversity and the elitist enemies of democratic process -- and yet are able to claim credit for their tolerance and love of freedom, and the media, which they control, does not expose their shame.

Because they have no shame.

That's the sorry state of honor in America today. It is regarded as a relic that only matters to those dunderheads who still believe in God and morality and fairness and decency and all those other outmoded concepts. You know. Regular people. Not the cool, elite, smart people who all have identical -- and completely unexamined -- opinions.

So why is it any surprise that our nation is also on the verge of losing its honor?

The Honor of Nations

Nations, like individuals, either have honor, or they do not.

Nations with honor declare what they stand for and what they will and will not do -- and then they do their best to live up to those standards and to carry out their promises.

Nations without honor promise whatever seems convenient, but demonstrate that they never intended to fulfil their promises, and that there is no action so debased that they will not do it.

And on this playing field, there is no referee to deceive. There are only the other players, who quickly learn what kind of player each nation is, and act accordingly.

We see it all the time. Israel and the Palestinians signed an agreement in Oslo. The Palestinians kept none of their promises and showed no sign that they ever meant to; indeed, Yasser Arafat made it plain to his own people that he had no intention of keeping his word.

Hardly anyone even bothered to translate his words into English. Because no one ever expected him to keep his word. We all knew what he was, and what a government he ruled would be: without honor, without decency, without standards.

But the Israeli government was expected to keep its word regardless of what the other side did, and they were damned as liars and wordbreakers when they did not keep going right on schedule despite their having received nothing in return except broken promises.

The same double standard has applied in the Iraq War. Any civilian death caused by American action becomes a cause for castigation; the abuse-without-torture of prisoners held by Americans at Abu Ghraib became a reason to condemn American soldiers.

Honorable actions by American soldiers, heroic efforts to risk their own lives in order to save civilians -- those go virtually unreported, because that is what we expect of Americans.

On the other hand, murders of civilians by our enemies, deliberate as they are, seem to arouse no moral outrage; indeed, the press seems eager to excuse the perpetrators of terrorism.

When Iran seizes British sailors and lies about where they were when they were caught, the protests are almost perfunctory. If we did such a thing to, say, Chinese sailors, the international outrage would be deafening, and we would be on the verge of war.

The difference in response is because nobody expects Iran to behave like a decent, honorable nation. We know that every word they say might be and probably is a lie.

We know the list of nations we expect will only keep their word if it's to their immediate advantage: Iran. Syria. North Korea. Sudan. Cuba. (The list is longer, but I'll stop it here so I don't generate too much hate mail from those who wish to pretend that honor exists where everyone knows it does not.)

We also know the list of nations who are known to live up to their promises. They sent troops to fight beside ours in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But in all the world, only two nations that can be called major powers are known to stand by their word no matter what the cost: The United States of America, and Great Britain.

We are held to a higher standard because we hold ourselves to that standard. Abu Ghraib shames us because we actually have honor; China does far worse things on a regular basis, everyone knows it, and nobody cares, because China has no high standard of treatment of its citizens and nobody expects them to, no matter what they claim.

Part of the reason we are a great power is that we are known as keepers of our word, relentless defenders of freedom and human rights.

We lost our honor once, when we withdrew from Vietnam with promises that we would continue to supply the South Vietnamese with the weapons to match those their enemies were receiving from the USSR.

But our Democratic Congress repudiated those promises and broke our national word. They voted to cut off our erstwhile allies, and as a result they had neither the ability nor the will to resist. Their nation fell and thousands were murdered, thousands fled, and thousands were put in concentration camps -- oh, pardon me, "reeducation centers."

Few were the Americans who faced up to what this meant about our national character. We had been dishonored. We had shown ourselves to be what Mao called us: a paper tiger.

Ronald Reagan did almost nothing to restore our honor. When he traded for hostages with Iran, when he withdrew our troops from Lebanon because of a terrorist attack without taking any further action, he showed that we were what the Democratic Congress had shown us to be at the end of the Vietnam War.

When a coup attempt was made in Moscow, George Bush, Sr., responded just like Reagan -- we started to make movements toward recognizing the coup leaders. It was only when Boris Yeltsin and his brave supporters stood against the tanks in Red Square that the coup collapsed.

But George Bush, Sr., found his honor when Kuwait was invaded. "This will not stand," he said, and he put together the coalition that made it true.

Thus, after a couple of decades of being missing, we became, once again, a nation that kept its word.

Oh, wait. I forgot about that call for an uprising against Saddam Hussein after the Gulf War, which we then did nothing to support.

And about Rwanda, where we did nothing to save the Hutus even though any display of force would have stopped the genocide.

Oh, yes. Somalia, too.

Wow. Not much honor after all. Osama bin Laden saw it. He knew we had no staying power. Americans are all about honor -- for a few minutes. But if you just keep killing Americans, eventually they'll give up and go away, because in the long run, Americans just don't believe in their honor enough to keep sacrificing in order to keep their word.

We're proving him right once again. Indeed, almost from the beginning of this war, the American Elite -- the people who are too cool to care about honor or patriotism, except when someone accuses them of not having any -- have done all that was within their power to strip us of any sense of honor.

And now the Congress is usurping power it does not have. The Constitution does not give them the right to run wars or even end them -- the President is the commander-in-chief during a war, and it is the President who negotiates the treaties to end wars, which Congress merely ratifies.

Congress absolutely ratified the waging of the Iraq Campaign. Those who say that the ratification was based on deception are the liars -- no one knew more than we were told about what was going on in Iraq, and when they say otherwise, they know they have no evidence and are making a false and dishonorable charge in order to achieve their political purpose.

(A heckler at one of my book signings declared to me recently that "Hans Blix knew there were no WMDs." This is utterly false. Hans Blix couldn't get into Saddam's Iraq to conduct reliable inspections. He might have believed that there were no WMDs, but that is not knowledge.

(Let's get one thing straight: A guess based on no evidence, which turns out to be correct, was not knowledge, it was just a guess. And a guess based on the best available evidence, which turns out to be wrong, does not become a lie, it remains nothing worse than a mistake.)

And regardless of whether you approved of invading Iraq when we did, the fact is that we did it, and we made vital promises, as a nation, to the people of Iraq and to all the freedom-yearning people in the Muslim world: Bet your lives on America, because we will bring you democracy and self-determination, while all that Osama or the Iranian theocrats will bring you is death and brutal oppression.

We gave our word.

The Cost of Dishonor

Now the Democrats in Congress are breaking their word to the American people (in the form of those candidates who pretended to be moderates when they are now proving they are not), in order to try to force President Bush to break our national word to Iraq and, in the long run, to the whole world.

If they succeed, here is where we'll be:

1. The power of the Presidency will have been shattered, along with the Constitutional separation of powers. If Democrats think they can destroy the Presidency while a Republican holds it, and then have all that power back when a Democrat has it, they are sadly mistaken.

2. We will be exposed to the whole world, once and for all, as an unreliable ally. Who will dare to bet on us again? It was hard enough to persuade Shiites in Iraq to trust us after President Bush, Sr., did nothing to support them when they revolted against Saddam. It will be at least a generation, if ever, before we recover our national honor.

3. Our enemies will be so greatly encouraged by the fact that Osama was absolutely, completely right in his assessment of us, that their attacks against America and America's interests throughout the world will vastly increase in number. They will think this jihad is a war they can win -- that they will be able to finish the job that was stopped at the gates of Vienna in 1660 -- the Muslim conquest of the world.

(Anybody who still believes that nonsense about how jihad is a personal, internal struggle will find out what a stupid lie that is and always was. Islam prevails in this world only in places where force of arms conquered, or where the religion was forced on the people by their rulers. And there is no shortage of proof that the "conversion" of Europe will be a bloody one.

(And Islam has never been rolled back except by force of arms. Anybody who finds himself ruled by Muslim conquerors will suddenly discover that Crusades are actually a pretty good idea -- unless you want to convert to Islam yourself, of course.)

Even if the Democrats fail to force President Bush's hand, they are already arming our enemies with their most powerful weapon: The belief that America will act dishonorably.

Right now, seeing how Congress is behaving, listening to Nancy Pelosi's contempt for the Constitution and for President Bush's honorable effort to preserve the Presidency and our national honor, even our allies have to wonder just how long they can trust America.

They can count. They know that the next election is only a year or so away. Isn't it time already to hedge their bets and prepare for the presidency of someone as honorless as Hillary Clinton?

And our enemies can watch CNN just like anybody else. They can hear the triumph in the voices of the anti-American reporters on CNN International: The Democrats will win, and America will surrender. Do you think that doesn't give them courage? Do you think that doesn't lead to more American deaths?

Our soldiers have won on every battlefield. If the American elite had supported them the way they supported our soldiers in World War II, our enemies would have seen a united America determined to keep the word of our President in defeating the forces of slavery and oppression. They would have grown discouraged.

Instead, our media and the Democratic Party and Hollywood have united to provide the maximum propaganda against our national honor and for our enemies' hope of victory.

Every American soldier has carried, not just his weapon and ammunition, but also the terrible weight of the dishonor of the loudest segment of our society. With that weight upon them, the surprise is that they have continued to perform so splendidly.

Supporting Our Troops

There are those in Congress who claim that they are "supporting" our troops by "letting them come home to their families."

This is the most dishonorable lie of all.

Of course our soldiers want to come home -- when the job is done.

Nobody knows the problems as well as our soldiers do. But they are volunteers -- poor souls, they're the ones who still believe in duty, honor, and country. They joined up with the promise that when they were put in harm's way, it would be to accomplish something.

President Bush has kept that promise. He has used our military forces in the service of a noble and practicable cause. In the real world, democracies really have been established when they are protected, by force of arms, from enemy invasion and internal revolt.

But they have never succeeded when that protection is withdrawn. The enemies of democracy in Iraq are heavily supplied and trained from outside; what stands against them is the fledgling Iraqi defense force and the U.S. and our few remaining allies.

If we leave, Iraqis will despair. It will either be surrender or civil war. And all who have tried to make democracy work will either have to flee or be murdered. We know that our enemies there have no qualms about killing anybody they want to.

The Democratic leadership in Congress doesn't care about the lives of our allies. They're just Arabs after all, and the American elite doesn't value foreign lives or foreign freedom, if by sacrificing them they can gain a temporary political advantage here at home.

And as for our own troops, let's not kid ourselves. Right now we have the chance to win the war against Islamic Fascism while it can still be done relatively cheaply.

What about when Muslims are united against the whole world? What about when they are poised to exterminate Israel? What about when bloody war rages on the streets of Europe's cities? What about when terrorism returns to the malls and bus stations and port cities of America? What about when the nukes start blowing up on American or other free-world soil?

We will fight this war, whether we like it or not. But if we don't fight it now, when it's still cheap and our enemies are still weak, then we'll fight it later, when it's on American or allied soil, and the cost in blood -- ours and theirs -- will be appallingly higher.

The Democrats in Congress are not saving American lives. They're trying to fool us into giving them American votes in exchange for a promise of peace that they cannot keep.

We are at war whether we like it or not. We not only have to win in Iraq, we have to win in Iran, and very soon, or we will truly hate the cost we pay later, as an army of draftees instead of volunteers fights under far worse circumstances against a far more powerful enemy.

Remember the name "Nancy Pelosi." It will stand someday beside the name "Neville Chamberlain" in the pantheon of deluded fools whose poll-following stupidity led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of their own nation's citizens, and the deaths of millions of others who would have lived if those deluded fools had done what was necessary to preserve their national honor.

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