Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Goosestep Enigma

PSAYINGS.5A.19. The Cambridge On-Line Dictionary contains the following entry:

Other dictionaries and reference sources also link the goosestep to Hitler without elaboration of its continuing history.Yet it's an interesting fact that this bizarre means of military locomotion has been, and remains, a popular accessory of totalitarian regimes generally, even those who fought directly against Hitler. Russian and Eastern European nations in the Soviet bloc favored the goosestep, as does Putin's Russia (!).

Ditto the Red Chinese.

Is anyone surprised that the anti-western jihadists in the mideast also stomp around like SS troops, especially in Iran?

And, of course, Kim Jong Il wouldn't have it any other way:

A triviality? Possibly. But, as has been said in other contexts, the devil is in the details. I have the nagging suspicion that despots have more in common with one another, regardless of ideological and religious differences, than they do with whatever population they rule. I think the goosestep, and its graceless, rigid reduction of a human soldier to an automaton, has a deep irrational appeal to tyrants. It feeds directly into the same lust for power that enables them to kill and torture their own people in the name of service to those people and whatever faith they profess.

If this is true, it puts the lie to the notion that we can make progress in the world by understanding all the multifarious ethnic, religious and political grievances of problem states like Iran and North Korea. The totalitarian state is its own faith and treats all other factors as tools to be manipulated for the sole purpose of maintaining and increasing power.

Perhaps it's time for us to send the touchy-feely diplomats to the showers and develop a new index of the personal symptoms of despotism that cut across all cultural and geographic boundaries -- goosestepping troops, four-hour speeches, mega-posters of the megalomaniac-in-charge, increasingly lopsided "election" victories, etc -- and use them as the basis for understanding intent. Should we keep trying to convince ourselves that deep down, China really does want to coexist in a community of nations? Should we  go on overlooking Putin's career in the KGB and his bland assurances that democracy in Russia works better as a "benevolent" autocracy unhindered by the inconveniences of a free press? Should we consider subtracting Islam from the calculus of Iranian sabre-rattling and start treating the imams less like eccentric clerics and more like the Nazi Party?

And -- for those of you on the left -- isn't it time to stop playing at the fiction that Bush is Hitler and start recognizing that the globe is dotted with his natural sons, looking stern and patriotic as they review their goosestepping troops on parade? If you can accomplish this one small feat of perception, perhaps you can also discern that there is no way to appease such men, no wrong that can be righted to secure peace, no treaty that can slake their hunger for more power, and no conceivable end to their scheming that doesn't include putting a bullet in their heads.

Can you do that? Of course you can't. Your sleep grows deeper to the lullabye of heavy marching feet. So be it.

UPDATE. In response to Alfa's question, the figure who looks like Pinocchio is actually yours truly in disguise at all these impressive events. When it comes to dictators, discretion (and a wooden expression) is the better part of choler.

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