Defenseless

Definition: Ohnmacht (in the Langenscheidt dictionary)
-1. unconsciousness caused by fainting;
-2. helplessness;
-3. impotence;

"Ohnmacht" is a scary word in any language. In a military context—like that of the Süddeutsche Zeitung article by that name—Ohnmacht means that the leaders of a city or country look through binoculars at the front positions of the enemy, at the columns of troops arrayed against them, and at the rows of artillery pieces and rocketry to support the troops. The leaders' stomachs turn cold, their scrotums shrink, and they whimper in despair, "We're done! We have to give up."

Consider the wars of the past. During World War II, many nations felt the heartbreak of impotence in the face of attack—Poland, France, the Netherlands, and Russia. Adolf Hitler wasted an entire generation of young men to conquer the world. As he faced defeat on all sides, he conscripted old men and boys as young as 13. Holed up in his underground bunker and unable to accept imminent defeat, Hitler fantasized about non-existent armies all set to bail him out.

Ordinary Germans had no such luck. My old German teacher's son-in-law grew up in Hamburg and experienced the bombing of the city by armadas of American and British bombers. Fires spread and burned for days, sucking the oxygen from the air into a fiery whirlwind, called a "fire-storm," and asphyxiating hundreds of Hamburgers trapped in their homes. Perhaps 40,000 died in a single night of  bombing. The military commanders and city leaders could only watch helplessly, with the usual physical sensations.

That could never happen to America, of course! Of course, it couldn't. We have always thought of our nation as invincible. Other nations and entities cause grievous loss to our nation, angering us to retaliate vindictively. No one had any doubt that the Allies would triumph over Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. And so it was.

Adolf Hitler committed suicide. The Allies executed over 500 German officers and political leaders for war-crimes. The Allies also executed Japanese military leader Hideki Tojo and a thousand other Japanese, military personnel and civilian administrators, for war-crimes. American Special Forces assassinated Osama Bin Laden, a drone-hit took out his assistant Ayman al-Azwahiri, and much of the other Islamic entities. So far, we have prevailed against our enemies.

I wonder how long that will last? Tony Judt, writing about France before World War II, said that not a single government could hold power for more than a few months. Disputes between the Socialists on the Left and the Conservatives on the Right had deeply divided the nation and greatly hampered its ability to defend itself. France's easy defeat angered the other Allies, but did not surprise anyone. The German Wehrmacht just rolled over the lackluster defenders. France's lack of unified leadership made defeat inevitable.

Americans are foolish to deny the level of defeatism in the nation today. Can we actually defeat our enemies in battle? Can we muster enough patriotism and unity to rally after inevitable attacks from our foes in Russia and China? Like Dostoyevsky once said, if we cannot decide the question in the positive, we will nevertheless never decide it in the negative. Only a division of the nation will save us at this critical juncture.

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Lloyd Bowers

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