Ralph Peters, the iconoclastic author and military strategist, has been very vocal of late regarding US national security policy and the growth of the global jihadist movement. A former US Army intelligence officer and enlisted man, he is a prolific and very successful author of over thirty works of both fiction and non-fiction, including the essay anthology Lines of Fire: A Renegade Writes on Strategy, Intelligence and Security. Breitbart’s national security editor Sebastian Gorka spoke to the author about the current threats to the Republic and what should be done about them. Here is the second part of the three-part interview; part one is available here and part three is available here.
BREITBART: Let’s zoom out from the officer corps and the military and look at the populace and its attitudes to national security. One of the very peculiar experiences I’ve had since I’ve come on board as the National Security Editor for Breitbart is the often striking lack of depth amongst the conservative population on matters of national security. If anybody makes even a slightly muscular noise about the need for America to do something about an issue, you’re instantly tarred with being a Crypto-Neocon. And then the other option is to be a Ron Paul/Rand Paul “non-interventionist.” All too often, if you look at the comments pages and the reader discussions, the two options Americans seem to have are to be imperialist neocons or naïve isolationists. What do you put this down to? Why is there such a lack of depth in the general discussion given the fact that the Right, the conservatives, were always the home for national security discussion, for strong pro-military attitudes, far more than the Democrats in the last 30 years? What happened? Is this simply blowback from Iraq and Afghanistan?
PETERS: It’s only superficially blowback from Iraq and Afghanistan. It goes much deeper.
I would say a crucial problem is that the conservatives over the last two to three generations turned the education system over to the Left. I mean, people self-segregate, conservatives self-segregated in the business world or the military, and the Left has self-segregated in education, and the result was changes in the curriculum that essentially took history and civics out, except for the most vanilla version of things. You may not like it, but Robert E. Lee had a greater influence on American history than Sojourner Truth did. There’s just no way of getting around it, but our children are much more apt to be taught about an idealized Sojourner Truth than about Robert E. Lee, or Ulysses S. Grant, or Andrew Jackson, or Teddy Roosevelt. The result is that there are today Ivy League-educated young Americans who have no sense of our history, let alone world history.
Also in the interest of protecting our children, we’ve dumbed down children’s literature. When I was growing up in the United States, you could buy history books specifically for kids. If I were citing the ten most influential books in my entire life, right behind the Bible – not as a religious text, but as a guide to human behavior, by the way – right behind the Bible would come The Golden Book of World History which I got when I was about six years old. It was amazingly sophisticated, with brilliant artwork. There was a series called the Landmark Books, actually, by Random House, which were by serious writers like William L. Shirer of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich fame, but simplified for pre-adolescents.
The Landmark series was brilliant. But it too has gone. By the time I got to 6th and 7th grade, I’d read about the Cossacks, the Battle of Britain, the battle of Midway, the American Civil War, the American Revolution, and many other global struggles. You go into a children’s bookstore today, or the children’s section of a bookstore, and there’s nothing like that. So our educational system has, I’m mixing metaphors wildly here, force-fed us historical amnesia. And when you do not know your own history, let alone world history, you are prey to demagogues.
As a result of this lack of historic understanding you can have ludicrous statements made, such as the claim you’ve heard over the last several years that our country has never been so divided. Well, in the American Civil War, there were 750,000 dead, so we were probably slightly more divided then.
I lived through the ’60s; we were more divided then. We were more divided in the ’30s. We were arguably more divided in the late 1880s and 1890s during the agrarian movement. We were certainly more divided not just in the Civil War, but during Reconstruction; we were more divided in the Jacksonian era and even before that.
And so people don’t have any frames of reference. When we started out in Afghanistan and Iraq, every minor firefight where an American was harmed was a Little Big Horn. Without historical perspective, it’s hard to be a good citizen – let alone a good journalist – and you are prey to the demagogues who make wild claims.
Even General Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, defending the administration’s stance on Bergdahl, said repeatedly that we never left any deserters behind in Korea and Vietnam. That’s patently untrue. So people kind of just make it up as they go along. It’s the Joe Biden School of Knowledge. Because we just deemed that history and civics weren’t essential in the way computer training is, we really hurt ourselves – which is so dumb, as you know very well since you’ve got kids, that they learn computers pretty well on their own. In fact, they know more than the teachers do.
And then there’s the whole leftist philosophy of, “Well, you don’t need to know dates and memorize things because you can look it up.” I got an amazingly good high school education in a very poor town, but I still envy those who received British educations – English educations I should say – and had to memorize things. People who can recite long lines of poetry for tens of minutes, if not hours on end – that impresses me. And I had to memorize far more than people do today. All these things, we’ve dumbed down our society to a point where it affects adult capabilities.
Here’s a personal anecdote. For a quite a number of years, a dozen or more, I had given a very small scholarship in my high school back in rural Pennsylvania to the senior who wrote the best short story or essay or other literary work in the course of their classroom duties. I have watched across the years how they got progressively worse and worse. So bad, in fact, that I learned to my shock that competing for the prize is now being offered as a special project because these seniors weren’t writing anything at all. It just stunned me. So last year, I received one semi-literate submission, with a semi-literate sticky note from the teacher saying she was sorry “we only have one.”
My teachers taught Sean O’Casey, John Millington Synge, and William Butler Yeats. Faulkner, too, and D.H. Lawrence, and Joseph Conrad; and both the Greek and Elizabethan tragedians, as well as Joyce and Chekhov. And now the English teachers themselves, what do they read? They read Harry Potter, they read “young adult literature.” Find me a public school teacher who goes home and reads Faulkner these days. Thanks to the tyranny of the teachers’ unions and the dogmas of the Left, our first line of defense in the 21st [century] – education – has fallen apart. And, by the way, do you know who or where the first universal education for a nation’s youth was established? Who ensured that all citizens must be taught to read and write? It was Frederick the Great.
In the 1750s, he realized military operations were becoming so complex that even the famed, strict Prussian discipline wasn’t enough, that he needed a literate population for fighting and also for the economy. The second major nation was the United States. In our Civil War, no one looks at literacy as a factor and that the North was far more literate. Adult male literacy in the four states of Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, and Rhode Island was above 99% at the time of the Civil War. That’s higher than it is today!
In North Carolina, which is pretty typical for the South of that era, adult male literacy was about 72%, and it was of a lower standard. So what does that mean? That means that no matter how brave you are in the South, you’re not going to be an engineer, you’re not going to be an easily promotable First Sergeant. Because you have to be literate and keep the rolls, you’re not going to be a good quartermaster. The Union won the Civil War, among other things, with forms filled out in triplicate. So I’m really not joking about education being the first line of defense. And just look at the low level of culture that even our best universities turn out today.
Read Part One here.