SUBTLE FORMS OF STRATEGIC INDIRECT WARFARE: INFECTING “SOFT” BIOLOGICAL TARGETS

A 20 May 2020 Note of the Author: After his several conversations and studies with Plant Pathologists at home and abroad during the years 1998-1999, the author was encouraged to present some of his own candid and searching reflections — even though they were to be somewhat historical and philosophical and strategic. One manifestation of the author’s acceptance of that invitation is the following 26 July 1999 meditative essay. It is, moreover, almost 20 pages in length and intentionally challenging. 

 

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                                     26 July 1999

Professor of Philosophy, Strategy, and Classical Humanities

United States Air Force Academy

SUBTLE FORMS OF STRATEGIC INDIRECT WARFARE:

INFECTING “SOFT” BIOLOGICAL TARGETS;

SOME PSYCHOLOGICAL, ECONOMIC, AND CULTURAL CONSEQUENCES

Epigraphs:

It should be the aim of grand strategy to discover and pierce the Achilles’ heel of the opposing government’s power to make war.” (B.H. Liddell Hart, Strategy, p. 212)

His true aim is not so much to seek battle as to seek a strategic situation so advantageous that, if it does not of itself produce a decision, its continuation by battle is sure to achieve this.” (B.H. Liddell Hart, Strategy, p. 325)

Amidst a group of plant pathologists, how might your grateful visitor from an entirely different intellectual formation approach with practical wisdom the sensitive strategic topic of bio-terrorism and longer-range biological warfare, to include their direct and indirect, economic and psychological consequences? That is to say, the chronic, as well as the traumatic, implications of those malign and fearsome subversions of trust that may deeply affect and infect a culture and whole intimate way of lifeproducing, in the words of the poet Shelly, “the contagion of the world’s slow stain.”

Is it not fitting that I propose a challenging thesis? And should you not always beware of the Air Force, even when they come bearing gifts?

I shall argue, therefore, that, by understanding the ways and means of strategic (and grand-strategic), indirect warfare, in the longer light of military history and intentionally ambiguous cultural subversions, we may better anticipate and strategically counteract inchoate, but subtly developing, forms of bio-terrorism, and longer-range forms of psycho-biological warfare, which may also be intensely dislocating new manifestations of economic warfare.

By indirectly attacking and infecting unprotected “soft targets” such as seeds and soils, a strategic aggressor or trans-national criminal syndicate or terrorist could have many disproportionately adverse effects upon a whole culture and its way of life. This may be but one new form of “asymmetrical warfare” against sophisticated (or decadent) interdependent societies. The developments from research in molecular biology and its variety of manipulative applications in bio-technologies give many new capabilities to the malevolent. We must also therefore consider how there is now developing even a genetics-based “revolution in military affairs (RMA)” or “military-technical revolution,” both of which could be strategically and indirectly employed, also combining “cybernetics” and “biological organisms” as instrumentalities of conflictnew “cyborganizations” as some strangely call this troublesome phenomenon. We once spoke of the revolutionary “mechanization of warfare.” Will we soon also be speaking of the revolutionary “cyborganization of warfare,” with its dubious synthetic formation of “bionic commandos,” and the like?

A pervading (and provocative) question to be found, at least implicitly, throughout this whole essay is: to what extent are the logical premises and the dominant culture of scientific materialism an adequate intellectual, moral, and strategic foundation to combat the increasingly insidious forms of biological warfare and bio-terrorism?

How may we reasonably assess such threats: the risks, in light of our personal and cultural vulnerabilities, and our lack of assurance and insurance? Thucydides said that “most peoples’ character sinks to the level of their fortune!” How, therefore, do we, as a nation, defend ourselves against such subtle and fundamental psycho-biological threatsthreats to our very mental, moral, and physical existencewithout sinking to the level of our adversary, without cynically coming to resemble his moral baseness, without succumbing to this seductive “dialectic of dissolution”?

In the delicate balance between risk and insurance, avoiding too much of either, the boundaries of discourse are usefully disciplined and defined by what both philosophers and even insurance companies call “the concept of moral hazard.” Avoiding too much risk, we must also avoid too much complacency or insurance. That is to say, how do we so proportion and poise that properly “regenerative equilibrium” between “risk and assurance” that we do not actually promote and bring about what we are purportedly trying to insure against? In the words of George Gilder:

Moral hazard is the danger that a policy [or strategy] will encourage the behavioror promote the disastersthat it insures against…. Arson has for some years been among America’s most popular crimes; most of it induced by fire insurance.”i

For example, when, overstepping a certain limit, an insurance company inordinately remunerates a policy holder for the loss of his own building due to criminal arson, they soon unwittingly may provide an incentive to that policy holder himself, when he is weak and morally vulnerable, to do the very thing they are trying to insure against! So, too, it would seem, is it the case often with an overly indulgent or permissive parent, or with a pampering welfare organization or “Provider State” that fosters, sentimentally but unintentionally, a heap of enervated citizens, if not ingrate louts and parasites bereft of resilient initiative.

So, too, is it the case in national security affairs, in the realms of strategic policy and cultural politics, that such consequential moral hazards can be iatrogenic illnesses: illnesses caused by the doctor himself! We shall soon examine, for example, how the U.S.’s highly developed technological capacities can actually promote unconventional warfare and subversive indirection.

How, therefore, may we fittingly discuss the real and growing hazards of biological warfareto include bio-terrorism and bio-criminalitywithout thereby providing incentives to the wrong kinds of persons to do the very things we are seemingly trying to insure against? This is a question of great moment, requiring our trustful and trustworthy integrity and special responsibility, especially for those who have the burden of great knowledge, especially knowledge of the twentieth-century revolution in molecular biology and neuro-science, and their applied biological and medical technologies. The manipulation of neuro-peptides, for example, is so consequential.

It has come to my attention, moreover, that some of your thoughtful members and leadership have already effectively posed the trenchant question: “Why should a professional scientific association of plant pathologists be discussing strategic issues of biological terrorism, criminality, and warfare?” And besides, and for all of us, in the words of Dr. Francois Rabelais, “these are all terrible things to think upon!” Knowledge of such matters may not make us wiser, but it will certainly make us sadder!

Nevertheless, will you accept my invitation to be “Pantagruelists,” at least during the remainder of my presentation and unflinching receptivity to your questions and safe escape from your Conference? For, Rabelais, calling himself “Master Alcofribas, Abstractor of the Quintessence,” in addition to being a very learned medical doctor, scholar of Greek, and Franciscan priest, was also a Pantagruelist! As you will recall from his sixteenth-century rumbustious, comic tale, Gargantua and Pantagruel, Rabelais, “Abstracter of the Quintessence,” defined Pantagruelism as “a certain jollity of mind pickled in the scorn of fortune.” We, too, shall need such a resilient and fortifying ethos, to be sure, in order to deal with the inescapable matter of biological warfare. So, will you accept my invitation?

Encouraged by your considerate acceptance and invitation, I now propose to take a longer view of the issue: that is, to consider biological warfare in the longer light of military history, especially as a form of strategic indirect warfare (or grand strategy) which is cumulatively subversive and dislocating, both mentally and physically, both morally and materially. My intended accentuation will be made clearer, perhaps, if I were to use the phrase “psycho-biological warfare” or “psycho-cultural warfare,” where “culture” is understood to mean any “vital medium,” even when it is, paradoxically, the growth medium of a virus, a virulent medium unto death or spiritual despair.

May I encourage you to consider that, in addition to traditional, long-range strategic agents against the homeland of an adversarysuch as viral smallpox, inhalational anthrax, and pneumonic plaguemodern biological developments permit even subtler targeting against agriculture and the human mind, against economic targets and psychological targets, with anti-crop and anti-soil agents, for example, or insidious psycho-tropic and neuro-tropic agents which darkly manipulate potent neuro-peptides.

Writing in 1932, after the devastating “Carthaginian Peace” of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles and subsequently growing economic depression in the West after the financial collapse of 1929, the strategic-minded British military historian, Major General J.F.C. Fuller, prophetically and compassionately said the following about the 1914-1918 First World War, in which he was a combatant officer; and vividly observant of “the changing nature of war”:

As inundations of men, personnel warfare, had failed beyond hope of redemption, the General Staffs, still obsessed by the quantity complex, turned to matériel, seeing in shell fire a means of blasting a road to Paris or Berlin…. The attack by matériel failed ignominiously…. The enormous demands made for all types of munitions of war, however, revealed clearly to the eyes of the General Staffs the economic foundations of the war. So visible did these economic foundations become that it was not long before these Staffs realized that, if the food supply of the enemy be cut off, the foundations of the hostile nation would be undermined and, with the loss of will to endure, its military forces would be paralysed…. Thus, in the World War, the matériel attack having failed, it at once gave way to plundering operationsattacks on trade in place of the devastation of crops. To introduce this most barbarous form of war, the first military problem that the Allied Powers had to solve was the circumvallation of the Central Powers; and the secondtheir surrender by starvation: This is an attack on the enemy’s civil stomach, not only on his men but on his women and children, not only on his soldiers, but on his sick and his poor. The economic attack is without question the most brutal of all forms of attack, because it does not only kill but cripple, and cripples more than one generation. Turning men women and children into starving animals, it is a direct blow against what is called civilization…. [Then, referring to “the theory of moral warfare” and “the weapons of the moral attack,” General Fuller resumes.] Throughout the history of war treachery has proved itself a powerful weapon…. In the World War treachery was attempted through propaganda, the contending newspapers raking dirt out of the gutters of their respective Fleet Streets and squirting it at their country’s enemies. All sense of justice was cast aside, the more outrageous the lie the more potent it was supposed to be…. yet no Government appeared to realize that the attack by lies besmirched its own future….” ii

General Fuller, knowing well that the greatest social effect of the lie is the intimate breaking of trust, which, once broken, is so hard to repair, also far-sightedly commented, in one of his earlier books, written in 1920, as follows:

Today [1920] we stand upon the threshold of a new epoch in the history of the worldwar based on petrol, the natural sequent of an industry based on steam. That we have attained the final step on the evolutionary ladder of war is most unlikely, for mechanical and chemical weapons may disappear and be replaced by others still more terrible. Electricity [much less the use of psycho-tropic or electromagnetic weapons] has scarcely been touched upon and it is not impossible that mechanical warfare will be replaced by one of a wireless nature [or cybernetic, bionic, cyborgian?], and that not only the elements but man’s flesh and bones, will be controlled by the “fluid” which to-day we do not even understand. This method of imposing the will of one man [or nation] on another may in its turn be replaced by a purely psychological warfare, wherein [firepower] weapons are not even used or [physical] battlefields sought or loss of life of limb aimed at; but, in [their] place, the corruption of human reason, the dimming of the human intellect, the disintegration of the moral and spiritual life of one nation by the influence of the will of another is accomplished.iii

Speaking of such topics as “science and warfare…within the enemy’s lines,” “strategy, or the science of making the most of time for warlike ends…with time the controlling factor,” “the evolution of weapons,” and “brain and body warfare,” and of new subtle forms of “scientific warfare,” General Fuller thus illuminates also our current context of anti-crop and anti-seed (or soil) biological warfare, in light of modern neuro-science and its further capacities for intimate manipulation, even in very small, nanogram doses.

But, in response to such actual or potential, cultural and strategic threats, there are no merely technical answers that are adequate or finally protective. After all is said and done, there are no technical solutions to fundamentally moral problems. From such intrinsically moral and spiritual problems, “we may run, but can’t hide,” as the boxer, Joe Louis, once said, in a refreshingly different context! And there is the added issue of what economists call “externalities”i.e., “problems that go beyond the immediate effects of the policy” or the counter-strategy, as against biological terrorism, for example.

By way of further illustration, let us consider two aspects of the dangerous (and ambiguous) aftermath of the so-called “Cold War.” However, it seems preferable to call that struggle the “Camouflaged War” of “Ambiguous Aggression,” as the military historian, B.H Liddell Hart, himself insightfully called this phenomenon of protracted conflict.

First, I would propose to you the eloquent discernment of Whittaker Chambers, from his 1964 posthumously published book, Cold Friday. Secondly, I would offer a further insight from another strategic-minded military historian from Britain, Captain B.H. Liddell Hart himself, who was also a friend of General J.F.C. (“Boney”) Fuller.

In his moving autobiographical chapter, “The Direct Glance,” the former Communist, Whittaker Chambersto whom, in a letter, André Malraux once reverentially wrote: “You are one of those who did not return from Hell with empty hands”poignantly and piercingly said:

I write as a man who made his way back from a special experience of our timethe experience of Communism. I believe the experience to be the central one, for whichever side prevails the outcome will be shaped decisively by what Communism is and meant to be, and by the conditions that made it possible and made possible the great conflict…. A man is obligated, if he seeks to give any effect to his brief life, to tear away all mystery that darkens or distorts, to snap all ties that bind him in the name of an untruth, to push back from all limiting frontiers to the end that man’s intelligence [i.e., Logos] may be free to realize to the fullest of its untrammeled powers a better life in a better world.iv

Then, B.H. Liddell Hart, writing in 1967 on the importance of truth and “the strategy and grand strategy of indirect approach,” complements Whittaker Chambers’ insights about the liberating rejection of untruth:

When, in the course of studying a long series of military campaigns, I first came to perceive the superiority of the indirect over the direct approach, I was looking merely for light upon strategy. With deepened reflection, however, I began to realize that the indirect approach had a much wider applicationthat it was also a law of life in all spheres: a truth of philosophy.v

Liddell Hart then continues his thoughts by applying it to the practical problem of producing persuasion or, more profoundly, a true conviction, since we are only as courageous as we are convinced, truly convinced. He says:

Its fulfillment [i.e., the principle of indirect approach] was seen to be the key to practical achievement in dealing with any problem [to include plant pathologists!] where the human factor predominates, and a conflict of wills tends to spring from an underlying concern for interest. In all such cases, the direct assault of new ideas provokes a stubborn resistance, thus intensifying the difficulty of producing a change of outlook. Conversion is achieved more easily and rapidly by unsuspected infiltration of a different idea or by an argument that turns the flank of instinctive opposition.vi

Moreover, says Liddell Hart: “As in war, the aim is to weaken resistance before attempting to overcome it; and the effect is best attained by drawing the other party out of his defenses,”vii as by making the U.S. centrifugally overextended, for example. This is also sometimes called the psychological preparation of the battlefield. And, “it was Lenin who enunciated the axiom that ‘the soundest strategy in war is to postpone operations until the moral disintegration of the enemy renders the delivery of the mortal blow possible and easy’.”viii Such was the intent of Lenin’s revolutionary psychological warfare and strategic use of “semantic politics,” whereby one strategically captures the key concepts and meanings of language. Hitler also said, “our real wars will in fact all be fought before military operations begin.”ix In Hermann Rauschning’s book, Hitler Speaks, he quotes Hitler’s own conversation with him, as follows:

How to achieve the moral breakdown of the enemy before the war has startedthat is the problem that interests me. Whoever has experienced war at the front [as Hitler himself did in World War I] will want to refrain from all avoidable bloodshed.x

Given their paralyzing, if not disintegrating, moral and psychological effects, would not biological weapons themselves, subtly used, be an acutely effective (even bloodless) indirect way of achieving strategic paralysis? What if subtle, psychotropic and neurotropic bio-agents (to include bio-toxins) were used against the enemy’s (or rival’s) leadership, against his whole “command-and-control apparatus”? (Tabtoxin, for example, a plant toxin, apparently produces a multiplicity of seizures in human beings, and is rather easily confected, I have been told.)

Liddell Hart continues with his eloquent, still applicable, insights:

This idea of the indirect approach is closely related to all problems of the influence of mind upon mindthe most influential factor in human history. Yet it is hard to reconcile with another lesson: that true conclusions can only be reached, or approached, by pursuing the truth without regard to where it may lead or what its effect may beon different interests [even the special interests of plant pathologists!].xi

Then he makes an important distinction between the prophet and the leader, which may also illuminate what I, in some small way, would like to initiate and impart to your receptivity and further responsibilities of leadership. He says:

History bears witness to the vital part that the “prophets” [like General Fuller and Captain Liddell Hart themselves] have played in human progresswhich is evidence of the ultimate practical value of expressing unreservedly the truth as one sees it. Yet it also becomes clear that the acceptance and spreading of their vision [of truth] has always depended on another class of men“leaders” who had to be philosophical strategists, striking a compromise between truth and men’s receptivity to it. Their effect has often depended as much on their own limitations in perceiving the truth as on their practical wisdom in proclaiming it.xii

As one of my own memorable mentors, Major General Mickey Finn, once said to me: “intellectuals should be on tap, not on top”but for very rare exceptions. Sensitive intellectuals usually lack the decisiveness and prompt robustness of leaders.

Developing his profound distinction, Liddell Hart resumes:

The prophets must be stoned; that is their lot and the test of their self-fulfillment. But a leader who is stoned may merely prove that he has failed in his function through a deficiency of wisdom, or through confusing his function with that of a prophet. Time alone can tell whether the effect of such a sacrifice redeems the apparent failure as a leader that does honour to him as a man. At the least, he avoids the more common fault of leadersthat of sacrificing the truth to expediency without ultimate advantage to the cause [of truth]. For, whoever habitually suppresses the truth in the interests of tact will produce a deformity from the womb of his thought.xiii

The traditional Latin aphorism, “Suppressio veri, suggestio falsi” conveys the same nuance. By suppressing the truth, you suggest what is false. By way of omission, you create a deception, producing also a self-deception through this expedient distortion.

Thus, though the idea of the indirect approach is “hard to reconcile” with the pursuit (and the primacy) of the truth, it must be sustainingly sought and preserved. Liddell Hart, pursuant to this aim, asks:

Is there a practical way of combining progress towards the attainment of truth with proper progress towards its acceptance? [Or, should your guest speaker sit down now, before he be stoned?] A possible solution of the problem is suggested by reflection on strategic principleswhich point to the importance of maintaining an object consistently and, also, pursuing it in a way adapted to circumstances [to include the audience!]. Opposition to the truth is inevitable, especially if it takes the form of a new idea, but the degree of resistance can be diminishedby giving thought not only to the aim but to the method of approach. Avoid a frontal attack on a long established position; instead, seek to turn it by flank movement, so that a more penetrable side is exposed to the thrust of truth. [Might such a maneuver work amongst plant pathologists altogether and unmistakably contumacious concerning biological forms of strategic indirect warfare and national defense?] But, in any such indirect approach [Liddell Hart winsomely emphasizes!] take care not to diverge from the truthfor nothing is more fatal to its real advancement that to lapse into untruth.xiv

Solzhenitsyn, like Whittaker Chambers, has often effectively said a similar thing with emphatic integrity: “Don’t live the lie. Even if it means but taking one small step at a time, come out from under the rubble! Come out from under the noisome asphyxiation of untruth. And never willingly participate in, nor be in complicity with, the lie!”

Whittaker Chambers was one of Liddell Hart’s “prophets,” indeed, “who did not return from Hell with empty hands,” and who does “speak with a certain urgency both because…history is closing in…with a speed which, in general [we] do not realize or prefer not to realize, and because I [Chambers] have a sense that time is closing in on me so that, at this point, I do not know whether or not I shall be given time to complete what I have to say.”xv He adds:

I may not claim for the larger meanings of what I shall say: This is truth. I say only: This is my vision of truth; to be checked and rechecked (as I myself continually check and recheck it) against the data of experience.xvi

What does Whittaker Chambers so urgently want to tell us, which, in my judgment, is still pertinent and trenchantly true? He says:

It is pointless and, indeed, impossible to press anything upon those who are unprepared for it. I set up the proposition and left it to those who could to draw the inference…. That proposition questioned the whole materialism of the West [to include its dominant scientific materialism], and the West is heavily materialist. It is, in fact, this materialism that Communism [to include the new forms of Cultural Marxism derived from Georg Lukacs, from the Frankfurt School and its culturally subversive “Critical Theory,” and from Antonio Gramsci himself, one of the two founders of the Italian Communist Party]xvii constantly appeals to and manipulates, not in terms of any easily defined political lines of Left or Right, but in terms of a common investment in a materialist view of life, which an important section of the West shares with Communism, and which Communism has simply carried to its utmost logical conclusion in thought and action. This common interest in a common materialism…nevertheless differs in form, degree, and [illogical] reservations.xviii

At a much deeper level than economics and central state planning, Communism is a cultural system rooted in the world view of dialectical materialism (or “DIAMAT”), which is, of course, intrinsically atheistical.

Chambers, from the bottom of his soul, adds the following about how, “even when the materialism of the West is assertively anti-Communist, it often serves Communist ends”xix:

From this propositionthat is the heart of Communism is the problem of atheismxxfollowed the second proposition which I set up in Witness [his earlier book, published in 1952], also without developing its conclusions. This proposition implied that the struggle of the West with Communism included our own solution. That is to say, in the course of its struggle with Communism, the West would develop or recover those resources (in the main, spiritual and moral), which it held to constitute its superiority to Communism or in the struggle it would go under. Going under might, I suppose, take one of two forms. The West might simply lose the war in political or physical terms. But I also allowed for the fact that the West might win the war in such terms [political and physical] and still lose it, if the taxing necessities of the conflict [and dialectic!] brought the West to resemble what it was struggling against…. A turn in this direction has been perfectly visible in the West for several decades.xxi

From the vantage point of 1999 (as distinct from 1961, when Whittaker Chambers died), I believe, also, that the West lost “the Cold War”the Guerra Friathat Camouflaged War of dialectical (or electro-magnetical) materialism which was aiming for “the freedom from religion” and for “liberation” from “the rights of God,” as distinct from the Cult of Man and his rights. Insofar as I can justly take the measure of what has historically transpired, “checked and rechecked against the data of experience,” we of the West have increasingly come to imitate what we were purportedly fighting against. In light of the concept and reality of “moral hazard,” we of the West have, in a sense, helped to bring about what we were purportedly trying to insure against. If this is so, we are more vulnerable now to biological warfare.

To the extent that I am just and justly proportionate in this judgment, the more difficult it will be for us, on essentially materialist premises, to defend against the destructive anti-human manipulations of molecular biology and its derivative biotechnologies, much less the subtler forms of biological warfare against life, even life in the womb, or through the intentionally sterilizing contamination of vaccines.

This conclusion is certainly not intended to be a moroseness, but certainly implies the need for a deeper and thoroughly strategic “course correction.” For, an effective counter-strategy requires a shared conviction about what, essentially, it means to be human. That is to say: what is man, and what is man for? What is human freedom for?

Materialist neuroscience, which reduces mind to the neurophysiology of the brain, may continue to speak of “memes” (mental genes), and the like, rather than to admit of a fuller “criterion of adequacy” to account for the mystery of man and his loves, and his hopes. Or, as Bertrand Russell once eloquently argued, is it, rather, the case that “a free man’s worship” must henceforth be based “on a firm foundation of unyielding despair,” amidst and “against the whole weight of a universe that cares nothing for his hopes and fears”? Are we then fittingly free to do evil and produce ugliness, even as an engineered devastation of ugliness? To what extent will scientific materialism, on its own premises, provide a defense against subtle and malevolent forms of biological manipulation and warfare?

On materialist premises, moreover, would not the very concept of “malevolence” be an illogicality and an illusion? Must we not squarely face where the inner logic of our premises leads, and what it may embarrassingly conduce to?

Given this context of scientific and cultural materialism, is it not also more likely that, amidst the growing cynicism of modern warfare, strategic adversaries now would be far less reluctant to manipulate and target our economic and psychological foundations, to include our food supplies, and crops, and the sustenance of our own children. As General Fuller said, “if the food supply of the enemy be cut off, the foundations of the hostile nation would be undermined and, with the loss of the will to endure, its military forces would be paralyzed.” In addition to “the devastation of crops,” the new and revengeful enemy would also “give way to plundering operationsattacks on trade” and so “introduce this most barbarous form of war,” “the most brutal of all forms of attack, because it does not only kill but cripple, and cripples more than one generation”to include the vulnerable children.

Material and moral elements will be strategically attacked, as evidence from the Soviet biological warfare program confirms, and morale is to be broken, even unto despair. Will such facts sufficiently wake us up?

In his 1951 book, The Revolt Against Reason, Arnold Lunn wrote:

If materialism be true, our thoughts are the mere by-product of material processes uninfluenced by reason. Hence, if materialism be right, our thoughts are determined by irrational processes and, therefore, the thoughts which lead to the conclusions that materialism is right have no relation to reason. The same argument invalidates Freudianism, behaviorism, and logical positivism. All that the prophets of these cults have achieved is to provide their disciples with reasons for rejecting all philosophies, including Marxism, behaviorism, Freudianism, and logical positivism.xxii

Such nihilism and anarchy are not a good foundation for any resilient counter-strategy against biological warfare, do we agree?

Moreover, The Concise Oxford Dictionary, defines “Naturalism” as “a view of the world which excludes the supernatural or spiritual,” and this reductionist scientific orientation provides the scientific materialist with no justification for the first article in the creed of the true science: “I believe that truth is to be preferred to falsehood”!

On the other hand, it would seem that “theism” of some kind is required as a working hypothesis “without which science itself has no justification,” according to both Arnold Lunn and Sir Arthur Balfour himself (the author of the famous and gravely consequential “Balfour Declaration” of 1917, concerning the future of Palestine). In his 1894 philosophical book, entitled The Foundations of Belief, Balfour profoundly and acutely says:

Theism, then, whether or not it can in the strict meaning be described as proved by science, is a principle which science, for a double reason, requires for its own completion. The ordered system of phenomena asks for a cause; our knowledge of that system is inexplicable unless we assume for it a rational author…. On the naturalistic hypothesis, the whole premises of knowledge are clearly due to the blind operation of material causes, and in the last resort to these alone. On that hypothesis, we no more possess free reason than we possess free will. As all our volitions are the inevitable product of forces which are quite alien to morality, so all our conclusions are the inevitable product of forces which are quite alien to reason.xxiii

From the above, I can only reasonably conclude that no adequate counter-strategy to the threats of biological warfare and bio-terrorism will come from a world-view and culture of naturalism and scientific materialism. If it could be otherwise, I do not yet see it. The challenge of biological warfare, in any event, will take us to the foundations of our very existence. Human superficiality will not be enough.

Nevertheless, the subsequent analysis of strategic indirect warfare on the biological front must be evaluated on its own merits, and will likely display its reasonableness to you only when sufficiently checked (and rechecked) against the data of experienceand hence in the longer light of history, too.

In his Memoirs, Liddell Hart summarized at length the main conclusions of “the military doctrine or philosophy most closely associated with [his] name, the Strategy of Indirect Approach,” which “first found full expression in 1929 in a volume entitled The Decisive Wars of History.xxiv

Let us now imagine how an intelligent strategic (or grand strategic) adversary would apply on the biological front, and with interior lines on the inner front of our own homeland, the following articulation of principles from Liddell Hart’s own Memoirs:

More and more clearly has the fact emerged that a direct approach to one’s mental object, or physical objective, along the “line of natural expectation” for the opponent [rather than “to follow the line of least expectation”], has ever tended to, and usually produced, negative results. The reason has been expressed scientifically by saying that, while the strength of an enemy country [like the USA?] lies outwardly in its numbers and resources, these are fundamentally dependent upon stability or “equilibrium” of control, morale, and supply [or logistics]. The former are but the flesh covering the framework of bones and ligaments.

To move along the line of natural expectation is to consolidate the opponent’s equilibrium, and by stiffening it to augment his resisting power. In war as in wrestling the attempt to throw the opponent without loosening his foothold and balance can only result in self-exhaustion, increasing in disproportionate ratio to the effective strain put upon him. Victory by such a method can only be possible through an immense margin of superior strength in some form, and even so tends to lose decisiveness. In contrast, an examination of military history, not of one period but of its whole course, points to the fact that in all the decisive campaigns the dislocation of the enemy’s psychological an physical balance has been the vital prelude to a successful attempt at his overthrow. This dislocation has been produced by a strategic indirect approach, intentional or fortuitous….

The art of the indirect approach can only be mastered, and its full scope appreciated, by study of [as the Chinese have especially done] and reflection upon the whole history of war. But we can at least crystallize the lessons into two simple maxims, one negative, the other positive. The first is that, in the face of the overwhelming evidence of history, no general is justified in launching his troops to a direct attack upon an enemy firmly in position. The second, that, instead of seeking to upset the enemy’s equilibrium by one’s attack, it must be upset before the real attack is, or can be successfully, launched…. Mechanized forces [tanks and airplanesand now, also, perhaps, other cybernetic or cyborgian technological innovations], by their combination of speed and flexibility, offered the means of pursuing this dual action far more effectively than any army in the past.xxv

However, there is the danger of over-reaching to the point of resembling your adversary, especially your more despotic (or tyrannical) adversary, as with the altogether unintelligent response to Adolph Hitler, in Liddell Hart’s judgment. Such an over-reaction represents another instance of coming to resemble what you are purportedly (and actually) fighting against. In this case, it was the matter of “conscription” as a dire “threat to freedom,” in imitation of National Socialist Germany, rather than of Soviet Bolshevism, as was the case later during “the Cold War.” That is to say, the Protracted Camouflaged War of Dialectical Materialism for the Hegemony of a New Order and Revolutionary Culture, which (like Hegelianism, as well as Marxism) intrinsically denies the law of contradiction (and hence the law of identity). Commenting on the English over-reaction to Hitlerian Germany’s challenge, Liddell Hart said:

The effects [of mandatory military conscription] transcend the military sphere. Bemused [i.e., confused, stupefied, deceived and seduced] by the cry of total warfare, we are trying to make ourselves totalitarianwith the maximum of inefficiency for the minimum of productivity, in proportion to the efforts…. The basic principle of Nazism [National Socialism, in slight contrast to Global, or International, Socialism] is the claim of the State [or the UN?] to determine the individual’s duty, and decide his conscience for him. Hence, in opposing the Nazi’s “New Order,” we weaken our own position if we adopt the same basis….xxvi

We are weakened by coming to resemble what we are ostensibly fighting against. We look for the enemy and it is us.

As part of the long a-growing destructive Western development of “total war,” Liddell Hart, in essential agreement with General Fuller, saw “Napoleon’s responsibility for instituting conscription,” as well as other devastating innovations. On 30 January 1943 he wrote:

Napoleon fell, but left as a legacy the chain of military conscriptionwhich dragged mankind into a series of bigger and badder wars. When Hitler passes, will he also leave the chain of civil conscription, the logical corollary of totalitarianism riveted round the necks of mankindthus establishing the reign of universal servitude [or what Hilaire Belloc called, in 1911, The Servile State]? If so, it will be an ironical reflection on the unthinking conduct of war, and on the efforts and sacrifices made by the peoples who have sought and fought to defeat him [Hitler].xxvii

The deeper challenge of the Soviet Cultural System of “democratic centralism” and “dialectical materialism” was to follow World War II, and that system of servitude we have also come, through protracted struggle, to resemble more and more. Is it not so?

Moreover, and very profoundly, Liddell Hart later added his insights about the further handicaps to recovery after World War II, as a result of Churchill’s own inordinate and promiscuous resort to “guerrilla warfare,” partly in admiring response to T.E. Lawrence’s unconventional warfare activities against the Ottoman Turks during World War I (even though Lawrence was later betrayed and saddened by the Zionist project in Palestine). Liddell Hart’s deep reflections on this matter are especially fitting in our current context of biological warfare and bio-terrorism as an even further “development” of intrusive “total warfare,” and which will be so difficult to counter without a further, self-sabotaging temptation and self-destructive over-reaction on our part, to boot!

For if the nuclear power now available were unleashed and not merely meant as a deterrent, its use would mean “chaos” not “war,” since war is organized action, which could not be continued in a state of chaos. The nuclear deterrent, however, does not apply and cannot be applied to the deterrence of subtler forms of aggression [like bio-terrorism or indirect, longer-range biological warfare]. Through its unsuitability for the purpose [of such deterrence] it tends to encourage them [i.e., to bring about what it is trying to insure against!]. The necessary amplification of the maxim is now “If you wish for peace, understand warparticularly the guerrilla and subversive forms of war.”xxviii

Do you, too, now see the importance of such understanding?

Moreover, “the combination of guerrilla and subversive war…. [does] fit the conditions of the modern age and at the same time [they] are well suited to take advantage of social discontent, racial ferment, and nationalistic fervour.”xxix They constitute “forms of aggression by erosion, to which nuclear weapons were [and are] an inapplicable counter.”xxx Furthermore, “the strategy now being developed by our opponents is inspired by the dual idea of evading and hamstringing superior airpower,”xxxi whose effect is achieved “by producing more cumulative distraction, disturbance, and demoralization among the enemy.”xxxii And, “thus the concept of ‘cold war’ is now [1967] out of date, and should be superseded by that of ‘camouflaged war’.”xxxiii Biological warfare is now even more camouflaged, more difficult to detect, no?

The promiscuous resort to guerrilla warfare by the Allies in World War II“the product of the war policy of instigating and fomenting popular revolution in enemy-occupied countries”xxxivalso, according to Liddell Hart, produced many “a handicap to recovery after liberation.”xxxv

But the heaviest handicap of all, and the most lasting one, was of a moral kind. The armed resistance movement attracted many “bad hats.” It gave them license to indulge their vices and work off their grudges under the cloak of patriotism…. Worse still [like economic warfare!] was its wider effect on the younger generation as a whole. It taught them to defy authority and break the rules of civil morality in the fight against the occupying forces. This left a disrespect for “law and order” [and for the principle of authority itself] that inevitably continued after the invaders had gone.xxxvi

Why was that so, and not otherwise? Liddell Hart’s answer is that there is always a “dangerous aftermath of guerrilla warfare,” for

Violence takes much deeper root in irregular warfare than it does in regular warfare. In the latter it is counteracted by obedience to constituted authority, whereas the former makes a virtue of defying authority and violating rules. It becomes very difficult to rebuild a country, and a stable state, on a foundation undermined by such experience.xxxvii

The recent experience in the Balkans is confirmatory, with its long-term effects further conducive to the spread of revolt. The “moral hazards” are rampant. Nevertheless, in the words of Liddell Hart:

It is not too late to learn from the experience of history. However tempting the idea may seem of replying to our opponents’ “camouflaged war” [or bio-terrorist] activities by counter-offensive [or counter-terrorist] moves of the same kind, it would be wiser to devise and pursue a more subtle and far-seeing counter-strategy.xxxviii

In light of your special knowledge about plant pathology, and about how crops and seeds and soils and our whole agricultural infrastructure could be undermined, how would you also farsightedly start to resist the subtler “asymmetrical” and subversive forms of strategic indirect warfare on the biological front? I leave you with this challenge. All things considered, may we now more intelligently and responsibly advance our own truly strategic, scientific discourse and protective actions concerning these psycho-biological matters of national and cultural security?

Some Concluding Considerations and Questions:

Liddell Hart made several deep points about strategy in his 1925 book with the intentionally punning title: Paris, or the Future of War. Similar to Sun Tzu, in his view, the aim of war is “to subdue the enemy’s will to resist, with the least possible human and economic loss to itself,” and “a highly organized state was only as strong as its weakest link.”xxxix Thus, if one key section of the nation, such as its agriculture, could be “disorganized and demoralized,” the collapse of its will to resist could induce the surrender of the whole, the psychological surrender of the enemy, or his strategic paralysis. Since, as was earlier cited, the aim of grand strategy was to discover and exploit the Achilles’ heel of the enemy nation (or corporation), just as the Trojan Warrior, Paris (Son of King Priam), killed the Greek champion Achilles, the key strategic principle is to strike against the enemy’s most vulnerable spot, rather than against his strongest fortifications or bulwark, such as his airpower or other forms of technological dominance.

In a later passage of Paris, Liddell Hart adds a strategic nuance concerning a specifically military target, whereby a mobile and maneuvering force properly is to be assembled and concentrated “against the Achilles’ heel of the enemy army, the communications and command centres which form its nerve system.”xl That is to say, the strategic principle applies to both military and civil sectors.

All good strategists try to establish two things: first, to secure and preserve their base; and, secondly, to achieve and sustain “mastery of the communications” in its fullest sense. Both are essential, and, thus, an intelligent adversary will try to counter these, i.e., to disrupt and dislocate that base, and his enemy’s key communications, to include his capacity for strategic mobility (which is currently so important for the United States, for example).

Given these principles, would it not be especially effective to go after the U.S.’s agricultural base and agricultural logistics and communications, so as to effect our disorganization and demoralization, and disrupt our strategic mobility as well as our international trade? According to Dr. Paul Rogers of Britain’s Bradford University, himself a plant pathologist, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) has very subtly done, during the recent past, such economic targeting against Great Britain, after they first had made a very intelligent and thorough study of Great Britain’s “economic geography,” to include its “financial nerve centers of organization.”xli Might we not also reasonably expect such targeting against our nation, or its corporations abroad, like McDonald’s? The recent case of Belgian food contamination, and its trust-breaking official concealments, may be a further sign of such likely developments.

Part of what is so unsettling about the recent food contamination in Belgium is the difficulty of discerning whether it was natural or deliberately introduced. Was it accidental or neglectful, or was it something darker and subtly designed? (Politically, it is not only the European “Green” Parties who, on principle, are against the import of all genetically engineered food from America!) The ambiguities themselves may then be malevolently manipulated, with further adverse consequences on commerce and trade, and even on the politics of the European Union itself, as well as on the domestic governments of Belgium and neighboring France. Comparably, in the United states, the accidental release of the marine neuro-toxin, pfiesteria, into the coastal waters of North Carolina has caused a similar array of difficulties, especially as pfiesteria’s effects on fishermen as well as fish have become more obvious, especially as it has spread further into the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. (Apparently, even the University of Virginia Medical School is now urgently, though belatedly, studying this matter closely.) Dr. Thomas Frazier has wisely proposed a deeper, comparative study of both of these cases, and before key evidence may become more inaccessible or intentionally distorted.

It may be useful for us to consider the situation of the United States more closely, for several reasons. At least perceptions are spreading and deepening around the world that the United States is, or is becoming, a “rogue superpower.” Analogies have even been made to the earlier British Empire, especially as to the aggressive conduct of the “Liberal Imperialists,” also know as “the LIMPS.” Moreover, there is the perception that the United States is very vulnerable, as well as very provocative. In the memorable phrase of Dr. Fritz Kraemer (said to me some twenty years ago), the U.S. is in a situation of “provocative weakness,” for, “we are so weak (in some areas) that we are provocative to others.” In 1999, the U.S. is more over-extended and arguably more arrogant, as well as ignorant. Many may have a kind of Schadenfreude, if the U.S. were to be embarrassed and levelled down; and if its own growing “Cultural Balkanization” or racial tensions could be exploited. The issue of multi-cultural immigration and imiscible migrations is itself very sensitive and de-stabilizing. And Mexico is, strategically, still the “soft underbelly” of the United States.

And what of the Drug War? What if naturally growing fungi, destructive of the coca plant, or other drug crops, were deliberately and specially used to target their growth at the roots, namely, at the very stage of cultivation? Would such action be perceived as a kind of economic warfare against the poor, as well as against the power of the drug cartels, drug lords, and money-launderers of “narco-bucks,” where drugs are also viewed even as “an access to liquidity,” especially for the oligarchs and others who “manipulate national debt” for further “leverage”? And would they then take reprisals, against the perceived “initiating country’s” own crops or concentrated animal “breeding stock”? Would such vengeful activity be warfare or criminality or terrorism, or somewhere in “the interstices” or in the ambiguous “seams” between them? All of them, however, could be strategically interrelated as insidious forms of subversion? Do you see what I mean? Is my meaning clear? Our clarified and growing understanding of the principles of strategic indirect warfare may now help us take a better measure of such things, and to develop an intelligent and long-range counter-strategy.

It has been wisely observed by my friend and colleague at the Air Force Academy, Colonel Chip Franck, that there are three main ways that a “rival” or “competitor” has historically (and strategically) responded to a perceived opponent or antagonist: emulation, off-setting, or by-passing. One can either try to match and exceed the rival’s strengths, nullify or weaken his advantages or privileged strengths, or evade them “asymmetrically,”xlii or by using a kind of jujitsu, thereby even using his own strengths or “virtues” against him. The economic and psychological aspects of the full range and spectrum of biological warfare may be helpfully considered as both an “off-setting” and “by-passing” counter-strategy.

Also, in this context, I commend your deeply reflective attention to one of the last books of Major-General J.F.C. Fuller, written in 1961 and considered by many to be his best. It is entitled The Conduct of War, 1789-1961: A Study of the Impact of the French, Industrial, and Russian Revolutions on War and its Conduct.xliii His chapter on “Soviet Revolutionary Warfare” (Chapter XI) is especially discerning and brilliant, and is still very applicable, to include his insights about strategic psychological and political warfare.

In deference to General Fuller, and very consciously so, this essay has tried to initiate us into thinking more deeply about the inchoate and growing impact of the biotechnical revolution on war and its conduct, rooted as it is in the prior scientific revolutions in molecular biology, neuro-science, and information or computer science. Furthermore, as Dr. Malcolm Dando recently suggested during my visit with him at Bradford University, there is a growing conjunction or convergence, or consilience (in the sociobiologist E.O.Wilson’s concept),xliv of several scientific and technological developments, coming to a sharper focus in the whole biological and bio-engineering realm, all of which is all too easily applicable to subtle new forms of warfare. General Fuller’s book on earlier revolutions and their consequences on “total warfare” should be read with these later developments and analogues in mind.

In his recent book, understandably controversial and intentionally provocative, Fighting for the Future, the strategic-minded Ralph Peters has some concluding remarks which are less measured and discerning, but also similar to what the neuro-physiologist, Malcolm Dando, has written and recently said to me about chemical “calmative agents” and about the equivocal (and threatening) manipulation of potent “neuro-peptides,” and other “regulatory peptides” recently discovered. In one of his concluding sections, entitled “Inevitable Weapons,” Ralph Peters says:

The greatest opportunity for us, and the greatest danger to us, will come with the development of behavior-control weapons by the middle decades of the next century, if not sooner. On the one hand, these will be the weapons most horrible to our civilization, but we will be unable to prevent their development. In their perfected form they will permanently alter the perceptions and beliefs of men and women. On the other hand, they offer the first opportunity in history to pacify humankind without violence.xlv

These words recall the foresight of General Fuller, cited at the beginning of this essay, (on page 6, and footnote 3), although Fuller would be much more deeply troubled by, and altogether resistant to, such a de-humanizing “development,” and barbaric regression.

Much more unequivocally and serenely and confidently, Ralph Peters says:

In the first half of the next century, postmodern weapons may allow us to “outlaw” war. In subsequent decades, behavior-control mechanisms finally may let us stop genocide, oppression, fanaticism, and even criminality.xlvi

We may well wonder “who is the ‘us’?” Who will be the “humane” controllers in this Utopian or Dystopian vision or actuality? Who will be the Guardian of “the Guardians”?

Moreover, he says:

[T]his discussion is about a more rarefiedand ultimately more frighteninglevel of manipulation [in contrast to a “bullet,” which is, in a sense, also “a very good behavior-control weapon”]. Weor our enemies, should we fail to actwill develop behavior-control weapons that change the mind without invading the body…. Imagine a weapon, directed at an individual or a mass, that compacts a lifetime’s worth of carefully tailored signals into a microsecond broadcast. Imagine another weapon that targets specific nodes, or simply processes, in the brain.xlvii

Even more disconcerting in this context of psycho-biological warfare, Peters says:

The insidious [.i.e., “ambush”] feature of such weapons is that the victim not only doesn’t know what hit him but doesn’t realize he has been hit by anything at all…. The dark side is that such weapons could permanently alter the perceptions of individuals and entire cultures. xlviii

To me, this sounds like a further “development” of Soviet “penal psychiatry,” as with the research done at the Serbiensky Institute in the dreaded Lubianka. Psycho-tropic and neuro-tropic agents and weapons are now, however, even more likely, “given the current developments in fields as diverse as neurobiology, anthropology, sonics, digital engineering, marketing, and complexity studies.”xlix

Admitting his limitations and ability “to imagine the future,” Ralph Peters nevertheless all too plausibly concludes:

The only thing of which I am certain is that the next century’s revolution in weaponry will involve forms of behavior control and mental intrusion. Attacking the human body has been a sloppy and inefficient means of making war. Attacking the mind may prove the culmination of military history.l

More dubiously, if not altogether dementedly, he adds: “If there is any technology that we must first master and then prohibit elsewhere, it is the means to alter human thought.”li Since these words are not intended to be a self-parody nor an updated satire of “Dr. Strangelove,” I hope they will stir you to your fuller responsibilities and counter-action as scientists very knowledgeable of the new and growing biotechnologies, and their equivocal potential for misapplication.

May I also encourage you to read, in this context, the following additional books, which, even when they hardly (or not at all) mention “biological warfare” or “strategic indirect warfare,” constitute an unmistakable and altogether important array of thoughtful texts:

  1. Jeremy Rifkin, The Biotech Century: Harnessing the Gene and Re-Making the World (1998)
  2. John Harris, Wonderwoman and Superman: The Ethics of Human Biotechnology (1992)
  3. Malcolm Dando, Biological Warfare in the 21st Century: Biotechnology and the Proliferation of Biological Weapons (1994).
  4. Malcolm Dando, A New Form of Warfare: the Rise of Non-Lethal Weapons (1996)
  5. Malcolm Dando, Biotechnology, Weapons, and Humanity (1999)to include his brave chapter 4 on “Genetic Weapons.”
  6. John B. Alexander, Future War: Non-Lethal Weapons in Twenty-First Century Warfare (1999), who is much more sanguine than Dando and I about such developments.
  7. Ken Alibek, Biohazard (1999)(An important and revealing discussion of the secret Soviet/Russian biological warfare program, written by the former Deputy Director of Biopreparat himself, and a defector in 1992.)

Have I been at all effective in conveying to you how these equivocal and unmistakably challenging developments may be applied to subversive warfare and to national defense, and how, in part, they derive from the twentieth–century revolution in molecular biology and biotechnologies in “consilience” with other scientific discoveries and applications?

Taking the longer view, to include the light shed by the multi-cultural history of unconventional and revolutionary warfare and strategic thought (especially indirect deceptive forms of strategic warfare), can you now better appreciate, as scientists and plant pathologists, how the spectrum of biological warfare, bio-terrorism and bio criminality has broadened and deepened?

To what extent have I allowed the value of the strategic indirect approach to emerge in your own growing and discerning consciousness, and to clarify your understanding of warfare, especially subversive forms of warfare against economic and agricultural targets?

Are you also now convinced that surprise, which produces shock (or shock trauma) rather than mere strain, is the best weapon of war, for it throws the enemy off his balance (psychologically and often logistically or physically) as well as secures a position for oneself, which makes the enemy’s situation very dangerous? Have not some keen thinkers even said that “there is no virtue in an indirect approach” as a method unless it secures this end: namely, surprise, which may be itself the higher and prior principle.lii

May we now further collaborate to foster trust in our sustaining (and sustainable) culture, and to mitigate the destructive consequences and deeper implications of “technological surprise” and “strategic surprise” on “the psycho-biological front” of insidious and subversive indirect warfare?

I thank you.

Finis

©Robert D. Hickson 1999

i George Gilder, Wealth and Poverty (New York; Bantam Books, 1981), p. 132.

ii J.F.C. Fuller, War and Western Civilization (London: Duckworth, 1932), pp. 228, 230, and 234. My emphasis added.

iii Brevet-Colonel J.F.C. Fuller, Tanks in the Great War, 1914-1918 (London: John Murray, 1920), p. 320. My emphasis added to the original.

iv Whittaker Chambers, Cold Friday (New York: Random House), pp. 67,68,69.

v B.H. Liddell Hart, Strategy (Second Revised Edition) (New York: MeridanPenguin, 1967), p. xx (Preface).

vi Ibid.

vii Ibid.

viii Ibid., p. 208. My emphasis added.

ix Ibid. My emphasis added.

x Ibid. My emphasis added.

xi Ibid., p. xx (Preface). My emphasis added.

xii Ibid. My emphasis added.

xiii Ibid., p. xxi (Preface). My emphasis added.

xiv Ibid. My emphasis added.

xv Whittaker Chambers, Cold Friday, p. 67.

xvi Ibid.

xvii The evidence has recently been de-classified and made shockingly public in Germany, namely the extent to which the Soviet KGB financially (and otherwise) supported the Frankfurt School, and its projects of promoting Kulturpessimismus and cultural subversion: “the Long March through the Institutions,” “the Long March through the Culture.”

xviii Whittaker Chambers, Cold Friday, p. 69. My emphasis added.

xix Ibid., p. 70.

xx Earlier, on pp. 68-69, Chambers had said: “The crux of this matter is the question whether God exists. If God exists, a man cannot be a Communist, which begins with the rejection of God. But, if God does not exist, it follows that Communism, or some suitable variant of it, is right.” Some collective arrangement for regimented and vengeful “economic justice” will likely be proposed even unto the inner levelling of the human person and his higher faculties. Another name for it would be “sleepwalking into servitude.”

xxi Whittaker Chambers, Cold Friday, p. 70.

xxii Arnold Lunn, The Revolt Against Reason (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1951), p. 85.

xxiii See Arnold Lunn, The Revolt Against Reason, p. 85.

xxiv Brian Bond, Liddell Hart: A Study of His Military Thought (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1977), p. 54.

xxv See Brian Bond, Liddell Hart: A Study of His Military Thought, pp. 54-55, for an easily accessible, extended citation of Liddell Hart’s Memoirsuseful, despite Bond’s often insufferable condescension. See also the original text of the Memoirs (2 vols.) (Cassell: London, 1965), pp. 162-165.

xxvi See the whole citation in Brian Bond’s Liddell Hart, p. 127.

xxvii Brian Bond, Liddell Hart, pp. 127-128. My emphasis added.

xxviii B.H. Liddell Hart, Strategy (2nd Revised Edition), p. 361. My emphasis added. See the whole new chapter on “Guerrilla War” (Chapter XXIII), added to this edition, specifically.

xxix Ibid., p. 363.

xxx Ibid. My emphasis added.

xxxi Ibid., p. 364.

xxxii Ibid., p. 365.

xxxiii Ibid.

xxxiv Ibid., p. 367.

xxxv Ibid.

xxxvi Ibid.

xxxvii Ibid., 369.

xxxviii Ibid., p. 370

xxxix See B.H. Liddell Hart, Paris, or the Future of War (London: Kegan Paul, 1925), pp. 12-13.

xl Ibid., p. 79 (and following). My emphasis added.

xli Paul Rogers discussed this matter with me during my recent visit with him at Bradford University, but he has also written some monographs on this subject.

xlii See the excellent article by Colonel Raymond Franck and Dr. Gregory Hildebrandt entitled “Competitive Aspects of Contemporary Military-Technical Revolution: Potential Military Rivals to the U.S.” in Defense Analysis (1996-Volume 12, No. 2), pp. 239-258.

xliii Reprinted by Rutgers University Press; New Brunswick, New Jersey in 1962. Originally, it was published in London, England by Eyre and Spothswoode, in 1961.

xliv See Edward O. Wilson, Consilience: the Unity of Knowledge (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1998). Consilience means “the interlocking of causal explanations across disciplines.”

xlv Ralph Peters, Fighting for the Future: Will America Triumph? (Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 1999), p. 207.

xlvi Ibid., pp. 207-208.

xlvii Ibid., p. 208.

xlviii Ibid., The emphasis is in the original text.

xlix Ibid., p. 209.

l Ibid.

li Ibid..

lii See Brian Bond, Liddell aHaHHHHHHHHHH Hart, p. 56. Major General W. H. Bartholomew suggested such things to Liddell Hart himself, in his letter of the late 1920’s (1928-1929)

Infecting Soft Targets: Biological Weapons and Fabian Forms of Indirect Grand Strategy — Some 20 Years Later

A 16 May 2020 Note from the Author: This 1999 strategic-cultural essay (below) was originally published on pages 108-117 of a searching and candid book of 233 pages, entitled Food and Agricultural Security: Guarding Against Natural Threats and Terrorist Attacks Affecting Health, National Food Supplies, and Agricultural Economics (New York, New York: Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Volume 894—December 1999)

December 1999

ROBERT D. HICKSON

Department of Philosophy and Fine Arts, U.S. Air Force Academy, 2354 Fairchild Drive, Suite 6K12, U. S. Air Force Academy, Colorado 80840-6238, USA. [Some twenty years later now, this 1999 address is no longer a valid address for the then-visiting professor, who is also the author here.]

*****

Underlying the exposition of subtle deception and strategic indirect warfare that follows is the theme of trust, to include: the grave personal and cultural consequences of intimately broken trust and how the intimate effects of broken trust may themselves be strategically and grand-strategically manipulated by a deft opponent. The greatest social consequence of the lie is that it breaks trust. And trust, once broken, is so hard to repair, even with forgiveness, even with graceful mercy and the healing of the memory. Such a poignancy—such a fragility and vulnerability—is one of the unmistakable themes of all the world’s great elegiac and tragic literature. It also pertains to the world of strategy and grand strategy, which also takes the longer view and goes to the roots of things.

As in a tragically fragmented family, a culture of broken trust, especially when it involves an intimately broken trust, is likewise self-sabotaging and often deeply destructive. Such a riven and wounded culture is thereby also more vulnerable to strategic exploitation and external maneuver by a subtle adversary. If, for example, an intelligent long-range adversary perceives the United States to be a “rogue superpower” and a “hectoring hegemon,” but also a “declining hegemon” marked by a loss of purpose, decadence, and broken trust, he will likely also perceive how an exploitable weakness has favorably manifested itself, even as a “provocative weakness”—“so weak that it is provocative to others” (in the memorably accented words of Dr. Fritz Kraemer). When, moreover, increasingly untrustful American citizens are fearful of the safety of their food and their water, to include the long-range safety of genetically modified foods; and when the military culture itself is increasingly untrustful of the limited or experimental vaccines they are dubiously obliged to receive, others will likely notice our “internal contradictions” and “exploitable weaknesses,” which all, at root, derive from a cumulative and innermost broken trust. Such adversaries, desiring to limit or to “level down” the United States, as well as Israel, for example, might well the “seize, retain, and exploit the initiative” strategically and grand-strategically, and thus further maneuver to subvert domestic trust.

Reality is that which doesn’t go away, even when you stop thinking about it. If somebody is at war with you, even if you don’t know it, you’re at war! Furthermore, every assessment of a threat is correlative to the vulnerability of the target—to include the “target culture” and the target’s vulnerable trust in its agriculture and sustainable agricultural infrastructure. All strategy and responsive counterstrategy must first be attentive to the “security of its base,” before it can also adequately achieve “mastery of the communications,” which is itself a strategic indispensability, as well as a part of the maneuvering “preparation for the strategic advantage” (or what the Chinese call shi’h).

The use of biological weapons to infect food supplies, blood supplies, vaccines, water and other “soft targets” would constitute a formidable challenge to our nation and political culture, especially if it were also to be intelligently harnessed to Fabian forms of indirect grand strategy. This conjunction is a terrible thing to think upon, and yet we must do so, because history shows that indirect grand strategy, with its use of surprise, delay, and psychological dislocation, has been used repeatedly and effectively against militarily more powerful adversaries.

Fabian strategy is named for the Roman general Quintus Fabius Maximus (d. 203 BC), who defeated Hannibal by avoiding direct conflict. His long-range strategic indirection and evasiveness countered Hannibal’s military genius and sapped the energy of his forces. (The Fabian Society, founded in nineteenth-century Britain, also adopted the strategy in an attempt to introduce socialism gradually and indirectly.)

If Fabian strategy were now to be used in intentionally incongruous and shocking combination with more immediately traumatic forms of bio-terrorism, this could rightly be understood as a new form of psychological or political warfare—for it specifically targets the human mind and the weakened or despairing will, especially of one’s vacillating political leadership or fractious allies. For the purposes of this paper, I will discuss this form of warfare not just as an effective weapons system (albeit without conventional fire-power), but as an even larger new phenomenon that is more fittingly called strategic psycho-biological warfare, which exploits current revolutions in molecular biology and genetic engineering while aiming to manipulate the fears, broken trust, and uprooted hope of a modern citizenry at the end of a dark century.

Psycho-biological warfare, with its technical manipulations, ethical equivocations, and purposive confusions, could take us, finally, to the foundations of what it means to be a human person, as distinct from a mere artifact to be experimentally engineered and impersonally discarded. This could compel us, as well, to answer some trenchant questions: “What is a human person?” and “What is a human person for?” For how we see human life and its moral purposes1 will profoundly affect the limits we set in warfare, especially in the fearsome and far-reaching realm of warfare considered here. Any adequate American grand strategy to counter psycho-biological warfare must first consider such moral limits; it must also consider the long-range aftermath of such warfare, which is so likely to stain the nature of the subsequent peace and have even deeper after-effects on civilization.

To appreciate these larger issues more fully, we must first turn to history and, specifically, to Israeli military history. When, in September 1949, the Chief of the General Staff of the Israeli Forces, General Yigael Yadin, wrote his strategical analysis of the 1948-1949 Arab-Israeli War, he eloquently accentuated his understanding of and successful dependence on B. H. Liddell Hart’s theory of indirect strategy, especially its psychological subtlety and efficacy.2 What if, fifty years later, keen-minded anti-Israeli and anti-American strategic thinkers were to apply Liddell Hart’s strategic principles against Israel and America? That is to say, what if adversaries now applied the insights of Liddell Hart in order to produce, both in Israel and in the United States, strategic surprise, shock trauma, psychological dislocation, and paralysis, especially by manipulating the imagined or actual effects of bio-terrorism and longer-range biological warfare? The words of Liddell Hart should concentrate our attention: “It should be the aim of grand strategy to discover and pierce the Achilles’ heel of the opposing government’s power to make war.”3 In our own case, the aim could be to discover and pierce the Achilles’ heel of the U.S. government’s power to carry out what is sometimes perceived as its undefined, provocative, and increasingly resented “policy of engagement and enlargement” abroad. And indeed as with other great powers in history, the perception of our strategic policy as overbearing is likely to provoke “political jujitsu,” as Saul Alinsky called it, and other Fabian forms of indirect grand strategy against us, is it not?

That is to say, strategic thinkers opposed to Israel and the United States may by now have “grasped what the soldier, by his very profession, is less ready to recognize—that the military weapon is but one of the means that serve the purposes of war; one out of the assortment which grand strategy can employ.”4 Once this larger and more inclusive understanding is grasped by an adversary, “the military principle of ‘destroying the [enemy’s] main armed forces on the battlefield’…fits into its proper place along with the other instruments of grand strategy—which include the more oblique kinds of military action as well as economic pressure [or economic warfare], propaganda, and diplomacy [or what General Beaufre, as we shall see, called the mentally dislocating ‘exterior maneuver’].”5

In this view,

Instead of giving excessive emphasis to one means,…it is wiser to choose and combine whichever are the most suitable, most penetrative, and most conservative of effort —i.e., which will subdue the opposing will at the lowest war-cost and minimum injury to the post-war prospect. For the most decisive victory is of no value if a nation be bled white in gaining it.6

Liddell Hart also proposed a complementary insight: “[T]his decisive strategic victory…was rendered indecisive on the higher strategic plane [i.e., of grand strategy].” 7 Even an effective indirect approach to the enemy’s strategic rear, for example, may be nullified by a larger failure in grand strategy, to which lower, more physically decisive military strategy must always be subordinated, adds Liddell Hart:

For, if the government has decided upon a limited aim or “Fabian” grand strategy [i.e., one of protracted indirection, delay, and evasion], the general who, even within his strategic sphere, seeks to overthrow the enemy’s military power may do more harm than good to the government’s war policy.8

In the Peloponnesian War between Sparta and Athens (431–404 BC), the Spartans initially had to face a kind of “Fabian” strategy and

were foiled by Pericles’s war policy, of refusing battle on land while using the superior Athenian navy to wear down the enemy’s will by devastating raids. Although the phrase “Periclean strategy” is almost as familiar as the “Fabian strategy” in a later [Roman] age, such a phrase narrows and confuses the significance of the course that war pursued [after the 430 BC Plague in Athens]. Clear-cut nomenclature is essential to clear thought, and the term “strategy” is best confined to its literal meaning of “generalship”—the actual direction of military force, as distinct from the policy governing its employment and combining it with other weapons: economic, political, psychological. Such policy is in application a higher-level strategy, for which the term “grand strategy” has been coined. In contrast to a strategy of indirect approach which seeks to dislocate the enemy’s balance in order to produce a decision, the Periclean plan was a grand strategy with the aim of gradually draining the enemy’s endurance in order to convince him that he could not gain a decision. Unluckily for Athens, the importation of plague tipped the scales against her in this moral and economic attrition campaign. Hence in 426 BC, the Periclean strategy was made to give place to the direct offensive strategy of Cleon and Demosthenes.9

He also adds that “through the exasperation and fear that this [Spartan counteroffensive strategy] generated [i.e., “by taking an economic objective,” the “Athenians’ ‘national’ lines of communication”], he [the enemy Spartan general, Lysander] was able, thereby, also to produce conditions favorable to surprise and to obtain a swift military decision.”10 Later, ironically, the altogether weaker city-state of Thebes was able, gradually, to “[release] herself from Sparta’s dominion by the method later christened Fabian, of refusing battle….”11 Is it not also reasonable to suppose that the U.S.’s adversaries today might have similar incentives to resort to Periclean or Fabian indirection?

It is also important to consider that “the strategy of Fabius [known, interestingly, as the “Cunctator,” or “Delayer”] was not merely an evasion of battle to gain time, but calculated for its effect on the morale of the enemy—and, still more, for its effect on their potential allies” and thus “was…primarily a matter of war-policy or grand strategy.”12 Says Liddell Hart:

The key condition of the strategy by which this grand strategy was carried out was that the Roman army should keep always to the hills, so as to nullify Hannibal’s decisive superiority in cavalry. Thus this phase became a duel between the Hannibalic and the Fabian forms of the indirect approach.13

To what extent will the United States, as well as Israel, now have to face Periclean, Hannibalic, or Fabian forms of the indirect approach—and other insidious forms of “asymmetrical” indirection that use biological agents to achieve an even more devastating psychological effect of subversion and dislocation on the citizenry and soldiery? To what extent will biological warfare (and bio-terrorism) on our own home front now be—or be perceived to be—the U.S.’s “Achilles heel” and perhaps become an asymmetrical form of retribution for our obtrusive policy of “engagement and enlargement”? Given our current form of government and Constitutional provisions, how can we discern and counteract an adversary with biological weapons who also possesses strategic “interior lines” on the “inner front” of our homeland, so as to infect such vulnerable soft targets as vaccines, water, and food and blood supplies? A good strategist must first reliably secure his own base and become “master of the communications,” especially the strategic lines of communication, both interior and exterior, the mass media, and the communications of his enemy. How will our defenses counter such subtle penetration?

We can gain insight into these questions from a noted French military strategist, General André Beaufre, writing in 1963 on indirect strategy and the psychological factor in war. His thoughts have trenchant implications for our situation in America today. Learning from the humiliations he had known both as a Frenchman and as a combatant commanding officer, he warned and instructed us about the insidious methods of indirect strategy.14 America has much to learn from him.

Beaufre says that even though strategy can be played two ways, directly and indirectly—like the major and minor keys in music—the object of strategy remains the same: “a struggle for…freedom of action” leading to “a decision arrived at through the psychological surrender of the enemy,” The object is “to produce a climax—the point at which the enemy’s morale cracks.” When, according to Beaufre, one is able “to strike terror, to paralyze, and to surprise” one’s adversary—“and all these objects are psychological”—then one can limit or remove his freedom of action and his security, often by seizing, retaining, and exploiting the initiative and by “the strategy of guile.” But, always in strategy, “the touchstone is freedom of action,” especially when, as is usually the case, “psychological action must precede military action” and prepare for military action by a psychological “artillery barrage,” which includes diversion and deception.

What is our own strategic freedom of action today in the United States, both psychologically and militarily, against foreign and domestic threats of bio-terrorism and longer-range psycho-biological warfare? How might our adversaries, at home and abroad, be preparing to distract and dislocate us, physically and psychologically? Since, according to Beaufre, strategy is “a thought process” and “the art of the dialectic of [at least] two opposing wills” in order to “reach the other’s vitals by a preparatory process,” how might U.S. strategists anticipate the use of biological weapons by such preparatory and insidious indirection?

Beaufre uses the forceful metaphor of “an incubator war,” such as “the lethal but insidious infections of the Cold War or ‘war in peacetime’ (la Paix-Guerre).” He says that “in an incubator war, psychological infection [including the infection of panic] is not unlike that produced by biological warfare,” for, “once launched, it is difficult to control,” just as “the virus of Bolshevism rebounded upon her” after Germany enabled Lenin to arrive in 1917 at Finland Station in St. Petersburg to start his revolution. Beaufre proposes that the Soviet’s revolutionary dialectic of dissolution against its enemies was, like biological warfare, “a method of slow creeping diffusion of chaos under the umbrella of an insidious threat.” By using “psychological technology…partly camouflaged by an anesthetizing propaganda campaign,” and by using Alinsky’s “political jujitsu,” the indirect strategy of the Soviets, says Beaufre, aimed “to disorganize the enemy by disrupting…[mental] cohesion…[and] loosening…moral ties.” This strategic “enervation or erosion method,” a part of the “new style of war,” says Beaufre, is itself like “the creeping infection of an illness”—a gradual titration and permeation of an infection. Beaufre’s metaphors are even more forceful when applied to the modern realm of psycho-biological warfare.

Against psycho-biological forms of warfare, as well as against new forms of Marxist or Gramscian revolutionary warfare (as seen for example in the Trans-National Radical Party in Europe today), there is a grave need for what Beaufre calls “inoculation and counter-infection,” because they are part of a new battle for the mind. In the context of our vulnerable democratic culture, the challenges in forming an integrated defense-in-depth against psycho-biological warfare are great indeed.

In forming such a defense, it is important to note that even the best of tactics or operations (i.e., “the sum total of the dispositions and maneuvers”) are “rendered nugatory,” says Beaufre, “if used to further an erroneous strategy.” Tactics “must be the servant of strategy,” but the “choice of tactics is, in fact, strategy,” as when deciding, for example, “whether to use force or subversion” as a subordinate part of one’s own larger or grand “strategy of guile.” As Beaufre says, “how total [i.e., how inclusive] the art of strategy must be”—because it involves politics, economics, finance, and psychology, among other things. “The strategic priority” must always be “to decide how great the freedom of action is for oneself and what is available to the enemy.” In the face of biological weapons today, how would we ourselves make this decision?

We must also answer such questions as these: Who is the enemy? What (or whom) are we trying to protect? And why? The amount of access to our “interior lines” (i.e., to our interior dispositions, communications, and maneuver room) that is unwittingly provided to our adversaries, including trans-national criminal syndicates, is very great.

In my experience over the last three years, all too many people, when considering bio-terrorism and indirect biological warfare, have been cynically (or flippantly) inclined either to a kind of “pre-emptive futility” or to various forms of denial, both of which already constitute “pre-emptive psychological surrender”! “What can we do?” was the question put to me often enough. However, those whose special duty of leadership it is to provide for the common defense are called to a higher standard of foresight and determination.

It has been with these considerations of duty in mind that Dr. Thomas Frazier has worked so selflessly and indefatigably, despite discouragement and disincentives, to bring so many scientists, specialists, analysts, and thinkers together for candid discourse and a call to action. For merely passive forms of defense against psycho-biological weapons will likely be insufficient and perhaps even ruinous.

But, as to our response policy, should U.S. counter-initiatives be immediate and proportionate, like the well-known counter-initiatives of Israel? Would this be self-defeating for the U.S., exacerbating or only dissipating, given our diverse and vulnerable extensions abroad as well as our cultural politics at home?

One of the reasons, therefore, I am focusing our attention on Fabian forms of indirect grand strategy to make psychological use of bio-agents and bio-technologies is to make us more aware of the dangers of over-reaction, which might not only increase our vulnerability, but could even help unite additional hostile elements against us. That is to say, in the gathering disillusionment and resentment against the United States, many are likely to say “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The consideration of Fabian indirection will also likely make us more vigilant to the rash and reductive “terrible simplifiers,” those who might wish to use the pretext of a biological threat to implement Emergency Executive Orders or new “global arrangements” favorable to essentially unaccountable international oligarchies or NGOs (non-governmental organizations), but potentially unfavorable to national or local authority. I make this contention on the premise that a humane and proportionate scale—or scope of command—must be maintained when trying to deal with the threatened or actual conduct of psycho-biological warfare, because it specifically tries to destroy intimate trust, both in a community and in the individual mind.

In light of some fundamental axioms of strategy and grand strategy that will now be further elucidated by Liddell Hart, we will be able to consider more concretely how grand-strategic Fabian bio-warfare might operate and have its psychologically dislocating and paralyzing effects. Let us assume that an adversary or coalition of adversaries might wish to “revive the art and effect of strategy”15—especially long-range indirect grand strategy. The culture of China, for example, with its remarkable cultural cohesiveness over time and space, might be especially adept at grand-strategic deception. Certain European governments and Euro-socialists wishing for the diminishment of U.S. influence and enhancement of the euro as an international reserve currency might indirectly co-operate with China and others to add to America’s discomfiture, by omission at least if not by commission. In the London Mail, for example, Allan Piper and Richard Grant write:

The introduction of the Euro in January [1999] threatens to trigger the worst global economic crisis since the Second World War. It could even signal the breakdown of the global financial system, according to the City’s [London’s financial district’s] most respected economist. Stephen Lewis, who provides daily advice to the Square Mile’s leading institutions, blames the advent of the Euro for the present turmoil in world markets, and warns that massive currency movements created by its introduction will make matters worse. He predicts that, because European governments are determined to break the power of the U.S. dollar, it will encourage a worldwide proliferation of nationalistic policies, force widespread introduction of currency exchange controls, and lead to a sharp slowdown in global economic growth… . Lewis’ remarks follow an announcement from Beijing last week that the Chinese government wants to offload dollars from its $140 billion foreign currency reserve to buy the Euro… . Lewis warns: “One of the reasons there is a crisis at all is that the governments sponsoring the Euro are seeking to overturn the dollar’s supremacy. They do not want the dollar to survive as the world’s leading currency. A large part of the global economic problem over the past year has arisen from attempts by policy-makers to assert the Euro’s role in the scheme of things. This challenge is the biggest since 1945.” Last week, Wang Jian, economist of China’s State Development Planning commission, said that the country’s government would cut the proportion of dollar holdings to 40% so that it could build Euro holdings to the same level… . He [Stephen Lewis] said: “The movement of capital will devalue the dollar sharply and cause economic recession in the U.S. The significant point about Wang’s comment is that it came days after German bankers had been in Beijing seeking to persuade the authorities to shift their reserves from the dollar to the Euro.” (Emphasis added.)16

In this context, additional disruptions from the use of actual or feigned bio-agents could be traumatic and dislocating. With this example in mind, Liddell Hart’s axioms become even more cogent and sobering as we consider the Fabian use of biological weapons.

Liddell Hart is fundamentally opposed to two theses: (1) that “battle is the only means to the strategical end” and (2) that “in war every other consideration should be subordinated to the aim of fighting decisive battles.”17 He thinks it wise, instead, often “to enjoin a strategy of limited aim”18 and especially “a limited aim or ‘Fabian’ grand strategy.”19

He says:

The more usual reason for adopting a strategy of limited aim is that of awaiting a change in the balance of force—a change often sought and achieved by draining the enemy’s force, weakening him by pricks instead of risking blows. The essential condition of such a strategy is that the drain on him [e.g., the U.S.] should be disproportionately greater than on oneself. The object may be sought by raiding [or infecting] his supplies;…by luring him into unprofitable attacks [i.e., “lure and trap” or “mystify, mislead, surprise”]; by causing an excessively wide distribution [or centrifugal overextension] of his force; and, not least, by exhausting his moral and physical energy.20

When strategy, from its etymology, is considered as “generalship,” it is “the art of distributing and applying military means to fulfill the ends of policy” (as well as the ends of grand strategy) by “the movement of forces” and “its effect,” particularly when “the effect was [or will be] insidiously harmful.”21 The purpose of strategy, as well as grand strategy, is “to diminish the possibility of resistance” and “to fulfill this purpose by exploiting the elements of movement and surprise.”22 Says Liddell Hart:

The role of grand strategy—higher strategy—is to co-ordinate and direct all the resources of a nation, or band of nations, towards the attainment of the political object…the goal defined by fundamental policy. Grand strategy should both calculate and develop the economic resources and man-power of nations… . Also the moral resources—for to foster a people’s willing spirit is often as important as to possess the more concrete forms of power…. Moreover, fighting power is but one of the instruments of grand strategy—which should take account of and apply the power of financial pressure, of diplomatic pressure, of commercial pressure, and, not least, of ethical pressure, to weaken the opponent’s will.23

Even when it pertains to the lower level of strategy, Liddell Hart argues—and our new adversaries may have listened to him—that “strategy not only stops on the frontier [of the province of fighting], but has for its purpose the reduction of fighting to the slenderest possible proportions” and, if fighting is unavoidable, “to bring about battle under the most advantageous circumstances.”24 And sometimes, as in the case of the Greek Byzantine general, Belisarius, in Syria, “the national object” was fulfilled by “pure strategy,” for, “in this case, the psychological action was so effective that the enemy surrendered his purpose without any physical action at all being required.”25 Liddell Hart comments:

While such bloodless victories have been exceptional, their rarity enhances rather than detracts from their value—as an indication of latent possibilities, in strategy and grand strategy. Despite many centuries’ experience of war, we have hardly begun to explore the field of psychological warfare.26

With respect to the military strategist or grand strategist, Liddell Hart says, by way of summary:

His true aim is not so much to seek battle as to seek a strategic situation so advantageous that, if it does not of itself produce a decision, its continuation by battle is sure to achieve this.27

Now, with reference to those who would use biological weapons to effect “psychological action,” we must remember that “dislocation is the aim of strategy” and the intended sequel is “the enemy’s dissolution or his easier disruption in battle.”28 But “how is the strategic [or grand strategic] dislocation produced?”—by, for example, “a move directed towards the enemy’s rear,” “a menace to its [interior] line of communication,” or seeking to gain “a decisive advantage previous to battle.”29 It may also be produced by “menacing [or ambushing] the enemy’s [or the “first-responder’s”] line of retreat,” “menacing the equilibrium of his dispositions,” or “menacing [or contaminating] his local supplies [including his medical supplies].”30

The proper strategic intention is not so much to produce strain, but rather to produce shock—suddenness and surprise. “Psychological dislocation fundamentally springs from the sense of being trapped.”31 Also, the “strategy of an indirect approach [is] calculated to dislocate the opponent’s balance,” physically or logistically but, especially, mentally. In fact, “paralyzing the enemy’s action” is “what constitutes a strategic indirect approach,” which is itself “preceded by distraction [i.e., “to draw asunder” the opponent], so as “to deprive the enemy of his freedom of action” and to give him the sense of being trapped. Such a preparatory distraction also seeks “the distention” and “the diversion” of the opponent’s forces, with the result that they are “too widely distributed and committed elsewhere”32 so as not to be able to regroup and effectively concentrate against one’s own forces—that is to say, “not giving your opponent freedom [of action] and time to concentrate to meet your concentration.”33

Given modern conditions and mobile weaponry, says Liddell Hart, “the need for [preparatory] distraction” has grown. The “most economic method of distraction” is to force on one’s enemy a choice of disconcerting “alternate objectives” along a single line of operations—striving to constantly “[put] the enemy on the horns of a dilemma” (as Sherman did in his “deep strategic penetration” of Georgia).34 Citing the two correlative principles of “concentration of strength against weakness” and “dispersion of the opponent’s strength,” Liddell Hart emphasizes that “true concentration is the fruit of calculated dispersion.”35

Liddell Hart thinks it essential to “adjust your end to your means,” after a sober assessment of one’s means, and to “think what it is least probable that he [i.e., the enemy] will foresee and forestall.”36 Since “a single objective is usually futile,” he says, it is important to “take a line of operations which offers alternative objectives.” This is also “the basis of infiltration tactics,”37 which today could include biological weapons, to exploit the opponent’s confusion, mental dislocation, disorganization, and demoralization—and to exploit them before he or his society can recover. However, certain cautious and unstrategic minds, inordinately focused on tactics, tend to promote “the common indecisiveness of warfare,” to “obscure the psychological element,” and “to foster a cult of soundness rather than of surprise.”38

One must bear in mind “the necessity of making the enemy do something wrong” and, “by compelling [his] mistakes,” to “find in the unexpected the key to a decision.”39 For “a man unnerved is a highly infectious carrier of fear, capable of spreading an epidemic of panic.”40 Although strategy “should seek to penetrate a joint [or critical communications node] in the harness [or networks] of the opposing forces,” Liddell Hart emphasizes that “a strategist should think in terms of paralysis, not killing.”41 But again, a “decisive strategic victory” can be “rendered indecisive on the higher strategic plane” of grand strategy.

Given the new face of terrorism, as seen for example in the Aum Shinrikyo cult, there is, it seems, a growing “fanaticism unmixed with acquisitiveness” and “infused with the courage of desperation.”42 This new enemy seeks only to destroy, not to conquer —and biological weapons will serve him well.

By taking the measure, in the larger grand-strategic context, of both the capacities of biological weapons today (actual and potential) and the resentful intentions of terrorists or transnational criminal syndicates, our judgments and responses will be more disciplined and wiser, more prudent and proportioned. We must not think of biological weapons or bio-terrorism in merely tactical or operational terms, or in isolation. We must anticipate and consider them in the context of Fabian forms of indirect grand strategy, which may subtly employ new biotechnologies and discoveries from neuroscience, such as psychotropic and neuro-tropic bio-agents, to infect the human mind and weakened will. Such subtle forms of strategic indirection against “soft targets” aim to subvert trust, the most intimate forms of trust, thereby producing, if not our despair and desolation, then, at least, our demoralization and strategic paralysis.

(Address correspondence to [not anymore valid as of May 2020]: Dr. Robert Hickson, Department of Philosophy and Fine Arts, HQ USAFA/DFEG Hickson, 2354 Fairchild Drive, Suite 6K12, U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado 80840-6238; Telephone: 719-333-8716; Fax: 719-333-7137. )

REFERENCES [43 Footnotes]:

1. HARRIS, J., 1992. In Wonderwoman and Superman: The Ethics of Human Biotechnology. P. Singer, Ed. Oxford University Press. New York.

2. LIDDELL HART, B.H. 1967. Strategy. 2nd edit. Meridian Books. New York.

3. Ibid. p. 212.

4. Ibid. pp. 211-212.

5. Ibid. pp. 211-212.

6. Ibid. p. 212.

7. Ibid. p. 237.

8. Ibid. p. 321.

9. Ibid. p. 10.

10. Ibid. p. 13.

11. Ibid. pp. 13-14.

12. Ibid. p. 26.

13. Ibid. p. 27

14. BEAUFRE, A. 1965. An Introduction to Strategy, Praeger. New York. Quoted text from pages 1, 23-24, 30, 34-35, 42, 47, 55-57, 59, 80, 83, 86, 99, 100, 102-104, 108-110, 121-122, 127-128, 133, 135, 137-138.

15. LIDDELL HART, op. cit. p. 332.

16. PIPER, A. & R. GRANT.1998. London Mail (6 Sept.): 1.

17. LIDDELL HART, op. cit. p. 319.

18. Ibid. p. 320.

19. Ibid. p. 321.

20. Ibid.

21. Ibid. pp. 321, 319.

22. Ibid. p. 323.

23. Ibid. p. 322.

24. Ibid. p. 324.

25. Ibid. p. 325.

26. Ibid.

27. Ibid.

28. Ibid.

29. Ibid. p. 326.

30. Ibid.

31. Ibid.

32. Ibid. p. 328.

33. Ibid. p. 334.

34. Ibid. p. 339.

35. Ibid. p. 334.

36. Ibid. p. 335.

37. Ibid.

38. Ibid. p. 336.

39. Ibid. p. 336 (Emphasis added).

40. Ibid. p. 212.

41. Ibid.

42. Ibid.

43. Ibid. p. 359.

Finis

 

Josef Pieper’s Further Insights on Silence and Purity and Incipient Contemplation: From His 1985 Anthology and Lesebuch

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                                      5 May 2020

Pope Saint Pius V (d. 1572)

Epigraphs

“Leisure…is a form of silence. Leisure amounts to that precise way of being silent which is a prerequisite for listening in order to hear; for only the listener is able to hear. Leisure implies an attitude of total receptivity toward, and willing immersion in, reality; an openness of the soul, through which alone may come about those great and blessed insights that no amount of ‘mental labor’ can ever achieve.” (Josef Pieper, Josef Pieper: An Anthology-Lesebuch (1985), page 140—my emphasis added)

***

“I wonder whether, in his relationship to the Church, the contemporary intellectual has not been offered a unique opportunity [as of 1985, and under the reflective Pope John Paul II] to employ and to give full play to all his potentialities, his special propensities, and liberties and even weaknesses?

“For example, could not the intellectual manifest his nonconformity by expressing his disagreement with those criticisms of the Church [such as her resisting permissive marital issues and disallowing artificial forms of birth-prevention] which are now being shouted from every roof-top? By the way, the source of the word ‘nonconformity’ is Scripture: nolite conformari huic saeculo, “And be not conformed to the world” (Romans 12:2)!….But how would it be, for a change, if an intellectual chose to defend publicly, with imagination and verbal skill, the thesis that purity is integral to the proper functioning of a human being?….

“But above all, has there ever existed such a challenging opportunity for the intellectual to exercise his noblest office, truly his nobile officium, as this: To take up the lance of the provocative word and to fight to defend her who is despised by all the world—namely the Church?” (Josef Pieper, Josef Pieper: An Anthology (1985), pages 132-133—my emphasis added)

***

“Nothing else can confront us with one indispensable challenge, the challenge contained in the following question:

“After we have accomplished, with an admirable amount of intelligence and hard work, all that is necessary, after we have provided for the basic needs of life, produced the essential foodstuff, protected the realm of life itself—after all this, what is the meaning of the life itself that we have made possible? How do we define a truly human life?

To ask this challenging question in the midst of all our accomplishments as [they] establish ourselves in the world, to keep this question alive through honest and precise reasoning: this is the fundamental task of philosophy, its specific contribution to the common good—even though, by itself, it is unable to provide the complete answer.” (Josef Pieper, Josef Pieper: An Anthology (1985), page 111—my emphasis added)

***

“The time has come to speak of the contemplative mode of seeing the things of the Creation. I am referring to things which are perceptible to the senses, and to the kind of seeing we do with our eyes. It would be impossible to exaggerate the concreteness of this vision. If a person has been terribly thirsty for a long time and then finally drinks, feels the refreshment deep down inside and says, ‘What a glorious thing fresh, cold water is!’—then whether he knows it or not, he may have taken one step toward that beholding of the beloved wherein contemplation consists.” (Josef Pieper, Josef Pieper: An Anthology (1985), pages 145-146—my emphasis added)

***

When one reads anew his refreshing, often-challenging, 1985 authorial-selected anthology, Josef Pieper’s incisive, unexpected citation of the French writer André Gide will also lead us to consider afresh the distinctions and interrelations between the active life and the contemplative life, as well as the purpose of politics and the nature of earthly contemplation itself.

Such reflections, for which we are again especially grateful to Dr. Pieper, might also be helpfully illuminating and consoling for us now, amidst the current constrictions and imponderables in society, to include religious societies and their forms of public worship and indispensable penance during a pestilence which is both patent and latent and of uncertain protractedness.

We may see now how Josef Pieper approaches Gide’s own candid insights:

But practice [such as the phenomenon of “politics”] does become meaningless the moment it sees itself as an end in itself. For this means converting what is by nature a servant into a master—with the inevitable result that it no longer serves any useful purpose. The absurdity and the profound dangers of this procedure cannot, in the long run, remain hidden. André Gide writes in his Journals: “The truth is that as soon as we are no longer obliged to earn our living, we no longer know what to do with our life and recklessly squander it.” Here, with his usual acuteness, Gide has described the deadly emptiness and endless ennui which bounds the realm of the exclusively practical like a belt of lunar landscape. This is the destruction which results from destruction of the vita contemplativa [the contemplative life]. In light of such a recognition, we suddenly see new and forceful validity in the old principle [as expressed by a young Thomas Aquinas]: “It is requisite for the good of the human community that there should be persons who devote themselves to the life of contemplation.” For it is contemplation which preserves in the midst of society the truth that is at one and the same time useless and the yardstick [or standard] of every possible use; so it is also contemplation which keeps the true end in sight, gives meaning to every practical act of life. (122—123—my emphasis added)1

To understand better the hierarchy and proper subordinations between the active and contemplative lives, Josef Pieper offers a clarification about the traditional notion of hierarchy, lest it be misunderstood, as is often the case:

We do not mean…to scorn or decry practical life [the vita activa]….And here it seems proper to put in a word about the nature of hierarchical thinking. The hierarchical point of view admits no doubt about difference in levels and their location; but it also never despises lower levels [of subsidiarity or subordination] in the hierarchy. Thus the inherent dignity of practice (as opposed to theoria [i.e.,contemplatio” in Latin]) is in no way denied. It is taken for granted that practice is not only meaningful but indispensable; that it rightly fills out man’s weekday life; that without it a truly human existence is inconceivable. Without it [the realm of varied active practice], indeed, the vita contemplativa [the contemplative life] is unthinkable. (122—my emphasis added)

In a three-page section of his anthology entitled “The Purpose of Politics” (121-123), Dr. Pieper begins his reflections with the following elucidating paragraph about the nature, limits, and inherent disposition of the active life:

All practical activity, from practice of the ethical virtues to gaining the means of livelihood, serves something other than itself. And this other thing is not practical activity. It is having what is sought after, while we rest content in the results of our active efforts. Precisely that is the meaning of the old adage that the vita activa is fulfilled in the vita contemplativa. To be sure, the active life contains a felicity of its own; it lies, says Thomas [Aquinas], principally in the practice of prudence [the first cardinal virtue], in the perfect art of the conduct of life. But ultimate repose cannot be found in this kind of felicity. Vita activa est dispositio ad contemplativam; the ultimate meaning of the active life is to make possible the happiness of contemplation [especially unto “contemplation of the truth” (122)]. (121—my emphasis added)

For the rest of this essay, we shall attempt to present Josef Pieper’s essential understanding of “Earthly Contemplation” (143-148) and its deep nourishment, also as a foretaste (praegustatum) of a possible, but not yet a certain and indefectible, final fulfillment in Vita Aeterna.

Over the years—lest there be sinful presumption (one of the two sins against hope, and thus also one form of hopelessness), and yet being very aware of the scope and mystery of human liberty— Dr. Pieper would frequently, but modestly say: “Up until the moment of our death, we retain the permanent possibility of voluntary defection.” (He also knowingly spoke of our supportive need for the Donum Timoris: the Gift of Fear.)

We turn now to his other connected insights coming from Tradition, indeed from a long-tested and much-challenged Catholic Sacred Tradition:

The great thinkers of the Western tradition regard as a self-evident and inviolable truth the idea that the ultimate satiation of our desires awaits us only on the other side of death, and that this beatitude will take the form of seeing. However, this eschatological assertion concerning the perfection which ultimately lies in store for us has always, at the same time, been interpreted as a commentary on the earthly existence of man in the world. It has in fact been interpreted to mean: not only in the life to come, but also in his material existence in history, man is, to the very roots of his being, a creature designed for and desiring vision; and this is true to such a degree that the extent of a man’s happiness is only as great as his capacity for contemplation. (143—my emphasis added)

Dr. Pieper quite assuredly knows and shows us that this above-expressed theory of contemplation “appears so remote from the contemporary view of man” (144), so remote that it seems to be even “absurd” (144). However, he says that responding to this set of insufficient perceptions will be, in part “the subject of my discourse,” for, he adds:

The concept of contemplation which I have just outlined implies and presupposes several things which are not immediately apparent. For example, in the first place that man in this world is capable of visionary knowledge, that this means of ascertaining the nature of reality are not exclusively mental, i.e., do not consist solely of working with concepts and of intellectual exertion. It implies and presupposes the celebration of the simple act of looking at things. Anyone who disputes the possibility of such a celebration [as conveyed in a “loving gaze”] cannot accept the thesis of the joy of contemplation….

Our theory of contemplation also presupposes something else: namely, the fact that not only does the act of vision beyond death exist in a rudimentary, inchoate, premonitory form in this life, but also that the object of the beatific vision can be glimpsed, however imperfectly, by means of earthly contemplation….

Only the vision of something we love makes us happy, and thus it is integral to the concept of contemplation that it represents a vision kindled by the act of turning towards something [or someone!] in love and affirmation. (144—my emphasis)

After his varied preparation, only a part of which I have introduced, Dr. Pieper modestly says:

It is now possible for us to formulate a more complete definition of the essential meaning of contemplation. If we direct our power of affirmation, i.e., our love toward the infinite and divine source of satiation which flows through all reality from its ultimate fount, and if this beloved source reveals itself to the gaze of the soul in a totally unmediated and utterly serene visioneven if the vision persists for no more than a split second—then and only then does there occur what can, in an absolute sense, be called contemplation.

But perhaps it is more important to express this thought in positive terms and to say when the aforementioned conditions are fulfilled, contemplation always occurs. For what seems to me particularly significant in the traditional theory of contemplation is the fact that this blessed awareness of the divine satiation of all desire can be kindled by any event, by the most trivial cause. Contemplation is by no means confined to the cloister and the monastic cell. The element crucial to contemplation [as with poets and other artists] can be attained by someone who [like Hilaire Belloc afoot in the Alps or upon the sea!] does not even know the name for what is happening to him. Thus in all likelihood, contemplation occurs far more frequently than one would be led to believe by the prevailing image of modern man.

Not only do these inconspicuous forms of contemplation deserve more attention, more thought; they also deserve to be encouraged….We also need corroboration and confirmation of the fact that we are right to interpret and accept the beatitude of such experiences for what it truly is: the foretaste [“praegustatum”] and beginning of perfect joy. (145—my emphasis added)

Later in Josef Pieper’s essay, after his worthy and hopefully still to-be-savored discussion of the arts, he concludes with the following words of refreshment:

The indispensable nature of art [poetry, music, painting, sculpture, architecture and the like], its status as a basic necessity of human life, results above all from the fact that it prevents the contemplation of the Creation [or, gazing with love, Our Contemplation of the Passion of the Lord] from sinking into oblivion, and ensures [even under a grave, protracted quarantine and isolation] that it [contemplation] remains a living force in our lives. (146-147—my emphasis added)

–Finis–

© 2020 Robert D. Hickson

1Josef Pieper, Josef Pieper: An Anthology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985—first published in German in 1981 and then in a second edition in 1984), pages 122-123—my emphasis added. All future page references are to this English edition, and will be placed above henceforth in parentheses in the main body of this essay.

Josef Pieper on the Purity of Heart and the Perception of Beauty

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                                20 April 2020

Saint Agnes of Montepulciano (d. 1313)

Epigraphs

“A new depth here opens to our view: purity is not only the fruit of purification; it implies at the same time readiness to accept God’s purifying intervention, terrible and fatal though it might be; to accept it with the bold candor of a trustful heart.” (Josef Pieper, Josef Pieper: An Anthology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989), page 83—my emphasis added.)

***

“Only a chaste sensuality can realize the specifically human faculty of perceiving sensual beauty…and to enjoy it for its own sake,…undeterred and unsullied by the self-centered [i.e., selfish] will to pleasure. It has been said that only the pure of heart can laugh freely and liberatingly. It is no less true that only those who look at the world with pure eyes can experience its beauty.” (Josef Pieper, Josef Pieper: An Anthology, 1989, page 81—my emphasis added.)

***

“It is in such an asceticism of cognition alone that he may preserve or regain that which actually constitutes man’s vital existence: the perception of the reality of God and His creation, and the possibility of shaping himself and the world according to this truth, which reveals itself only in silence.” (Josef Pieper, Josef Pieper: An Anthology, 1989, page 87—my emphasis added.)

***

In the following considerations, I wish to present and discuss briefly some of Josef Pieper’s insights into the matter of purity and beauty, and their interrelations.

First in 1981, Josef Pieper published in Munich, Germany his own authorial anthology by which he personally selected and editorially arranged from all of his writings a fitting representation of much of his deepest thoughts down the years.

In 1984, Dr. Pieper, upon request, then published a second and more ample German edition, also with Kösel Verlag in Munich, and still entitled Josef Pieper: Lesebuch. From this second edition came the 1989 English translation, Josef Pieper: An Anthology,1 a portion of which we shall now consider. On pages 80-87, we shall find these four chapter subtitles sequentially (27-30), as follows:

Only the Pure of Heart Can Perceive Beauty; The Fruit of Purity; Temperance [as the Fourth Cardinal Virtue] Creates Beauty; and “Concupiscence of the Eyes” [1 John 2: 16; 5:19, for example, as a disorder].

Let us now follow the sequence of some of Josef Pieper’s insights and affirmations:

Christian doctrine does not exclude sensual enjoyment from the realm of the morally good (as against [as distinct from being the realm of] the merely “permissible”). But that this [sensual] enjoyment should be made possible only by the virtue of temperance and [disciplined] moderation—that, indeed, is a surprising thought. Yet this is what we read in the Summa theologica [of Thomas Aquinas], in the first question [quaestio] of his tractate on temperance—even if more between and behind the lines than in what is said directly….

Man, by contrast [to a lion, for example], is able to enjoy what is seen or heard for the sensual “appropriateness” alone which appeals to the eye and the ear….For intemperance (like temperance) is something exclusively human….Keeping this distinction in mind the [this] sentence becomes meaningful: unchaste lust has the tendency to relate the whole complex of the sensual world, and particularly of sensual beauty, to sexual pleasure exclusively. Therefore only a chaste sensuality can realize the specifically human faculty of perceiving sensual beauty, such as that of the human body, as beauty, and to enjoy it for its own sake,…undeterred and unsullied by the self-centered will to pleasure. (80-81—my emphasis added)

Thus, Josef Pieper would especially want to convince us now that: “Temperance is liberating and purifying. This above all: temperance effects purification.” (82—my emphasis added) And we recall, as well, his earlier words that “only the pure of heart can laugh freely and liberatingly” and “only those who look at the world [or another sudden person] with pure eyes can experience its [or her or his] beauty.” (81—my emphasis added)

Moreover, says Pieper:

If one approaches the difficult concept of purity…and begins to understand purity as the fruit of purification, the confusing and discordant sounds, which…move it dangerously close to Manichaeism, are silenced. From this [fresh] approach the full and unrestricted concept [and reality!] of purity…comes into view.

This is the purity meant by John Cassian [circa 360-435 A.D.]. when he calls purity of heart the immanent purpose of temperance: “It is served by solitude, fasting, night watches, and penitence.” It is this wider concept of purity which is referred to in Saint Augustine’s statement that the virtue of temperance and moderation aims at preserving man uninjured and undefiled for God. (82—my emphasis added)

Dr. Pieper then asks us a question and answers it at once unexpectedly:

But what does this unrestricted concept of purity stand for? It stands for that crystal-clear, morning-fresh freedom from self-consciousness, for that selfless acceptance of the world which man experiences when the shock of a profound sorrow [like the death of one’s child] carries one to the brink of existence or when he is touched by the shadow of death. It is said in the Scriptures: “Grave illness sobers the soul” (Ecclesiasticus 31:2); this sobriety belongs to the essence of purity. (82—my emphasis added)

Further to clarify his nourishing, though complex, concept of purity, our author adds new insights from the related Greek tragic notion of “Catharsis” and an aspect of the infused “Gift of Fear”:

That most disputed statement of Aristotle: tragedy causes purification, catharsis, points in the same direction. Even the Holy Spirit’s gift of fear, which Saint Thomas assigns to temperantia, purifies the soul by causing it to experience, through grace, the innermost peril of man [i.e., the loss, finally, of Eternal Life, “Vita Aeterna”]. Its [that divine gift’s] fruit is that purity by dint [by means] of which the selfish and furtive search for spurious fulfillment is abandoned. Purity is the perfect unfolding of the whole nature from which alone could have come the words: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.” (Luke 1:38) (82-83—my emphasis added)

After this preparation concerning the concept and reality of purity, our modest, though dedicated and resolute, guide will consider more fully the fourth cardinal virtue of temperantia and its inherently moderating discipline:

To the virtue of temperance as the preserving and defending realization of man’s inner order, the [additional] gift of beauty is particularly co-ordinated. Not only is temperance beautiful in itself, it also renders men beautiful. Beauty, however, must here be understood in its original meaning: as the glow of the truth and the good irradiating from every ordered state of being, and not in the patent significance of immediate sensual appeal. The beauty of temperance has a more spiritual, more austere, more virile aspect [and discipline]. It is of the essence of this beauty that it does not conflict with true virility, but rather has an affinity to it. Temperance as the wellspring and premise of fortitude [the third cardinal virtue], is the virtue of mature manliness.

The infantile disorder of intemperance, on the other hand, not only destroys beauty, it also makes man cowardly; intemperance more than any other thing renders man unable and unwilling to “take heart” against the wounding power of evil in the world. (83-84—my emphasis added)

How does one discern, especially from external manifestations, someone who is not just impatient but fundamentally intemperate and inwardly disordered, as we may now wonder about a certain character? But Josef Pieper will help us here again:

It is not easy to read on a man’s face whether he is just or unjust. Temperance or intemperance, however, loudly proclaim themselves in everything that manifests a personality: in the order or disorder of the features, in the attitude, the laugh, the handwriting. Temperance, as the inner order of man, can as little remain “purely interior” as the soul itself [i.e., “anima forma corporis”], and as all other life of the soul or mind. It is the nature of the soul to be the “form of the body.”

This fundamental principle of all Christian psychology [“anima forma corporis est”], not only states the in-forming of the body by the soul [the principle of natural life], but also the reference of the soul to the body….Temperance or intemperance of outward behavior and expression can have its strengthening or weakening repercussion on the inner order of man. It is from this point of view that all outward discipline….has its meaning, its justification, and its necessity. (84—my emphasis added)

Again on the premise that “contrast clarifies the mind,” we shall now conclude our reflections and presentations with Dr. Pieper’s own perceptions about the temptation and grave disorder of “the concupiscence [itching lust] of the eyes” (1 John 2:16).

Once again Pieper approaches his topic in a fresh way, though with some initial obscurity:

Studiositas, curiositas—by these are meant temperateness and intemperance, respectively, in the natural striving for knowledge; temperateness and intemperance, above all, in the indulgence of sensual perception of the manifold sensuous beauty of the world; temperateness and intemperance in the “desire for knowledge and experience,” as Saint Augustine puts it….The is no doubt that the will-to-knowledge, the noble power of the human being, requires a restraining wisdom, “in order that man may not strive immoderately for the knowledge of things.” (85—my emphasis added)

He promptly then asks: “But in what consists such immoderateness?”(85)… and then he adds: “The essential intemperateness of the urge for knowledge is ‘concupiscence of the eyes.’” (86)

Moreover, as Pieper now further proposes to teach us, there is much more to untangle, candidly and even bluntly:

There is a gratification in seeing that [both] reverses the original meaning of vision and works disorder in man himself. The true meaning of seeing is perception of reality. But “concupiscence of the eyes” does not aim to perceive reality, but to enjoy “seeing”….this is also true of curiositas. [According to Martin Heidegger, in his book Being and Time:] “What this [disordered or itching] seeing strives for is not to attain knowledge and to become cognizant of the truth, but [rather] for possibilities of relinquishing oneself to the world.”….

Accordingly, the degeneration into curiositas of the natural wish to see may [also] be much more than than a harmless confusion on the surface of the human being. It may be the sign of complete rootlessness. It may mean that man has lost his capacity for living with himself; that, in flight from himself, nauseated and bored by the void of an interior gutted by despair, he is seeking with selfish anxiety and on a thousand futile paths that which is given only to the noble stillness of the heart held ready for sacrifice…. (86—my emphasis added)

After an intervening four-paragraph presentation—sometimes quite harsh and glaring and coldly chilling—of the “destructive and eradicating power” (86) of the concupiscence of the eyes, along with cupiditas‘ “restlessness” (86), Pieper robustly disciplines his disgust and revulsion, and keenly says:

If such an illusory world [of “deafening noise” and “flimsy pomp” and such (87)] threatens to overgrow and smother the world of real things, then to restrain the natural wish to see takes on the character of a measure of self-protection and self-defense. Studiositas…primarily signifies that man should oppose this virtually inescapable seduction with all the force of selfless self-preservation; that he should hermetically close the inner room of his being against the intrusively boisterous pseudo-reality of empty shows and sounds. It is in such an asceticism of cognition alone that he may preserve or regain that which actually constitutes man’s vital existence: the perception of the reality of God and His creation, and the possibility of shaping himself and the world according to this truth, which reveals itself only in silence. (87—my emphasis added)

What a profound and eloquent selection Josef Pieper has made from the writings of his long life—even in 1984 when he was already eighty years of age. What a harvest and set of gleaning he has given to us here in his unique personal anthology. May his entire Anthology also be contemplated now.

–Finis–

© 2020 Robert D. Hickson

1See Josef Pieper, Josef Pieper: An Anthology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989). All future references will be to this 1989 edition of varied but approved English translations, and placed above in parentheses in the main body of this short essay. We shall be concentrating on pages 80-87, the last part of the first main category, entitled “Human Authenticity.”

Josef Pieper’s Double Challenge to a Character of Virtue: Facing Both an Unjust Exercise of Power and an Intrinsically Unrepayable Debt

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                                  12 April 2020

Easter Sunday 2020

Saint Sabbas the Goth (d. 372)

Epigraphs

“We must remind ourselves…that our reflection here regards justice as a virtue, namely, an attitude [prompt disposition] to be achieved by the individual alone…We can speak of justice when each person in a group is accorded his rightful due:…. the habitual disposition of the will to render each and all we encounter their rightful due.” (Josef Pieper, Josef Pieper: An Anthology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989—first published in 1984, in Germany), pages 58-59.)

***

“Christopher Columbus died in 1506. Not unlike his Master, who was crucified and abandoned by His own disciples. Columbus entered eternity without anyone paying any attention. He died estranged from his own contemporaries. In fact he died in disgrace. That too is a deep lesson. The price of bringing souls to Christ is suffering.” (Father John A. Hardon, S.J., Christopher Columbus: The Catholic Discovery of America (Bardstown, Kentucky: Eternal Life—Inter Mirifica, 2012, page 12))

***

After his many years of deepening his forthright search and understanding of the varied traditional intellectual and moral virtues—and then writing about them with lucidity—Josef Pieper also often counterpoints some of the deeper aspects of these challenging virtues by which we may so honorably and sincerely aspire to live.

One such virtue, now to be briefly considered through his eyes, is the second cardinal virtue of justice (iustitia), to include part of its range of meanings and, especially, our own candid acknowledgment of its inadequacy in human society, and in our human relations with God.

Let us thus now consider how, and even on one solid page effectively,1 Josef Pieper awakens us to much deep and abiding truth. For example, after introducing a surprising supportive quote from Immanuel Kant himself—“not exactly a Christian philosopher, either” (59)—Dr. Pieper says:

The fundamental rationale for all power is to safeguard and protect these rights. Whether we consider political power or authority in more confined situations—in the family, on the job, in a military unit—the following always proves true: whenever such power is not exercised to safeguard justice, dreadful iniquity will result. No calamity causes more despair in this world than the unjust exercise of power. And yet any power that could never be abused is ultimately no power at all—a fearful thought! (60—my emphasis added)

Although he does not discuss the matter in this chapter, one of the main themes in Josef Pieper’s writings is that, moreover, the very corruption of language leads to the corruption of power. (“Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power”—being the title of one of Dr. Pieper’s profound and lucidly brief books.)

Proceeding to disclose another recurrent challenge, Dr. Pieper politely says:

If we persist in pushing our reflection still further, we catch one feature that makes our topic of “justice” radically more complicated. The realm of our human relations is such that in certain highly significant situations it becomes impossible actually to render to the other what is doubtless his [rightful] due. The ancient thinkers here recalled first of all our relationship with God to whom we could never ever say: “Now we are even,” meaning “Now I have rendered you your due.” For this reason Christianity’s great teachers have declared that our relationship with God could not possibly be marked by justice, and that in its place, almost as a substitute and makeshift, there had to be religio: devotion, worship, sacrifice, a penitent heart.

But even in our human relationships lie certain debts that, by their very nature, can never truly be repaid and absolved. Thus, strictly speaking, I can never render what is their due to my mother, to my teachers, to honest public officials. And, to come right down to it, I cannot really “repay” even a friendly waiter or a reliable domestic in such a way that everything I owe them is rendered….Some other virtue is called to substitute [as in the reverential Latin concept,“observantia”] whenever justice proves inadequate: reverence, honor, and such respect (not only internal respect) as to proclaim: I owe you something I am unable to repay; and I let you know hereby that I am aware of this. (60—my emphasis added)

An “Honorarium” given to a good speaker, as distinct from a stipulated payment presented to him, illustrates such respect and gratitude, and deftly implies that we could never properly quantify the wisdom and eloquence you have imparted to us in you invited and unmistakably learned lecture. (Dr. Pieper, for example, often thought and spoke gratefully of all the unrepayable insights of truth and wisdom he had harvested and even gleaned from his master, Saint Thomas Aquinas.)

Aware that he has been the beneficiary of so many intrinsically unrepayable gifts, Josef Pieper movingly concludes his modest (and artful) chapter with these memorable words:

Once we thus acknowledge ourselves to be the debtors and recipients in relation to others and to God, we may be reluctant to base our life simply on the selfish question: “What is my due?” (61—italics mine)

–Finis–

© 2020 Robert D. Hickson

1See Josef Pieper, Josef Pieper: An Anthology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989), pages 57-61 (Chapter 19—“We Have a Holy Sovereign”). All further citations will be to this English translation and placed above in parentheses, in the main body of this essay. This chapter was originally published separately in 1980, in German, as “Menschliches Richtigsein.”

Insights on the Philosophical Mixture of Truth and Error: Louis de Wohl’s 1950 Historical Novel The Quiet Light

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                                    1 April 2020

Saint Hugh of Grenoble (d. 1132)

Saint Theodora (120 A.D.)

Blessed Karl of Austria (d. 1922)

Maike’s Nativity in Germany

Epigraphs

“The Jews of this period [12th-13th centuries] translated the writings of Aristotle and of the Arabian philosophers into Hebrew, and these, retranslated into Latin, afforded the scholastics an opportunity for becoming acquainted with Greek thought. The most famous of the scholastics, ‘men like Albertus Magnus and St. Thomas Aquinas, studied the works of Aristotle in Latin versions made from the Hebrew’ [S. Munk]….At a time when the Hohenstaufen defended the cause of science against dogma, and showed themselves the protectors of Epicureanism, the Jews occupied the first place among scholars and rationalist philosophers. At the Court of the Emperor Frederick II, ‘that hotbed of irreligion,’ they were received with favour and respect. It was they, as [Ernest] Renan has shown, that created Averroism [Earnest Renan—and hence at least implicitly the subversive doctrine of ‘the double truth’ of philosophy and religion, or of faith and reason, as in Siger of Brabant]. (Bernard Lazare (1865-1903), Antisemitism: Its History and Causes (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1995—originally published in 1894, in French; and later published in London in English, in 1967, of which the 1995 edition of the main text is a reprint), see page 150—Chapter Thirteen—“The Jew as a Factor in the Transformation of Society”)—my emphasis added)

***

“’Then let me ask you, my son [said the Dominican Albert the Great to his student Thomas Aquinas]: Which is the most important rational faculty of man?

The faculty to discern the truth.’ The answer [of Thomas] came at once.

‘There are those who think man is unable to discern truth….What is it that makes an error so often credible?

The amount of truth its contains in proportion to the untruth.’ ….

Aye,‘ said Albert..’truth and error mixed…that is the danger. That is the danger we are confronted with.‘” (Louis de Wohl, The Quiet Light: A Novel about Saint Thomas Aquinas (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996—originally published in 1950), pages 205-206—my emphasis added)

***

While recently reading aloud to my family another historical novel by Louis de Wohl—one first published in 1950 and entitled The Quiet Light: A Novel about Saint Thomas Aquinas1—I was especially touched by a timely and timeless conversation in Chapter X between Master Albertus Magnus and his gifted and abidingly modest student, Friar Thomas Aquinas. Therefore I have considered selectively presenting now again for the reader what had been so farsightedly depicted and politely conducted at the Dominican convent in Cologne, Germany during the mid-thirteenth century.

Master Albert (the future Saint Albert the Great), while visiting Thomas’ small cell, started their gradually deepening discourse with a searching question: “Which is the most important rational faculty in man?” (205)

After hearing Thomas’ prompt reply (“The faculty to discern the truth” (206)), Albert continues their ongoing exchange of insights, where they soon come to detect some self-refuting propositions, as it were:

“There are those who think that man is unable to discern the truth.”

“They are to be refuted [said Thomas] by the fact that they cannot make such a postulate without contradicting their own hypothesis. If man cannot discern truth, then they cannot state as true that man is unable to discern the truth.”

“Besides, we would never be able to recognize an error as an error,” said Albert, “though at times it can be difficult to recognize it. What is it that makes an error so often credible?”

“The amount of truth it contains in proportion to untruth.” (206)

While Thomas remained serene, Albert proceeded to surprise him, but only after he had reinforced Thomas’ earlier comment in slightly different words:

“Aye,” said Albert, nodding his heavy head, “truth and untruth mixed…that is the danger. That is the danger we are confronted with. That is what threatens to overcome the world, smash all our new [Gothic] cathedrals, and drive the Faith back into the catacombs. Unless…we liberate the giant.”

“Liberate the giant, my Father?” (206)

We again see Thomas’ sincerity and modesty as he proceeds to learn more about the giant.

Magister Albert, O.P. now further reveals his meaning concerning this formidable giant:

“None of those alive in the flesh…not even [Emperor] Frederick the Second, however powerful he may appear [just before 1250] to those whom he is crushing at the moment. He is roaring up and down Italy like a mad beast, seeking whom he can devour. But he and his little wars will be forgotten soon enough….except by those whose kith and kin have lost their lives through his cruelty. I hope this does not concern you, my son? Your family is still in Italy, as far as I know….

“I did not mean Frederick, the soon forgotten. I did not mean Louis of France either [i.e., the reigning King (Saint) Louis IX], though he will not be forgotten. My giant is not flesh and blood, though he was that, once. And those who lured him out of limbo are not flesh and blood either, though once they were, too.” [He was thinking about both Aristotle and his later Moslem interpreter, Averroes, as well as the derivative and subversive phenomenon of “Averroism.”].

Thomas waited, patiently.

“I’ll tell you a fairy tale, my son,” said Albert grimly. (207—the emphatic italics are in the original; my bold emphasis added)

Albert then gave Thomas a compact history of the rise and progress and gradual strategic encirclement of Islam (207-208), ending his summary introduction with these words:

“But still today [circa 1250] the green banner of the prophet Mohammed is raised over Spain, as it is at the very doors of the city of the great Constantine [Constantinople, to be finally conquered in 1453]. The emblem of the new religion is the crescent…and, shaped like an immense crescent, the Mohammedan lands are encircling Christendom, ready to strike at any moment. And some time ago [first in the 12th century], a new danger arose.”

“Now,” thought Thomas. He knew the story of Islam, of course. And he sensed at least some of what was coming. But he knew also that the Master was not telling him this “fairy tale” without good reason.

“The crude faith of Moors and Saracens,” went on Albert, “could never be a spiritual danger for Christendom. But then came the new danger. First Al Kindi in the ninth, then Al-Farabi in the tenth, and Avicenna in the eleventh century of Our Lord began to invoke the shadow of a giant who had died three centuries before Our Lord walked on earth. There was, at the time, no idea of claiming Aristotle as a forerunner of Islam. Al Kindi, Al-Farabi, and Avicenna wanted to know. Nevertheless, under their magic touch the giant [Aristotle] began to change, to be transformed….Then, just about a hundred years ago [in the 12th century], Averroes made his appearance….With Averroes…the birth of Mohammedan philosophy was completed. It was not an original philosophy. It was, to put it bluntly, a garbled and orientalized Aristotelian philosophy.” (207-208— emphasis added)

Still approaching his special and nuanced meaning and proposal—and his hoped-for mission with Friar Thomas, as well—Albertus Magnus repeats himself, nonetheless, for an important emphasis:

“But…but it was a philosophy. And it contained enough Aristotelian truth to carry oriental errors right into the heart and intellect of Christendom. At last, at long last, Islam [now] had a weapon against the Christian Faith, a weapon of such sharpness that it drove our own [Christian] philosophers [such as Siger of Brabant (see page 313—Chapter XVI)] to the terrible admission that there must be two truths …that of revealed faith and that of philosophy [namely, the claim that there is a truth of reason; and an incommensurate, parallel, and often contradictory truth of faith—along with its purported prior revelation!]. (208-209—my emphasis added)

It will be further helpful to our understanding of these grave claims and their implications (even today in the Catholic Church), if we now allow Albert to present with more detail his own fuller understanding of the enduring issues of moment, and his ardent encouragement to Thomas’ own further and fitting projects:

“And in the souls of intelligent Christians doubts are [thus] being raised for which theology has only the one answer: ‘Leave philosophy alone and stick to the faith.’ In other words: the Trojan horse is within our walls, and its name is the philosophy of Islam. What the vast armies of the camel driver could not do may be accomplished from within by the Trojan horse, by the spirit of the giant Aristotle, led by the spirit of Averroes. They say [Holy Roman Emperor] Frederick the Second is aping oriental customs in many ways, swearing by Mohammed and the Caaba, and making all things oriental [even Hebraic?] a fashion. It is a sorry sight. But it isn’t a tenth as dangerous as oriental [hence also Hebraic?] fogging our best ecclesiastical brains. And why is it that they are captivated by this thing? Because because the Averroist error is Aristotelian truth. Truth and untruth mixed…that is the danger. Unless…we liberate the giant.”

“We…” said Thomas incredulously. “We…?” (209—my emphasis added)

Albert promptly explicates to the modest Thomas the meaning of his “we”:

“You and I. I have cast about; I have been casting about for years to find the man who can do it. My own life is dedicated to it. But one life is not enough. No single man can free Aristotle from his chains. The task is immense. It isn’t simply a translation of [the original Greek, or the often dubious later Arabic, and even Hebrew, translations] of Aristotle into Latin.”

“It couldn’t be,” said Thomas breathlessly. “For even Aristotle was not always right.”

Son,” shouted Albert jubilantly, “that sentence alone proves that you are the man to do it.” (209—my emphasis added)

Somewhat stunned by Thomas’ concise words of simplicity and insight, Albert himself not only concurs but he also replies with a warning admonition:

“Aristotle was not always right,” he repeated. “Do you know that there is probably no man alive who’d dare to say that in public? Of those who have read Aristotle, I mean. For the others, and especially a few theologians I could name, are firmly convinced that the whole of Aristotle is the work of Satan himself. Can you imagine that? Good men crossing themselves when the very name of the Stagirite [Aristotle] is mentioned. But you, son,…oh, I love you for it…you have read him, and neither do you shrink from him, nor do you bow to him without reservations.”

He stopped abruptly. “Here is where we enter the fairy story, son…you and I, with our plan to unchain the giant and bring him back to his senses.”

“The great Jews will be of help [but also with reservations?],” said Thomas eagerly. “And especially Rabbi Moses ben Maimon [Maimonides (1135-1204), himself an anti-Christian]. His Guide of the Perplexed…”

“You have read that?” asked Albert, surprised.

“Oh, back in Naples,” admitted Thomas. “They [at the Frederick II-founded secular university] had a good copy [in a language unnamed, however] at the university. Rabbi Moses was a great man and a good one.”

“And he [Maimonides] also does not regard Aristotle as infallible. Son, do you realize where this leads?”

Thomas nodded. “The Christians will be able to say: ‘By the Grace of God, I believe; I have faith. There is much in my faith that surpasses reason but nothing that contradicts it.’” (209-210—my emphasis added)

Again even though very happy to hear the words of Friar Thomas’ succinct insight, Albert still gravely decides to be more explicit in his admonition:

I warn you of one thing, Thomas: our own people are going to make things difficult for you. The most intelligent Franciscan I ever met, Friar Roger Bacon…not the best, mind you, but the most intelligent…laughed at me when I told him my idea. He said it was impossible. It couldn’t be done.”

“We shall find out,” said Thomas.

“But the worst opposition won’t come from him. It will come from the narrow-minded, the chicken-hearted, the sterile…and some of them are very powerful. They are going to besiege you like the bulls of Bashan [see Psalm 22:12, for example]. And they will speak with formidable authority. They’ll quote the great saints against you, aye, and even the Fathers of the Church themselves. They’ll crush you with [Pope] Saint Gregory, with Saint Bernard, and the greatest of all, Saint Augustine…”

“It doesn’t matter who said it,” interposed Thomas. “What matters is what he said.”

Albert stared hard at him.

“By the love of God,” he said hoarsely, “I believe you mean it.”

Thomas stared back, in blank surprise.

I could not say so, surely, unless I meant it.”

The little man [Magister Albert], before whom they all trembled, said in a muffled voice: “Tell me, son…have you ever been intimidated by anyone?

“Oh, yes,” said Thomas.

I don’t believe it. By whom?”

By Our Lord…on the altar [before, during, and after the Consecration at Mass].”

[Thus cometh the memorable conclusion of this Chapter X.] (210-211—my emphasis added)

We may now, I hope, have better come to see and savor Louis de Wohl’s own accurate and reverent presentation of the life and challenges of Saint Thomas and his sincerity and purity and gifted discernments of truth, especially important truth that is properly unmixed with untruth and error. (With his unmistakable humility, Saint Thomas also knew that, as in the case of Aristotle, his opinions were not to be regarded as infallible.)

In any case, the varied wisdom expressed in Louis de Wohl’s book on Saint Thomas and his mentors, especially in Chapter X, could be well applied against Neo-Modernism today, not just those that were afoot around 1250 or in 1950 (under Pope Pius XII).

CODA

Writing about his own life for a scholarly source entitled “CatholicAuthors.com,” Louis de Wohl (b.1903-d. 2 June 1961) said the following:

Then, in May of 1948, I went to Rome, had my first audience with that living saint, the Holy Father [Pius XII], and asked him whom he wanted me to write about next! He said “Saint Thomas Aquinas.” Two years later I gave him the finished book, The Quiet Light, and asked him for his next order. This time he said “Write about the history and mission of the Church in the world.”

Also notably occurring in 1950, Pope Pius XII additionally accomplished three major things in and for the Church and her mission: the 1 November 1950 dogmatic declaration (rooted in Divinely Revealed Sacred Tradition) on the Assumption of the Blessed Mother (Munificentissimus Deus); preceded by the 12 August 1950 propagation of the incisive Encyclical, Humani Generis (a brief, polite update, as it were, of Pius IX’s earlier 8 December 1864 Syllabus Errorum (Syllabus of Errors); and, finally, the moving 24 June 1950 canonization of Maria Goretti whom the Pope warmly called a “martyr to purity.”

–Finis–

© 2020 Robert D. Hickson

1Louis de Wohl, The Quiet Light: A Novel about Thomas Aquinas (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996—a reprint originally published in 1950). All future references will be to the 1996 edition, and the pagination placed above in parentheses in the main body of this brief essay. The excellent Chapter X itself is to be found in its entirety on pages 198-211 of the 1996 edition, and the reader would do well to read and savor the whole chapter, as well.

Josef Pieper’s Final Portion of his Autobiography 1964-1988: A Story Like a Beam of Light

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                                 7 March 2020

Saint Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274)

Epigraphs

“I was especially pleased to see that the reason for the award [“the February 1982 Balzan Prize”], as I could now see for the first time, was precisely what had always been my greatest concern: namely, expressing myself in comprehensible, non-specialized language ‘which was capable of awakening for a world-wide public a philosophical awareness of the ultimate questions about human existence.’ And no matter how much it may seem like self-praise, I am not ashamed to say it.” (Josef Pieper, A Journey to Point Omega (2020)—or A Story Like a Beam of Light (1988—in German), pages 155-156—my emphasis added)

***

“He [the senior modern German air force officer ]…said immediately: ‘In our training, you must remember, the theme “German Luftwaffe in World War II” was taboo.’ Here again, I thought, is confirmation of the words of my teacher Thomas Aquinas with their manifold implications: ‘Praise of bravery depends on justice.’ The most daring, most intelligent, most dangerous undertakings by soldiers—which are often associated with extreme willingness to make sacrifices—cannot simply be praised when they are performed in the service of a criminal power; but it would be no less false to condemn them summarily and without distinction as likewise criminal [as in the case of the gifted German paratrooper General Kurt Student]; and with regard to the decision to keep silent about these things: it is indeed understandable and possibly even deserving of respect; but it can also thwart the inner cleansing, the catharsis, through which this tragedy [of war], too, could perhaps make even these awful events fruitful.” (Josef Pieper, A Journey to Point Omega–or A Story Like a Beam of Light, page 166—my emphasis added)

***

“But in public I was also silent. Should I have shouted aloud [about certain “naked crimes” targeting the Jews]: there is terrible injustice happening here? Some people did that and paid for it with their lives. Inge Scholl wrote to me shortly after the war [in 1945] telling me that her brother had read my books. And not until the spring of 1986 did the sister of Willi Graf, who also belonged to the “Weiße Rose” group and had been executed, sent me the photo-copy of a piece of paper from her brother’s diary: ‘Read J.P. about the Christian conception of man.’ This affected me in two ways. I heard this news and was ashamed. Some write things and others do them.” (Josef Pieper, A Journey to Point Omega, page 143—my emphasis added)

***

My objections [about some translations of “the texts of the Ordo Missae”] concerned not so much inadequate linguistic formulations but primarily the destruction of meaningwhich is almost always caused by misuse of language.” (Josef Pieper, A Journey to Point Omega, page 37—my emphasis added)

***

“My conclusion was that perhaps under the reign of sophistry and pseudo-philosophy true philosophy as a distinguishable independent discipline would disappear, and the specifically philosophical object—the root of things and the ultimate meaning of existence—would only be considered by those with faith.” (Josef Pieper, A Journey to Point Omega, page 68—my emphasis added)

***

The third volume of Josef Pieper’s autobiography, after some considerable delays, has finally been translated into English and just recently published in February of 2020 by St. Augustine’s Press in South Bend, Indiana. This 2020 text is now entitled A Journey to Point Omega—Autobiography from 1964.

The original German text was published in 1988, some fourteen years before Dr. Pieper’s own death on 6 November 1997 at 93 years of age. His original 1988 book in German—as well as his later Volume EB2 of his 2005 Eleven-Volume Opera Omnia–was carefully and more poetically entitled: Eine Geschichte wie ein Strahli.e., A Story like a Beam of Light—and it was originally also modestly subtitled Autobiographische Aufzeichnungen seit 1964 (Autobiographical Notes since 1964-1986).

It is important for us to remember that when Josef Pieper first published the last portion of his autobiography in 1988, he was eighty-four years of age; and when his beloved wife earlier died in 1984 after their almost fifty years together in marriage, Josef Pieper was eighty years old.

A Journey to Point Omega essentially begins with the multiple effects of the sudden death of his son Thomas in Seattle, Washington on 25 July 1964, and ends with the poignant death of his wife Hildegard in Münster, Germany on 25 June 1984. These events shook Josef Pieper and took him to the roots of his faith, hence the permeating atmosphere of his memoir: not just the medley of “notes” and the variety of things to be considered in his final and abiding—and often elegiac—memoir, to include his forthrightness about the sad burden of some recent German history, as well as the loss of his son Thomas and his beloved wife Hildegard in 1964 and 1984, respectively.

Indeed once in February 1964—shortly before he was additionally to face the sudden death of his son in America on 25 July 1964—Josef Pieper said the following after having just met in person General Kurt Student (b. 1890), the gifted and chivalrous German parachute officer of the Luftwaffe in World War II:

As for myself, I went home somewhat and sad. The burden of our destructive history, which was still with me under the surface, had revealed itself to me only too clearly. On that evening [in Münster] in February 1964 I had known very little. The more important things I found out only later….Above all, at this time [in 1964] I did not yet know other things that happened after the war. The planner and leader of the [May 1941] attack on Crete, which was daring and had an unusually high rate of casualties, did not only receive the chivalrous distinction [and an awarded medal!] from his [very courageous] New Zealand foes; it also happened that a British General [New Zealand Commanding Officer on Crete of the 4th NZ Brigade, Brigadier General Lindsay Inglis], acting as a judge in court, absolutely refused to confirm—and thereby prevented—the sentence of five-year imprisonment passed by the victors’ military tribunal against the enemy for alleged crimes. And in a well-documented publication of the Freiburg Military Research Institute in 1982 I read that General Student, condemned to death by a French military court, then first had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment and later passed some time [five years] in humiliating circumstances in a prison.

There was no mention of all that at table on that evening [in February of 1964]. And although perhaps no one had anything to hide, General Student [d. 1 July 1978] was probably not the only one who remained silent about what he had done and what had happened to him.—But for the younger officers, who had still been sitting there together quite at ease [in 1964], the deeds and experiences of the German Luftwaffe in World War II were, as I learned recently [“in this summer of 1987”], ‘quite taboo.’ (Josef Pieper, A Journey to Point Omega (2020), pages 171-172—my emphasis added1)

Earlier in the memoir—at the very beginning of his important Chapter II (“Post-Conciliar Confusion”), Josef Pieper had quietly mentioned in passing the loss of his son and that “The requiem for our son Thomas [was] celebrated at the end of July 1964—about a year and a half after [before!] the end of the Council” [sic—a typographical correction is needed: i.e, “before” instead of “after”: “before the end of the Council” in October of 1965]. (32—my emphasis added)

Throughout his memoir, as he learned it from his mentor Thomas Aquinas, Dr. Pieper is attentive to the combination of “order and mystery”—Saint Thomas’ “ordo et mysterium.” As they understand it, reality is intelligible, accessible, and knowable—and yet unfathomable. And thus “Sapientis Ordinare”: namely, that it is characteristic of a wise man—or a seeker of wisdom—to give order to things.

Here is the way Josef Pieper recurrently alerts us and awakens us to the searching themes of his own writings and invited lectures: by modestly mentioning their substantive titles, such as: “the meaning of ‘God speaks’” (21 and 105); “what distinguishes a priest” (46); “a necessary attempt at clarification” (46); “theology as the attempt to interpret revelation” (29); “a communion chalice” is “full of what?” (52); “the Corpus Christi also as a warning” (52); “abuse of language, abuse of power” (67); “discipline and moderation”—“Zucht und Mass” (76); “courage and hope” (780; “sacred vestments” and “praeambula sacramenti” (101); “memorial Mass for Thomas” (110); “Body Memory”—Latin “Memoria Corporis” (120); “Death and Immortality” and “On Love” (121); “a consecrated priest” and “a non-priest” (132); “the dilemma of a non-Christian philosophy” (148); Saint Thomas Aquinas: “Thomas a Creatore” (G.K. Chesterton) (149); “the current relevance of scholasticism” (153); the moral of the local stories of Münster in Westphalia (152); “praise of bravery depends on justice” (152); “This memoir was too personal for my Westphalian taste” (137); and the gifted General Kurt Student’s own “chivalrous distinction” (171-172).

Now we may better consider Josef Pieper’s representative presentation of a form of mysterium and the veil that properly protects it against coarsening and trivializing language and also against the deeper germs and spreading virulence of de-sacralization.

In his highly differentiated and deeply discerning second chapter on “Post-Conciliar Confusion,” he says, for example:

The defenders of a desacralized way of speakingi.e., a way which even in the Church and in the Mass, approximates as closely as possible to, and is even identical with the average way of speaking—have occasionally, in debate with me, appealed to an official “Instruction” [from 25 January 1969] which [allegedly] allows and even recommends such freedom with language….

With the word mysterium, which is always connected with the language of the liturgy, another aspect of sacred language has been named….I am referring to the element of the veil by which the mystery is protected from the very direct threat of language….

I don’t know how often I have attended the Easter blessing of the baptismal water celebrated by the bishop in St. Paul’s Cathedral in Münster. I remember, above all, Clemens August von Galen, who, with his somewhat dull, tortured sounding voice as he let the Easter candle down into the water, sang on three different notes the words: Descendat in hanc plenitudinem fontis virtus Spiritus Sancti. Hundreds of people listened with deep, silent attention and observed the symbolic action; and I am convinced that here, despite the Latin language, what was mysteriously happening here was brought home to the simplest of Christians present in an incomparably moving way—much more than it could be by the completely clear new new German text, which is sad, impoverished, and cold: “Let the power of the Holy Spirit descend into this water!” [“Es steige hinab in dieses Wasser die Kraft des Heiliges Geistes!”]…

The Bishop of Münster said to me, upset and in shock after the first time he performed the new rite, “If I only had at least been able to sing it!” The Missale Romanum speaks continually of the plenitudo fontis. To say instead “this water” is obviously a wretched abbreviation. But if it is too “poetic” to speak of “this overflowing spring,” why not in this particular case—and it might not be the only one—keep the Latin text and, of course, not speak it but sing it? In any case, here as elsewhere, translating into German giving the true meaning is the real problem, which often enough remains unsolved. (34-36—my emphasis added)

Dr. Pieper later was to show his rootedness and special gratitude to the self-sacrificing previous generation that so nourished his own childhood and the childhood of many others:

In 1979, on a November afternoon when it was already becoming dark, I was to receive in the town hall in Münster, as a somewhat late birthday present, the St. Paul Badge of this city which early in my life had become my home town….

During all this, the thought occurred to me that, on receiving the St. Paul Badge, I should relate all these things which I had witnessed at first hand during my childhood years. I intended in this way to honor and to express my gratitude to the preceding generation….Everyone immediately understood that these [grateful words] were intended as stories with a “moral.” The idea was to show what these simple folk, our fathers and mothers, who had never had such a thing as a holiday in Mallorca and whose almost daily midday meal was stew, paid in order that their children could do more than just make money. They paid with their unquestioning frugality, their uncomplaining, untiring self-sacrifice and the neglect of their own needs. I wanted, above all, to make clear, that it is precisely from these types of people that a nation really lives, and to whom the fine words of the German Jew, Walter Benjamin [d. 1940, in Spain], apply: “Honor without fame/ Greatness without glitter/ Dignity without pay.” Benjamin used these words in introducing his memorial [1936] book about the “German People” (Deutsche Menschen]. (150-152—my emphasis added)

The last section (181-189) of Josef Pieper’s final volume of autobiography is intimately and evocatively entitled “In manus tuas…” and it poignantly depicts his wife’s longstanding sufferings and her final sacraments and moments in this life in the attentive presence of her husband and of their two living children, Monika and Michael. From the very beginning of this final portion ending with her death on 25 June 1984, we may again glimpse and savor Dr. Pieper’s modesty and characteristic tacitness about certain piercing personal matters of moment in his life, to include “Sister Rotrudis, the Icelandic-Westphalian nun” (111) whom he met in Iceland in 1923. Later now, we also learn more about those so close to him:

On Easter Sunday [23 April] 1985 we could have celebrated our golden [50th] wedding anniversary. Our parish priest was willing to celebrate Mass on that occasion in our house [at Malmedyweg 10] at the table at which we had had our family meals until a few years ago—under the Rembrandt painting with the Emmaus disciples, which has been hanging there since our wedding day [on 23 April 1935]. In reality nobody really thought that we should reach that day. For about a year my wife could not have understood what we were talking about when the children and I spoke of this possibility. She died [on 25 June 1984] ten months before the anticipated date. (181)

His beloved wife even learned during her sustained illness to memorize the seven stanzas of Saint Thomas Aquinas’ Eucharistic hymn, “Adoro Te devote…,” though she later came to lose some of her recollection of some of its beautiful words, as well as some of her own Latin grammar as in their prayer “In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum” (where she would say “spiritus,” instead).

Josef Pieper uses those last words to say goodbye to his beloved wife and to express a moving gesture, too; and he now introduces us to their final moments, with his two children attentively present:

Near midnight [on 25 June 1984] her breathing became noticeably shallow and, though calm, shorter and shorter—until the last breath came. I stood up, placed my hand around her neck and said with my face very close to her: “Mother, now we can say: ‘In manus tuas…’,” and I repeated her own last prayer including the grammatical error.—I am certain that in this mysterious, timeless moment of passing over from earthly life she did not just hear it but also prayed it with me. (189—my bold emphases added)

CODA

In July 1974, shortly after his 70th birthday on 4 May, Josef Pieper gave a set of lectures in Spain to a group of Catholic Americans at “the University of Maria Cristina” (85) very close to King Philip II’s inspired building of the Escorial in the Guadarrama Mountains northwest of Madrid in the village of San Lorenzo de El Escorial and near General Franco’s well-meant mountain memorial of reconciliation, “Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caidos” (86), known also as the Valley of the Fallen.

With my wife at the time, I was not only in attendance at Dr. Pieper’s 1974 summer lectures at Maria Cristina where we also met him for the first time in person; but he and I were later kneeling beside one another together at the High Mass sung up at the Valley of the Fallen, which was “under the protection of the Benedictine monks” (86).

Here was one set of Dr. Pieper’s surprising (though partly inaccurate) notes and comments about us (even about my red-headed wife) while also then imagining that I was still on Military Active Duty:

I have seldom found myself so suddenly put into a group of such colorful people. While swimming [after also often playing “pelota” or even a sort of tennis] we constantly encountered a particularly charming couple: a young Vietnam War veteran [a retired captain from U.S. Army Special Forces] with his beautiful red-haired wife Sharon. It was the first time I had heard this name, but he insisted that it came from the Old Testament [as in “the Rose of Sharon”]. The “veteran” seemed more like an active officer on leave from the front. We quickly became engaged in a lively conversation, and naturally I could not hear enough from this “leather-neck” [sic] with the “green beret.” In the newspapers at the time there was talk of a massacre committed in a village by American soldiers on women and children. “Did such things really happen?” My “veteran” answered [in part] by telling a story followed by a question which left me bewildered. “In a village in the middle of the jungle a young woman carrying a child approached my group [another group of three men, not mine own!] smiling and apparently about to ask for something. But suddenly she pulled a pistol [tossed an explosive] from under her child and shot [killed] one of the group [all three of the small group, one of them being my 1964 West Point classmate!]. What do you do when, a second time, a young woman approaches you smiling?” (87)

It should be known, moreover, that so much more could be discussed here, although the current English translation of the Pieper Memoir omits and thereby partly distorts Dr. Pieper’s own reflective words and subtle but gracious meaning.

For example, the following sentences or portions from the original German text are omitted and even somewhat slanted in part: “The ‘veteran’ seemed rather to be an active-duty officer on military leave. We quickly entered into a lively conversation and, of course, I could not tire of hearing stories from this ‘leatherneck’ with the famous ‘green beret’ who had many times [apparently] led his combat team into the jungle.” (“Der ‘Veteran’ wirkte eher wie ein aktiver Frontoffizier im Urlaub. Wir kamen rasch in ein lebhaftes Gespräch; und natürlich konnte ich von dem ‘Ledernacken’ mit dem berühmten ‘grünen Barett’, der viele Male seinen Kampftrupp in den Dschungel geführt hatte, gar nicht genug erzählt bekommen.” (106—the 1988 German text2)

There is one final image of Josef Pieper, at 70 years of age, at the sung High Mass at the Valley of the Fallen that I wish to share with the reader. For, we two were kneeling beside each other at that July 1974 sacrifice of the Mass, ten years after the death of his son Thomas in July of 1964.

At the first elevation of the Host at the Consecration, all of a sudden all the lights in the Benedictine crypt church went out—except for a beam of light that shone on the larger-than-life and manly Crucifix behind the Altar. All of the choir chants (children and monks) were silent and the torch lights on the wall of the large cavern were all at once shut off. Only the Crucifix of the Lord was in the beam of light.

At that sight and light Josef Pieper immediately emitted a wondrous “ah, ahhhhh!” of gratitude and of loyal love. After the Mass, when we were together outside, he kept repeating the fervent words: “that was truly an Actio Sacra of the Mass”—and this Sacred Action “was so fittingly supported by all of the sensory enhancements within the range of the human senses: sound, silence, incense, chants of children, and the sudden light.” (Which he also conveyed in his later-published 1987 words: “welches aber für uns ein, so lange wir leben, unergründliches Mysterium bleibt.3 For us it remains—as long as we live–an Unfathomable Mystery.) Once again there is both the “Ordo” and the “Mysterium.”

Would that you could have seen his grateful eyes then, during and after Mass in July of 1974!

It was an unforgettable Actio Sacra along with an intimate “Memoria Corporis,” a memory of the fuller “Body of Things” as in the humility of the Incarnation and the Sacramental Sacred Tradition.

Eine Geschichte wie ein Strahl: A Story like a Beam of Light

–Finis–

© 2020 Robert D. Hickson

1Josef Pieper, A Journey to Point Omega (South Bend, Indiana: St. Augustine’s Press), pages 171-172—my emphasis added). Henceforth, unless specifically noted as otherwise, all further references to this edition will be place above in parentheses in the main body of this essay.

2Josef Pieper, Eine Geschichte wie ein Strahl (München: Kösel-Verlag, 1988), page 106.

3See Josef Pieper, Eine Geschichte wie ein Strahl (1988), page 8.