By David Laing Dawson
I made the mistake of reading an article by Conrad Black. I usually avoid reading Lord Black of Crossharbour (“on leave”) for I find his over-use of penultimate, supercilious, pretentious, swank, grandiloquent, Miltonian, show-offy adjectives very annoying.
But I did read his paean to Donald Trump, and then went for a bicycle ride to clear my head. But what should one expect from a man who gave up his Canadian citizenship for a Peerage in the UK, and once flew across the Atlantic to attend a costume party dressed as Cardinal Richelieu?
He refers to all immigrants entering the US through the border with Mexico as illiterate peasants and he thinks Donald Trump is the leader America needs. He does find Trump “grating” and that he takes “liberties with the truth”, but he thinks that Trump can make America Great Again, and by that I think he is referring to a degree of respect we all must show for the man holding the true weapons of mass destruction in his hand. And by “respect” I think he means fear. Donald does seem to be on track for making America a country we soon will all fear.
Of course, Conrad Black, as a man barred from entering the United States, may simply be, like so many others, currying favour with the one man who could and might pardon him.
And then I read another by Lord Black along the same lines but more of a dissection of the geopolitical game afoot. And I was reminded of an experience from 1964. Bear with me for a moment.
Our first year medical school class went on a weekend retreat with faculty. This entailed a 90 minute bus ride to a resort north of Vancouver. By chance I sat next to our Professor of Physiology. The Vietnam war raged and was about to expand. My companion on that trip had fled McCarthy era USA rather than testify against his colleagues, who might or might not have attended a communist party meeting. So we talked Vietnam.
I was 24 at the time, but worldly and cynical. I argued geopolitics along the lines that it was better for the two major superpowers, the two competing ideologies, to be squaring off in the jungles of Vietnam rather than in the skies over Moscow and New York. He disagreed. It was simpler than that for my professor, who must have been in his 40’s or 50’s at the time. For him it was simply immoral. It was immoral for Americans to take their guns, their napalm, their warships and their helicopters to Vietnam and kill people. It was simply wrong.
By the end of that trip I had concluded that if he could remain idealistic in his 50’s, surely cynicism in my 20’s was, at least, premature. It wasn’t long after that I found myself in a placard carrying crowd in front of the American Consulate chanting: “Hey, Hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”
But why I was reminded of this was because Conrad Black was writing with his usual elegance and erudition about the geopolitics of recent years, the new balance of power, the symbolic chess game played by nation states, and prognosticating about the geopolitics of the future. And it is this examination of geopolitics that I can hear from other politicians, commentators, advisors, other writers. And it reminds me of my self, age 24, arguing, albeit more naively, about these world events and shifts and movements and power struggles as if they are being played on large chessboards by giants, with the pawns and rooks representing a few million to a billion people. And talking about it and playing the game as if they experience, think about, Joseph Stalin’s famous observation as advice, rather than the cynical observation of a sociopath. “One man’s death is a tragedy; the death of millions is a statistic”.
My medical school professor could see beyond the geopolitics and the million death statistic to the terrified little girl fleeing the sticky horror of napalm.
The Bannons, Boltons, Millers, Trumps and Conrad Blacks of this world do not, cannot.
I do not want them to have any influence over myself or the lives of my children and grandchildren. We need to stop listening to them and focus instead on the little girl fleeing the napalm and the kid from Honduras locked in an American cage.