“But Churchill was a pragmatist …” The words were the prelude to the images and explanations of one of the horrors of WWII, this one perpetrated by the Allies … the folks I like to think of as “the good guys.”
I just finished watching a documentary simply titled World War II. Over a span of several weeks, the 12-hour piece left me exhausted physically, mentally and spiritually. A war which spanned the continents of Europe, Asia, Africa and North America and soldiers from Australia … The Atlantic, the Pacific, the Mediterranean. The conflict engulfed the planet such that one is amazed there was anything left when it was over.
But that line describing Prime Minister Winston Churchill as a “pragmatist” – that’s the one that left me reeling.
Any time you ask the question: What is the practical application of thus-and-such, you are a pragmatist. People who dwell in the realm of theory are often backed up against the wall of pragmatism by legislators, funders and many a “man / woman on the street”.
In many circumstance to be pragmatic is to be reasonable. Something like: How many trips do I want to make to the store? Doesn’t it make sense to consider the costs, monetary and environmental as well as your time, and consolidate many trips into one? But what if the issue is more like this: How many enemy lives are worth an American / British / German / Austrian / Russian (pick your country) life? This was the question that hovered over heads of state and generals as war was waged. We might ask: What is my freedom to own a gun worth compared to the potential accidental loss of innocent life … like my child, for example, or one of their friends?
What exactly is the line of distinction separating these realities:
- 6 million Jews were exterminated because they were believed to be the “enemy of the state”.
- Dresden, Germany was carpet bombed, though it was a city of no military significance, this in response to the bombing of London.
- Hiroshima and Nagasaki had atomic bombs dropped on them as a result of and in response to the loss of Allied lives in the battles on Okinawa, Iwo Jima and the Chinese mainland.
Hitler, Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt all shared one conviction: Break the spirit of a people and you will break the back of their army. It was a pragmatic approach, one that made an assumption, proven time and time again to be wrong.
When nations are ruled by egomaniacal tyrants, even the “good guys” are brought low. And pragmatism serves only to push us further and further down the slope of evil.