Soft People, Hard People

By Selwyn Duke

If the 1976 western The Last Hard Men has it right, we Occidentals metamorphosed into jellyfish sometime around the early twentieth century. Although this title is more movie marketing than historical statement, there may be something to it. After all, Robert Baden-Powell, a lieutenant general in the British Army, was motivated by the belief that western boys were becoming too soft when he originated the Boy Scouts in 1907.

Regardless of the origin and rapidity of our transition from he-men to she-men, one thing is for certain: We have become a very soft people.

When pondering this, I think about how it is now common to see men cry publicly. Just recently George Bush Sr. broke down while rendering a speech, something unthinkable a generation ago. Why, presidential aspirant Edmund Muskie saw his campaign scuttled by a few inopportune tears in 1972. And before you score me for not embracing the metrosexual model, remember the impression this gives the rest of the world. Feminization may be fashionable, but it doesn’t engender respect among the more patriarchal peoples.

Then I think about our unwillingness to discipline our children, something to which our jungle-like schools bear witness. And should someone use punitive measures harsher than the euphemistically named “time-out” – something that may actually work – he is often excoriated for damaging the little darlings’ “self-esteem.” And a spanking? Perish the thought. We’re told this could scar a child irreparably (although we seldom ponder the ravages of pickling a young brain with Ritalin), and the idea is so foreign to many parents they cannot even conceive of placing a hand on their cherubim’s sanctified little posteriors.

In contrast, the people of the Third World – and especially the Moslem fanatics who have designs on the West – are hard as stone. We fret over the fact that Saddam Hussein endured some taunts during his execution, while next door in Saudi Arabia they may still chop off the hand of a thief. We cater to the religious wants of incarcerated terrorists, providing everything from the Koran and prayer rugs to desired foods, and the soft set still laments the terrible privation these poor victims must endure. In contrast, the terrorist’s brethren often disallow the practice of other religions in the Abode of Islam. We let illegal aliens run roughshod over our nation, sometimes bestowing government benefits upon them, then still feel guilty about not exalting them sufficiently. In the Third World, however, foreigners are often treated like second-class citizens. Under the Mexican Constitution, one foreign-born will never enjoy the full rights of citizenship. In many Moslem societies, a certain kind of second-class status is reserved for “infidels”; it’s called dhimmitude.

All this is not surprising. After all, luxury and living high soften the sinews and, regrettably, sometimes also the head. The hand that spends its entire existence inside a velvet glove will remain soft and delicate. The one wielding workmen’s tools dawn till dusk becomes calloused and hard, more able to inflict injury and more resistant to it.

I know, I know what’s coming. That’s what makes us better than the nations in question, proclaim some, allowing themselves a rare foray into the realm of cultural superiority (what ever happened to the notion that all cultures are morally equal?). As for me, I’m not awash in moral relativism, but neither do I fall victim to blind cultural chauvinism. For, anyone who believes we have a monopoly on virtue is living in a fantasy-world of smug self-delusion. Don’t get me wrong, we are better in some very significant ways, but also worse in a few ominous ones. We lack certain manly virtues, qualities on which national survival may hinge.

There is an immutable truth of human nature: When soft people clash with hard people, the soft are vanquished. That is, unless they become harder.

People may laugh. That’s crazy, say they, we have the greatest military in the world, the most advanced technology, and a nuclear umbrella. Yes, that’s true. But first, I don’t claim we’ll fall tomorrow, next month, or next year. Even more significantly, though, external enemies would not initiate our undoing. The fact is that no body, no matter how strong, imposing and well-armored, can survive an untreated disease metastasizing rapidly within. The smallest bacteria can kill giants as easily as dwarves.

And that is what ails us. Every time an action designed to preserve western civilization is taken or even proposed, a great internecine battle ensues. We capture combatants on the battlefield and then spend millions in legal fees debating whether to adjudicate their cases in civil or military courts. We rightly scrutinize Imams making a scene at an airport and then spend millions more arguing about so-called “racial profiling.” And it’s incessant. Every act nowadays, from singling out illegals for deportation and the suspicious for scrutiny to getting swatted by “Tigger” to a six-year-old boy giving a girl a peck on the cheek, is met with hand-wringing and a disproportionate reaction. And far too often litigation results, costing us valuable resources.

And let’s be very clear: Every dollar in currency and passion we spend on litigation is one less we have to fight those who would see us in ashes. This means fewer resources – in terms of not just money but also attention and zeal – to secure our borders, ensure domestic tranquility and root out terrorists within and without. A united people would confront threats as a monolithic front; we are expending ourselves fighting a cold civil war. And the end result is that the lawyers get richer, we get weaker, and the hard people, waiting and watching in the darkness, laugh louder.

Lest I be misunderstood, I don’t suggest we become the Hunnish Empire. It’s noble to recognize that Saddam Hussein’s tormentors might have demonstrated more dignity. It’s a sign of civilization to expect our troops to behave as professional soldiers, not rampaging warriors. And it’s most divine to realize all God’s children are valuable in His eyes. But to the excesses of justice, correction or interrogation, we react not with measured admonition but with hysteria. Our civility should be the fruits of manly virtue, but it’s the putrescence of pusillanimity.

And here I think of G.K. Chesterton’s profound description of our condition:

“Nowadays, we have Christian values floating around detached from one another. Consequently, we see scientists who care only about truth but have no pity, and humanitarians who care only about pity but have no truth.”

The Moslem world is one extreme, we are the other, the humanitarians who have no truth. Why can’t we control seven-year-olds, prosecute a war efficiently or strike fear into the hearts of criminals? It’s all for the same reason. We’re soft-headed pseudo-humanitarians to whom the kind of action or punishment necessary to deter evil behavior seems medieval. This is why we had a national conniption when teenage vandal Michael Faye was to receive a typical Singaporean punishment, caning, for his misdeeds. We should bear in mind that you can walk Singapore’s streets safely in the dark of night. The same cannot be said of ours.

Oh, this is just the price of freedom, some say? They are wrong. This is the price of abused freedom.

You may think I’m missing the boat, that the problem lies not with the weak but with the malicious, those who are the enemy within. And, of course, but for their meddlesome hands, we wouldn’t be at this precipice. But a minority tyrannizes only at the deference of the majority. For instance, if enough of us rejected the media that disseminated footage of Abu Ghraib far and wide while refusing to show Muslim beheadings, we’d not have reporters who were more internationalist than nationalist.

And a juxtaposition of Abu Ghraib and Moslem beheadings tells the tale, as too many of us are epitomized by panties while our adversaries are by swords. While they bat nary an eye at the torture of an innocent, we eat ourselves alive over the humiliation of the guilty. But what is truly humiliating is when the hard people laugh, watching the soft people play the fools, bray at one another, and commit cultural suicide.

And make no mistake, they laugh. Why do you think the Mexican government distributed literature instructing its citizens on how to best violate our southern border? Why did Islamists issue advice on how to play the victim card in the American legal system? They don’t tolerate such under their dominion, but they know about our lawsuits, protests, pandering politicians and capitulating clergy. They know the game. They know us. And they don’t really think we’re barbaric or unjust.

They just think we’re weak and stupid.

Soft people and hard people, two sides of the same world. Of course, we were harder too, a long, long, long time ago. But it would be nice to find that happy medium, something that seems ever elusive. A bane of man is that he jumps from blind prejudice to blind tolerance and back again, without ever making a stopover at the ethereal land known as enlightened distinction.

Will we find it within ourselves to strike that balance? That is doubtful. But fairly certain is that we won’t much longer have the luxury of being a soft republic. With enemies on both sides of the gate, it’s only a matter of time before we see a 9/11 that is not a 9/11, but 9/11 squared. Thus, to use a play on Otto Von Bismarck’s metaphor, we can proceed with a velvet glove, but within must lie an iron fist. We have no other choice. Unless, that is, we fancy death a viable option.

Selwyn Duke can be contacted at

Copyright Publius Forum 2001