Forgetting to Learn the Moral

It’s sure been a whirlwind of a week. The DSA protested at both Kirstjen Nielsen’s home and outside of a restaurant where she ate, and people on both sides of the aisle got upset over it. Stephen Miller’s cell phone number was leaked, and people on both sides of the aisle were again upset about it. Sarah Huckabee Sanders was kicked out of a restaurant and what do you know, people on both sides of the aisle got upset about it. Now Rep. Maxine Waters was demeaned and threatened by Trump after she encouraged people to continue to harass Trump staff, and Nancy Pelosi gives the worst response someone in her position could give: chiding people for a lack of civility.

It brings to mind the film The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. It’s a sprawling war epic by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, one that contains barely any war or violence at all. It tells the tale of the life of one General Clive-Wynne Candy, a life-long British military man over the course of the Boer War, WWI and WWII, and his friendship with a German soldier named Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff that he first meets when he’s set to duel with him over the honor of a young British woman.

As the years go by, things change for Theo. He becomes a British POW in WWI, and then despite a warm reception from Candy after he manages to track down his chum, harbors some resentment towards the British. In WWII, he tries to flee Germany, finding Hitler’s regime all too terrifying after his wife dies and his sons become good Nazi soldiers that refuse to even attend their mother’s funeral. He decides to come to England because that’s where his wife was from.

Candy remains a lovable blowhard throughout much of this. He is very set in his ways, however, and does not see how trying to match the opponent’s tactics could possibly help things. He wants things to remain civil, because right is might. In the most gripping part of the film, this conversation plays out:

Theo: If you let yourself be defeated by them, just because you are too fair to hit back the same way they hit at you, there won’t be any methods but Nazi methods! If you preach the rules of the game while they use every foul and filthy trick against you, they will laugh at you! They’ll think you’re weak, decadent! I thought so myself in 1919!

Candy: I heard all that in the last war! They fought foul then, and who won it?

Theo: I don’t think you won it. We lost it: but you lost something, too. You forgot to learn the moral. Because victory was yours, you failed to learn your lesson twenty years ago and now you have to pay the school fees again. Some of you will learn quicker than the others; some of you will never learn it: because you’ve been educated to be a gentleman and a sportsman, in peace and in war. But Clive… Dear old Clive, this is not a gentleman’s war. This time you’re fighting for your very existence against the most devilish idea ever created by a human brain: Nazism. And if you lose, there won’t be a return match next year; perhaps not even for a hundred years.

It’s some pretty powerful stuff. It’s understandable that this film angered the hell out of Winston Churchill. And it’s also a very poignant lesson for us to take, too. This whole they go low, we go high mindset will get us nowhere. These aren’t even assaults. These aren’t physical altercations. This is straight up civil disobedience, and we have the people who are supposed to be on our side saying “yeah, but if we say or do something mean, or something uncivil, that means that if they do or say something mean or uncivil, it’s okay.” They’ve already done far, far worse. They’ve already fought foul. We’re both losing, and not learning the moral.