On the death of radio’s Paul Harvey, it’s hard for me not to think of his June 23, 2005 broadcast as his most revealing moment.
That’s the episode where he delivered this memorable rant (Extra! Update, 8/05):
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Winston Churchill said that the American people–he said, the American people, he said, and this is a direct quote, “We didn’t come this far because we are made of sugar candy.”
And that reminder was taken seriously. And we proceeded to develop and deliver the bomb, even though roughly 150,000 men, women and children perished in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With a single blow, World War II was over.
Following New York, September 11, Winston Churchill was not here to remind us that we didn’t come this far because we’re made of sugar candy.
So, following the New York disaster, we mustered our humanity…and we sent men with rifles into Afghanistan and Iraq, and we kept our best weapons in our silos.
Even now we’re standing there dying, daring to do nothing decisive, because we’ve declared ourselves to be better than our terrorist enemies–more moral, more civilized.
Our image is at stake, we insist.
But we didn’t come this far because we’re made of sugar candy.
Once upon a time, we elbowed our way onto and across this continent by giving smallpox-infected blankets to Native Americans. That was biological warfare. And we used every other weapon we could get our hands on to grab this land from whomever.
And we grew prosperous. And yes, we greased the skids with the sweat of slaves.
So it goes with most great nation-states, which–feeling guilty about their savage pasts–eventually civilize themselves out of business and wind up invaded and ultimately dominated by the lean, hungry up-and-coming who are not made of sugar candy.
To Harvey, in other words, failing to use nuclear and biological weapons because we feel guilty about genocide and slavery means that we’re “made of sugar candy.” And this will mean the end of U.S. civilization.
It’s hard to know how to respond to that worldview, or to the fact that the person who promulgated it was one of the most popular and longest-running personalities, other than to note that he was taking Churchill out of context. Churchill followed up his observation–which was made about the “peoples of the British empire,” not about Americans–with the vow that “we shall never descend to the German and Japanese level,” meaning the Nazis and the World War II-era Japanese Empire. Harvey seemed genuinely worried that we wouldn’t descend to that level soon enough.
See also Extra!: “The Right of the Story: Harvey Peddles Tall Tales–With a Conservative Kick” (9-10/97) by Dan Wilson.