While Nathan Bedford Forrest, the “Wizard of the Saddle,” is fascinating in his own right [*], this essay is even more important for what it says about our own time. Following are a few of the more prescient words:
“So in a very literal sense the Civil War was the first World War. It not only created a powerful nation of organized resources and potential military might, but the greater world wars took their pattern from the American one, even to the trench system Lee set up at Petersburg. These wars were internecine, all of them; but it was not in this that we find the crucial resemblances. In view of a common Christian culture, wars within Europe would of necessity be internecine, but at least at one time there were Truces of God. What this country brought to Europe was unconditional surrender…
“The result of these wars has been the self-exhaustion of Europe, the loss of prestige before the world, and another possible shift in power from West to East. We seem to accept this with a fatalism strangely foreign to us [indeed it is, given the history of Europeans prior to this age]. The battle of Lepanto was fought and won by a Christian prince [to which I would add: as was the battle at the Gates of Vienna!]. Since that time Christendom, if we can still call it such, has been free of danger [until recently], but there is a strange resemblance between that time and this. The Christian princes were divided among themselves as in our world wars; they were threatened by their own invention, the firearm, which the Turk added to the first use of the disciplined regiment.
“We have only to remember Spengler’s warning as to the folly of teaching the techniques by which the West had overwhelmed the world and wonder [is not this also true today, given that the third-world population explosion which threatens to overwhelm the West was made possible due to Western advances in agriculture and medicine?]. Will the time come when we will pray for another Lepanto? There is no Christian prince today strong enough to take a stand. This country [the U.S.] is presumably strong enough at least to risk a defense, but to stand always on the defensive is to prepare for defeat…”
I am reminded of the words J.R.R. Tolkien placed in the mouth of Boromir, prince of Gondor, in The Lord of the Rings: “Gondor wanes, you say? Yet Gondor stands. And even the end of its strength is still very strong.” True enough; yet only with the aid of the Riders of Rohan was Gondor able to break the siege by the forces of Mordor – and even then, were it not for the destruction of the One Ring and consequent overthrow of the Dark Lord, Sauron, that victory would have been but a respite.
Where are our Riders of Rohan, our Winged Hussars? And how shall we unmake the “One Ring” of our own age?
* And no, to get this old shibboleth out of the way, Forrest was not the founder of the KKK, though he was elected – in absentia, and with neither his knowledge nor desire – its head. Rather, he used his considerable moral authority to disband that first incarnation of the Klan, when it had ceased to be a protective organization, and become one engaged in mere vigilante and often criminal activities.