Why We Need Johnny Walkers


“The government knows exactly what it does”

“I am afraid you are right”

Dialogue between an optimist and a pessimist

No, this is not about the Whiskey label. Although in times of public discourse and politics dominated by COVID-19 hysterics and covidiots, you may from time to time need a double one on the rocks.

The time and set are the Battle of the Atlantic during the Second World War. Allied convoys against U-boat wolf packs, the threat of strangulation of the Allied war machinery, a story of heroism and incompetence, of desperate measures and struggle for survival, a depressing swing through years between possible future defeat and victory, a necessary choice to be made between nice and comfortable peace attitudes, and the harsh realities of an essential struggle. Not many know that for a long time the situation seemed bleak for the Allies, and until March 1943, good for the Germans. This is according to Jonathan Dimbleby’s The Battle of the Atlantic, a first-class account of the struggle of the Allied forces against the German Navy, especially the U-boats.

Dimbleby describes Captain FJ “Johnny” Walker as “bombastic and outspoken … he lacked that degree of tact and decorum which found favor in the boardrooms of the pre-war Royal Navy”. One may also say a certain degree of shying away from conflict, from definite decisions, from profound analysis of hard facts, of a necessary risk analysis, from audacious venture. A self-satisfied bathing in the lake of mediocrity making only one decision: not making any decision. Risk averse, not out of carefulness, but laziness of thinking, in standards and consequences. One-word bureaucratic attitudes which rest on the rotten and dry laurels of past achievers. As Thomas Sowell once said: “You will never understand bureaucracies until you understand that for bureaucrats procedure is everything and outcomes are nothing” 

“Although his intellectual gifts were beyond doubt,” writes Dimbleby of Walker, “his impatience and arrogance were held against him and barred him from rapid promotion.” He did not suffer fools gladly and refused to brownnose. He was even accused by some land-based paper-pusher of lacking powers of leadership. For some time into the war, his yearning for receiving an independent command was not approved and he was passed over. Finally, a gifted officer could not be ignored anymore, and he received a command.

“His work-up routine was remorseless and repetitive.” Or, as a remarkably successful Austrian general during the First World War, Svetozar Boroević von Bonja, proclaimed that the stupid ones will be ruthlessly eliminated. Walker demanded that it is essential for officers (the economic equivalent being upper management) to act instantly, without waiting for instructions, and that no officer will be reprimanded by him for getting on with the job in hand. When did we last hear such messages from CEOs or leading politicians? Is covering your back really the ultimate wisdom under any circumstances?

Walker’s big time came in November when he commanded a convoy steaming from Gibraltar to Liverpool. The Germans formed a wolf pack named the pirate pack, and had been ordered to attack the convoy ruthlessly. What they got was a ruthless and carefully managed and organized counterattack, as Walker found the ultimate solution for the convoy’s problems: ships and planes operating in tandem form a powerful shield and pose a formidable threat to the U-boats. The result: only two merchant ships lost, and five of the eight U-boats sunk. That was the first defeat for a wolf pack attacking a convoy. Walker, who lacked the power of leadership, received the Distinguished Service Order medal but finally his concepts were accepted. 

Backbone and civil courage, which for soldiers is appropriate but often more difficult to exercise than military courage under enemy fire, and resoluteness in decision-making, yielded dividends then and will earn dividends in living as a profound citizen, leading enterprises and ruling countries.

It is time to call a spade a spade and stop mincing words. That is the second thing, next to killing people, I learned in the Army – you are not treated as you deserve, but as you allow others to treat you. It cannot be that fools, sheep, power, and money ruin a state and a whole economy. And once more the proverb, “As the master, so the servants”, proves to be true and a correct analysis of the matter. We can also observe the result of decades of infantilization, stupefying, feminization, and destruction of masculine virtues like courage, backbone, an upright attitude, and outspokenness. The result: a slave and serf mentality prevails.

Whoever speaks about an invisible enemy which endangers everyone and whoever promises total security and risk-free live wants to abuse power and suppress people.

Libertarian concepts and a free economy can only work and prosper if the cultural and political hegemony is formed by people and elites who recognize freedom as an essential value. If not, we get totalitarianism. Freedom can only prevail if it is a moral and normal state of mind, if critical, independent, risk affirmative and rational, knowledge-based thinking prevails.

A modern industrial society based on the results of research of advanced natural science and technics cannot work with a slave and serf mentality. Groupthink, superstition, rhythmic noise emanations, and totalitarian mass manipulation may be the fundament of evil power, but not of productive and creative work, culture, and economies. 

A passive acceptance of all that comes from above is all that remains from decades of emancipatory education. From people with high school diplomas and more, plus access to the internet and all the resources of knowledge and data it offers, we may except more than that. But we are disappointed.

If one asks for total security and avoiding risks at any price, you get a mentality and economy of a slave plantation. We have to ask ourselves and everyone who foolishly and cowardly abides to government measures if they like a future pending between well-meaning bureaucratic government and slave plantation with whip and lash.

You get what you either verbally or through your behavior ask for. Either citizen, commilitonus (according to Roman constitutional law) or slave, tertium non datur. Your choice, dear reader!

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Dr Harald Sitta

Dr Harald Sitta is an Austrian jurist based in South Africa.