This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.
Nately, a nineteen-year-old, well-bred, patriotic and dutiful American air force officer finds himself in conversation with an Italian brothel owner:
The real trick lies in losing wars
‘America’, (the ‘wicked, depraved and unpatriotic old man’) said, ‘will lose the war. And Italy will win it.’
‘America is the strongest and most prosperous nation on earth,’ Nately informed him with lofty fervor and dignity. ‘And the American fighting man is second to none.’
‘Exactly,’ agreed the old man pleasantly, with a hint of taunting amusement. ‘Italy, on the other hand, is one of the least prosperous nations on earth. And the Italian fighting man is probably second to all. And that’s exactly why my country is doing so well in this war while your country is doing so poorly.’
Nately guffawed with surprise, then blushed apologetically for his impoliteness. ‘I’m sorry I laughed at you,’ he said sincerely, and he continued in a tone of respectful condescension. ‘But Italy was occupied by the Germans and is now being occupied by us. You don’t call that doing very well, do you?’
‘But of course I do,’ exclaimed the old man cheerfully. The Germans are being driven out, and we are still here. In a few years you will be gone, too, and we will still be here. You see, Italy is a really poor and weak country, and that’s what makes us so strong. Italian soldiers are not dying any more. But American and German soldiers are. I call that doing extremely well. Yes, I am quite certain that Italy will survive the war and still be in existence long after your own country has been destroyed.’
Nately could scarcely believe his ears…‘America is not going to be destroyed!’ he shouted passionately.
‘Never?’ prodded the old man softly.
‘Well…’ Nately faltered.
The old man laughed indulgently, holding in check a deeper, more explosive delight…‘Rome was destroyed. Greece was destroyed. Persia was destroyed. Spain was destroyed. All great countries are destroyed. Why not yours? How much longer do you really think your own country will last? Forever? Keep in mind that the earth itself is destined to be destroyed by the sun in twenty-five million years or so.’
Nately squirmed uncomfortably. ‘Well, forever is a long time, I guess.’
‘A million years?’ persisted the jeering old man with a keen, sadistic zest. ’A half million? The frog is almost five hundred million years old. Could you say with much certainty that America, with all its strength and prosperity, with its fighting man that is second to none, and with its standard of living that is the highest in the world, will last as long as a…the frog?
‘I don’t believe anything you tell me,’ Nately replied, with a bashful mitigating smile. ‘The only thing I believe is that America is going to win the war.’
‘You put so much stock in winning wars,’ the grubby iniquitous old man scoffed. ‘The real trick lies in losing wars, in knowing which wars can be lost. Italy has been losing wars for centuries, and just see how splendidly we’ve done nonetheless. France wins wars and is in a continual state of crisis. Germany loses and prospers. Look at our own recent history. Italy won a war in Ethiopia and promptly stumbled into serious trouble. Victory gave us such insane delusions of grandeur that we helped start a world war we hadn’t a chance of winning. But now that we are losing again, everything has taken a turn for the better, and we will certainly come out on top again if we succeed in being defeated.’ [Joseph Heller/Catch-22 pp 308-312]
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