10 / CHRONICLESnwas virtually running American foreign policy—drawingnup vast plans, carrying out illegal deals, all without thenknowledge or complicity of senior officials. If North is reallynguilty of all this, the entire administration should resignnand, preferably, go into exile. It is as if a commander shouldnblame a defeat upon an adjutant. No President is perfect,nand of all the mistakes Mr. Reagan has made in thisnbusiness, the worst may have been to change his mindnabout North. If history has any lessons, we can expect Col.nNorth to play the part once assigned to G. Gordon Liddy,none of the few men to come out of Watergate with his honornunsmirched. If North is the man he seems to be, then henwill probably do hme. At this rate, America will come tonresemble the Soviet Union, where the best men end up innjail.nThe moral cowardice, the weakness of the American elitenclass, is a problem that transcends distinctions of liberal andnconservative. There have been principled leftists with ansense of honor, and the conservative movement has a fullnmeasure of weasels and foxes at every level. The degeneracynof upper classes is not, of course, a new theme, but innformer times the American people constituted an apparentlyninexhaustible repository of virtue and character fromnwhich new leadership classes could be drawn. What ClydenWilson likes to call the yeomanry and what WilliamnJennings Bryan referred to as “plain people” were thenfarmers and small-town tradesmen who were suckled onnadversity. The men conducted business on a handshake,nwhile the women zealously enforced the moral and socialncode by means of the most powerful weapons available tonthe human race: gossip and shunning. As my father used tondrum into my head, “If a man is only as good as his word,nwhat is left of a man when he breaks his word?”nThe sad truth is that the plain people no longer constitutenthe American majority. The family farm is virtually extinct,nand increasing numbers of small-town merchants begin tonresemble their big-city counterparts. Morally, at least.nMain Street is turning into an extension of Wall Street.nEven if we set aside the larger moral and cultural questions,nthe situation is a calamity for a United States that is callednupon to exercise a responsible role as an imperial nation.nWho have been the heroes of every war since the Revolution?nThe stockbrokers? People in “service industries”?nAlvin York and Audie Murphy—both rural Southernersn—come to mind whenever I see a list of casualties fromnVietnam (or Lebanon). Why are small, rural states sondisproportionately represented? We know the answer.nYoung men from Arkansas and South Dakota are stillnwilling to defend their country. City boys know better.nRural Americans may be as clownish and savage as theynare portrayed in films (although I doubt it), but as a classnthey have been vital to the national interest. There is no onenat hand to replace them. When Rome succeeded inncivilizing all the barbarians within the empire, she graduallyncame to rely on German mercenaries. When the Gothsnseized control of the Western Empire, the Romans realizedntheir mistake. Fortunately or not, we have no hardynbarbarians to recruit on the other side of either of ournborders. (Canadians are softer than we are, and the Mexicansnhave not had to fight a foreign enemy since we moppednup their professional army in the Mexican War.)nnnIn one sense, the Romans were in a better situation,nbecause their upper class maintained, for some time, annattachment to military sports and a commitment to publicnservice. The Emperor Marcus had been raised in the lap ofnluxury, and yet he spent his life in camp. When the heart isngone, there is still some hope for a nation whose head isnsound. But that is precisely why we are doomed: We arenfilling our service academies with women, and the onenofficial who has spoken out—James Webb—is runningninto stiff opposition on his nomination as Secretary of thenNavy; the Marine Corps is being transformed into a set ofnuniformed Alan Aldas who are upset with Clint Eastwoodnfor Heartbreak Ridge. In fact, we don’t have anythingnresembling an elite class, military or otherwise. All we havenare children of the rich and famous.nIf I were writing a Frank Capra scenario, I should pin allnmy hopes on the Boy Scouts. Imagine boys from allnover—cities, suburbs, farms, and small towns—learningnwoodcraft and discipline from Mr. “Jeff” Smith. Life atnhome might be soft, but once a week and every summernAmerican boys live like little Spartans who forage off thenland or go hungry, who learn to face danger withoutnflinching, who live according to the simple code of the BoynScout Oath:nOn my honor I will do my best:nto do my duty to God and my country,nand to obey the Scout law;nTo help other people at all times;nTo keep myself physically strong, mentallynawake, and morally straight.nThe 80’s are not the 30’s (which were bad enough), andnwe would be hard pressed to find a Mr. Smith to send tonWashington. And if we did, he would have a hard timenconveying a sense of shame to the men who run the show.nAnd the Boy Scouts? After flirting with social activism innthe 60’s and 70’s, they are settling back down to thenscouting I remember from the 50’s: mostly sissies whonlearned to make things out of raffia and earned merit badgesnfor helping Mom out in the kitchen. Here and there onenruns into good troops, and they do less harm than mostnorganizations, but I wish they’d go back to woodcraft. Onnmy last camping trip as a Second Class Scout, we slept innbeds in a heated cabin, cooked foil-wrapped shish kebabsnthe mothers had prepared in advance, and hot-wired thenscoutmaster’s ear to go joyriding. I quit the Scouts, not longnafter.nI ran into our assistant scoutmaster two years later. I wasnin the woods with a friend who had a pump air rifle thatnstung like the devil when you got shot. The Scout—aboutn19 years old—and two friends had brought a . 22 but startednfooling around with our BE gun. “Run, you S.O.B.” one ofnthem shouted as he shot, repeatedly, his friend. Sick of thenwhole thing, the friend grabbed the .22 and proceeded tonshoot between the legs of his tormentor. Bullets kickednchunks out of trees and ricocheted off the rocks and water ofnthe stream he ran across. We grabbed the air rifle and tooknoff. With any luck, the Scout and his friends grew up to beninvestment bankers, political activists, or Presidential advisorsnin charge of this nation’s destiny.n