"... During the early and dark days of World War II, when the British army at Dunkirk had the sea behind them and the Germans before them, they sent a message back home consisting of three words: But if not.
It was a brilliant message, because even if the Germans managed to intercept it and decode it, it wouldn’t have done them any good. “But if not” … what?
But the army knew that their countrymen would understand. It was more than a message regarding strategy. It captured the heart of the war itself, a battle for the survival of European culture and civilization against the diseased fantasies of the Third Reich.
The reference comes from the story of the Hebrew youths Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in captivity in ancient Babylon, who refused to bow down in worship before the statue of King Nebuchadnezzar. The king summoned them before him in a fury and demanded their submission, lest he cast them into the fiery furnace.
Their reply was manly and direct:
If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. BUT IF NOT be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.
The British people then roused themselves to action—ordinary men, anyone with a boat and a heart that beat warmly for God and country. They crossed the channel in defiance of the enemy and rescued more than three hundred thousand men.
The incident reveals more than a common language. It reveals a common way of life, and a common view of life. The sterling words of the old King James Bible, a work of the highest culture, had long come to inform and vivify the ways of ordinary people.
That message could not now be sent, either to England or America. It would be incomprehensible. That is not because the culture has changed. It is because it has been destroyed, and the most energetic destroyers have been the very people whom we charge with its care: teachers, professors, statesmen, and artists.
Thomas Molnar had this to say about it:
Culture has come to mean … anything that happens to catch the fancy of a group: rock concerts, supposedly for the famished of the third world; the drug culture and other subcultures; sects and cults; sexual excess and aberration; blasphemy on stage and screen; frightening and obscene shapes; the plastic wrapping of Pont-Neuf or the California coast; to smashing of the family and other institutions; the display of the queer [that is, bizarre], abject, the sick. These instant products, meant to provide instant gratification to a society itself unmoored from foundation and tradition, accordingly deny the work of mediation and maturation and favor the incoherent, the shapeless and the repulsive...." ...