Before I go to sleep I like to read a few pages of something, anything, to take my mind away from the days events. This summer I have been reading Miles Copeland’s 1969 The Game of Nations: the Amorality of Power Politics, about Egypt’s leader Gamal Abdel Nasser and the events between his rise to power in 1952 and the 1967 Six Day War between the Arabs and Israel. Last night’s page was particularly effective. I fell asleep on page 206 (literally “on” the page) with all the lights on. I offer here a selection from p. 204:
A player of limited popular resources such as Nasser is understandably tempted to use fanatics, whereby, as has been proved time and again in history, small minorities can cause majorities to make concessions to them out of all proportion to their numbers or the strength of their arguments–if, indeed, they have any clear arguments at all. When entirely on their own (and this is rare), fanatics sooner or later make such nuisances of themselves that the majority clamps down on them, paying whatever price it takes. In the hands of nonfanatical leadership, however, they can become a weapon of flexibility and finesse. They can be brought to a halt just short of suicide, while their willingness to go to suicidal lengths is so manifestly genuine that the opponent cannot know where they will halt–or even be sure that they will halt. The nonsense they talk can be polished up so that it not only makes a modicum of sense, but seems to be on a high moral plane. So long as the more vocal members keep their mouths shut (or can be kept away from direct contact with journalists) a fanatical movement can be excellent public relations material. They are “a valiant body of men fighting for their beliefs against overwhelming odds.” They are sometimes as valuable dead as they are alive. They are beautifully expendable.
One hundred and two more pages left. It’s going to be a restful summer.