You may not know that in addition to our entanglements in the Middle East and elsewhere, the United States is currently prosecuting a land war in Britain. For more than five decades now, Britain’s native red squirrel has been locked in mortal combat with his cousin from across the pond, the American grey squirrel. Every autumn, the British press files reports from the various theaters of operation. When I was living in London a couple of years ago, I was amused to read one morning in The Telegraph newspaper that the greys or, “the American Expeditionary Force” as I choose to call them, were on the verge of a rout of the reds and were even “threatening the borders of Scotland.”
The British government was attempting to spin the ignominious defeat into a victory of sorts à la Dunkirk. The Prince of Wales was leading the propaganda effort, though his much-vaunted good nature did not prevent the deployment of the most amusing stereotypes, revealing that the United States and our closest ally are actually fighting a proxy war. According to The Telegraph, the red squirrel, “Britain’s most adorable mammal” (other than Her Majesty, presumably), was being “bullied by its bigger, pox-carrying cousin, the American Grey,” who was said to possess a ravenously disastrous appetite. This compares unfavorably, of course, with the reds, who have a “gourmet approach to food,” according to the newspaper. (If that is the case, then the reds are the only British mammals with such culinary sensibility.) The reds, accordingly, were referred to as “endearing natives,” while the greys were mere “vermin.”
None of this pap, of course, should distract the astute and fair-minded observer from the essential fact of the matter: Defeat is at hand. The reds did attempt a “fightback” on Anglesey (an island theater of dubious import just off the coast of Wales), but this was only possible because the human Brits placed “infra-red cameras on the Britannia rail bridge between Anglesey and the mainland.” Surely this unfair advantage offends the virile honour of the reds, you say? Hardly, for the reds are notoriously effete. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what the Red Squirrel Survival Trust has to say: “When the red squirrel is put under pressure, it will not breed as often.” Really? The British red squirrel, then, is unable to perform the procreative act because his bombastic American cousin is making too much noise? Where is the manly virtue that is said to have triumphed at Agincourt?
What does any of this have to do with the present issue of America? Very little, I should think. But that’s O.K.; there’s a reason this column is called Of Many Things. Still, even casual observers of the U.S. Congress will note that the fight between red and blue in Washington is nearly as ferocious as the fight between red and grey in Britain. It is a good sign, then, when two people like Paul Ryan and Joe Kennedy, two congressmen from different parties and with very different ideological perspectives, come together for informed, civil conversation, as they have done in these pages this month. Civilization, wrote Thomas Gilby, O.P., is marked by people locked together in argument. Let’s leave the baser and more brutal warfare, therefore, to the uncivilized lower animals.
As for our mates across the Atlantic, they need to face up to their true enemy in the battle being waged just outside their backdoors: self-deception. The fact is, as one behavioral scientist has written: “Although complex and controversial, the main factor in the eastern grey squirrel’s displacement of the red squirrel is thought to be its greater fitness and, hence, a competitive advantage over the red squirrel on all measures.” Finally, a truth speaker: Adriano Martinoli, the eminent Italian ecologist.