by T.R. Bennington
AS EVER, BUT ESPECIALLY in our present state of civilizational malaise, there is a need for figures with the power to inspire — men who in less confused and cynical times would have been unabashedly described as heroic. One such figure is Corporal John Alan Coey, a young soldier who has perhaps not yet fully received the tribute he deserves though he has been dead these past 37 years.
In March of 1972 Coey, a young American from Ohio, boarded a flight to white-ruled Rhodesia, a country then facing United Nations sanctions and very soon to find itself beleaguered by the forces of communist-backed black nationalism. Only a day prior to his departure Coey had graduated from Ohio State University with a degree in Forestry. He had also recently been released, at his own request, from the Marine Corps NROTC program he had nearly completed, thereby declining a hard-earned commission as an officer.
Coey’s motives for seeking to enlist in the Rhodesian Army rather than continue his service in the U.S. Marine Corps are probably more readily understandable in retrospect than they were at the time. Like many, he was repulsed by the emergence of the New Left on college campuses and saw nihilism clearly lurking behind its messages of free love and pacifism. Coey also concluded that the newly ascendant radical Left represented neither an authentic grassroots movement nor a bona fide countercultural alternative to the old liberal order. “The left wing has recognized the dehumanizing trends of industrial society,” he wrote, “but its activism to change society has been channeled by the real revolutionaries of Internationalism.”
Though a confirmed Cold Warrior, Coey was not a reflexive supporter of the Vietnam War. He discerned in the handling of that conflict, as well as that of the Korean War before it, the seeds of American overreach and eventual dissolution, a trend that seems to continue unabated today. As Coey’s older brother, Edward, would later write of American involvement in Vietnam, the American people had been given “The Choice Between False Alternatives,” made to choose “between a protracted no-win slaughter and a humiliating surrender.” The younger Coey did not believe this state of affairs could be attributed merely to incompetence or negligence on the part of those prosecuting the war either. The primary threat to the West, Coey concluded, was not Soviet or Chinese Communism but malevolent forces that emanated from within. Coey somewhat quaintly referred to these forces, which he considered more or less amenable to communism, simply as “the Conspiracy.”
While he was an apparent reader of Oswald Spengler and keenly aware of the depth of the civilizational crisis facing the West, Coey was not given to despair. He insisted those of European descent must struggle to the bitter end to save their inheritance, a deeply held conviction that determined his own choices. Coey well understood that “the fight for Western Civilization is not in the battlefield, but in the realm of the intellectual, spiritual, and psychological.” He lamented also “that under present conditions one cannot be a soldier without furthering the aims of the Internationalists, the liberals, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the Zionists, or other alien groups.” Still, Coey longed above all else to do his part as a warrior in defense of what remained of his beloved civilization. Rhodesia, he believed, provided him the best and perhaps only opportunity to be of service in a worthy cause. Again, this is in spite of the fact that Coey already new the likely outcome:
“In the eyes of the mass media the black man can do nothing wrong and the white man can do nothing right, for even his sacrifices and help are discredited. The world cares nothing for Rhodesia, not even America, England, or the sister colonies. Rhodesia is to be sacrificed; they will not help Rhodesia. It has already been written off.”
Coey in Africa
Having successfully gained a position with the Rhodesian Special Air Service or SAS (an elite unit approximately equivalent to U.S. Army Special Forces), Coey attempted to communicate — perhaps imprudently — his concerns to the general public in a series of magazine articles and letters to newspapers in Rhodesia and South Africa. One article in particular, provocatively titled “The Myth of American Anti-Communism” and published in the Rhodesian Army journal Assegai, would land him in trouble with Rhodesian authorities despite, or perhaps because of, its appearance in an official publication. As a result, Coey was kicked out of the Rhodesian Army’s officer training program and eventually the SAS, placements he had received only after excelling at a grueling selection and training process. As Coey himself reflected:
“It was brought to my attention today that the article I submitted to Assegai magazine is considered ‘subversive,’ not because it is anti- Rhodesian or criticizes the State here, but because it ‘destroys misconceptions about America being pro-Western, and may lower morale if read by the general public.’ Although what I have written is true, it is feared that the public may not be able to stand the truth. The facts I have presented may make the article appear anti-American to those who do not yet understand how America is ruled by the CFR [Council on Foreign Relations] oligarchy, whose interest is total world power.”
Despite this and other setbacks, Coey would persist in his writing. Throughout his time in southern Africa he kept up an extensive correspondence as well as a journal which would eventually be published posthumously as a book. This book, A Martyr Speaks, would have undoubtedly proven an even more interesting historical document had not vast segments of Coey’s original journals been redacted by Rhodesian authorities following his death. Despite this censorship, Coey and what was left of his writings remained controversial enough that it would take his mother 13 years to find a willing publisher.
Though no longer being considered for a commission and forced to choose another unit to serve with, Coey would also persist in attempting to make a contribution militarily to Rhodesia. Even as he experienced moments of serious doubt and self-recrimination following his unceremonious expulsion from the SAS, Coey completed a medic course and transferred to the Rhodesian Light Infantry. There, despite resistance from some of his superiors, time and again he insisted on accompanying infantrymen into combat at great personal risk to himself, effectively introducing the role of combat medic into the Rhodesian Army:
“When I finish this tour of duty, I think that at least in this battalion [1st Battalion, The Rhodesian Light Infantry], which does the bulk of the fighting, that the medics will become like the Medical Corpsmen in the U.S. forces. I am the first of what are now called ‘Combat Medics’ here. There will be others; so I have accomplished something.”
Again though, Coey’s efforts were not always understood or appreciated. Some — though certainly not all — of his fellow foreign volunteers seem to have been merely adventurers or opportunists who did not share in his motivations or commitment. Among the Rhodesians, Coey’s older brother later wrote that the younger Coey “found some few Rhodesians awake, but generally…found a people too narrowly provincial to fully appreciate the worldwide implications of the savage attack being unleashed against their small country.” Coey himself wrote of the Rhodesians, for whom he came to have a special affection (indeed, he sought and was granted dual citizenship): “Most white Rhodesian families have been here for several generations and have nowhere else they can call home. They will stay and fight, I’m pleased to say. They understand their position racially and historically, but come short politically.”
An additional source of conflict for Coey — even with fellow believers — were his religious convictions. From a reading of his journals, it is evident that Coey’s faith was the primary source of his strength and allowed him to persevere where others often gave up. It also provided a source of comfort to him in his darkest moments — moments which were plentiful in combat in the African Bush. Many on the true Right have abandoned Christianity for a multitude of reasons, citing among other things its universalist pretensions and the tendency toward a dangerous and unhealthy cultural and racial self-effacement prevalent among contemporary Christians. Still, Coey possessed a vital and muscular understanding of the Faith similar to that which must have underlain much past Western dynamism. Coey, a Lutheran, attempted to share his belief with others through quiet example rather than a boorish evangelism and was dismayed at the errors into which many of his fellow Christians had fallen:
“I’ve been going to Baptist church services. The Gospel is preached there, but I have decided to go elsewhere because these Baptists are convinced that the Zionist takeover of Palestine is the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. They believe that the Second Coming of Christ is near, and think that they have the Revelation figured out completely. They expect to be ‘raptured’ away from the coming terror to help Christ rule in the Millennium. I remind them of Christ’s words, ‘My kingdom is not of this world,’ and ”No man knoweth the hour when the Son of God shall come again.’ But they choose to ignore that. . . .”
Neither, of course, did Coey abide the paralytic sentimentality of liberal Christians:
“Last night I talked with a Christian man who is convinced that he must never resort to violence to defend himself or fight in any way, even for his life and liberty. He feels that communism should not be opposed by arms, and that the Second Coming of Christ will occur before they could take over the world. He believes that all governments, no matter how evil or corrupt, are ordained by God. Christianity for this man has destroyed his instinct for survival, his will to resist evil. If every Christian were to think this, we would be doomed.”
The Significance of Coey
Coey was only one of a number of foreign volunteers who came from a variety of countries to fight for the lost cause of Rhodesia. Likewise, he was only the first of a total of seven Americans who would eventually die there. Of these foreigners, however, Coey was probably the most driven by principle, as well as the one most successful at communicating to the general public his motives for joining the Rhodesian forces.
Admittedly, at times in his journals Coey comes across as a somewhat fanatical figure — albeit one who is never truly unlikable. Though he presents a fairly consistent worldview in his writings, it is also helpful to remember that Coey did not style himself as an intellectual but instead a man of action. He considered it necessary to complement his words with deeds, and his short life was lived as one of selfless sacrifice in defense of not only a country that he considered to be at the very frontier of the West — but of all peoples of European descent and their shared civilization. Coey, importantly, always sought to lead by example and never played the sectarian:
“…I am helping to unify the Europeans, simply by my presence and association with these people. For they are coming to realize that there is no important difference between Americans, White Africans, or Europeans. The accents, dialects, and languages are superficial; the customs, religion, styles of government, and thinking are the same. I believe that only when all European peoples are unified, can communism and the alien conspiracy be smashed.”
There would be no such triumph of course, either in Rhodesia or elsewhere. Perhaps it was for the best that Coey didn’t live to experience the heartbreak of witnessing his adopted homeland fade into history.
In the final analysis, it was the very things that drove Coey to excel as a soldier that led to his early demise. He was possessed of that fatal combination of youthful idealism and, what is rarer, the will and strength of character to actually put that idealism into practice. As his older brother Edward recalled, Revilo P. Oliver of the University of Illinois had written Coey a letter prior to his death in which Professor Oliver had lauded him for having made “‘…the Choice of Achilles.'” That is, Coey had opted to die with glory in combat rather than to live a long but unremarkable life. Then again, Coey may have simply been following the dictates of fate. “I feel that I have found my historical role here,” he wrote, “and, once that is finished, I don’t know what I will do. . . .”
The anticipated moment came swiftly and unexpectedly. On July 19, 1975, as he was descending into a dry river bed in an attempt to aid two fallen Rhodesian Light Infantry troopers, Coey was struck and killed by terrorist bullets. One wonders if it can really be only a strange coincidence that he was hit in the head and in the heel? Whatever the case may be, his shining example of total selflessness stands in marked contrast to the widespread moral corruption of the modern military of his native United States, a military whose senior leaders obediently serve the alien and transnational forces that Coey believed he was fighting.
Though he is decades gone now, Coey’s timeless words continue to resonate. Yet it is fearful to think that they might outlast the civilization to which they immediately pertain, and perhaps might only serve as a warning to some future people:
“The basis of race, culture, and nation is vital for the survival of Western Civilization. Blood and soil, conservation and nationalism are what make a country and civilization sound, strong, and healthy. But faith is needed, faith in our way of life, our civilization, and faith in a Higher Destiny and the Divine Sanction of God….
“This generation of the West must believe when there is apparently no hope; it must obey, even if it means death; and it must fight to the end, rather than submit. Against the Spirit of Heroism no material force can prevail. Nothing can defeat that except inner decadence.”
Ultmately, Coey’s significance probably resides in whatever ability his memory has to inspire. As Dr. Anthony P. DiPerna, a professor of African history, observed in a letter to the Coey family: “I do not think John’s sacrifice was in vain. There are many episodes in history where those who gave their lives in a losing cause served as an inspiration to others who eventually carried the banner to victory.”
If Coey could join us today, he would not lose hope over the rapid deterioration of Western societies that has occurred in the decades since his death. He would doubtlessly implore us to redouble our efforts at self-preservation, however modest or even futile we may believe our individual contributions to be.
* * *
Coey, John Alan. (1988). A Martyr Speaks: Journal of the late John Alan Coey.