Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Ecclesiastes was right

There is nothing new under the sun.

NPR this morning ran several interesting stories. One pointed out that "suicide attacks" go back at least to the "Jews" of first century Judea (Palestine), who would slit the throats of Roman soldiers, knowing they themselves would be killed immediately by other Roman soldiers. It is almost always, as the story points out, the response of the occupied against the force of the occupiers. And while it didn't work against the Romans, it did work once before, against the U.S., when Reagan withdrew U.S. troops from Lebanon after a Marine barracks was attacked.

And then there is the matter of how the British and Londoners were prepared for terrorist attacks. This is part of the explanation for why the British response was not the reflexive "Let's get 'em!" response of America. Get 'em? Get who? And why? And with what results, or consequences? The British seem particularly interested in that question, which makes me wonder just how peculiarly "American" the American response to 9/11 actually was. So far Spain has not declared war on anyone, either.

And lastly, there was this discussion with Stanley Carnow about the death of Gen. William Westmoreland, and Vietnam. What particularly caught my attention was that Westmoreland, and LBJ, Nixon, many American military leaders, per Carnow, all insisted that military might would prevail against the "little brown men in black pajamas." As Carnow points out, we dropped more bombs in Vietnam than in World War II, convinced that we would reach a "breaking point" for the North Vietnamese, that we could raise the cost beyond which our enemy would not go. Ironically, we were the country with a breaking point, as the North Vietnamese were willing to take whatever losses it had to sustain, in order to prevail.

Which is very similar, of course, to the situation we face in Iraq. Our invasion was, in fact, predicated on a more rapid response to our firepower, to the collapse of resistance under "shock and awe," after which all military matters would be simply "mopping up" procedures, so that Bush declared, all too early, "Mission Accomplished."

There is, indeed, nothing new under the sun. And all would seem to be vanity, and striving after emptiness. Even our ability to learn from recent history, to learn anything as a nation from our experiences, doesn't seem to exist at all. Of all the wars of the 20th century in which the U.S. was engaged, only the Second World War ended decisively, and with a victory that ensured no further wars between belligerents was likely to erupt. Despite that dismal record, we have gone on determined to repeat our "success" in that war, and failed miserably every time. And each time we fail, we find another scapegoat, and go out and repeat our mistakes again, to the point that we cannot now even reasonably consider ourselves a government of laws and not of men. The only "success" on that front, is the current grand jury investigation into l'affaire Plame. Compared to the constitutional crisis that none dare recognize over the Supreme Court's ruling on Gitmo (a ruling roundly ignored by the Bush Administration, a rebuke as deliberate and frightening as it would have been had Nixon refused to release the White House tapes on order of the courts), that entire investigation is precisely nothing at all. Even our closest cultural and military allies, the British, show more maturity and judgment as a nation than we do. And a theological and sociological treatise could be written on how long it takes us even to publicly express the true nature of our folly. It is no accident that the analysis of suicide bombers comes now, and not four years ago (although little of the crucial information in that analysis depends on events of the last 45 months).

The sun comes up, and the sun goes down, and hastens back to the place of its rising. And this too, is a vanity, and a striving after emptiness.

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