The Nuclear Club Nobody Wants to Join

Featured

For Video Credits, Click on the YouTube Link.

When I was born three nations had nuclear weapons: The United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union.  By the time I graduated from high school, that group of three had grown to only five, with the addition of France and the People’s Republic of China.  Since that time only four more nations have been added to that list, India, Pakistan, North Korea and (despite on-going denials) Israel.  Currently, through the NATO nuclear weapons sharing program, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Turkey have U.S. nukes in their possession. None of these five countries however has the capability to build their own atomic weapons.

Building an atomic bomb is not easy.  In fact, it’s beyond really hard.  Most people think that is preferable.  Very preferable.  Except there are, of course, those who want one so bad, those meaning in this case, a country, they will go to any length to manufacture their own.

For years, we have worried about North Korea and its psychotic leadership, first in what appears to be a case of intra-genocide by starvation of the entire nation, with the notable exception of those in power, to spare no expense to build their nuke, and second, now they have it, the fact they only need to toss it over the DMZ and a substantial percentage of the South Korean population is annihilated.

To date, they have been contained, probably due to the North Korean autocrats needing to keep enough of the citizenry alive so as to provide the labor for their military and their personal extravagances, so the only bargaining chip they have with the world is to not act on their sabre-rattling rhetoric to procure enough essential supplies of food and oil to maintain their horrendous status quo.  It also is relevant that another source of their restraint, to date, is having the Great Chinese Fire Dragon on their northern border that could annihilate the entire country with their nuclear arsenal should the Kim boys misstep.

Actually, the Chinese know they wouldn’t even have to use any of their nuclear weapons. Simply amassing a few million Red Army soldiers on the line between the two countries would send a message even the highly deluded Despot in Pyongyang would understand.  Well, maybe.

Here’s my question: For how much longer will the United States be the only nation ever to use a nuclear weapon in an act of war continue?  Read More…

.

Democracy: The Universal Solvent

Featured

Updated: 19 Feb 2011

.

This post is dedicated to the Egyptian Coptic Christians who participated in the protests in Tahrir square, largely ignored by the press, but claiming their ancient heritage as Egyptians, stood along side of their fellow Muslim citizens.

***********************************************************************

In 8th grade science we were taught that water was considered the universal solvent. That is, given enough time, water would dissolve almost everything.  Water inexorably works its way into every crack, nook and cranny, saturating the soil, seeping through the dikes and dams built to try to hold it back.  In that sense, water will dissolve or penetrate any barrier it meets or finds a channel though which it can flow if given enough time.

In North Africa and the Middle East a new manifestation of that concept has appeared. The flowering of democracy and freedom among the populace to break the grip of autocratic and repressive theocratic regimes seems to be a gathering force that politically and socially is having the effect of a universal solvent against retrenched and decades long rule by dictators or monarchs. The water of democracy has not only found the cracks in the façade of those rulers who by force have imposed their will upon the people, but it has opened up channels and holes in those walls and is flowing with historically-unprecedented force.

First we saw Tunisia, which did not demand our attention immediately, although it should have. The success of the revolution, remarkable for its lack of violence, did make us sit up and take notice. The collapse of the government in a matter of days and the exile of the strongman ruler, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, were accomplished without the revolutionaries possessing guns.  In an ironic contrast, according to the Gun Rights doctrine espoused by millions who practically deify the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution here in the United States, Tunisia’s gunless should have been inconceivable let alone successful.

Then came Egypt. For eighteen days we held our collective breath as the unarmed protesters daily came in waves into Tahrir Square demanding President Hasni Mubarak’s resignation, a new democratic government, a new constitution, and a reduction in soaring food prices.  Each successive day we watched entranced, despairing that night the hated police attacked the protesters, who had managed to conduct their demonstrations with virtually no violence. Then finally, with stunned disbelief we again allowed ourselves to hope the cause might succeed for the Egyptian people when the army began taking very visible action to protect the protesters and take the reins of power from Mubarak and his cohorts. Though many questions remain, Egypt was transformed into a proto-democratic state in just over two weeks. Once again a government was toppled without the people being armed to the teeth and having no equivalent to the U.S. 2nd Amendment in their constitution. Bringing down a government without a heavily armed populace is not supposed to be within the realm of the possible.

Jordan’s King Hussein, educated in America, saw the events unfold and voluntarily began to institute democratic reforms. Whether they will be enough to satisfy the force of the democratic waves pounding against the shore of an autocratic monarchy remains to be seen. But here we have a third instance where the true power of the ideals of democracy works into the hearts of the oppressed and the realization of that dream does not require an armed populace.

Now we are again holding our breath as we watch the protests and demonstrations in Bahrain, Yemen, Palestine, Libya, Algeria, and most importantly, Iran.  The regimes of those autocratic and theocratic states are resorting to using brute force in their attempt to make the price of protest and dissention too high and to preserve their iron-grip on the status quo. What will the final outcome be?  Only time will tell.  None of these countries have a 2nd amendment on the right to bear arms.

There are, in my assessment, two broad consequences regarding bringing down a government by force. The first, when the population has unlimited access to firearms, an scenario is set up that will either almost certainly be a protracted or bloody revolution, or worse, an even bloodier civil war.  In recent years we have seen the horrendous conflicts in places like Rwanda, the breakup of Yugoslavia, Sri Lanka, the Sudan, Somalia and Chechnya and East Timor, to name a few.

What we have witnessed in Tunisia and Egypt in the past few weeks is incontrovertible evidence that revolution by an unarmed populace does not require years but weeks, and does not require the blood of thousands. It also does not require that populace be armed with guns. Unfortunately the protests claimed the lives of a few dozen who were caught in the fringe of rage staged by the ruling regime’s police and their operatives.

But in recent history, this is not the first time we have seen a revolution succeed largely without violence. We watched two decades ago, transfixed, by the collapse of East Germany, and then to our greater astonishment the disintegration of our Cold War super-power adversary, the Soviet Union.  Poland and Czechoslovakia broke away from the Warsaw Pact and had their own versions of bloodless revolutions.  Czechoslovakia in particular separated into to two countries, The Czech Republic and Slovakia without a civil war.  Hungary voted to leave the Warsaw Pact with an 85% majority, as did Bulgaria, Estonia, and Latvia. Romania was the only Eastern European country to have a bloody revolution as part of its citizens overthrowing the government, ending in the execution of the dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu and his wife, Elena.

I cannot predict the outcome of the current protests for democratic reforms in these other nations, but I have confidence in the universal solvent of democracy.  The tide has turned. Even against massive state violence, as has happened in Iran and Bahrain, where the protesters are beaten back for a while, the regimes’ blindness to the unequalled strength of the democratic ideal will ultimately be their downfall.

The right to bear arms as a part of the Great American Experiment, as guaranteed in the Constitution in the context of the power of Democracy and Freedom, is appearing more and more like one of our greatest failures when placed against these historical events. We endured the horrors of one Civil War, and I can see no rationale that excludes a similar nightmare and threat to the Union should a group of radically discontented  people decide it is their right to overthrow the legally elected government by force.

Such action would be treason because all the other parts of the Constitution, which are more important than the 2nd Amendment, are the solid foundation we enjoy as a nation of laws as well as providing for the orderly transfer of power every eight years at the most, ensuring that democracy and freedom remain the keystone of The Republic.

What we have seen in the events unfolding in Africa and the Middle East is that the true power of Democracy and Freedom comes from the hearts of their people and not from their having all the guns in the world.  It is a lesson we Americans, particularly at this moment in our own history, need to understand where the reality actually lies.

Dr John Bogen contributed to this post.

START Treaty: When Will We Ever Get a STOP Treaty?

Featured

.

The New START Treaty: When Will We Ever Get a STOP Treaty?

A Guest Post by Dr. John Bogen, M.D.

The First Atomic Blast "Trinity" Taken by Jack Aeby. July 16, 1945. The only color photo taken of the blast. Photo: PD

Rich Lowry, Editor of the National Review wrote an op-ed column titled  A Poor START for the online political website, RealClearPolitics on November 22, 2010.  Lowry questions why the New START Treaty (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), signed earlier this year by U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian Federation President Dmitri Medvedev, is being promoted as such a crucial issue by the Obama Administration that requires immediate ratification by the U.S. Senate before the end of the lame-duck session in December.

Lowry concludes that “the administration wants the treaty because it thinks it makes the Russians feel good and fosters a ‘reset.’ The benefits of reset are overrated, though. Yes, the Russians voted for the fourth round of U.N. sanctions against Iran, but only after watering them down along with the Chinese. They have made it clear they won’t support more stringent sanctions outside the U.N.”

START’s History

U.S. Pres. Richard Nixon & Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev at the signing of the SALT I Treaty in 1972. Photo: Nixon Presidential Library

The history of the START goes back over forty years to 1969, when negotiations began for the original SALT I (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) Treaty between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). This ultimately culminated in the signing of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 1972.

In 1979, U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev signed SALT II, which was not ratified by the U.S. Senate in part due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan later in 1979. Nevertheless, both countries agreed to abide by the terms of the treaty until 1986, when, per Wikipedia, “the Reagan Administration withdrew from SALT II after accusing the Soviets of violating the pact.”

U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which eliminated certain intermediate-range missiles for the primary purpose of enhancing the security of Western Europe.

START I, signed in 1991 by U.S. President George H.W. Bush and the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, expired in December 2009, and with it, among other things, verification provisions that each country was actually in compliance with the treaty. (START II was signed by United States President George H.W. Bush and Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1993 and was subsequently ratified, but never activated. A START III treaty was negotiated, but was never signed.)

Russian Pres. Putin and U.S. Pres. Bush signing the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), better known as the "Moscow Treaty," 2002. Photo: The White House Archives.

The Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), better known as the Moscow Treaty, was signed in 2002 by U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin, further limiting the numbers of nuclear warheads, yet failing to contain verification provisions. SORT expires in December 2012.

President Obama, who ran on a platform of a nuke-free world, took office in January 2009, and had his administration negotiate with the Russians a New START treaty as a follow-on to START I and SORT. This was signed in April 2010.

Lowry asks a legitimate question in his op-ed piece, why the sudden rush for ratification of New START?  As noted above, past treaties have been adhered to without formal ratification. The Senate and in fact the entire Congress faces more pressing issues, such as deciding on an extension of the Bush (43) tax cuts and dealing with the economy, not to mention immigration reform and energy policy.  Isn’t the New START a relic of a Cold War that came to an end almost twenty years ago with the dissolution of the old Soviet Union in 1991?  And in light of the growing nuclear threats from Iran and particularly North Korea dominating the news on November 23, 2010, why is the president pushing so hard for ratification of an obsolete treaty that does little to make the world safer from nuclear conflict?

We Should Be Negotiating “STOP” not START

Personally, I think any treaty between the U.S. and Russia that falls short of completely eliminating nukes is meaningless. Both countries have no desire for war let alone nuclear war.

There exists a new global war, to be politically incorrect, between a growing list of nations and Muslim extremists. Nuclear powers including the U.S., Russia, China, India, Britain, France, Israel, and Pakistan all face conflicts with radical Muslims. These jihadists have also murdered hundreds in Spain, Turkey, Indonesia, the Philippines, and several African nations. And that doesn’t even count Iraq or Afghanistan. Regional hotspots also exist with rogue nations such as North Korea having recently acquired nukes and Iran widely believed to be endeavoring to do so.

U.S. Pres. Obama and Russian Pres. Medevev signing the "New START" treaty, April 8, 2010, in Prague, Czech Republic. Photo: Courtesy AP.

So, I believe New START is irrelevant in today’s world. The U.S. and Russia are moving towards smaller arsenals through attrition and both countries do not have the money to keep the numbers up. Regardless of the treaty, both countries still have enough nukes to destroy the world many times over. Does it really matter if you have 2,200 or 1,550 or 500 or 100 nukes? This treaty is obsolete even before it has been ratified. Inspections could be extended without even mentioning numbers, and the numbers would come down on their own through obsolescence.

Completely eliminating nukes from the arsenals (except for maybe a token number just in case they are needed for example, for asteroid mitigation–not unlike the stocks of smallpox kept secure in the U.S. and Russia, needed for the manufacture of vaccines should the disease reappear somewhere in the world) would be a bold step the U.S. and Russia could take.  This might reduce the desire for nuclear proliferation throughout the world, or at least embarrass rogue nations by making them appear less civilized (e.g. “We are civilized. Nukes are so ‘yesterday.'”).

Even if the U.S. gets nuked someday by a terrorist bomb via a shipping container smuggled into a port city, or by an ICBM from a rogue nation, the U.S. won’t respond indiscriminately with a nuke.  And that is the biggest reason to abandon New START – a treaty designed to reduce yet continue the obsolete military doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD).

Trident II-D5 Nuclear Capable Missile Submarine Launch. Photo: U.S. Navy/PD

The current conflict over New START ratification between Democrats and Republicans is purely political posturing and is meaningless from the national security standpoint. I disagree with Senator John Kyl (R-AZ) trying to get more money (which we don’t have) appropriated for modernization of our nuclear arsenal. However, he does have a valid concern that Russia wants to limit the U.S.’s ability to field an anti-ballistic missile system, which most certainly would be for protection against limited missile strikes from rogue nations, rather than to defend against Russian attack.  I also disagree with the Democrats for making this treaty out to be more important than it really is, and who just wish to deliver a foreign policy victory to President Obama, following his recent lackluster Asian and European trips. The political void of the November-December lame duck period is about as empty as Washington D.C. is every August – much ado is made about nothing.

Ratification of New START should hardly be the highest priority for the Senate when the economy, unemployment, tax rates, and the deficit / debt are far more pressing issues. The Congress and President Obama should get their priorities straight. And so that the Russians do not feel ignored, I would begin negotiations on START IV, a.k.a. STOP (as in STOP ALL NUKES), a much bolder push to lead the entire world away from dangerous and destabilizing nuclear weapons.

Iraq’s Future: Blood or Hope?

War in Iraq: Seven Years of U.S. Sacrifice, Image Courtesy: Nicholas P. Maurstad

Last One Out, Please Close the Gate

Last night, local time in the Middle East at a border crossing between Iraq and Kuwait, the last Stryker Brigade of American Combat troops rolled through the gates ending seven years of United States military operations.  The combat role is finished and has been turned over to the Iraqi military.  Although the Stryker Brigade is being processed for their first day in Kuwait, a substantial force of non-combat military personnel remain, some 50,000 we are told.

Is the war over?  Did we win?

Iraqi Women Grieving Killed Relatives, Photo: AFP/Getty Images

The hope is that the combat part of the war is over.  The so-called advisors will have many roles, from training to consultation, to building ongoing relations with the Iraqis as their very fragile government tries to survive just one day at a time.  What strategy will the insurgents play?  Only time will tell.

Did we win?  Now that’s an interesting question.  Can you win a war that was begun under false pretenses?  Can you win a war that was started by a president of the United States who chose to either believe pure fantasy about a huge cache of weapons that never existed to begin with, or knowing they didn’t exist, fabricated a horrible lie, colluding with the officers of his administration do give the appearance that we were in state of a clear and present danger?

Since the evidence points to the president’s lying to the nation, an act of duplicity for which he will never have to face justice and neither will the officers who assisted him in constructing this completely false rationale for going to war, how, then, can we say that we won the war?

Started on False Pretenses, Ended on…?

What we did was topple a regime. We sought out an admittedly tyrannical dictator who oppressed his people, and let his sons run amok terrorizing any one they wished, simply on a whim.  The fact that all three of them are dead was a gift to the Iraqi people.  But the fact the war we brought to them cost the lives, according to the organization, Iraq Body Count,  of between 97,267 and 106,146 civilians as well as the deaths of over 4400 military Americans.  Many of these troops were killed trying to dodge the bullets and  IEDs of a no-holds-barred civil war between rival tribal and religious sects of the same religion. This circumstance lasting years does not leave one with a sense that our goals lined up with theirs.  And on both accounts, those numbers do not include the number of those wounded, maimed, left without spouses, or orphaned.

Graph of Iraqi Casualties. Image: Iraq Body Count

The truth remains that despite the last Stryker Brigade rumbling across the border into Kuwait, the war is not over.  50,000 U.S. troops will continue on for years to come.  One Iraqi official stated: “If I were asked about the withdrawal, I would say to politicians: the U.S. army must stay until the Iraqi army is fully ready in 2020,” said the Iraqi military’s most senior officer Lt. Gen. Babakir Zebari last week.

Operation New Dawn is not the end of the war.  It is a new phase.  More Iraqis will die.  More Americans will die.  The jury of historical success or failure must remain silent for years to come.  But some facts are already self-evident, and

IED Explosion in Iraq. Photo: Wikipedia/PD

both the United States and the Iraqis have paid a terrible price for the decision of one man who out of spite, a twisted sense of revenge, incompetence, delusion, or unmitigated stupidity, started the war and conned a nation into going along with it.  While the two men and their henchmen remain free who we should have focused on like a laser beam to bring the down, to put a halt to the horrible

Bin Laden & al Zawahiri. Photo: Source Unkn

carnage they continue to spread around the world, a thousand opportunities were squandered by that administration to end the reign of terror those men and to pay for their murderous crime against the American people.  For that, George Bush, 43rd president of the United States, should be forever judged most harshly.

But What of Hope?

The old saying goes, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”  But sometimes through dogged determination, one can take the worst possible situation, and through hard work and creative thinking and planning bring some degree of good out of the bad.

This will be the paradox of the Iraqi war.  For all the wrong reasons we invaded Iraq.  The people our leaders believed would welcome us instead hated us even more.  The people freed from the masochism of Saddam Hussein instantly split from the suppressed religious and tribal fractures that Saddam had used constant brutality to hold together to control his regime.  We unleashed a monster of internecine savagery, an unintended consequence for which our leaders were totally unprepared or had any contingency to deal with.  For years we, the great liberators, were literally trapped by the rage going on around us, trying to bring order in a nation so spiritually shattered that they wanted to kill us so that they could kill each other more quickly.

Despite all that…despite all that, the soldiers of a handful of countries that came to stand beside us, and our American troops, figured out ways to bring hope to the Iraqis.  A million mistakes were undoubtedly made, but we are a people, or should I say a coalition, that don’t give up that easily.  Yes, the other countries withdrew their forces, including the British, who had been the second largest contingent, before the fighting was truly over.  But to their defense, many of their leaders saw the obvious and clear turning of events in Afghanistan, and moved their resources to that troubled land, where now they continue to fight alongside of our forces as they attempt to save Afghanistan from another Taliban regime, capable of a brutality that exceeds anything Saddam could have dreamed of many times over.

As the combat troops left last night, the question very much remains whether Iraq, is truly ready to embrace the new dawn our military has so optimistically chosen to call the next phase of the mission.  The answer may be that it ends in collapse and civil war, where millions might die this time.  It is my prayer that will not be the result, but I cannot predict the future.  It appears though that the sheer hatred the Iraqis demonstrated against the U.S. at the time of the invasion has tempered.  Though the rivers of mistrust of Americans and that the majority are Christians, runs deep, as the years have passed and the combat operations and firefights have subsided, our soldiers have had the chance to show the humanity that exists beneath the uniform.

Iraqi Child Kissing U.S. Soldier. Photo: AP/John Moore

Perhaps the chance to be human, to show kindness and even respect, after so many years of fighting has turned out to be irresistible to both the Americans and the Iraqis.

If that is true, then there is hope.

Bush’s Surge: The Arsonist Calls 911

Peter Beinhart, a senior fellow in the Council for Foreign Relations, a so-called conservative think-tank, published an op-ed column in the Washington Post on January 18, titled “Admit It: The Surge Worked.”  The column was printed in my home town newspaper, The Register Guard, today, in the Commentary Section.  The RG’s title was “Admit it: Bush was right, and courageous.”

I beg to differ.

Beinhart opens with the following thesis statement:

It’s no longer a close call: President Bush was right about the surge. According to Michael O’Hanlon and Jason Campbell of the Brookings Institution, the number of Iraqi war dead was 500 in November of 2008, compared with 3,475 in November of 2006. That same month, 69 Americans died in Iraq; in November 2008, 12 did.

All right, assuming O’Hanlon and Campbell of the Brookings Institution got the numbers right, one could agree that the dramatic drop in deaths of both Iraqis and Americans is a good thing.  Whereas we can all probably concur that if no one had been killed in one month would have been best, in a nation where a war is being waged, a low casualty count is encouraging news.

Beinhart goes on to acknowledge that the post-surge improvements are fragile:

Is the surge solely responsible for the turnaround? Of course not. Al-Qaeda alienated the Sunni tribes; Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army decided to stand down; the United States assassinated key insurgent and militia leaders, all of which mattered as much if not more than the increase in U.S. troops. And the decline in violence isn’t necessarily permanent. Iraq watchers warn that communal distrust remains high; if someone strikes a match, civil war could again rage out of control.

To a reasonable person, who has been following the progress of the war in Iraq, this statement makes sense.  One phrase, however, is disconcerting:

the United States assassinated key insurgent and militia leaders, all of which mattered as much if not more than the increase in U.S. troops.

Beinhart appears to directly contradict himself, here.  He seems to imply that a strategy of assassinating the key insurgent leaders would have had the same effect as adding the 30,000 plus troops on the ground (although his punctuation use might be including the impact of  Qaeda on the Sunnis and al-Sadr’s holding back his Mahdi Army also contributed).  So, which factor should be considered the basis for the dramatic decline in deaths, the assassinations or the troops?  To what degree did the one depend on the other for that decline?  Finally, can Bush be credited for the success, especially, as Beinhart insists, making a courageous decision?

Beinhart believes so:

But if Iraq overall represents a massive stain on Bush’s record, his decision to increase America’s troop presence in late 2006 now looks like his finest hour.

This statement, questionable as it is on so many levels given the now historical context of the Bush presidency, is only the prelude to Mr. Beinhart’s fatal flaw in his whole argument:

Politically, Bush took the path of most resistance. He endured an avalanche of scorn, and now he has been vindicated. He was not only right; he was courageous.

As my grandfather used to say, this is about as “cock-eyed” an interpretation as you could possibly get.  Here’s why: Beinhart ignores his own half-hearted attempts to describe the events and outcomes of the Surge within the context of historical reality and how George W. Bush’s decisions set those events and outcomes in motion.  Beinhart believes his own set of assumptions crafted from his political ideology and draws a conclusion that any sophomore college student taking Introduction to Logic could poke holes in after binge-drinking the night before.

Here’s my analogy.

Two gangs from opposite sides of town have been feuding for many years.  One gang, known as the Bushies, whose leader is called Decider, has grown very large and powerful.  None of the gangs on the other side of town, known collectively as the Easties, are as big or as powerful, but they supply the Bushies with “bling” and the Bushies use lots of it, need lots of it, and know that the biggest source of bling is across town.  The gangs have been feuding for a long time, but the rumbles have never been very long and the casualties limited.  The bling has continued to flow to the Bushies pretty much uninterrupted.

One day, Decider decides the time has come to have the ultimate rumble and take down the Easties for good.  He decides to take down the Baghdaddies first.  The Bushies hit the Baghdaddies hard, setting their neighborhood on fire and seem to get the upper hand pretty fast.  But the gangs in the surrounding neighborhoods feel threatened, and though they know they can’t take on the Bushies directly, they send their gang members to infiltrate the rumble.  Sometimes they help the Baghdaddies fight back; sometimes they set more of the neighborhood on fire, hoping to prevent their own turf from being torched.

The Bushies are taking a lot of casualties, even though the Baghdaddies are being killed in droves.  The burning neighborhood grows and grows, killing more gang members from both sides than the gangs themselves.

Decider doesn’t waver in his decisions.  Keep going.  Finish the feud once and for all with the Bushies on top.  The bling must flow.

Flash point.  The burning neighborhood erupts into a firestorm.  Decider’s gang lieutenants surround him and deliver an ultimatum.  The firestorm will destroy them all.  They must have help to put out the fire.

Decider, against every fiber of his being, relents.  He dials 911 and calls for the fire fighters.  The flames are soon extinguished.  Decider and his supporters trumpet the success of the rumble, and praise Decider for his courage to call 911 as the finest moment of his time as gang leader.

^^^^^^^^^^^

There is a research principle that says when interpreting data, the most likely solution will be both simple and elegant.  It will be simple in that no other interpretation agrees so closely with the data, and elegant because it when applied it creates a satisfying unification with the other data in the theory.

And so, there is a conclusion that fits the evidence both simply and elegantly: The arsonist who first set the fire and then was forced to call 911 to save himself and an entire nation from being destroyed by those flames, Mr. Beinhart, was neither right nor courageous.

The Middle East: Once the Cradle, Now the Grave

The Cradle of Civilization.  Mesopotamia.  The Middle East.  I love its history.  I’ve read about it since I was a teenager.  My first trip to Europe in the summer of 1971, I was 18 years old and just graduated from high school.  Part of a Boise State University music tour, we visited the British Museum in London.  I headed right to the exhibition of the Royal Tomb of Ur.  I could have stayed there all day.
One face of the Standard of Ur.  British Museum, London

One face of the Standard of Ur. British Museum, London

(I have a neck tie with this motif woven into it I bought from the British Museum in 1995.  Beats the heck out of Paisley for my taste.)

Part of my fascination is grounded in my interest in biblical history in general.  My bachelor’s degree is in Biblical Studies, as well as having earned a Master of Divinity degree.  There are, however, many regions around the Holy Land and the Mediterranean in which I might have been attracted to.  For me it was Mesopotamia.  I’ve studied their ancient history, their pantheon of gods and goddesses.  Gilgamesh is my favorite hero-myth (who, by the way, was a historical figure, an actual king, ca. 2700 B.C.E.).  I’ve read it numerous times and have two of the most recently published translations on my bookshelf.

Gilgamesh and Enkidu slay the Bull of Heaven. Image from cylinder scroll.

Gilgamesh and Enkidu slay the Bull of Heaven. Image from cylinder scroll.

Today, what was ancient Babylon and Sumer sits in Iraq and Iran.  I have no illusion that I will live to visit either place in a time of peace.

The Cradle of Civilization has become a grave.

5000 years of nurturing the very essence of what it means to be human is being crushed by a simmering slag of hatred and revenge, a cycle of violence like magma pushing to the surface that may erupt erupt with the force of an atomic mushroom cloud.  Literally.

Roger Cohen, New York Times columnist, captured this virulent culture of revenge:

History is relentless. Sometimes its destructive gyre gets overcome: France and Germany freed themselves after 1945 from war’s cycle. So did Poland and Germany. China and Japan scarcely love each other but do business. Only in the Middle East do the dead rule.

Their demand for blood is, it seems, inexhaustible. Their graves will not be quieted. Since 1948 and Israel’s creation, retribution has reigned between the Jewish and Palestinian national movements.  (NYT, 7 Jan ’09)

Cohen’s insight is so deeply troubling in its truth.  The violence, this time between Israel and the Hamas-controlled Palestinians, defies all reason for common, everyday living; it defies everything the three Great Religions, which were born in this Cradle, teach about peace and how to treat one’s neighbors; and it defies the very essence of what it means to be human.   And that essence is that the living rule, not the dead.

Gilgamesh grieves over the death of Enkidu (whose demise was decreed by the gods) like today’s Middle East hard-liners and jihadists who wail and beat themselves over those killed by the godless.  Gilgamesh is so distraught he weeps by the corpse until maggots begin to crawl out of Enkidu’s rotting body, then vowing vengeance against the gods who robbed him of his most beloved companion, he sets out to bring them down from heaven itself. . .

Except that is not how the epic reads.  Gilgamesh is not bound forever in his grief over Enkidu’s death.  He does not engage in unending vengeance against his enemies. Given strength by the gods, he begins a quest for eternal life, and journeys to the home of Uta-napishti, the “Noah” of this Sumerian flood story, who with his wife, were the only two humans to survive.  And though Gilgamesh does not achieve physical eternal life, by the end of the quest he arguably is Homo sapiens modernum, Modern Man.  The dead do not rule his life.

(Homo sapiens modernum is my literary creation, not a paleontological species name.)

How then, do we understand the Rule of the Dead in the lands that gave us Gilgamesh?  How can that cycle be ended?  What will it take for the sword of atrocities to be broken, the blade shattered and unsalvageable, replaced by the Rule of the Living?  Gilgamesh lives in his myths, but his story, his true legacy to his living descendants has been lost.

Do not blame Moses, Jesus, or Muhammad.  Do not cite their words, writings or teachings as justification for these atrocities.  Unnamed millions have already been butchered over the course of 4000 years, in the name of and by the hand of followers of all three.  The LORD God Almighty/Allah weeps that even today, millions who call on his name, do so as they kill, destroy, and ravage the innocent.

As long as the Death rules the living in the cultures of the Middle East, be it national, religious, political, or an aggregation of all three,  Homo sapiens modernum, that great rock of civilization, is being blasted away by relentless, unforgiving sand storms of dogma and loathing. One day all that will be left of Gilgamesh’s legacy will be featureless desert, devoid of all life, of all humanity, the howling winds oblivious to the countless millions who once tried to live just one day up to the potential of humanness he achieved.  It will be all in vain.  On the fields of massacre the blood they shed will be blown into nothingness.

Homo sapiens modernum will be extinct.   The Middle East will be perfect.  Sinless.  An unspoiled holy land.  No desecration of sacred laws.  No infidels to attack.  No punishment for the reprobates.  No honor to be defended.  No vengeance to be paid.  No revenge to be meted out.  No need for forgiveness.  No God to be avenged.  Empty and dead.

No amount of oil will change the outcome.

The perfect war will be over.

And the fate of those who followed the rule of Death?  Perhaps it shall be this chilling image, recounted when Gilgamesh  goes to the Netherworld in search of Enkidu.

Gilgamesh: Did you see the one who cheated a god and swore an oath?

Enkidu: I saw him.

G: How does he fare?

E: He cannot get near the places in the Netherworld where the libations of water are made, he drinks in thirst.

G: Did you see the citizen of Girsu at the place of sighs of his father and mother?  (Girsu was a city-state in what is now Iraq.(1))

E: I saw him.

G: How does he fare?

E: Facing each man there are a thousand Amorites, his shade cannot push them off with his hands, he cannot charge them down with his chest. At the places in the Netherworlds where the libations of water are made, the Amorite take precedence. (2)

G: Did you see the sons of Sumer and Akkad? (3)

E: I saw them.

G: How do they fare?

E: They drink water from the place of a massacre, dirty water. (1)

This fate for the desert people of the Middle East who endlessly kill to proclaim the rule of the dead, to be denied water, the very stuff of life–first, for one’s blasphemy, second, to have to wait subserviently while foreigners drink first, and third, to be forced to drink filthy water in a place that is ritually soiled and impure for all eternity–is indeed the deepest level of Hell.

Gilgamesh is speaking.  Are we, all Homo sapiens modernum, capable of listening?

Gilgamesh and King Akka of Kish, ca. 18th Cent. B.C.E.

(1) Text: “Bilgames and the Netherworld,” in: Andrew, George (1999) The epic of Gilgamesh. New York: Barnes & Noble. p. 190. [Note: “Bilgames” is one variant of Gilgamesh.]

(2) This is a bit spooky–The Amorites are associated with the West, and their kingdom, ca. 2000-1600 B.C.E. encompassed  modern Syria, Jordan, Israel, the Palestine Authorities, Lebanon and NE Egypt.  Source: Wikipedia.

(3) Sumer, one of humanity’s most ancient regions dates from at least the 6th Century, B.C.E., and was clustered around the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, that flow through modern Turkey, Iraq and Iran. Its most famous city is Ur (in Iraq).  Akkad was a Sumerian city but later established Babylon (in Iraq) when its empire rose to power.  Source: Wikipedia.

The Current Rules in the 4000 Year War

Earlier today, I posted my latest blog, “The Perfect War: 4000 Years and Going Strong.”  It was a companion piece to my earlier blog, “Abraham’s Lot.”  Both are commentaries on the current conflict in the Middle East, this time between Israel and Palestine, specifically the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

This evening, David Brooks, New York Times columnist published an op-ed piece titled  “The Confidence War.”   Read the whole piece.

But I invite you to read my two postings, as well.  This quote from Brooks should whet your appetite:

This new game isn’t a war of attrition. It’s a struggle for confidence, a series of psychological exchanges designed to shift the balance of morale. The material destroyed in an episode can be replaced, but the psychological effects are more lasting. What is really important is how each episode ends, because the ending defines the meaning — who mastered events and who was mastered by them.