In college one of my favorite comic strips was Mr. Boffo by Joe Martin. At that time the strip featured a series of cartoons entitled “People Unclear on the Concept.” One entry depicts the interior of a passenger airliner. On the starboard side all eyes are glued to the windows as the terrified passengers watch the engine burst into flames. One man on the other side of the aisle, however, seems unconcerned, even cocky. He points to the intact engine on his side of the plane and, leaning over the aisle, taunts one of the horrified passengers. “Ha! Ours is still good!” he laughs.
On Monday Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC), often celebrated as a moderate among conservatives, addressed the American Enterprise Institute in DC and warned that the U.S. must be willing to use military force to stop Iran’s nuclear program. He also added that such an option must include as its goal a complete regime change in that country. Such an attack should not use ground troops, he said, but should be launched using air and naval forces.
One frightening fact is that Graham serves as a senior member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, which helps to determine military policy. Does he have any concept of what a combined air and naval bombardment can do to a civilian population? Obviously, in not committing ground troops, he wants to spare us more American casualties at a time when a majority of us want the war in Af-Pak to end. Thoughtful of him. And what about the thousands of Iranian civilians who would die in such a conflict? An estimated 6,600 Iraqi civilians died during several days of heavy bombardment during the 2003 Shock and Awe campaign over Baghdad. Perhaps hundreds of thousands dead in securing the country over the past seven years. Was it worth it?
Is this our answer to everything? Bomb them first, negotiate later. What gives us the right to inflict such suffering and mayhem on an Iranian population that only wants freedom– the same freedom we saw them fighting so bravely for in the streets last year. Did you see them on YouTube and Twitter? These are the people who would form the collateral damage of Sen. Graham’s campaign.
And what makes us think they would want our brand of freedom? Are the citizens of Iraq really so better off now than they were before? Struggling to eke out an existence amid an infrastructure that was flattened by our bombs, terrorism that we brought in our wake, and political corruption and repression that are as rampant now as they were before. The average Iraqi sees little good that we’ve brought. Regime change, sure, but in name only. The names and faces of the villains have merely changed. Is this the blessing we want to inflict on the people of Iran, Senator Graham?
Raptores orbis, postquam cuncta vastantibus defuere terrae, mare scrutantur: si locuples hostis est, avari, si pauper, ambitiosi, quos non Oriens, non Occidens satiaverit: soli omnium opes atque inopiam pari adfectu concupiscunt. Auferre trucidare rapere falsis nominibus imperium, atque ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant. (Robbers of the world, having by their universal plunder exhausted the land, they rifle the deep. If the enemy be rich, they are rapacious; if he be poor, they lust for dominion; neither the east nor the west has been able to satisfy them. Alone among men they covet with equal eagerness poverty and riches. To robbery, slaughter, plunder, they give the lying name of empire; they make a wasteland and call it peace) — the 1st-century British chieftain Calgacus, quoted in Tacitus, Agricola, xxx.
If history tells us anything, it’s that what goes around comes around. The nation that murders, pillages, and oppresses others is eventually itself murdered, pillaged and oppressed. And that is not merely because the universe has an acute sense of irony; it is because there is a God, and he is just. Incredibly patient, but just. If you look today, you will not find a Roman Empire, merely the vestiges of one: monuments she built to herself when drunk with empire. Eventually, the day came when the city that terrorized and subjugated the world was herself terrorized and subjugated, stripped naked for all to gawk and laugh at.
Many are familiar with Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s sonnet “Ozymandias” (1818), inspired by a fragment of a colossal statue of Pharaoh Rameses II in the British Museum. Few may know that Shelley wrote the poem in competition with his friend Horace Smith, who published his version the same year. It hasn’t the grace of Shelley’s, but it may perhaps hit closer to home:
In Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows:
“I am great OZYMANDIAS,” saith the stone,
“The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
“The wonders of my hand.” The City’s gone,
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.
We wonder, and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro’ the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragments huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.
So I tremble for my country. And I also pray that one day America will disenthrall herself, wake up from the intoxication and rapine violence called empire, to become the nation she was created to be. A peacemaker in the world, rather than a troublemaker, one whose leaders are the envy, not the bane, of humanity, a country whose name is invoked as a blessing, not a curse, a source of hope, rather than fear. To become the generous and peace-loving America we think we are, but have never really been. That we would not be like the cartoonist’s character on that airplane, mocking his fellow passenger as the plane goes down, as though we lived in complete isolation, instead of in a vitally interconnected world that must learn to live in peace. Oh that we would be clear on this concept!