[This Commentary originally appeared in the September 6, 1990 issue of The Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel.]
Over 1,500 years ago, the great Roman civilization succumbed to the barbarian forces of the north. As the Huns swept down, the monuments of the Roman Empire crumbled. The invaders destroyed ancient buildings, killed innocent women and children, looted Christian graves and promptly left when they got bored.
These men had more in common with subhuman savages than with the traits we attribute to what we call Western Civilization. (Don’t get me wrong, an eastern civilization exists, too. We just have more familiarity with the western variety.)
Historians refer to the long millennium following the fall of Rome as The Dark Ages. Much of the intellectual pursuits of Greece and Rome vanished during this period and the search for new discoveries did not take place. People living in medieval times worried about surviving, not about adding to man’s body of knowledge.
The only part of the western world not infected by the savage barbarians lay in the Arab lands of Asia minor and north Africa. Many mathematical refinements to works by Aristotle and Ptolemy came from Arab mathematicians.
Ironically, the Middle East, once the sole bastion of western civilization, has reverted to the same kind of barbarism that consumed the Roman Empire. Our policies and attitudes must therefore be appropriately adjusted when dealing with this volatile region of the world.
Savages cannot comprehend tolerance – that concept which distinguishes civilized behavior. You either do it their way, or they will kill you. No debate. This selfish and dangerous behavior threatens any relationship. The mature person must be cognizant of the mortal risk of befriending a savage.
Maybe an analogy will help. We all know lions are savage beasts, capable of tearing apart a human without warning. Yet, many people decide to become lion tamers. These people live on the edge of death. At any moment, for whatever reason, an intolerant lion can turn on the lion tamer. The lion tamer realizes and accepts this. (Unfortunately for the lion tamer, life insurance companies also realize this.)
It a lion attacks – or even kills – the lion tamer, the lion will in all likelihood be shot. No one feels sorry for the lion. Most interestingly, no one feels sorry for the lion tamer. The lion tamer knew the risks when he decided to become a lion tamer. We don’t feel sorry for the lion tamer because we accept his decision.
Whether working with a lion or a savage, the civilized person understands and accepts the risks of the job. We must have confidence in these adults who make their decisions knowingly. We call these people dare devils, pioneers or explorers. They are both brave and courageous.
Frankly, I am beginning to get just a little bit upset about what I’m reading and hearing in the news. Last week, a group of people demonstrated for peace around the Liberty Pole in downtown Rochester. Daniel Ellsberg (remember the Pentagon Papers?) and Ronnie Kovic (Born on the Fourth of July) have decried our nation’s military commitment in Saudi Arabia. Apparently, these people have called into question the morality of using our army in the Middle East.
Such actions remind me of the inappropriate world peace movement which began in college campuses across the world just before World War II. Ellsberg and Kovic and the Liberty Pole demonstrators have what can be called “Vietnam on the brain.”
These people have a misguided perception of the lesson of Vietnam. They think Vietnam taught us to avoid all war. Wrong. The entire history of our species tells us in no uncertain terms to avoid all war. Indeed, the most impressive evidence of this comes within the century before we even knew of Vietnam. Sure, we must avoid all war. Everybody agrees with that. Nobody likes war. This idea, though, didn’t need Vietnam to gain acceptance.
Vietnam taught us several things. First, our political leaders cannot be wishy washy. They must make a decision, especially when American lives are at stake. Second, they must stick to that decision. They cannot straddle the line of lack of commitment, especially when American lives are at stake. Thirdly, psychological battles can bring about defeat faster than military battles. The media can drastically change the attitude of an entire nation – especially when American lives are at stake. Finally, the populist fervor of the American people becomes most sensitive when American lives are at stake.
Nobody likes to see Americans in danger. Indeed, nobody wants to see harm come to anyone. The facts, though, define the truth. Saddam Hussein belligerently attacked Iran. Saddam Hussein gassed his own people. Saddam Hussein invaded and killed in Kuwait. Saddam’s orders have caused at least one foreign national (a Briton) to have been shot while trying to escape from occupied Kuwait. These are all acts of a savage man.
The rules – and the risks – change when dealing with savages. We want peace. We always prefer a diplomatic solution. We wish to avoid war. In the civilized world, all matters can be solved without armed conflict. In the world of the savage, we must enter knowingly. We must understand and accept the risks, just like the Westerners caught in Iraq and Kuwait have.
Contrary to the whines of Ellsberg et al, we have not volunteered our men and women in the defense of Saudi Arabia merely to keep cheap gas flowing into our gas guzzling cars. Such a cynical statement is an insult to every American. Our objective is to prevent a twentieth century Hun from sending us back to the Dark Ages. The United States has always done whatever it can to stop the spread of savages. And the entire world is better off for it.
Editor’s Note: The above commentary represents the opinions of the author, and in no way reflects those of this newspaper or its management. Our apologies, in particular, to Vietnam veterans, conscientious objectors and the millions of peaceful followers of Islam throughout the world.
[What is this and why is here? See Interested in Discovering My Time Machine? for more details.]