The war machine springs to life,
Opens up one eager eye,
Focusing it on the sky,
As ninety-nine red balloons go by...
The (W)alker-(A)rmey-(R)umsfeld machine, that is.
Darius, king of Persia, invaded Greece two and a half millennia ago, angered by its aid to some Ionian cities revolting against the Persian empire. He was confident of Persian superiority and an imminent victory, and yet his larger army was beaten back at the legendary battle of Marathon, suffering disproportionately large casualties. His son, Xerxes, desiring to avenge his empire and his father, decided to amass an even greater invasion force and take the Greeks himself. And his attempt was defeated as well. The stand at Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans and a few hundred other Greeks held off thousands and thousands of Persian troops for a full day, is also legendary, and while these Greeks were eventually overcome and slaughtered, their actions allowed the rest of the army to regroup and prepare. The invaders burned Athens, but they too were finally driven back without having conquered the Greeks.
And now it's 2002, and a man probably not Xerxes' equal seems determined to finish his father's business. Not that Bush Sr. was the equal of Darius, and I certainly don't give Saddam and his loyalists as much credit as I give the Athenians, the Spartans, and their fellow Greeks. But there are lessons in history. Xerxes too refused to listen to cautionary words from one who knew better. And while the invaders did burn Athens, striking an emotional blow as well as a physical one, Alexander the Great later wrought his vengeance by burning Persepolis in his conquest of the world.
I wonder how much of Dubya's belligerence is his own, and how much of it actually belongs to Dick Cheney, or Don Rumsfeld, or others. I wonder, too, if it's meant as more of a diversion from the fact that the 'war on terrorism' hasn't netted any overwhelming victories, if in fact Saddam isn't going to be used as a scapegoat, in place of the elusive Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. We need to hang somebody, or so the good ol' boys seem to think.
Don't get me wrong. Saddam Hussein is no prize among human beings, and he has definitely tried to acquire weapons of mass destruction in the past, and he may well be trying still. And yes, it is better to prevent the initial use of such weapons than it is to count the dead after stopping someone from using them again. But thus far, if there is conclusive evidence of Saddam's possessing or working on possessing these terrors, it's not been shared. With such compelling evidence, the U.S. could convince the United Nations Security Council that immediate action was necessary. And that, like it or not, is the course we must follow. No single nation, however righteous or powerful, has the right to dictate how any other nation should conduct its business. This idea of democracy as opposed to autocracy has only survived to be implemented in modern states because twice (at least) the ancient forebears of Western civilization beat back the invading foes.
So, the United States can play the part of
freedom-loving Greece, and grit its teeth and hold fast to its
democratic and anti-despotic ideals, letting the people, all
the people, decide what is to be done about Hussein; or it can
instead become a 21st-century Persia, enforcing its will upon the
rest of the world with violence, the whims of one man rippling
throughout the empire. Only we know, though Cyrus, Darius,
Xerxes, and the rest of the Persian kings did not, that the Persian
empire would fall in its time, too, and Greek science and philosophy
and literature influence the world to this day.