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Rudyard’s reminder

Paul AndersenAspen, CO Colorado

In January, Vanity Fair published “Neo Culpa,” an article that pinned down neocons who advocated for the invasion of Iraq but now decry the betrayal of their political faith in a mismanaged war that has mangled U.S. foreign relations and fostered anarchy. From charges of gross incompetence to forecasts of insurgent victory in a collapse of civil society, the article impugns the Bushies who manipulated a vaunted crusade into the disaster we see writ large in daily news reports. The plight of Scooter Libby provides yet another indictment against the powers that be. Reading “Neo Culpa,” I am shocked by events on the ground, where risk-laden U.S. military convoys haul luxuries from Kuwait to the Green Zone in Baghdad, and where malfeasance in handling post-invasion looting was dismissed by Rumsfeld as “stuff happens.” And yet, reputations are salvaged by selective memories, and careers are elevated by gratuitous commendations. There is little accountability. In the article, former Bush speechwriter David Frum assesses his boss’s inability to comprehend the ideas behind the words Frum had composed: “The president said the words, he just did not absorb the ideas.” Here lies the tragic disconnect of our age, when words and ideas are no longer joined by rational minds. There are important things to learn: Always question leadership when it advocates war. Always challenge the glowing myth that with war comes glory. Always doubt the motives of leaders who send others into the breach for the sake of their own laurels. In his book “The Transformation of War,” Martin van Creveld cautions that conventional war is becoming passé in a world of insurgencies; that the boundaries defining war and crime are beginning to blur; that nation-states can no longer protect their citizens when war and crime merge as one. Yet, there will always be men eager to rattle sabers. Such is their nature and longing. These men will send others to do battle for them, to die for them and their twisted causes. Rudyard Kipling nailed it in his heraldic 1917 poem “Mesopotamia,” which recounts the botched campaign known as Gallipoli:They shall not return to us, the resolute, the young,The eager and whole-hearted who we gave:But the men who left them thriftily to die in their own dung,Shall they come with years and honor to the grave?They shall not return to us, the strong men coldly slainIn sight of help denied from day to day:But the men who edged their agonies and chid them in their pain,Are they too strong and wise to put away?Our dead shall not return to us while Day and Night divide -Never while the bars of sunset hold.But the idle-minded overlings who quibbled while they died,Shall they thrust for high employment as of old?Shall we only threaten and be angry for an hour?When the storm is ended shall we findHow softy and how swiftly they have sidled back to powerBy the favor and contrivance of their kind?Even while they soothe us, while they promise large amends,Even while they make a show of fear,Do they call upon their debtors and take counsel with their friends,To confirm and reestablish each career.Their lives could not repay us – their death could not undo -The shame that they have laid upon our race.But the slothfulness that wasted and the arrogance that slew,Shall we leave it unabated in its place?Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.


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