Saturday, February 11, 2012

I am Prometheus

I am Prometheus.

I gave life to my two children, ages 23 and 18, and I am trying to impart to them a little knowledge. You know, fire them up, light up their world so that they can find their way in the dark. It is my gift to them.

Picking up a copy of Aeschylus' play Prometheus Bound, I ask each in turn, "Who is Prometheus?" My older daughter was on the right track, but she thought he was the "boulder" guy. My son could not take his eyes off of a Will Ferrell movie, and roars in answer "boring". I am left standing there, alone and unanswered.

Classic Greek mythology viewed  Prometheus as a prankster who for his hubris must suffer daily, the crow would eat his liver and it would regenerate, so that he would again endure the pain. Aeschylus depicted Prometheus as wise and caring, a giver of fire and light. His punishment to be buried.

I am Prometheus, giver of light, destined to be punished for my gift. All I can do is, like Prometheus rage against the injustice.

Now it is happening, threat gives place to performance.
The earth rocks; thunder echoing from the depth,
Roars in answer; fiery lightening twist and flash.
Dust dances in whirling fountain...

O Earth, my holy mother,
O sky, where sun and moon
Give light to all in turn,
You see how I am wronged!

Aeschylus, lines 1080 -1093.

The rock on which Prometheus is chained, collapses and he is buried beneath the weight of the world.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

VI Day

The AP reported today: "KHABARI CROSSING, Kuwait (AP) –The last U.S. soldiers rolled out of Iraq across the border into neighboring Kuwait at daybreak Sunday, whooping, fist bumping and hugging each other in a burst of joy and relief." Today is December 18, 2011, which means that President Barack Obama kept his promise to have all troops out of Iraq by the end of the year.

December the 18th will not be known as Victory in Iraq Day - VI Day.

Unlike the Second World War when the Allies defeated first German in Europe then Japan, there is no victory. So unlike May 8, 1945 and August 9, 1945, which came to be known as VE and VJ Days, there is no victory to celebrate, no end of conflict. Instead, the conflict in Iraq between Shia and Sunni, Kurd and Arab, Al Quaida and seemingly everyone, will continue. Only we will sit on the sidelines watching and observing as the political drama continues. "The future of Iraq belongs to the Iraqi people," as President Obama observed in Washington a week earlier. The speech was observed by Prime Minister al-Malaki, sometimes spelled Malachi.

Malachi's name is more correctly spelled "Nouri Kamil Mohammed Hasan al-Maliki". He was once given poor reviews by American intelligence and the American press. To make a joke here, the words "American intelligence" as it applied to the CIA, might be an oxymoron. In my college days, the phrase used was "military intelligence", but today it is the military that gets the rave reviews.

Most Americans know little about Malaki. We can't even seem to agree on how to spell his name - "Malachi, Malaki, al-Maliki". But I suspect that he is the man who will most likely determine the future of Iraq.

At this point in the conflict, I think back to that old Vietnam slogan that protestors used to chant. "War is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things." This pithy poster in yellow and black displaying a single sunflower rendered as if done by a child with the words intermixed with the leaves of the flower, was done by Lorraine Schneider. It appeared in 1966 during the Vietnam War in reaction to an unpopular war. What most people will remember was the image of B-52's and Napalm bombing that rained down on the Vietnamese countryside and its people. The War in Iraq, unlike Vietnam was supported by Americans back home, for the most part. The bombing was precise, but it was no less devastating.

The War in Iraq, the Iraq War - is that the name we will give it over time? Somehow it seems to soon to begin the process of  determining its merits and faults. And excuse me for using a reference to the Vietnam War. The similarities between the two wars are few and the differences are great. Only death and destruction of any war is a commonality.

Over 4,000 Americans died during the nine year War in Iraq. Over 30,000 casualties were inflicted on American troops, which will require for many a lifetime of care. The staggering cost of the war will end up costing us over one trillion dollars to date, and an estimated one trillion dollars in additional costs caring for the wounded soldiers, many of whom suffered catastrophic loss of limbs and severe brain injuries. War is not healthy for troops either, it would seem.

The cost to Iraq was even greater. The number of dead can not be determined with much accuracy, but it is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands. The number of wounded must be in excess of a million. Let us not forget that Saddam Hussein was a tyrant who brutalized his people for decades and started wars in Iran and Kuwait that cost tens of thousands of lives. And then when defeated by the United States and a coalition of countries in the war to liberate Kuwait, he turned upon the Shias of south Iraq and the Kurds of the north.

Make no mistake, Hussein was a vicious person. But whether it was our part to go in and remove him will be debated for years to come.

The one thing that can be said that is the main reason that the United States supplied for beginning this war was wrong. There were no weapons of mass destruction. Instead the weapons were a figment of Saddam's imagination and the CIA's desire to believe something fit within the overall objective of removing Saddam Hussein from power. This narrowly defined objective, removing weapons of mass destruction, was for my tastes too narrow. It always forgot that the object of the war would be the country of Iraq and the consequences would fall on the American troops who did the fighting and the Iraqi people who would have to sort out the political situation once Saddam was removed from power.

Would it not have been wiser to approach the conflict as one to liberate the Iraqi people? And if so then should this, and not Saddam's weapons been the primary reason for the conflict? Of course, once the weapons were found not to exist, the reason for our being there changed. This time it became a war to defeat Al Quaida. Still, I think that when the dust settles, the war will end up being a question of who rules in Iraq and what form of government is instituted. We can only hope that the seeds of democracy have been planted and that good rulers like Malachi will insure that all of the people of Iraq are represented in society.

As for lessons to be learned - I have always admired the French who once upon a time got it right. During the American Revolution they came to our aid with ships to blockade the British ships and soldiers, who with General Washington defeated Lord Cornwallis and British at the Battle of Yorktown and ended a war. Then they left.

Let us in this moment thank God that for us the war is over. Let us also thank all the troops who served in Iraq and who continue to serve in Afghanistan. Let us celebrate the leaving of Iraq and solemnly hope that we have done some good and that the spirit of kindness will win over evil in Iraq. Let us broaden our hopes and wish that one day there will be a VME Day, that is a Victory in the Middle East.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Playing God

I suppose ... well, that is a phrase that reeks of Rene Descartes. Yes, the "I think therefore I am" guy. "Cogito ergo sum" is the Latin phrase, which he wrote. "Je pense donc je suis" is the French, which he spoke.

Supposing is thinking and thinking means existing, at least according to Descartes. Descartes' life straddled the 16th and 17th centuries. He was born in France, but spent most of his adult life in Holland, which was a little more tolerant of thinkers than his native France. He was an influential mathematician, but prefered to philosophize, and became one of the leading figures of the Age of Rationalism, even though there was little thought  then or now which could be considered truly rational. He is remembered by most students of Western Civilization for this one ambiguous and vague statement.

Anyway - getting back to the point. I suppose that we all have, at one time or another, thought about "playing God". I put it in quotes, because it is just a figurative expression. Literally, we have no chance of turning order out of chaos, or creating life from the dust. But figuratively,  given the chance would we take it? Would we do it all differently? Would the universe and this world in which we live have turned out for the better if you or I were at the controls?

"The world belongs to the thinkers" , I told my son today. After all, they are the ones who make the world that we see.