So I'm reading P.J. O'Rourke's latest book, "Peace Kills," and come across the following statement in a chapter about trying to understand the Middle East:
But there's a problem with Egypt. It's been around for five millennia. America is only three human life spans in age.
Does that jolt your brain cells as much as it did mine? I mean, I know that America is 228 years old. My family celebrated the bicentennial with friends who were visiting from Pennsylvania; we went to a re-enactment of the Battle of Bunker Hill in Newbury, which in 1974 was topically more like the real Bunker Hill than Charlestown is now. Then we went to a parade at the Bunker Hill Monument.
We were celebrating our country's history, which seemed like such a long period to celebrate. But we are accustomed to thinking in terms of generations, which overlap. My son turns 40 this weekend and his twins are 3: we are three generations. Now think about this:
If a man was born in 1776, and lived to be 80, he would have died in 1856 just before the Civil War. A child born that day would have been 80 in 1936, just before World War II. A person born that same year, with the same life span, would be still alive. And if the war-timing pattern holds, it does not bode well for the child born in 2016, when that third American turns 80.
P.J. O'Rourke didn't elaborate on his simple statement; I did the math myself, after mumbling, "That can't be right!" into my copy of his book. He was focused on how unlikely it is that we will ever understand ancient Middle Eastern countries when we can't really understand our own toddler self.
The subtitle of O'Rourke's book is "America's Fun New Imperialism," and despite the theme, is laugh-out-loud hilarious as he captures absurdity with a sharpened pen. But O'Rourke's libertarian/conservative humor masks, not very effectively, his love of his country and real concern as expressed in his summary that "peace is sometimes one of the most troubling aspects of war."
Unlike filmmaker Michael Moore, P.J. has traveled to many of the world's trouble spots in his career, so his wisecracks are based on truth. His researched insights balance the silly bumper stickers we see on some thoughtless liberals' cars: "Make Peace (or Love), not War"; "Visualize Peace"; and the completely nonsensical, "War is expensive, Peace is precious." Yes, so what's your point?
On the other side, I hear callers to talk shows insist that we "bomb them into the Stone Age." As I write this, we don't know if the Marine held by terrorists has been beheaded; if he is, some want to avenge him by unleashing America's power on the beheaders. The only problem I have with both scenarios is: Who are "them" and where the heck are they? When we find the specific perpetrators, by all means, visualize blowing them to smithereens.
Terrorists are to the American military as our rebels were to the traditionally trained British soldiers marching in formation to where minutemen shot from behind trees and rocks. The British thought this wasn't fair since the rules of warfare required two armies, accompanied by drummers, meeting in the middle of a field.
Two hundred and twenty-eight years later, Islamic terrorists, somewhere out there, make their own rules of warfare, which include blowing up young martyrs in the public marketplace and beheading foreign noncombatant civilians on television. We must change our perception of what is "fair in war that is still hell," no matter how you fight it.
During my vacation in Nevada, my son and I went to see the movie "Troy," which I recommend to anyone who wants to understand war. In the middle of a time span similar to Egypt's, someone stands at the edge of a battlefield strewn with bodies and asks Achilles, "When will it end?" and Achilles calmly responds, "It will never end."
So far, he's been right. But the battlefield has become anywhere in the world.
At the end of this month, local Democratic activists are setting up a Revolutionary War battle on Lexington Green for visiting conventioneers who don't usually get to see our Patriot's Day re-enactment. Democrats who attend will patriotically cheer for the minutemen, then return to the FleetCenter to attack the war on terrorism's version of George Washington. The more liberal activists will demand peace.
The rest of America will, I hope, ask them how, exactly, they think this can be achieved, and how much it will cost in the long run.