The Empire Falls Down

Eventually. The lessons of Rome in the deserts of Iraq.

It wasnt even a fair fight. I dont know why they dont just surrender.

Col. Marc Hildenbrand, commander, 937th Engineer Group (Combat), near Najaf, Iraq, talking about resistance on the drive toward Baghdad.

Youd think people who come from the land built on slogans such as Live Free or Die or Dont Tread on Me would understand something about grassroots resistance to invasion. Whatever you think about Saddam Hussein and his brutal regime, it is also true that the United States and its so-called coalition is an invading force. And it shouldnt surprise us that the Iraqis are fighting back. Think of the boys who fought to the death to save Hitler.

How would we feel if America were invaded by liberators? Remember Red Dawn? I can safely say that if the Germans, Russians, French, or Canadiansor even the French Canadiansstormed into America to liberate us from George W. Bush, I would take up arms and fight them in the streets. Not because I love Bush and freedom fries, but damn it, this is our country, and hes our problem.

The propaganda machine has convinced the troops and the American public that ours is an army of liberation. We expected to be welcomed like the Allies during WWII: with flowers, kisses, and flags. Our soldiers have even been supplied with pocketfuls of candy to hand out to the kids. Candy from a country that has helped starve thousands of Iraqi children to death with sanctions. Candy from a country that denies any interest in Iraqi oil, yet whose troops name their camps after oil companies like Shell. Candy from a country demanding democracy at the point of a gun. Candy from an ignorant pit-bull puppy loose in the world. There are 30 nationsgenerously interpretedin our coalition of the willing. The other 170 countries are thinking, Crikey, whos next?

The land weve invaded is home to peoples who are part of an ancient continuity of civilizationcradle of our ownthat goes back more than 10,000 years. This is the land of Gilgamesh, the mythic hero who recovered words and laws after the Great Flood and gave the knowledge of the ages to mankind.

It is a sign of American arrogance that we did not anticipate their fight for a homeland, just as we did not imagine the resilience of the Viet Cong. In Iraq, we expected the quickie victory of Gulf War I. Instead, we may find a Palestine or Belfast riddled with cultural and political booby traps and undying resentments. With Borg-like insistence, we assert that our massive force and technological superiority will win in the end: Resistance is futile. But, in our heart of hearts, we dont believe that ourselves. The American myth fully asserts that the human spirit triumphs over all odds. At our core, the citizen soldier and colonial militiaman lives. We should respect a foe that believes the same thing.

Witnessing the massacre of outgunned Iraqi defenders, Col. Hildenbrand told Reuters: I feel nothing but sorrow for these people. This war is against one man; its not against the Iraqi people. I just wish they would surrender so we could get it over with. It is understandable that a soldier is impatient to be done and home. Would that it could be so without any more loss of life on either side, but that cannot be the case. I think of the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when the Nazis open the ark of the covenant and melt before the powers released. War is that kind of Pandoras box or even Gumps annoying box of chocolates: You never know what youre gonna git, but its a sure bet it wont be a cherry bon-bon.

The Brits in the coalition force should have some understanding of the Iraqi irregulars who are fighting for their country against all odds. They have a history of glorious speeches urging on the underdogs of war, or inspiring a fight to the death for an honored people. Think of Winston Churchill promising to fight on the beaches; think of Shakespeares Henry V and his band of brothers on St. Crispins Day. Reaching back further, one finds in Tacitus Agricola the inspiring speech of the Scottish warrior Calgacus, who resisted the conquering Roman legions poised before him.

His speech is worth remembering. Part of it goes: But there are no more nations beyond us; nothing is there but waves and rocks and the Romans, more deadly still than thesefor in them is arrogance which no submission or good behavior can escape. Pillagers of the world, they have exhausted the land by their indiscriminate plunder, and now they ransack the sea. A rich enemy excites their cupidity; a poor one, their lust for power. East and West alike have failed to satisfy them. They are the only people on the earth to whose covetousness both riches and poverty are equally tempting. To robbery, butchery, and rapine, they give the lying name of government; they create a desolation and call it peace.

Shortly thereafter, Calgacus got his butt kicked by superior Roman numbers, technology, and tactics. But, as you know, the story doesnt stop there. One day, the people of Rome reaped the consequences of their actions and appetites. One day, they got to experience peace in their own land, and finally came to know what Calgacus was talking about.

kberger@seattleweekly.com

 
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