Sunday, August 14, 2005

"Waiting For The Barbarians"

I'm cheating.
Somebody among my referrals was looking for this poem in a Google search and the search hit this post from last November. I had completely forgotten about it, but now that I see it again I really like it. Better than before. All I have to do to is change the time and date and's back on top!
In November it was referring to the upcoming election. But now it can be understood as the end of the war in Iraq. (I think it is euphemistically being called the "transition period" as we leave that torn and bruised land with fingers crossed, hoping the place doesn't implode in civil war.)
Looks like the barbarians haven't followed the game plan very well. They were expected to swarm over to the battlefield like a bunch of insects to be killed out as a group. Instead they have stayed in their respective homelands -- Britain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Germany, wherever -- making mischief all over the place. The Global War on Terrorism looks a lot more global indeed than it did when it was announced.
Meantime the democratically elected leadership in Iraq seems to be cozying up with their former enemies in Iran. Uh, except for the Sunnis at one end who can't seem to tolerate their Shi'ite duly elected "leaders." And also those contrary Kurds at the other end of the country who want their own separate country.
Not to worry, though. There will always be plenty of barbarians to go around. When you are the United States you can find them no matter where you look. I don't think we will be hurling stones at too many other countries, however, for a couple of reasons. First of all, we will have to start some diplomatic smooth talk, damage control, if you will, for our conduct over the last couple of years. Also, a good many candidate countries have contributed new Americans whose military service puts them on the fast track to US citizenship. It would be impolitic to malign their various mother countries. I'm working on a post about that for later.
I think the plan is to shift the focus of patriots from the putative enemies who have been killing off our children in uniform to the domestic traitors who spoke out against the war. Timing is very important here. If things end too quickly, voters will forget the details by the next presidential election. It is important, then, that there be some freshly-spilled blood (not too much, though) maybe even as late as 2007.
If they play their cards right, the party in power can pin any problems, social, economic or military, on those whose less than enthusiastic support for this war have become the barbarians in our midst whose lack of understanding is the font of all problems. See how that works?

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn't anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

Because the barbarians are coming today.
What laws can the senators make now?
Once the barbarians are here, they'll do the legislating.

Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting at the city's main gate
on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.
He has even prepared a scroll to give him,
replete with titles, with imposing names.

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

Why don't our distinguished orators come forward as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and they're bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people's faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?

Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
And some who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.

And now, what's going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.
This poem has been circulating through the blogosphere lately. I ran across it a couple of places. It seems relevant to election day, since it points to one of the oldest leadership principles in history: we need an external threat to keep us unified. Any student of history can rattle off half a dozen examples, from China (why the Great Wall?) to Germany (Arians against the Jews) to Oceana, imortalized in George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Who might today's barbarians be?

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