The idea was to prove that you were one of the anointed ones who had the right stuff and that you might be able to join that special few at the very top.
- From The Right Stuff,
by Thomas Wolfe
Did you ever want to rule the world - sit on a throne, wear crowns and palatial robes, dwell in perpetual splendor, speak and your every wish was someone elses command? Though most of us outgrew our king-of-the-mountain phase, or set aside our storybooks for the next generation, a few thousand over-achievers in history have tried to keep their delusions of grandeur alive. Some have succeeded. Saddam Hussein is not the first and, should the world continue past the next full moon, he likely will not be the last.
Sometimes the ruler is not just a single person but a country. In the glory days of Babylon, Persia, the Ottomans and Rome, we called the country an empire. Today we call it a superpower.
In a lengthy article in which he combines the past with the present to call The Arrogant Empire (Newsweek, March 24), Fareed Zakaria writes the following about todays only superpower: What worries people around the world above all else is living in a world shaped and dominated by one country - the United States.
But were the good guys. Were not like the rest. We.... Ive pondered this article for days, asking with Zakaria why, when our motives are so good, so much of the world hates us.
Because underneath all our good intentions we really are evil? Because we have a president who doesnt believe in eternal, mollycoddling diplomacy? Because to extend our constitutional right to freedom and homeland equality - an SUV in every garage and heating bills we can all pay - we need the resources (oil) of underling lands? Because we believe war is a necessary deterrent to overpopulation? Because to really, really be a good guy, you have to be at the top of the popularity charts, too?
Though I dont believe any of the above reasons are true - with the possible exception of the one about diplomacy - after reading Zakarias article Im beginning to see why much of the world believes they are true. And history is on their side.
When has a single empire or superpower ever held the interests of the world above their own? Some may have begun their reigns with compassion and idealism but, in the long run, the answer is an obvious never.
Babylon, the cradle of civilization which, in the language of the Old Testament book of Genesis, began as a perfect Garden of Eden, rose to great cultural, political and economic heights, before becoming the scourge of the rest of the ancient world. In time Babylon, which included present-day Iraq, fell to stronger nations who resented their cruel power, and desired to usher in a new and more compassionate world order.
Succeeding empires followed a similar route to greatness, and decline.
We may not recall many details from ancient history, but mention names like Stalin, Hitler or Communism and our memories join in lock step. They were all bad. When one person or group gains too much power, the natural reaction of the rest of us is at least suspicion, and usually fear. Even if we really, really are the good guys, in the words of the satirist John Dryden, When the chosen people grew too strong, The rightful cause at length became the wrong.
I believe in America, in our perhaps too-idealistic cause to rid the world of terror and usher in a more peaceful world. But greatness even in the cause of peace doesnt always win peace prizes, or the thanks of those we sacrifice to save. As Zakaria writes, America may simply have to learn to live in splendid isolation from the resentments of the world.
Or, put another way, going to war for even noble purposes in the Christian season of Lent, reminds us that the One who sought to bring peace to the whole world was put to death by the very people He came to save.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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