On Native Ground
THE LAMPS ARE GOING OUT
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- This is a very weird time.
Maybe the equivalent might be August 1914, when a handful of self-confident men who had planned for years for war plunged Europe into four years of bloody conflict that left about 20 million soldiers and civilians dead at the end of it all.
The leaders of France, Britain, Germany and Russia had no idea that this was going to happen when they set into motion what became known as The Great War. This passage from Barbara W. Tuchman's book "The Guns of August" fits the present moment all too well.
"In the month of August 1914," wrote Tuchman, "there was something looming, inescapable, universal, that involved us all. Something in that awful gulf between perfect plans and fallible men that makes one tremble with the sense of 'There but for the grace of God go we.'"
The leaders of Germany and France were convinced in 1914 that any war between them would last no longer than six weeks. They didn't figure on the carnage that actually happened or the postwar consequences that ultimately led to the Second World War.
This perhaps is the greatest lesson one can draw from Tuchman's Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the opening month of the First World War - that wars rarely go according to plan and have consequences that are far-reaching and totally unpredictable.
When Tuchman's book came out in 1962, President Kennedy gave a copy of it to British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in the hope that the events of August 1914 would not be repeated. Somehow, I don't think that President Bush or anyone in his circle of advisors has read "The Guns of August."
If they did, we wouldn't be getting ready to invade Iraq.
This now apparently inevitable war will likely be ferocious, quick and ultimately victorious for the U.S. But the real war may come immediately afterward, when the retaliatory attacks reach our shores.
And don't forget North Korea, which unlike Iraq, does possess nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. They, and every other country that's on the Bush administration's hit list, are not going to sit back and wait for the bombs to fall on them.
The rest of the world has loudly expressed its opposition to course that the Bush administration has embarked upon - an endless war against a long list of enemies deemed a threat to American security.
In the eyes of the Bush administration, the United Nations no longer matters. Long-time alliances no longer matter. Common sense no longer matters. All these things are meaningless little obstacles in this nation's pursuit of a policy first articulated by the Roman Emperor Caligula - "Oderint dum metuant" (Let them hate us as long as they fear us).
In a recent interview with BuzzFlash.com, Mark Crispin Miller - author of "The Bush Dyslexicon" - talked about this surrealistic moment in time.
"Daily life has taken on the quality of nightmare," Miller said. "We look on at horror after horror; protest en masse, and watch the world protest, to no avail; see utter mediocrity exalted, moral idiocy flaunted, fraud and thievery rewarded; hear black called white and white called black. No one in power says anything that makes a lick of sense. And then you flip on CNN, where everybody's acting like it's normal. Well, it isn't normal. And I think the majority of people in this country know it. They're the majority that voted against President Bush - some 53 percent. So it's very strange, and painful, to be made to think that you're alone in your perceptions."
But then again, as Noam Chomsky once pointed out, "The beauty of our system is that it isolates everybody."
Our news media has completely gone in the tank for this war. Dissent has been pushed to the margins and common sense has caught the last plane out.
It will be even worse once the invasion of Iraq begins.
I feel like a stranger in my own country. In two short years, a group of evil, scheming men have destroyed our democracy at home and ruined our nation's standing in the world.
We have become the ultimate rogue state.
The feeling I have now is the feeling that Britain's Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey had on Aug. 3, 1914, the night before England declared war on Germany after the Germans invaded Belgium in the opening engagement of World War I. As he and a friend stood in Whitehall that evening, looking out the window as the street lamps were being lit, Grey said: "The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime."
The world, and America's place in it, is about to change irrevocably. Darkness is descending upon us and we may not see the lamps lit again in our lifetime.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).