(A poem follows this piece)
Ours is a species given to naming and numbering people, places and things. “Things” include epochs, eras and ages, though we don’t all agree on how to count. Presently, for example, we are in year three of the newest 5,125-year cycle according to the Mayans. Muslims count this year as the 1,436th since Muhammad fled from Mecca to Medina, and Christians count it as the 2,015th since the birth of Christ. For the Chinese, we are in year 4,713, and the Jewish calendar counts it as year 5,775, starting with the Creation. It is the 239th year since we Americans declared our independence from England, but here are two additional numbers, fashioned especially for us, for ages in which we concurrently live but may not realize or choose to acknowledge: 70 and 62.
This coming August will mark the 70th year since we became the only people in the world to ever kill fellow human beings by using nuclear weapons. August also will mark the 62nd year since we overthrew the freely, fairly and democratically elected secular government of Iran, creating the circumstances leading to that nation’s descent into the fascism of theocracy and supposed quest for an atomic bomb. Having foisted these two tragedies upon the world, we now find ourselves scrambling to contain the fallout.
There have been innumerable “evils” that have come into the world as the result of the mythical opening of Pandora’s Box, but the most salient point to be taken from that ancient story is that the box did not open itself. We do these things to ourselves and – if left unresolved – to those who come after us. Ask those who lived through World War II if using the uranium bomb called Little Boy and the plutonium one named Fat Man were evil acts, and you will seldom get “Yes” as an answer. That generation of Americans saw ending the war in that way as a moral imperative. They believed it would have been immoral to subject war-weary soldiers to the horrors of trying to capture the Japanese homeland; better Japan suffer a new and different sort of horror instead. That was the simple calculation. Never mind that the Germans, the very people who made us fear a nuclear weapon was being prepared against us, had been defeated. There was no suspicion of the Japanese being able to carry out such an attack, but exhaustion made expediency seem right.
Now, these many years later, a nation comprised of citizens who either were not born or were children in August of 1945 and 1953 is engaged in what many see as a futile attempt to delay Iran’s entry into that rarefied class of nuclear-armed nations. President Obama, born in August of 1961 and now placed in the untenable position of having to slow Iran’s roll, is pilloried for not doing so to the satisfaction of the right-wing factions of Israel and this country. It would be political suicide for him to point out the breathtaking hypocrisy of telling the Iranians they can’t do what we do. Iran may acquiesce (or appear to) initially, but anyone who believes it will do so for long had better search such names as Darius, Cyrus, or Xerxes. With the exception of China, all the other nations telling Iran “No” are upstarts.
We have played Dr. Frankenstein so often that we have created many monsters we now have to placate or destroy. Add to this the fact we knew some of our acts of creation were not well-intended, but performed them anyway. We can’t blame all of it on our forbears, as we appear set on making some of the same mistakes and leaving the consequences for our descendants. It seems we are in need of that one thing that never escaped from Pandora’s Box, the thing left in the bottom – Hope.
There’s a tale of a man from Palestine
who had a certain way of making wine.
It is said he needed nothing other
than the expressed wishes of his mother,
to which he simply added water.
This was at a wedding he attended
at the home of one whom he’d befriended,
giving his host a chance to proudly say
“The best wine was saved ’til the end of day
in honor of the bride, my daughter.”
And all agreed it was indeed the best,
its qualities much finer than the rest,
not knowing how such wine had come to be,
for there had been no one else there to see
but the servants, who saw everything:
The mother and son in playful dispute,
she saying “You can no longer refute
my point that it would please the wedding guests
if you would deign to do as I request.
They have no more wine, now do something!”
He turned to the servants and they to him.
He asked for water in jars to their brims.
They poured as he had instructed them to,
and saw what wishes and water will do,
and believed nothing was beyond reach.
This all may be just a drunkard’s story,
told to bring himself a moment’s glory,
but many other legends have been told
about this Palestinian of old,
every one a wondrous tale each.