The Siege of Merimna

When Halsey’s TF 38 tested the Japanese defenses of the central Philippines in late 1944 the admiral was stunned by the imperial weakness.  “We had found the central Philippines a hollow shell with weak defenses and skimpy facilities. In my opinion, this was the vulnerable belly of the imperial dragon. The time might be ripe not only to strike Manila, but perhaps to mount a far larger offensive. Specifically, I began to wonder whether I dared recommend that MacArthur shift to Leyte the invasion which he had planned for Mindanao, and advance the date well ahead of the scheduled November 15.”


And now in the first months of 2013 the probes are coming the other way.  Too many provocations which once would have drawn a vigorous response from Washington are now completely unanswered. The mighty US government, which once ruled by the power of its reputation alone  seems inert and strangely immobile. Almost as if it were sleeping — or worse.

Hackers have taken over the website of the sentencing commission of the Department of Justice and gleefully distributed confidential material found on it. Now they have posted it to servers and will release the encryption keys unless the administration yields to its demands.

Iran, a third rate power,  contemptuously assuming a tone that once only America could use, has just announced it “would consider any attack on Syria an attack on itself”. It is daring Washington to try to overthrow Syria, daring Obama to take it on almost as if it suspects he will never attempt it.

North Korea, not content with threatening to target the US with its ballistic missiles, is now threatening South Korea. If young Kim fears Obama he is not showing it.

The US government has gone months without catching a single individual linked to the attack on its North African diplomatic installations.  Hillary Clinton lamented that she could not even fire the State Department employees whose incompetence allowed the attacks to happen. The French have been left to largely fend for themselves in Mali, the Western alliance strangely absent from the fray. Algeria did not even bother to consult with the administration when it decided to launch an counterattack al Qaeda at a gas plant that cost dozens of Western lives. They ignored Washington — the once indispensable capital — probably because they could.


President Obama is anxious to negotiate with the Taliban in Afghanistan, eager to end campaign he once called the war of necessity whether victorious or not. Indeed the word “victory” has been expunged from his lexicon. His aides have already hinted that the war against al-Qaeda is now essentially over whoever won. Lee Smith has summarized the situation cogently as follows: “the Obama administration has left [a vacuum] in the region, from Libya to Syria”.

It is a vacuum everywhere. The US government is being treated like a toothless, contemptible thing. It is easy to see why. The US government has been bankrupt for a long time. Obama’s home state of Illinois has had its credit rating trashed to the worst in the country.

But it is not just the regular screwups. What is different is that the foes are openly out in the field without apparent fear. Even judicial conservatives are finding the nerve to take him on. “The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals today invalidated one of President Obama’s most despotic overreaches to date: his attempt to use the Constitution’s recess appointment power to make appointments despite the absence of a recess.”

All across the board a wide variety of people are beginning to suspect something similar to what Halsey found in 1944. That under the bombast and veneer of invincibility the Obama administration is a shambling, incompetent, hollow shell. It has self-admittedly lost control of its borders; it is unable to pass a budget and now for all the world to see it cannot even protect its own diplomatic missions.


But there can be no joy in this collapse even among the President’s worst political opponents. The weakness has exposed everyone who relies on the US for leadership and stability to great and proximate danger.  For the challenges are certain to pick in pace as the hyenas converge from every point of the compass. All across the world people are wondering: what is holding the tent roof up?

The perfect metaphor for the situation created by president Obama was created by Edward Plunkett in his classic short story The Sword of Welleran. In it, a fabled city rich with treasure is defended largely by the memory of its past glory and strength. But now the brigands suspect that the great heroes standing firm upon the wall are but fakes. One evening a pair of raiders, their lives already forfeit climb the wall, and still sick with fear approach the figures whose deeds still struck terror in the hands of the bandits. And they find them nothing but statues.

Now beyond the Cyresians the suspicion grew that Merimna’s heroes were dead, and a plan was devised that a man should go by night and come close to the figures upon the ramparts and see whether they were Welleran, Soorenard, Mommolek, Rollory, Akanax, and young Iraine. And all were agreed upon the plan, and many names were mentioned of those who should go, and the plan matured for many years. It was during these years that watchers clustered often at sunset upon the mountains but came no nearer. Finally, a better plan was made, and it was decided that two men who had been by chance condemned to death should be given a pardon if they went down into the plain by night and discovered whether or not Merimna’s heroes lived….

they arose and came to the ramparts and climbed over them and came at once upon the figure of Welleran, and they bowed low to the ground, and Seejar said: ‘O Welleran, we came to see whether thou didst yet live.’ And for a long while they waited with their faces to the earth. At last Seejar looked up towards Welleran’s terrible sword, and it was still stretched out pointing to the carved armies that followed after Fear. And Seejar bowed to the ground again and touched the horse’s hoof, and it seemed cold to him. And he moved his hand higher and touched the leg of the horse, and it seemed quite cold. At last he touched Welleran’s foot, and the armour on it seemed hard and stiff. Then as Welleran moved not and spake not, Seejar climbed up at last and touched his hand, the terrible hand of Welleran, and it was marble. Then Seejar laughed aloud, and he and Sajar-Ho sped down the empty pathway and found Rollory, and he was marble too. Then they climbed down over the ramparts and went back across the plain, walking contemptuously past the figure of Fear, and heard the guard returning round the ramparts for the third time, singing of Welleran; and Seejar said: ‘Ay, you may sing of Welleran, but Welleran is dead and a doom is on your city.’


Now they call the plunderers from far and wide to descend on the city.

It does not seem too far fetched to imagine that North Korea, Iran, al-Qaeda, China, Russia long held back by the memory of great Americans, are now going to be bolder after finding from their probes that America’s great heroes have gone to their fathers. And all that defends the West’s walls are Kerry, Hagel, Brennan, Holder, Napolitano, Jack Lew and Obama. They may briefly hear Chris Matthews singing the paeans of the Man From Chicago. But they know he is but a hack. ‘Ay, you may sing of Welleran, but Welleran is dead and a doom is on your city.’

Fables, even those as beautiful as Edward Plunkett’s are warnings before they are epitaphs. The curious inability of Washington to go after any who will not be commanded by its words is startling.  Bluff is all they have left and the bluff no longer works. The plunderers are near — they must be nearing — but they have not yet struck. The city is asleep but it may yet awake. America still stands gleaming on the fruited plain, safe still for a while. But for how long while its enemies are roused? Some time, perhaps, but not forever.

Now into Paradise no sorrow may ever come, but may only beat like rain against its crystal walls, yet the souls of Merimna’s heroes were half aware of some sorrow far away as some sleeper feels that some one is chilled and cold yet knows not in his sleep that it is he. And they fretted a little in their starry home. Then unseen there drifted earthward across the setting sun the souls of Welleran, Soorenard, Mommolek, Rollory, Akanax, and young Iraine. Already when they reached Merimna’s ramparts it was just dark, already the armies of the four Kings had begun to move, jingling, down the deep ravine. But when the six warriors saw their city again, so little changed after so many years, they looked towards her with a longing that was nearer to tears than any that their souls had known before, crying to her: ‘O Merimna, our city: Merimna, our walled city. ‘How beautiful thou art with all thy spires, Merimna. For thee we left the earth, its kingdoms and little flowers, for thee we have come away for awhile from Paradise …

‘Thou art in great danger, Merimna, because thou art so beautiful. Must thou perish tonight because we no more defend thee, because we cry out and none hear us, as the bruised lilies cry out and none have known their voices?’


Must it indeed? In Plunkett’s fable Merimna awoke in time to save itself. But Plunkett the author could write his ending to fiction. The people living in 2013’s real world have yet to pen the finish to their own exciting tale.

The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99

Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99

No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99

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