Reading Among the Ruins
But outside I was reading Lawrence Freedman’s massive new encyclopedia Strategy: A History, a brilliantly researched and argued survey, beginning with the Bible and the Greeks and ending amid the present nuclear age. I am about a third through, and am eager to finish it, especially after just rereading in September Geoffrey Blainey’s often ironic, but always brilliant four-decade old The Causes of Wars. Both books remind me that these days few of our leaders think all that much anymore in terms of strategy -- what are your aims; are your means commensurate with them; and what results will you be satisfied with? For example, what does this administration want the Middle East to look like: no Mubarak but the Muslim Brotherhood, or instead a coup and junta to replace them all? No evil Gaddafi, but no evil Islamists to replace him; no pro-Western militias (an oxymoron?) that need help? Syria? Free of Assad -- and then what?
Are we producing our own oil and gas to the fullest to free us of Middle Eastern blackmail of the last half-century? Do our efforts aim at a nuclear-free Middle East? Are we pivoting away, as if the Mediterranean is now stagnant again like the 18th century, rather than dynamic in the way of the 16th? Instead, there is no history, no strategy, no grand strategy, only past “game-changer” empty presidential threats to Iran and Syria.
In any case, back to the young parked gangbanger in the new truck (I think that is a fair stereotyped deduction from his tattooed appearance and demeanor). I suggested to him politely that he drive out -- reminding him that he was long ago anticipated by earlier thieves, and now there was nothing in the yard left for him anyway. The ancestral cast iron Fresno scraper of my great grandfather was long ago stolen. So were the two hay rakes, the historic horse-drawn steel sulfur machine, the tiny old discs. The bits and pieces of this farm’s past remain only on the old photographs inside the house. They were long ago taken in the night by the ironmongers, the steel stealers, and the copper wire thieves who traffic daily in someone else’s things that they believe are their own birthrights (but who is to say the one percent’s is not the rightful property of the ninety-nine percenters?).
After all that, I needed an escape. So last night I watched a rerun of The Hobbit on television, while rereading some selections in David Campbell’s Greek Lyric Poetry (in the old Macmillan "red" edition of my youth). I stopped at Tyrtaeus and the ancestral Spartans’ call never to give up: