“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”

“A man’s memory may almost become the art of continually varying and misrepresenting his past, according to his interests in the present.”

George Santayana
In our own national pride and belief in American Exceptionalism we refuse to look up from our narrow view of the world and realize that we just cannot fix the world. Oh, we can punish, maybe we can slow the problem for a moment, but create a long term solution, not with guns or rockets, troops or covert missions.

The problems of the Middle East have been brewing and stewing for hundreds, if not thousands, of years and the festering of what started as local issues has become a collection of cultural hatreds that can only be solved by the people involved.

Look at the aftermath of the Iraq war, peace is not really known there, Shia and Sunni are still fighting, cultural minorities are hardly safe and welcome in the country, was this the goal of all those years of blood on our hands as a nation, is Iraq better than it was before?

Now we have Syria. We are banging the war drums and it is beginning to look like the politicians may just give the go ahead, will it solve the issue?

Bashar al-Assad, presuming he authorized the chemical attacks, has shown that he is a desperate man and is not interested in any kind of justice. You can attempt to punish men like that but they just get more desperate, and desperate men are capable of atrocities that our minds cannot wrap themselves around.

Sadly, as much as I mourn the loss of life that has and is likely to come, if you hand power to someone else without them being actually ready and prepared, you have not solved the problem, at best you have put a Band-Aid on it. The problem will return in a cultural conflict, it cannot do otherwise.

It seems that if power is handed to someone, they are rarely aware of just what a potentially dangerous and deadly responsibility it truly is. Sadly it takes going through the crucible to burn away the lust for power and make one appreciate peace, not pretty, but true. By going through the crucible, the emergent leader(s) are in a much better place to know the value of what they do, their friends and comrades were sacrificed to “win” the goal so the power has an extremely personal value.

When countries like ours insert themselves into the conflicts of others, especially cultural ones, we create an illusion we like to call stability, but our history of cultural insertion has not shown that we make good choices. Our people who supposedly “know” what they are doing actually come off in the rear-view of history to appear something akin to gullible.

Just because someone supported us in fighting their battle, does not mean that they are the leader that needs to rise, or that they have any interest in following the path that we would want them to, not that I find that to be a particularly brilliant motivation. Look at our history of imposed leadership in the Middle East, the Shah of Iran (that turned out well), Saddam Hussein (another success).

We like to say that our involvement is over the support of Israel, and somewhat it is, but if we take an honest look, it is about money as oil. What is really sad, is that about a hundred years ago, the people of the region felt, ‘Americans were seen as good people, untainted by the selfishness and duplicity associated with the Europeans’[1] and now we have become the selfish and duplicitous.

I like to think that under all the greed for oil, that part of it is that as a nation we see a collection of our fellow humanity in pain and are just clueless how to help them, but instead of sitting back and figuring out the big picture and actually creating long-term solutions to the benefits of the residents, we see a place where we can charge in like General Custer and in our pride just make it worse.

Every time someone talks about the US entering some country’s civil war, I think of an old “Doonsebury” cartoon from the Vietnam era. B.D., our pro Vietnam War Conservative has managed to get lost in the rice paddies of a foreign country and be taken prisoner by Phred, a Viet-Cong “terrorist”. In the strip I am thinking of, they are discussing the early years of the war and B.D. just is not getting why Phred doesn’t see American involvement into the war his way, so Phred asks him, what would he think if the Vietnamese had shown up in Gettysburg and started handing out chocolate and chewing gum?

Now we have Syria, as much as the questions being asked are about chemical warfare and the response that should be made, once again America is threatening to react instead of thinking. For sure the Military-Industrial Complex is lobbying hard for the war, war is BIG business. What frightens me the most is that being so close to the anniversary of September 11th, can our slow minded politicians separate the two? I would love to be able to say that I am sure they will make the right decision, but now all I can do is hope.

What is that decision? That is the question. Do we really currently know enough about what we are getting into? Are we seeing, or can we see, the big picture? What happens if we take the path being placed before us and President Assad does it again, are we ready to go round two, or three or all out war?

Large chunks of the Middle East are going through amazing growth now, it is violent and painful to be part of and to watch. If we have any hope of lasting success in the area, I think we may just have to sit back and let them do it, on their own, without big-brother walking in and forcing solutions that they are not ready or willing to accept. Left to themselves, they will likely come to them on their own. Can we have the faith, that as human-beings, they will learn an extremely hard lesson on their own, as it should be.


  1. Fawcett, L. (2005) The International Relations of the Middle East UK: Oxford University Press p 285

Written by R. A. Burgener

After finishing the 850 mile trek of self-rediscovery on California's El Camino Real from San Diego to Sonoma, California, Robert continued, via Greyhound, to Portland, Oregon, where he is becoming familiar with the concepts of weather and seasons after 30 years in Los Angeles.

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