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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Vicious Bastard

I have a game for my PC called "Giants." In its introduction, two adventurers are in an aircraft flying over an unexplored planet. One climbs outside the ship prior to landing via his portable jet, but the canopy closes over his jetpack as he is reaching for it. He yells. His buddy, the pilot, opens the canopy too soon, and the unfortunate adventurer drops away and down onto an unintended spot on the hostile planet.

The fellow quickly picks himself up, shakes his fist at the sky with all the rage at his command, and with his definite English accent screams from the very depths of his soul, "YOU VIC-C-IOUS BASTARD!" Then, in the next second, he whips out a Union Jack and jabs it into the ground. A second later, while his back is turned, a pterodactyl-like bird swoops in, scoops up the flag, and flies off with it.

That scene is done in such a way that I never tire of watching it!

Cut to a recent issue of "Awake!". It's the more interesting of the two periodicals that the Jehovah's Witnesses always leave, because it contains informative articles and briefly noted items of a decidedly side-off-the-wall, non-religious nature. This time the article that caught my eye was about a island that, following an earthquake, suddenly rose into view just outside the territorial waters of Sicily, back in 1831. Very quickly it reached a height of 200 feet and a width of two and a half miles.

The first few observers just gaped, but then a British warship happened along, and a lieutenant in the crew became the first person to step ashore. He stayed just long enough to plant a Union Jack and claim the new island for ye olde English. He also gave the island a name, "Graham Island," after the then Lord of the Admirality.

Somewhat tardily the Sicilians then claimed the island and named it "Ferdinand," after their king. Then the French happened along and planted their flag and named the place "Julia." Apparently the French weren't in as much of a brown-nosing mood as the British and the Sicilians, because they satisfied themselves with citing merely that glorious month in which I was to be born exactly 100 years later, July.

After just a couple of months, however, Julia sank back into the sea and hasn't been seen since. But geologists say the spot is still active and the island could show up again. If it does, the U.K., Italy, and France all stand ready to renew their claims, and in some quarters a fight is still being waged over the island's ownership.

I like the conclusion that the "Awake!" writer reached:

"The tale of the island that appeared -- and then disappeared -- has thus become another sad page in the story of human rulership."

Cut to my childhood and what the globe looked like then. I've always been intensely interested in geography, and in those days a great deal of the countries were colonies, which were given the colors of the colonizers. And since the British had been so assiduous about grabbing territory, it was a running geographical joke that so much of the globe was pink. I always marveled at how such a little island was able to claim so much of the planet.

It was technology that did it for the British, rather than vision, the same as is happening for the U.S. today. They managed to get big leads in shipbuilding, communications, weaponry, navigation, military organization, and other fields. So it was easy for them -- much of the time -- to get there first with the most. Plus the British had the tradition of the Grand Tour, which they extended from mere pleasure outings to Italy and Greece to braving all the mysteries and dangers that our planet still had to offer.

But eventually, by the latter half of the 1800's, the British began to think that they might be over-extended, and when in 1886 an unbalanced Ethiopian warlord named Theodore imprisoned a big bunch of English citizens who'd had the temerity to visit and even to work in his beautiful mountain land, the U.K. bent over backwards to avoid invading. But eventually they felt they had no choice -- purely, they said, for the purposes of rescue.

It's truly a wonder to read, in "The Blue Nile" by Alan Moorehead, about the incredible amount of preparations that the British made for that incursion. It sounds very similar to what the Bushes did in the case of Irag, 1991 and 2003 combined, but more impressive, due to the times and the much more difficult terrain of Ethiopia.

I say all that to lead up to this quote from "The Blue Nile," which was published more than 40 years ago but sounds so familiar:

"In the end, as always happens in every expedition, Napier [the British commander] found that he had underestimated the number of men he required, or rather, by a sort of military Parkinson's Law they multiplied themselves."

Napier was successful. His situation was simpler, however, and he was smarter and he did all his homework. None of that can be said for the present "guests" in Iraq -- in which, after the English were already burned badly in that country just 80-some years ago, another Britisher has managed to let himself likewise get sunk hip deep in mire in the same place. But so far Blair has avoided shaking his fist at his uncaring buddy, Bush, up there in the cockpit.


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