Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Darkness Held The Monster

With great power, comes great responsibility. You may scoff at a line from a comic book, but the origin of the words bears nothing upon their meaning. It is true -- great power, used responsibly, can cure the ills of humanity. Used inappropriately, or with caprice, such power can sow darkness, despair, and destruction. There is no greater power than our own minds, the engine that drives us. Within the electrochemical workings of our synapses lie the ability to turn our knowledge into power, and that power into action. If we do not think, do not apply our knowledge to a task, or wield our knowledge loosely, we stand to make bad situations worse, and horrible situation catastrophic.

Victor Frankenstein found this out, when he took his knowledge of life and matter, and sought to imbue dead flesh with life once more, strapping together a new human being from parts of old human beings. The import of this was lost on him, so mad was he with the desire to see his knowledge writ large across history as the man who defied death's grip. He did not see the bigger picture, did nothing to enfold the greater sum of humanity into the the equation. He simply brought his creation to life, and thus his grisly jigsaw puzzle of humanity was born of madness and electricity, and would eventually turn out to be his death in the Arctic wastes. His irresponsibility caught up with him.

Mary Shelley's cautionary tale, and Stan Lee's words of wisdom, stand testimony to that which humanity cannot ever seem to come to grips with, truly: what we do, and how we do it, returns to us in the end. If we do not think ahead, we will find ourselves in pursuit of our own monster, loosed upon the world through our oversight.

In the death of Osama bin Laden, we have, thankfully, excised one of our terrible creations from the world. As much as we may be pleased he is gone, and thank the heavens that our President was able to finally bring him to justice -- though not the kind most of us would have liked -- we find it easy amidst the celebration and cheering to forget a salient fact: we made him. No, we did not fashion the man from clay, nor did we plant the seeds of a radicalized form of Islam within him, but we did exacerbate his fundamentalism with our actions, cumulative actions that have never painted us in a very good light in that region we call the Middle East. It was not as simple as the United States placing military forces in Saudi Arabia to combat the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait; the radical Islam of bin Laden and his adherents is a potent brew of over a thousand years of Christian persecution, empire building, and second-class citizenship on the world stage. Were it not for petroleum, life blood of the world, the Middle East might be a disregarded remnant of a longer vanished time.

The imperial powers of the world always sought to corner the market on the precious resources of the world -- oil was no different. The Dutch, the British, America... all sought to secure the precious fluid wherever it might be located. That led to a great deal of involvement in Africa, from outright Imperial ambition, to business dealings, to power-brokering with foreign governments. In the end, a complicated web of interactions, associations, and above all, misinterpretations, allowed countries such as America and states such as the Soviet Union, to fall prey to the idea they could "control" the Middle East, through trade and technology, and enfolding African nations in the Cold War. This led to the creation of puppet governments, the suppression of liberty in these nations, and a simmering hatred of the "infidels" who supported the corrupt governments.

Eventually, with the OPEC oil embargo of 1973, the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the Iran-Iraq war, and the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan in 1980, the playing field was irrevocably altered. No longer were foreign nation free actors in affairs of oil, and now the rest of the world was easily held hostage to events in the Middle East. It went beyond the desire to deny Israel a right to exist; the hidden anger was finally rising to the surface, and more radical forms of Islam were seeing the corruption and turmoil as by-products of Western influence.

It all might have remained a rather tumultuous and fractious sphere, but eventually the aspirations of some could not be contained. Saddam Hussein upped the ante, and turned his eyes -- and his armies -- on his rich neighbor Kuwait. This monster, forged by the U.S. to be a counter to a hostile Iran, shook off the yoke of his Western backers and determined he would be his own actor, taking what he needed to fulfill his own grandiose desires and fill his empty coffers from his unsuccessful conflict with Iran. The chain of dominoes, begun a century ago, now picked up its pace. America had to respond to the outrage it helped create, forced to check its own creation, and secure precious oil resources by defending Saudi Arabia and freeing Kuwait.

"Infidels" on Saudi Arabian soil, would lead a product of another conflict, the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, to choke down his own bile and froth at the mouth. Osama bin Laden, once a pawn against the Soviets, now became a knight against what he saw as an American "invasion" of Saudi Arabia. A seed planted a decade earlier, now bloomed and blossomed into a bitter harvest.

So, if we are to take any joy from the death of the man responsible for the planning and backing of the attacks of September 11th, let that joy be steeped in the knowledge that his death now may provide closure, but his life was a product of our machinations overseas. This was a monster we

In this writing of the tale, the monster dies, and if we think that is the end of the tale, then we have not learned our lesson. Our actions spawn other actions, myriad chains of happenstance that will, without our knowledge, coalesce in ways we cannot yet imagine. Our place in the world as its lone superpower does not entitle us to become arbiters or judges of how the world will operate. The lesson we must take from this is that our actions have far-reaching consequences, and we would be well to study things carefully before assuming any course of action is the right course. What we do can alter the course of humanity's growth. We have the power -- let us start using it responsibly.

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