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Phoney War

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After the Nazi's September 1939 invasion of Poland and until the invasion of France the following May there was a lull in overt activity, a strange time that was called by journalists and then historians the "Phoney War." It was a period when people looked around at one another and asked portentious questions, but there were no answers because we did not know what Hitler would do. Perhaps at first he did not know either, but as Poland succumbed and the declarations of war ceased to echo, the plans for the invasion of western and northern Europe were laid out, and the Wehrmacht prepared itself for Blitzkreig in the west. It was a time when frantic politicians in Britain searched for a meaningful response and across the gray Atlantic in the U.S. politicians huddled in their fear of another bloodbath and convinced themselves that isolation was the best policy. The Great Depression was still not done and morale was not good.

There are no neat analogies to the Phoney War today, but there is something eerily familiar about the sense that pervades the American populace, a sense of foreboding, a realization that the guns are loaded, the hammers cocked, the safeties on, but a finger hovers near these last protections, these fulcrums of what may be our destiny. History does not repeat itself. Each event is, nevertheless, conditioned upon everything that has gone before. As we sit here perched on our aerie looking down in to the valley, the shadows of death appear as mere occlusions of sunlight. We forget that war is bloody, and already we have forgotten the realities of nuclear war, although we are its only practitioners.

Sassy Iran sits smartly at the confluence of history again, at the junction of three continents and many cultures, religions, ideologies, and dreams. It is a nation of proud people, many of them quite advanced by western standards, many of them not a bit more advanced over their ancestors ten or twenty generations back. It is a rugged country with a very long history . Iran has decided to parley its strengths and its weaknesses into a position of greater prominence in the world, but the world is already taken, divided and then divided again by cultures who see Iran as much too noisy for its real importance.

The world now has nearly three times as many people as it did in 1939 and quantity is beginning to have a quality all its own. Iran understands its position in the world, albeit from a point of view that is distinctly colored by a rigid orthodoxy and an unconsolable regret that Persia did not permanently influence the world when it might have millennia ago. These features of contemporary Iranian life, its unfulfilled promise and its Islamic orthodoxy, are those which confound planners in the west, in Washington, in the White House and Pentagon. It is a Gestalt problem that sometimes appears as a solution to all that ails the world, yet at a different granularity resolves into a chaos of endless carnage.

The "phoneyness" of the War in Iraq is the gap between these two views of Iran. And, the question is which way will it resolve?

We all remember the man with the umbrella, the nearsighted Neville Chamberlin, Britain's hopeful betrayer of peace. Imagine now his German counterparts, the throng of German patriots, quiescent since the Reichstag fire, submitting to the Enabling Act that gave legislative power to the Nazi government, gone along with certain adjustments to the German borders, agreeing to the Anschluss with Austria, nodding to the acquistion of the Sudetenland, the rearmament, the theatrical nighttime rallies, the quickened pulse, the fever of German nationalism, the compelling strength of German industry and her industrialists, the sense of inevitability that began to pervade the nation, the sense that some forces in history are stronger than individuals, even individuals acting together. Imagine the conscience of a people about to unleash a war in which more than 50 million people would perish!

Imagine then a Congress composed of angry frightened men and women, aching for revenge against the cruel punishment inflicted upon their nation for an unmeant arrogance, for imperialist tinkering with peoples and cultures halfway around the world from their own sometimes sordid mess. Imagine acceding to the invasion of a country for the sheer revengefulness of it and then, pausing, wondering, waiting for a decision about what to do next. Who are these people who say they represent us? What cowards and what pathetic creatures are these sheep, who wielding the nation's will, cannot stand up to tell their presiding officers to sit down!

Whether there is a war against Iran or not depends upon whether the Congress can assert its Constitutional authority or not. So far it has defaulted on its Constitutional responsibility to impeach the President (and the Vice President) for treason, high crimes and misdemeanors, the bill of particulars known to every sentient being on this planet. This Congress is now pretending that it is against the Iraq War, yet unwilling to stop it on the utterly demented idea that cutting off the funding would suddenly and unconscionably strand our fighting forces that are already over there. What nonsense! What perfidy! What utter disrespect for the will of the People of the United States.

We can only hope that the leaders in Congress recognize this landscape and understand that silence is assent, that a failure to declare a principle of no-nuclear-war is the opening the wolves have been looking for. Is it so difficult in Washington these days to speak from humane principles? Are these people so jaded and self-important that they will risk the Republic itself?

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James R. Brett, Ph.D. taught Russian History before (and during) a long stint as an academic administrator in faculty research administration. His academic interests are the modern period of Russian History since Peter the Great, Chinese (more...)

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