The Weapons of Greatness
But not to perish of internal distress and uncertainty when one inflicts great suffering and hears the cry of this suffering—that is great, that belongs to greatness.
When a tornado cuts a swath through a town, it levels the buildings in minutes. Earthquakes will rip asunder entire cities in less than an hour. Volcanoes can bury villages in a day or two. As long as humans have lived on this earth, they have been subject to large-scale and rapid forms of devastation—by the forces of nature.
Awed by this immense power, humans have emulated nature’s forces by inventing their own quick and extensive methods of devastation. They are referred to as weapons of mass destruction. Having them, and reaping benefits from threats and actual uses of them, are testimony to one’s greatness.
In earlier times these inventions were put to use by engulfing enemies in flames, exploding their defenses with dynamite or cannon balls, dropping them with the rapidity of machine guns, or burning their lungs with mustard gas. In the last century the potential for destruction has dared the limits of our imagination. Not only can civilizations surpass the power of volcanoes and earthquakes, they now are able to simulate the explosive energies of the sun and incinerate whole populations in little more than a blink of an eye. They have approached the forces of a malevolent deity.
In this light, it is strange that those who led the debates prior to the invasion of Iraq include the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia, and Germany. Think of countries that have engaged in weapons of mass destruction, and these six rank among the top candidates for greatness. Britain’s firebombing of Dresden and massacre of peaceful marchers in India, Germany’s deployment of mustard gas in Ypres and Kyclon B in its gas chambers, and America’s release of napalm and Agent Orange in Vietnam form only a partial list.
Russia (as the former Soviet Union) and China have used their tools of devastation on neighboring peoples and millions of their own. Britain and France, as well as any country with colonies, required weapons of mass destruction to efficiently control natives in far-away lands. Although the United States and France spare their citizens additional taxes, this is achieved by trafficking weaponry to numerous armies throughout the world. Each of these six countries, of course, sought or has the trigger to a nuclear bomb. (Only one pulled the trigger). In other words, each has blood dripping from its hands.
Yet to acquire greatness demands considerable bloodletting. It is not enough to give the world Bach, Edison, Tchaikovsky, Picasso, Shakespeare, or Confucius. Works of beauty or creativity might inspire the awe of love, but not the awe of fear. Political greatness seeks the latter.
Saddam Hussein, who ascended to power by torturing and executing fellow Iraqis, must realize this. While those debating his future are not personally brutal, this comparison is probably futile. For this war with Iraq is more than a battle between President George Bush and his lackeys versus the forces of evil and their acolytes. It transcends the quest for cheap oil or United Nations accords.
The current debate is among powers of greatness and whether they will tolerate another aspiring power. This debate does not require consistency. One decade UN council members call Hussein an ally, the next they call for his exile or death. Over 250,000 soldiers have attacked Iraq, though North Korea poses a greater nuclear threat.
Not only are the powers of greatness capricious, their debates lack earnestness. Speculating on the nature of future wars, British physicist David Langford pointed out that atom bombs were given names such as Little Boy, Grand Slam, and Davy Crockett. Today, euphemisms such as “smart bombs” or “precision missiles” conceal the fact that this invasion of Iraq is not only aimed at one of Saddam’s palaces, but is obliterating Iraqi civilians.
The likelihood of this, however, should not cause distress for today’s powers. As Nietzsche observes, they did not reach greatness through empathy, but by turning a deaf ear to the cries of suffering their greatness produces.
Alexander E. Hooke is professor of philosophy at Villa Julie College in Stevenson, Md.
Copyright © 2003 The Baltimore Chronicle and The Sentinel. All rights reserved. We invite your comments, criticisms and suggestions.
Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle and Sentinel content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.
This story was published on April 5, 2003.