Thursday, June 29, 2006

An Iliad of Woes

In the third book of the Iliad, the Greeks and Trojans get the brilliant idea of settling their ten-year long war by a single combat between Paris, the abductor of Helen, and Menelaus, the outraged cuckold. For thousands of years now, students have been asking why this solution didn’t occur to anybody before so many warriors had already become a feast for the vultures. I have a similar question as I read about the Iraqi government’s proposal to end the civil war by trading an agreement for the withdrawal of all foreign troops for a general cessation of hostilities. After all, in the immediate aftermath of our invasion, the United States could have promised to leave at a time certain and thus preempted the main motive of the insurrection.

One knows the answer to the Homeric riddle. Troy was doomed. A reasonable composition of the quarrel would have thwarted the will of the Gods, and even a postponed duel between the aggrieved parties could not be allowed to resolve things until every drop of fated blood had been shed. Aphrodite duly intervenes to save Paris before Menelaus can finish him off. Things are much the same in Mesopotamia. In the Iraqi instance, our own Zeus can be counted on to guarantee the continued misery of all concerned, though it may be a challenge to figure out how to twist the arms of our erstwhile local allies and ensure that all five acts of the tragedy be performed before the curtain.

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