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Comment Dated Mar 15, 2006


The notion of chivalry--one of the many things learned from the Arabs and brought back to Europe by the Crusaders, a rather smelly and barbaric lot--was a great step forward in the effort to civilize humanity. Differences should be settled by procedures premised on restraint and respect for the rights of others, not by the fists and clubs of the biggest bullies on the block, or by males resorting to their greater strength and size. As with many good ideas it worked better in some times and places than in others, and appealing to rights in the earlier days of the American West could be an uncertain business until the Colt .45 appeared and became known as The Great Equalizer. It seems to me that we could do with a bit more chivalry on the international scene these days. Not that things seem to have changed very much. As the Athenian historian Thucydides put it in the 5th century B.C.: "The strong do as they will. The weak suffer as they must." And the number of people I hear from or talk to who see nothing wrong with such a state of things, applaud it as natural, and assert it as necessary for "progress" gives little reason to hope that much is likely to change anytime soon. Needless to say, they're all on the side of the super-armed big guys. The nuclear-tipped ICBM was perhaps the most successful weapons system ever conceived by man. It achieved exactly what it was designed to do: Deterrence. Had it ever been used, it would have failed. For 40 years, every speaker's rostrum, pulpit, podium, and microphone was just 20 minutes away from the other guy's launch site. Everybody was in the trenches. That's what I call real democracy. And in all that time, not one of the illustrious war-hawks who liked to talk tough dared actually do anything beyond bombing and invading places not big enough to hit back. Now that the risk has abated, they've come out of their funk holes and are back in business, sending other people's kids off and telling them how glorious it all is. So maybe it would a great move toward advancing international chivalry if, instead of getting hysterical about other nations exercising their sovereign right to defend themselves by acquiring nuclear weapons, the world were to encourage them to do so. After all, Iraq didn't have any, and look what happened to them. Maybe poorer countries in possession of great natural resources that make irresistible targets, who can't afford their own Bomb, should be supplied a few free by the UN. Agreed, it would be nicer if human nature gave reason for hope that something less drastic might work. But once everyone in the West was packing a gun, it didn't take very long for better manners to prevail.