Other Civilizations Disappeared But What of Ours?

At Persepolis, stone carvings bear witness to tribute paid to Persian kings by other great rulers and former empires. Iran was once a great breadbasket of the world. But the Greeks stopped their advance and much of Iran is now a desert. But not America.

The great civilization of Greece disintegrated. Alexander the Great conquered much of the then known world, burning Persepolis along the way. His empire fell apart. But not the world’s only superpower.

Rome ruled from the Mediterranean to the Indus Valley. Its armies over-extended, it was conquered by barbarians. But America can keep the world at bay.

The Anasazi or Ancestral Puebloans in the American southwest suddenly deserted their cliff houses and their civilization disappeared. Unfavorable climate change contributed to the loss of their homelands. Not long before a similar fate befell the Maya who ruled much of central America, and boasted sophisticated mathematics, writing, and science. They too largely disappeared, to reemerge, perhaps, as the underlings in new nations conquered by Europeans.

The same fate befell once powerful civilizations across the great Silk Road, the Indus Valley and China, in Africa and the Americas, as they weakened themselves with war and could not control the environment which decreed that it was the turn of some other people to enjoy the right proportions of sun and rain.

But it couldn’t happen to us.

Our science will protect us. Like alchemists of old, they will produce oxygen and cool the planet when we need them to work their magic, although they themselves have no idea how.

Our entrepreneurs would protect us if we only freed them from regulation so they could clear, burn, dig, drill and change the land and consume plentiful resources while burning oxygen, the cheapest resource, cheap because we haven’t figured out how to charge for it.

Our armies will protect us, athough new forms of warfare have emerged that are much more intractable, that changed the balance between insurgents and large armies in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and are spreading. Our counterinsurgency response can be charitably described as a work in progress, not a proven strategy, while our own population is a potential hostage to terrorism.

I have little faith in patriots with their eyes closed who assure us that we are the greatest as an excuse for failing to deal with our challenges, for blocking efforts to protect the fragile environment that has made America a breadbasket where things can get done, for blocking efforts to resolve by negotiation conflicts that sap our strength and our resolve, for blocking efforts to unify our people instead of letting us destroy ourselves in the war of all against all that some want to call unregulated freedom.

It is not true that we can’t see into the future. But it is clear that there are too many here and around the world who refuse to address the real problems we face, preferring instead to glory in their anger and denigrating cooperation as if America were built by our Founders spitting in each other’s eyes. “We have,” said Pogo, “met the enemy and he is us.”

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, November 19, 2013.

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