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 Big Words, Old Dreams 

July 16, 2007 
Big Words, Old Dreams 
indent“Don’t use big words for little matters,” Dr. Samuel Johnson scolded James Boswell. And Johnson knew some big words. In his great 1755 Dictionary, he defined network, as “anything reticulated or decussated, at equal distances, with interstices between the intersections.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Today's column is "Big Words, Old Dreams" -- Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.Big Words, Old Dreams indentUnlike most people, Johnson used big words with care and precision as well as humor. But in this case he wasn’t talking about polysyllables; he was reproaching casual exaggeration. It may cause more trouble than outright lying.

Big Words, Old Dreams 
indentIn a televised interview this last week, Virginia’s Republican senator, John Warner, spoke of “our vital interests” in the Middle East, naming first among these the security of Israel. Talk about using big words for little matters! Does this man listen to himself? You expect loose talk from politicians, but there should be some limits.

Big Words, Old Dreams 
indentA vital interest is one your survival may depend on; it is not the same thing as an emotional preference. No matter how much you love the Zionist state, it’s absurd to say it represents “our vital interests.” The opposite is more nearly true. We are embroiled in endless futile wars in the Middle East because our government supports Israel — a state based entirely on what in this country would be flagrantly illegal racial and religious discrimination — no matter what it does. It’s hard to say which is the worst feature of American policy in the Middle East, its shameless venality and hypocrisy or its sheer irrationality. It would make some sense only if huge oil reserves were discovered under Tel Aviv.

Big Words, Old Dreams 
indentPossibly Warner meant by the phrase our vital interests something like the survival of crooked politicians such as myself. Yes, that might explain it!

Big Words, Old Dreams 
indentPut it this way. Just when did creating a Jewish state in the Middle East, antagonizing Arabs, Muslims and Christians alike, become a vital American interest? Did anyone think we needed this before Harry Truman recognized Israel in 1948? Did even Truman himself, who was probably bribed to do it, have the gall to pretend it would actually help us?

Big Words, Old Dreams 
indentNothing in the writings of our Founding Fathers argues that the United States should be a “superpower,” or have a global empire, or send armies into Arabian deserts. Nor is there the faintest suggestion that the president of the United States should be the most powerful man in the world, or even in this country. How did we get to this point?

[Breaker quote for Big Words, Old Dreams: Which interests are "vital"?]Big Words, Old Dreams indentI sometimes joke that the difference between Europe and America is this: European heads of state speak good English. This is more than a swipe at our president’s difficulty with language; I mean that if we can’t master the language of Jefferson and Madison, we are fatally cut off from our own past. That is also the point of my frequent observation that the U.S. Constitution poses no serious threat to our form of government. Neither President Bush nor Senator Warner seems able to measure his words; so both are in the habit of using very big words for very small matters.

Big Words, Old Dreams 
indentModern government, and maybe most government at most times, is more like dictatorship — some men forcing their will on others — than like the harmony of a contented family, where the rules are taken for granted and quarreling is the exception. Government, as someone has said, is neither reason nor persuasion, but force. The mystery is why we still expect good to come of it. Yet men who don’t believe in God easily believe in a benevolent state, or even in the Iraq war, in blind defiance of history and experience.

Big Words, Old Dreams 
indentThe original idea of the state of Israel was that a Jewish state — not necessarily in the Middle East — would be self-sufficient, not dependent on anyone else, certainly not a burden to the United States. It would give the world’s Jews a “normal” nationality and refuge from anti-Semitism. That was the dream. At the time it seemed plausible, even inspiring, though a few prescient people had their doubts and predicted ceaseless trouble.

Big Words, Old Dreams 
indentBut today we take for granted that Israel is this country’s responsibility (politely called an ally rather than a client) and that its enemies must be ours too. Politicians assume (though politeness also forbids them to say) that American Jews owe their chief allegiance to the “Zionist entity.” The old nightmare of “dual loyalty” has come to seem quaint: dual? If only it were!

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2007 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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