I live in Taiwan, and have been slowly picking my way through a children's version of a classic Chinese epic tale, the "San Guo Yan Yi", or The Three Nations Epic.
Dr. Lu, a dentist here in Dongshih, is ably helping me in my determined crawl through the Chinese, and in exchange he gets introduced to new English vocabulary and idioms, and we have some free talk in English.
From time to time a scene from the tale seems to relate directly to a current event in the unfolding American epic, as I think you'll agree...
...after the jump.
Dong Zhuo had been a general, but realized a long-term goal when he invaded Luo Yang, capital of the Wei state. He killed the Emperor and his mother, installed the Emperor's 9-year-old kid brother, and assumed the Emperor's powers.
Few people failed to resent this usurpation, and it was made incrementally more galling by Dong Zhuo's overt tyrannical abuses; daring to sleep in the Emperor's sacred "dragon bed," ordering people about on shameless whims. The situation was intolerable, but seemingly hopeless.
At this time there was a brash young field officer, named Tsao Tsao, admired and trusted by Dong Zhuo. Tsao Tsao privately hated Dong Zhuo as much as anyone, if not more, and saw himself in an ideal position to singlehandedly address the situation.
Prime Minister Wang Yun liked the cut of Tsao Tsao's jib, and together they formed a plan.
Wang Yun gave Tsao Tsao an ancestral battle sword, a Qi Xing, "seven stars," so-named because it's shaped like the Big Dipper. Tsao Tsao would meet Dong Zhuo to present the sword privately, and use the occasion--and the sword--to assassinate him.
Everything was going fairly to plan. Tsao Tsao was admitted into Dong Zhuo's private chamber, with the sword. Dong Zhuo had sent his strong man, Lu Bu, out to the stables to get Tsao Tsao a fresh Mongol horse as a gift. Dong Zhuo laid down on his divan and turned away to call out some further instructions to Lu Bu; neck exposed, a perfect target. But Tsao Tsao hesitated, and the moment was lost; and it was only by dint of some good acting and fast talking that he was able to high-tail it out of there and get away with his life.
After about 5.6 seconds of reflection on the strange circumstance, Dong Zhuo was able to make sense of Tsao Tsao's over-hasty retreat; it was a failed assassination attempt!
Dong Zhuo had dead-or-alive "wanted" posters immediately drawn up and posted throughout the country.
Well, you can imagine that these posters could have two effects; alerting Dong Zhuo's partisans that a malefactor was at-large, but also informing the larger populace that a nascent national savior was in their midst. Fortunately for Tsao Tsao, he encountered the latter before the former, and took refuge in the home of Chen Gong, who agreed that Dong Zhou had the country on the fast track to wrack and ruin, and sympathized with Tsao Tsao's plight.
So Tsao Tsao was safe, for the time being. But how safe was he, really? He knew that Dong Zhuo's soldiers were combing the towns and countryside looking for him; and when they found him, they'd kill him on the spot. He grew more and more paranoid.
He considered putting together an army, and to this end, he and Chen Gong traveled by night together to the home of Lu Bo She. When he heard Tsao Tsao's story, he was deeply moved, and sought to treat his guests honorably, saying he'd go out to get a bottle of wine and would be right back.
So Tsao Tsao was left alone in the room with Chen Gong. Tsao Tsao heard the sound of a knife on a grindstone in the adjacent backyard. The two men crept over to the wall to listen more closely.
They overheard a man saying, "Why don't we just tie him up and slit his throat?"
Tsao Tsao cocked an eye at Chen Gong and whispered, "They're planning to kill us! We have to act now!"
They rushed into the backyard and, with no regard for the gender or apparent station of their victims, killed eight men and women with their knives.
Mere seconds after the deed was done, Chen Gong looked over in the corner and noticed a fat pig--no doubt to be offered as a succulent repast for the honored guests--trussed up and ready for the slaughter. It immediately became clear to him that they'd murdered eight innocent people in a funk-blinded panic, and he cried out "My God! So much death to assuage an ounce of suspicion!"
At this point, I took stock of everything I'd come to know about Tsao Tsao. He was seen as a brave, heroic, idealistic young buck by his peers and betters in the feudal system. He was tapped as "a natural" to achieve the short-term goal of eliminating a tyrant. But what we find out is that; he didn't really have the stick-to-itiveness to follow through on this initial mission; the fear-thwarted initial short-term fix balloons into an arguably self-preserving plan to seek safety in numbers by assembling an army; and the first time his fevered, fearful, self-serving mind is confronted with a dimly perceived threat to his personal well-being, massive wrongful death in the household of a personal partisan is the fruit.
This--with, I think, a modicum of wrangling--is the Blackwater story.
There's a simple lesson here: Brave people shoot last. It's the cowards who shoot first.
Although Tsao Tsao had found himself in a position to have powerful people around him mistake him for a brave man, he was in fact a coward. What is the nature of the blindness that can cause such a mistake in judgment by elite decision-makers? A mistake like this reflects a stark paucity of values, and of moral and character discrimination.
I think this points to the fundamental error of judgment which posits fear as a force that can be directed to desirable ends. Blackwater's techniques are based on inducing fear to affect the "safety" of their charges. But what is the long-term effect? Iraqis, rightfully, conflate the U.S. Army with our hired guns. When someone you love is killed, it doesn't make you feel better--let alone more "on the road to Democracy"--to know that they were killed by a free-market cost/benefit analysis which abstracted the short-term goals of escorting someone through a war zone from long-term Iraqi interests.
In the end, this approach results in panic. This is not the panic which pops up as the classic random factor in the chaos of war, but rather as a predictable outcome when inducement of fear and self-preservation is standard operating procedure.
Our political masters of all stripes feel compelled to frequently intone the reassurance that the men and women of our volunteer military are "brave." And maybe many, if not most, of them are.
What this has to do with the Blackwater, et.al, shadow army is another matter; a matter which is in dire need of political redress.