Friday, July 21, 2006

The Cowboy Way

“Don't ever take a fence down until you know the reason it was put up.”

- G.K. Chesterton

Bear with me, this will all tie together. I promise.

Last night our electricity went out, giving us the opportunity to visit outside with our neighbor Ellen, and subsequently with our cross street neighbor Shelley Wise. We found out from Shelley that the source of the power outage was a transformer at the sub-station close to the university recreation center where here husband, Mike, works. Shelley said Mike had seen it happen and called her proudly proclaiming that when the transformer blew it was a real thing of beauty. The real big news we got, though, was the news that Ellen, who has been such a wonderful neighbor, is moving to a senior friendly apartment complex being built a bit north of us on 15th Street. Keeping up with the house had just become too much for her, so she’s cashing in her chips and moving on to more amenable quarters. Once she announced the move Nancy’s eyes lit up. It wasn’t because she wanted to see Ellen go. She was seeing an opportunity to bring her mother, who is now eighty-seven, down to Emporia to live next door to us. That way we could watch after her and Jimmy, Nancy’s special needs brother. We’ll see how it all plays out.

One of the nice things about a good neighbor like Ellen is that there is no need of a fence between us. We’ve never had a quarrel about where her property line ends and mine begins. There’s no mine field between us. In the winter I occasionally shovel the snow from her sidewalk and her son occasionally reciprocates for us. It’s quite idyllic, really, which makes me sometimes ask why, as did Robert Frost, fences are needed at all. Wouldn’t the world be a beautiful place if we didn’t spend our time worrying about whether or not my neighbor’s apple trees are eating the cones under my pine?

By the way, the electricity came back on while I was on the way back home from our local Wal-Mart with a carload of batteries, flashlights, lanterns to solve the electricity problem, and a twelve ounce bag of Raisinettes, which I intended to use as stress relief.

This morning I took a long walk. It felt wonderful to be out in the cool of the day. The heat wave has broken for the time being and being outside is quite pleasant. I meandered from my place through downtown, past the Friends church on Sixth Avenue, occasionally going a block or two down side streets to add to my mileage. At each detour I would hear the barking of dogs as I passed by their houses. There was a sheltie on the south side of Union Street, a Boston terrier on Exchange, a chocolate labrador on Cottonwood, and a toy poodle on Sylvan. Their barks, whether high pitched soprano like the poodle’s, or deep bass like the lab’s, all voiced the same sentiment. “Do you see this fence, buster?” “Do you know what it’s here for?” “This is my yard, not yours and I’m not going to let you play in it.”

As much as I’d like to live in an idyllic world, I think the barking dogs have something on Robert Frost and me. Fences and property lines are there for a reason and it’s a good idea to respect them.

A week ago I said that it wouldn’t be long till world opinion cascaded down on Israel for defending its territorial integrity and right to exist. Lest you think me prophetic, let me disabuse you of the notion. I’ve been around for a while and I’ve seen it happen over and over again. I’m just a good observer of the international scene with a keen eye for detail.

A while ago a read a post titled “Fog of War in Lebanon and Israel: Rumors and misunderstandings” by Ami Isseroff on a website by-lined Middle East Web. I’d read an earlier dispatch by him and agreed with some of what he had to say and he’d apparently read something I wrote around the same time and liked some of what I had to say. That’s the way healthy discourse is built. Agreeing on five, six, or seven things out of ten is the basis for a good friendship. Agreement on ten out of ten would make both parties candidates for psychiatric care.

In the essay I read this morning he made a strong case for a cease fire, the disarming of Hezbollah, full implementation of U.N. resolutions 1559 and 1680, and the return of the Israeli soldiers kidnapped when the crisis began. While I’m not sure that Mr. Isseroff and I would agree on how best to proceed in the current circumstance, I believe we both believe that any solution has to get to the root of the problem, which in this case is Hezbollah.

The essay elicited a long list of strong comments. There was one, in particular, that really annoyed me. I think it’s comment number thirty-one of the current thread of thirty-five. The basic premise of the comment was that Israel just needs to treat Hezbollah the way too many Back Bay mothers treat their children at those times of inter-Nicene crisis in the home. “Just leave him alone, Billy. If you don’t provoke him back he’ll get tired of the game and leave you alone.”

Well, forgive me if I violently disagree. To sit on the catbird seat and say that Israel should just ignore what’s happened to them is a bit like being the American judge who not long ago told a young woman testifying of having been raped that, under the circumstances, the best thing she could have done would be to just relax and enjoy it.

It’s really easy to tell the Israelis they’re over-reacting. The world community seems to have forgotten who their neighbors are. It would be nice if Israel’s northern neighbor was the Netherlands and its eastern neighbors were the Swiss and the Danes, but the current reality is that Israel lives in a much different neighborhood. The Syrians, the Palestinians, and the Hezbollah in Lebanon are hardly the Dutch, the Swiss, and the Danes. There are a lot of schemes being hatched in the Bekaa Valley, but thinking of creative ways to get tulips to Haifa is not one of them.

I’m a great fan of western movies, with Shane being my all time favorite. I watch it once a year, much to Nancy’s dismay. I even dust it out on special occasions. I’ve played it for Corina, a young exchange student from Moldova who lived with us for a year and for Binna, the South Korean exchange student who just got back home from her tour in the Flint Hills. They seemed to like it too. It’s all about simplicity, about right and wrong, in what seems to be a complex world. Film historians and critics (a double oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one) call it a cold-war parable revealing the way America was viewed by the world of the nineteen fifties. It could be, but I just see it as the all too unfortunate reality of how one must protect one’s interests, even by force if necessary. It’s the story of a gunfighter who wants to retire and settle down. He comes across several families of homesteaders who just want to work the land. They can’t, however, because the Ryker boys are terrorizing them, trying to force them off the land they’ve been given. In the end the conflict comes, with Shane facing down Jack Wilson, the gunfighter the Rykers have hired to do their bidding. Shane wins, the bad guys are dispatched to hell, and Shane leaves the valley, knowing that he’ll never be able to retire. There will always be some homesteader somewhere who needs his gun. It’s a tragic reality, but it’s a reality nonetheless.

Let me tie this all together. In the current crisis Hezbollah is playing the Ryker boys and Jack Wilson to Israel’s homesteaders and Shane. There is a right and wrong in the current crisis. There are good and bad guys. Israel’s neighbors aren’t at all like our neighbor Ellen, nor are they like the Dutch, the Swiss, or the Danes. What that means, as I see it, is that the Middle-East neighborhood will never change until Israel’s neighbors do. It’s not enough to tell the Israelis to cease-fire and that everything will be alright. If the international community really wants to solve the problem it needs to fully implement the U.N. resolutions they’ve signed on to, send Hezbollah packing, and return, un-reciprocally, the Israeli soldiers kidnapped when this crisis began.

My solution is not as complex or nuanced as the solutions offered by Israel’s critics. It’s the cowboy way. It’s simple, with few if any nuances. But mine, unlike theirs, makes sense. Not only that, if it were applied it would actually work.

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The Middle East

1 comment:

James Fletcher Baxter said...

Additionally, how many wars has Israel been invaded by since 1948? And, won them all.

Mark Twain's visit to The Holy land indicated a few arabs in an otherwise deserted desert. No arab government, ever.

For 2,000 years of Diaspora, Israel held in absentia title to Jerusalem and surrounding lands.

There is NO REASON for Israel to put up with intruders, oppressors, and abusers.

Though he was an actor, John Wayne would understand and cheer a rousing cowboy solution.

Pioneer girl, Martha Baxter 1890 would agree with a cowgirl-Cherokee smack on a diaperless rear-end! YOW!

Winners, two.