On the front page of the Financial Times was a photo of a woman on her way to jail. Poor Rebekah Brooks. It would be a shame to send her to jail. She has such pretty hair.
Instead, send Gen. Keith Alexander to jail. He has little hair at all.
But our judgment on jail time is not purely based on their hair, but on their crimes. Ms Brooks is alleged to have hacked phone lines in Britain in order to break big stories in England’s tabloid press. That is, she acted with a noble motive – to make money!
General Alexander, on the other hand, seems to have hacked half the world’s phones – including those of foreign heads of state. And for what reason? Nobody quite knows. He says he was protecting the world from terrorism. But surely, Angela Merkel is no terrorist!
The latest twist to the NSA story is that the agency says the Europeans handed over their own phone records, so the NSA could snoop on their conversations. The French flatly refused the general’s explanation, saying it was ‘not plausible’.
Readers must be getting as tired of the spying story as we are. Besides, where’s the surprise? Give the spooks billions of dollars, the latest technology, and 20,000 employees – what do you think they will do? Still, we heft the story onto the page in order to introduce a broader theme.
The theme is a familiar one. But this time we approach it from a new angle.
We’re talking about civilisation.
Mr Obama and General Alexander believe they are protecting it from…well… barbarians. They are not the first to think so.
‘Three times have Italians saved civilisation from barbarians,’ said Benito Mussolini. The most recent time was in WWII, when the Bolsheviks menaced all we hold dear.
At least, Benito thought so. And he believed it up to the moment when he stopped believing anything. That is the moment in April 1945 when partisans found him in a German armored car, headed north, with a Halloween disguise of his own… six months too late.
Mussolini – the defender of western civilisation – was dressed as a soldier in the Wehrmacht. Too bad for him that one of the partisans recognised him. And too bad for him that his German custodians put up no fight to save him.
Instead, they turned him over. And soon he was hanging from a lamppost, upside down, along with his mistress, Claretta Petacci. Typical of both the enemies of civilisation and its defenders, they made no distinction between a real enemy and his paramour.
As if poor Claretta was guilty of anything more than being in love with the wrong man at the wrong time. Navy Seals made the same judgment in their reported assassination of Osama bin Laden. They killed an unarmed woman on the scene; what was her crime? And the troops of General Juan Manuel de Rosas, in 19th century Argentina, decided to protect European civilisation too.
They did so by sweeping the pampas… in the Desert Campaign… of its native tribes. Once they were virtually annihilated, the natives posed no further threat to civilisation.
But can you really protect civilisation by snooping… stationing troops all over the world… sending out drones… and killing people?
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