NEW YORK, March 24 (UPI) -- There's a reason the lower plain, between the Tigris and Euphrates right, where all the death is occurring right now, looks like a wasteland.
God wiped it out himself.
"Therefore," says the prophet Jeremiah, "the wild beasts of the desert with the wild beasts of the islands shall dwell there, and the owls shall dwell therein: and it shall be no more inhabited for ever; neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation."
It HAS been dwelt in over the past 25 centuries, but just barely: the dynasties have been short and the settlements sporadic. As the prophet said, it's failed to last "from generation to generation." And yet, under the ground -- almost everywhere under the ground -- lie the bones of our ancestors.
Every battle takes place where a hundred battles have occurred before. Every missile that penetrates into the ground destroys not just the current occupant of the land, but as many as seven major civilizations below it. Every death, however shocking at the moment, is, from the standpoint of history, a mere jot in the boneyard.
When the Third Army marched up the right bank of the Euphrates, it passed over the ruins of Ur, oldest civilization in the world, older even than Egypt. The newest world literally trampling the oldest, at the place where the sons of Noah are believed to have settled after the Flood.
For some this is mere coincidence -- that the most powerful nation would go to the oldest battleground at this particular time. But if you watch some of the more fringe evangelists on religious TV, you'll find this war is being monitored with the sort of rapt attention they normally reserve for the proceedings of the state biology textbook committee. By their reckoning it's an entirely spiritual event.
When the second Babylon is destroyed -- that would be Iraq -- they expect it to be followed by an era of peace during which the whole world will be in harmony. A charismatic leader will emerge from this time of calm, a beloved man -- who will turn out to be the Anti-Christ. He'll then destroy Israel in a fiery cataclysm, and Christ will come again.
I'm abridging, of course, but the literalists holding the Book of Revelation in their hands are looking on this war as the beginning of the end, or the beginning of the beginning, depending on how you relate emotionally to the apocalypse.
And why not? We have every reason to believe that this particular patch of land is exactly where God gets his hands dirty. He deposited the sons of Noah there. He called Abraham out of there. And when it suited him, he reduced everything to rubble.
That makes the rubble currently being created by the heavy bombing at Mosul especially ironic. Fortunately most of King Sargon's summer palace, built in 709 B.C., has long since been removed to the Louvre. But the bombing area was the site of Nineveh, a city especially despised by God, where the kings were so terrible that their entire nations had to be destroyed.
But again, it's a tale better left to a prophet -- this time Zephaniah:
"And He will stretch out his hand against the north, and destroy Assyria; and will make Nineveh a desolation, and dry like a wilderness. And flocks shall lie down in the midst of her, all the beasts of the nations: both the cormorant and the bittern shall lodge in the upper lintels of it; their voice shall sing in the windows; desolation shall be in the thresholds; for he shall uncover the cedar work. This is the rejoicing city that dwelt carelessly, that said in her heart, I am, and there is none beside me: how is she become a desolation, a place for beasts to lie down in! every one that passeth by her shall hiss, and wag his hand."
The part here that fascinates me is that the sin of Nineveh was that it was a "rejoicing city that dwelt carelessly, that said in her heart, I am, and there is none beside me ..." I think we can assume that Babylon, where the god Marduk was worshipped in the Tower of Babel, and where the Iraqi 11th Infantry Division was recently turned back, was devastated for similar reasons.
But the intriguing thing about the phrase "I am, and there is none beside me," is that it could be the mantra of a homicidal dictator, but it could also be the slogan of any conqueror. It was interesting to see that two days ago an American soldier erected a banner reading "Future Iraq: The Rule of Law" -- just a few miles from the capital city of King Hammurabi, who actually INVENTED the rule of law: he codified the first legal system around 1800 B.C. "I am, and there is none beside me" is something that every child says -- before he understands there are others beside him.
As I write this, American soldiers are pouring into the Aram-naharaim, the "land between the two rivers," and according to the speculation of the rent-a-generals on television, a second American force will move to the north so that Baghdad can be squeezed in a pincer operation. This means the second force would reconnoiter somewhere around the confluence of the Tigris and the Zab. Though they won't realize it, they'll be at Nimrod, one of the first human settlements, called "Larissa" by Xenophon, who encamped there with the 10,000 Greek warriors during the most famous retreat in military history.
King Nimrod, "the mighty hunter," is the third generation after Noah, and his symbols were enormous winged lions and winged bulls, most of which fortunately now reside in the British Museum. After resting for 2,800 years, they were excavated, loaded onto rafts, shipped 600 miles down the Tigris to Basra, then onto British ships that carried them 12,000 more miles around the horn of Africa.
Austen Henry Layard, the British foreign officer who supervised this rather stupendous feat, was approached by a local sheikh as the sculptures were being loaded, and the sheikh asked, "In the name of the Most High, tell me, O Bey, what you are going to do with those stones. So many thousands of purses spent upon such things! Can it be, as you say, that your people learn wisdom from them, or is it, as his reverence, the Cadi, declares, that they are to go to the palace of your Queen, who with the rest of the unbelievers, worships these idols?"
Well, as it turns out, there are some of us who learn wisdom from them and some of us who worship them. Unfortunately, I don't think any presidents or generals are numbered among either group. And that makes it dicey for the Army.
This war gives me the creeps. As armored divisions roll past the palaces of Nebuchadnezzar, tramp down the bloody graves of terrorists like Sennacherib, march over the banquet hall of the Sumerian gods, the cities of the Chaldeans, the fortresses of the Kassites and the Elamites, the enemy before them must seem as strange in its way as the fearsome Sirrush, the dragon of Babylon, a long-legged four-footed scaly beast with talons and a snake head on a long neck, topped by a horn on a flat skull. The Sirrush destroyed many an army, and became impotent -- according to Daniel -- only when it faced "the living God."
There are many gods in Sumeria and Akkad and Iraq, and all of them are broken into shards that lie crumpled on the backs of a million mangled, stabbed, speared, beheaded and murdered people. The very ground consists of their blood and flesh. It's not a place to be taken lightly.
If and when we win this war, we should leave quickly, as though from a cursed place, lest we be thought of as a rejoicing people who dwelt carelessly. God doesn't like that.
(John Bloom writes a number of columns for UPI and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his Web site at joebobbriggs.com. Snail mail: P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, Texas 75221.)