War is weird but don’t blame God
It must be comforting to our fighting men and women to know that the entire Iraqi parliament, President Bush and the U.S. Congress have gone on vacation for August. Whoever heard of a war where the leaders go on vacation? Even Rufus T. Firefly, the president of Freedonia in the epic Marx Brothers war flick "Duck Soup," didn't go on vacation. In fact, when pressed to stop the war, Firefly (Groucho) said, "Too late, I've already paid a month's rent on the battlefield."
We've paid more than a month's rent on the Iraqi battlefield, so I guess the war goes on, vacations or not. (Notice that al-Qaida doesn't go on holiday.) War not only is hell, but weird. Here's some weird war trivia you might not know:
We were taught that the American Civil War was one of the bloodiest wars, taking nearly 700,000 lives. That seems like a lot, especially when you consider that fewer than 4,000 Americans have died in our current war. But according to a buddy of mine, A.J. Jacobs, who wrote a book about how he read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, at about the time of the Civil War, a war was raging in China that took about 20 million lives. TWENTY MILLION! The conflict is referred to quaintly, or bizarrely, as the Taiping Rebellion. I think after the first 5 or 10 million people are killed in battle, it ceases to be a "rebellion." A.J. was similarly struck by the magnitude of the "rebellion," as he wrote in his book, "The Know-It-All."
"It took 20 million lives. Holy s--t. I try to process that enormous number. That's 400 stadiums full of human beings. That's more than 10 times the population of Manhattan. I feel angry at the Britannica. The Britannica states that 20 million died in its typical deadpan tone. Shouldn't there be exclamation points after it? Shouldn't it say, 'took an inf'ingsane 20 million lives!'?"
Now, you might ask, what could possibly be so important to fight over that it's worth 20 million deaths? As we watch what is happening in the Middle East and read of daily suicide bombings in Baghdad, it should come as no surprise to learn that the Taiping Rebellion was basically about religion. It started when a Chinese peasant, Hung Hsiu Chuan, became convinced he was visited by God and that he was the new Jesus Christ.
"Hung didn't have the best grasp of Christianity -- he ignored the kindness and humility of the Christian God and instead focused on his vengefulness," Jacobs wrote. Hung's crusade to save China from sin grew until millions fought and died because of his religious vision. With 20 million in the dead column, you have to believe that God really wasn't on Hung's side. Just like he wasn't on the side of the medieval Crusaders. And just like he's not telling Osama bin Laden to murder all infidels and wipe Israel off the map. That just doesn't sound very God-like.
As for leaders going on vacation during war, remember what Rufus T. Firefly said: "While you're out there risking life and limb through shot and shell, we'll be in here thinking what a sucker you are."
Buy Charles Memminger's hilarious new book, "Hey, Waiter, There's An Umbrella In My Drink!" at island book stores or online
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