In days of old, a select society of imaginative minds so mystified the reigning elite that they were welcomed into aristocratic circles of influence.
They were known as the alchemists, purported holders of the secret knowledge of transmutation, and they were wined and dined by the crowned royals of medieval Europe. Their company was sought, their attendance rewarded, their words treasured as prescient jewels, their speculative musings preserved as if they could unfold the mysteries of life.
Inevitably, it ended badly for the alchemists because the root and core of their artful deception charading as science was as false as a wanton lover.
History will attest that the alchemists were able to perpetuate one of the greatest frauds in recorded time because the dream was universally appealing and the people, even the educated and privileged, were willing to suspend logical thought for the promise of a miracle.
The concept of turning common metals into gold has never lost its pull on the human psyche. The gullibility of our peculiar species will always grab hold of the grandest, most majestic and magical of dreams.
The alchemists left a lasting mark: a legacy of faith and its betrayal. They delivered a powerful message concerning the infinite capacity of the irrational to triumph over reason.
We are where we are in Iraq (and to varying degrees on global warming, oil dependence and Afghanistan) because we forgot the lesson of the alchemists: No matter how fanciful the words, no matter how mystifying the act, no matter how many luminaries join the chorus of concurrence, when you begin with common lead, you will have no more than common lead
at the end of the process.
When you begin with raw greed and naked injustice, there can never be a “victory” that will remove the stain of original sin. In fact, the greatest shame is to believe that anything resembling victory can be achieved at all.
We are where we are in Iraq because we believed the promise of our president. We are where we are because we wanted to believe that our leaders were bound by a code of honor, a mythical guarantee that we would only go to war for a just cause. We would only sacrifice the
lives of our warriors for a war of virtuous transformation, for democracy, freedom and national security. We would never go to war for greed and domination.
We wanted to believe that our president would value human life greater than any treasure to be found beneath Arabian sands.
Now, after four blood filled years, after all the lies have been stripped of their lofty décor, after rendering a once prospering nation to utter ruin, after causing more death and destruction than a thousand terrorist attacks, we allow the war to drag on year after year with the promise that somehow we can transform a desert into an oasis, a swamp into a garden, a cesspool into a wonderland or a cemetery into a temple of faith.
We are where we are because too many of us refuse to believe that we could invest so much in blood and treasure without reward.
Like the royal head of state that has squandered the king’s treasure on his alchemist dignitary, it is easier to grant another day, another month, another year, than to admit that the royal intellect is defective.
We are where we are because, for far too many of us, the sacrifice of a half trillion dollars and thousands of lives does not register with the depth and clarity that it should.
We are where we are because the deaths of our warriors, victims of the latest surge and surge again strategy has slipped from the front pages of our local newspapers.
Four long bloody years of conjuring yet still there is no gold, no light at the end of the tunnel, no treasure at the end of the rainbow. Four years of promises, assurances and predictions, and yet the death toll continues to rise and the vow of holy vengeance is renewed.
We have not only lost a war, we have lost our bearings, our way in the world, our hold upon the earthly realm of reason, which after all may not be as bad as accepting the truth: that we have killed and maimed our sons and daughters without just cause and that we have likely caused the death and injury of so many Iraqis that we will not be forgiven for a thousand years.
In years gone by, many an alchemist lost his fame, fortune and freedom (if not his life) for perpetuating a fraud on the unknowing and unsuspecting, but at least none were physically harmed or killed by his actions.
Today’s alchemists are much more deadly.