According to the September 23 Washington Post, when America’s viceroy, L. Paul Bremer, testified to Congress on why he needs more than $20 billion to rebuild Iraq, he said those dollars “bespeak grandeur of vision equal to the one which created the free world.”
So now we really know why we are in Iraq. It isn’t because Saddam had anything to do with 9/11; even George Bush says he didn’t. It isn’t because Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, because we have found none. It is for “grandeur,” that old quest of kings, French kings in particular.
Who, I thought, could tell us about the perils of “grandeur” better the Sun King himself, Louis XIV? To do an interview, I bought a ticket on a flight to Hell (available from any airline except Midwest Express; just ask for coach class).
I found old Louis on one of Hell’s minor circles, the one reserved for rulers who sacrificed their country to their own egos. The king, like his neighbors, was standing on his head, which was encased in a solid block of ice. I thought he might have difficulty talking, but as I looked more closely I realized he had developed a second face on his backside, with his sphincter as a mouth.
“Your Majesty?” I said hesitantly to his bottom.
“Not anymore,” the king’s rear end replied.
“Um, nothing personal, but why did the Devil put a new face on your butt?”
“Actually, zat happened earlier,” the king said. “It was kissed so often by my courtiers, I could not help it. It is ze same in your Maison Blanche, non?”
“Yea, these days it seems to be,” I said. “No one sees willing to tell George he’s in deep camel dung in Iraq, right up to his political eyeballs. But if I may ask, why are you upside down?”
“Because in my earthly life, I put my gloire, my grandeur, above my duty to my people. Since I got zings upside down, I am now upside down myself.”
“And the block of ice for your head?”
“Zay say ice reduces swelling.”
“Not to be indelicate or anything here, but do you find it difficult talking through your butt?”
“You forget, monsieur, zat I was both a politician and a general. Besides, my friends tell me French sounds more natural spoken zis way.”
“Louis, you just used a word I came here to interview you about. You said ‘grandeur.’ What can you tell us about grandeur?”
“Alors, grandeur was ze reason you now see me here. As I said on my deathbed, I became too fond of war. It was my quest for grandeur zat made me so.”
“As I recall, you did fight a lot of wars.”
“France was at peace during only a few years in my long reign. I had a policy you would now call ‘permanent war.'”
“How did that hurt France?”
“First, it made everyone hate and fear her, bringing all other nations together against France. It cost ze lives of many of my subjects. And it saddled France with a vast amount of debt. No activity of ze state is more expensive than la guerre.”
“Were these wars necessary?”
“Non, monsieur, not a one. France was ze largest, strongest and richest country in Europe. Italy and Germany were geographic expressions, ze Dutch just wanted to make money and England was a little piss-pot of a country. France faced no threats until I created them.”
“Louis, did your quest for grandeur lead to the French Revolution?”
“Oui, mon ami. I, far more zan my descendent Louis XVI and his good-hearted wife, made zat catastrophe. My ‘grandeur’ separated ze king from his people. It made ze people into nothing more zan a source of taxes and troops. And ze debt from wars kept piling up, until it was a mountain no finance minister could surmount. Ze debt was ze direct cause of calling ze Etats-generaux in 1789, which in turn created zat dreadful revolution and twenty-five years of war in Europe.”
“Some people in America now call the Pentagon ‘Versailles on the Potomac.'”
“To zat I cannot agree, monsieur. Versailles had good manners and good music.”
“Louis, is there any advice you would like to pass on to those now in power in the world?”
“You might want to tell your King George zat I have heard his name mentioned down here lately. Zat is not entirely a good sign.”
Suddenly, we were both startled by a tremendous “thud.” Turning, we saw that a whole iceberg had just dropped into Hell. I grabbed one of the imps who were running toward it and asked, “How many newcomers is that for?”
“It’s all for one guy,” replied the demon.
“Who?” I asked.
“We don’t know. Engineering just told us it takes this much ice to shrink a swelled head from Texas.”
WILLIAM S. LIND’s On War column appears weekly in CounterPunch.