The recent tragedy at the Boston Marathon has me thinking about the limits of human endurance.
Human beings are not among the better athletes in the animal kingdom, except when it comes to long-distance running. Men can outrun cheetahs, if the distance is long enough, as the lightning-fast cats quickly overheat or drop from exhaustion.
But man’s ability to run long distances is greatly eclipsed by his ability to wage war, long after the reasons for the conflicts have been forgotten. The longest war on record lasted 335 years, although it was a bloodless conflict between the Netherlands and the Isles of Scilly. But there have been very real, very bloody conflicts that continued for extended periods of time. Rome and Carthage were at war from 264 B.C. to 146 B.C., or 118 years. That war only ended when Rome finally managed to destroy Carthage and annex its territory. The Hundred Years’ War between England and France lasted almost as long, 116 years, from 1337 A.D. to 1453 A.D. The Greco-Persian wars lasted from 499 B.C. to 448 B.C., more than 50 years.
The Battle of Marathon took place during the first Persian invasion of Greece. According to legend, a messenger named Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory, whereupon he immediately died of exhaustion. The story is probably apocryphal, but the name “marathon” lives on with us, nonetheless.
It remains to be seen whether what happened at the Boston Marathon has anything to do with America’s wars in the Middle East. If so, the conflict goes much further back in time than Sept. 11, 2001. The root of our problems in the region goes back 65 years to 1948, when Harry Truman changed his mind at the last minute and decided not to veto the U.N. resolution to partition Palestine.
On Sept. 22, 1947, Loy Henderson, the director of the State Department’s Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs, had strongly warned Secretary of State George C. Marshall that the partitioning of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states would lead to disaster. Henderson informed Marshall that his views were shared by “nearly every member of the Foreign Service or of the department who has worked to any appreciable extent on Near Eastern problems.” Among the points Henderson made were:
“The UNSCOP [U.N. Special Committee on Palestine] Majority Plan is not only unworkable; if adopted, it would guarantee that the Palestine problem would be permanent and still more complicated in the future.”
“The proposals contained in the UNSCOP plan are not only not based on any principles of an international character, the maintenance of which would be in the interests of the United States but they are in definite contravention to various principles laid down in the [U.N.] Charter as well as to principles on which American concepts of Government are based. These proposals, for instance, ignore such principles as self-determination and majority rule. They recognize the principle of a theocratic racial state and even go so far in several instances as to discriminate on grounds of religion and race against persons outside of Palestine. We have hitherto always held that in our foreign relations American citizens, regardless of race or religion, are entitled to uniform treatment. The stress on whether persons are Jews or non-Jews is certain to strengthen feelings among both Jews and Gentiles in the United States and elsewhere that Jewish citizens are not the same as other citizens. We are under no obligations to the Jews to set up a Jewish state. The Balfour Declaration and the Mandate provided not for a Jewish state, but for a Jewish national home. Neither the United States nor the British Government has ever interpreted the term ‘Jewish national home’ to be a Jewish national state.”
The idea of a Jewish state, where Palestinians are forced to live as third-class citizens, is like the idea of a white American state where people with darker skin are forced to live as third-class citizens. Americans tried such a system for nearly 200 years, and it obviously didn’t work. White Americans should not have been surprised that some Native Americans and African-Americans resorted to violence when they were denied equal rights and justice. And Americans today shouldn’t be surprised that when we support racism, inequality and injustice in the Middle East, some Middle Easterners choose to retaliate.
Whether or not the Boston Marathon tragedy was related to our nation’s injustices in the Middle East, it seems obvious to me that there will continue to be acts of terrorism against the United States as long as such injustices continue. When we finally created a more just system at home, terrorist groups like the Black Panthers soon faded from sight. If we require Israel to create a more just system, the same thing might well happen with Hamas and Hezbollah.
Michael R. Burch is a Nashville-based editor and publisher of Holocaust poetry and other “things literary” at www.thehypertexts.com.