, Newburyport, MA

August 30, 2013

Lessons still to be learned

Bill Plante's North Shore
Newburyport Daily News

---- — It is mid-morning of Wednesday of this last week in August 2013 as I write this.

I have just returned from a morning walk down Newbury’s Hay Street to Quill’s Pond, where peace of a certain kind rules.

Peace rarely makes news. Conflict does, and that was all over the news cycles when I returned.

It’s core? Evidence shows that Syria’s leaders used deadly chemicals against its citizens. International turmoil follows.

Members of Congress are currently engaged with the upcoming elections.

That could be foreseen because of what appears to be in the making during the past 10 days.

In the previous week there had been some doubt that Syria’s leaders had been involved in the use of chemical weapons against their own people.

There were suspicions that they had, but evidence was lacking until the past weekend when reports supported the belief that Syria’s leaders had, indeed, used chemical weapons, killing hundreds of men, women and children of their own.

Incredible? No.

Once upon another time when the world seemed to be much larger than it has become, that was not uncommon, but information about it didn’t travel far.

That is no longer the case, and so ... “Here we go again,” because Chuck Hagel, our most recent secretary of Defense said so.

He’s not alone.

David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister, has put it forward with a bit more grace by saying, “The world shouldn’t stand idly by.”

Francois Hollande, president of France, has said, “This mass chemical massacre cannot go unanswered.”

But, “Not so fast,” say Russia and China, whose responders agree that force without Security Council backing would be “a crude violation of international law.”

Maybe, but be not surprised that others don’t think so.

One is President Obama.

Our international scuttering around at such times is like preparation for climate change.

Something imminent is in the making, but we really don’t know just what or whether consequences from what we do or don’t do will be for the better in the long run.

So it is with consideration of limited retaliatory counter-strikes in situations like this.

It can be argued that we are more likely to strengthen the enemy’s resolve than lessen it because that’s the world we have come to live in.

Liberty is relative. Support for it requires diligence because the appetite for control is ever present.

Local government has more employees today than were needed 50 years ago because of the growth of regulatory authority.

We accept that as a matter of course for what we hope to be the common good.

That is ever in the eye of the beholders.

Liberty is precious but can’t be unlimited because it can lead to social disorder and ultimate calamity.

Wildlife survives by instinct born of generations, and hereabouts, as elsewhere, it is survival of the fittest. Our survival is much more complicated.

Evidence of that was at hand during my morning walk.

There were four domestic ducks and two swans in Quill’s Pond this spring. There are only two ducks and one swan at this ending of summer. The deaths of the others were from hungry enemies.

That is not as different from the evolution of mankind or its nations as it might seem until one visits the dead of our wars.

It’s more than the count of the dead that matters. It’s the causes for which they died, and the lessons to be learned from them that matters.

As for that and down the long road still to be traveled, what’s to be done in this instance had best be for the better. We have been down this road for much too long, and at too great a cost in dead and wounded.


Bill Plante is a Newbury resident and staff columnist. His e-mail address is