Though the mills of God grind slowly,
Yet they grind exceeding small;
Though with patience He stands waiting,
With exactness grinds He all.
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The basis of this epigrammatic poem is attributed to the 2nd century Athenian philosopher, Sextus Empiricus. His point was clear. History has a way of inevitably overtaking all human activity. It echoes the biblical injunction “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked, whatever one sows that he will also reap.” Or, “For they sow to the wind and they shall reap the whirlwind.” Or, from the folk singer, Pete Seeger, “When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?”
The most frightening thing about listening to the presidential candidates is that for most of them there seems to be a refusal to grasp this lesson. I speak particularly of those who continue to say and believe that the world’s problems would be solved if we only beefed up our military arsenal and turned it loose on the trouble spots. This draconian position is being repeated even though America’s military strength is greater than the rest of the world‘s put together. What is more, not only do we possess an enormous stockpile of atomic weapons, we are the only nation to have used them.
This historic axiom has haunted our nation for much of its history, and is particularly relevant when we have massively engaged our military might in civil wars where the local combatants have neither attacked nor even endangered us. And the results have been disastrous. We injected ourselves in the Vietnamese conflict on the side of a corrupt regime, and before we crawled away in ignominious defeat from what is now Ho Chi Minh City, we sacrificed 58,000 brave men and women. “The mills of God grind exceeding small” — indeed.
Not having heeded that lesson, George W. Bush “kept us safe” by getting us into a terrible unnecessary civil war in Iraq that lasted ten years. We are still sputtering in an effort to extricate ourselves from involvement in a nation which is all but destroyed, and where there is no peace for today nor hope for tomorrow.
Some years before our Iraq escapade we overthrew an elected government in Iran and installed our lackey, the discredited Shah, whom the Iranian people detested and rid themselves of in a revolution. We are still reaping the whirlwind of that intervention. Over a decade after we got into Afghanistan, the people of that beleaguered nation are no closer to peace and harmony than they were when the first American boot hit the ground. So we will now put another five thousand troops there, as if that will solve anything. In every case we have not known how to get out of what we never should have gotten into. Our temptation will be to do again what got us into the mess in the first place.
Now as we consider America’s future in an increasingly troubled world, along comes a collection of candidates for President who have promised that if elected they would repeat the same tragic formula. And if they succeed in making good on that promise America and everything it touches will again be ground exceeding small.
The predicted “domino theory” in which every nation in S.E. Asia would be taken over by the communists was never actualized, but In the Near East dominos are falling one by one, devouring nation after nation in violence and despair. From Turkey to the Balkans, Syria to Yemen, that part of the world is being torn apart.
While we can lay this charge at the feet of most of the Republican candidates, neither Hillary nor the other Democrats have made a clear statement on this matter. Until they do, we can assume that there is only a slight difference between them and their political adversaries. It can be fairly concluded that both parties are well content to rest in the hands of the military-industrial complex, knowing that to raise this issue offers trouble in almost every Congressional district.
This grinding will continue until someone in power sees the folly of this course. Until then, slowly will America be ground exceeding small and our dream reduced to dust and blown away by the winds of history.