North Korea brags wickedly that it has tested a nuclear bomb and elsewhere in the world, still other ominous events collaborate in pointing the mind toward the poet William Butler Yeats and his much-quoted but ever-powerful, enduring lines in “The Second Coming.”
“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold,” he wrote, and the words seem apt as we think of a world that knows so little order that North Korea’s murderous, Stalinist regime willfully ignores the near-universal plea that it put aside the birthing of this death device.
At the risk of an Asian arms race and the ultimate annihilation of cities, the regime turns its back on all that’s civilized, clinging to its system of slavery, torture and mass starvation, and wanting something more than the system’s preservation, wanting to inflict this misery beyond its national borders.
“Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,” Yeats said, and the phrase strikes one as a lightning-like summation of terrorism, now visiting daily slaughter on innocent civilians in Iraq. Perhaps one day, North Korea will sell a nuclear weapon to terrorists, who will put it to jihadist use in Europe, the United States or maybe Israel.
If it doesn’t, let’s not forget that Iran is next in line to possess nuclear weaponry, that lands in opposition seem utterly confused about how to deal with this threat and that the Iranian leadership subscribes to mystical, apocalyptic visions that could dictate missile launches even if self-doom seemed the consequence.
“The blood-dimmed tide is loosed,” Yeats wrote, evoking an image of a frightening force that could submerge humanity’s highest hopes. Might such a force be the radical strain of Islam, and might there be other such forces, including some that had once seemed either subdued or transformed?
The Soviet Union is gone, but imperialism and tyranny have scarcely disappeared from Russia, where the recent murder of an outspoken journalist is making some wonder whether those in power have a quick answer to those who publicly criticize them: bullets.
While it is unlikely to return to the genocidal mayhem of Mao or give up its prosperity-inducing ventures in a market economy, China gives too few signs of becoming a responsible world actor as it climbs its way to being a superpower.
Latin America, which two decades ago began ridding itself of dictators and embracing democracy, is now veering back toward despotism, boding no good for the United States, which is often the scapegoat of the demagogues.
This loosed tide can scarcely make Americans joyful, but there is this to recall: We have been there before, and because we finally did not lose faith or courage or peaceful, diplomatic ingenuity, we restored the center’s ability to hold.
As one scholar and commentator reminds us, we faced mistakes and setbacks in World War II equal to the mistakes in Iraq, but regrouped and marched to victory.In the Cold War, we won in part by mainly pushing back when pushed — one example is President Truman standing up to the same North Korea menacing us today, saving South Korea from its clutches and thereby preventing this Communist monster from becoming even more a worry than it now is. Such stands do not always confer popularity. They can help keep us and others free.