Watching Assad, thinking of Auden

Thursday, 19 September, 2013

When asked whether he would be willing to hand over chemical weapons to the US, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, speaking to Fox News, said: “It needs about one billion. It is very detrimental to the environment. If the American administration is ready to pay this money and take the responsibility of bringing toxic materials to the United States, why don’t they do it?”

He murders thousands, he exiles millions and now he wants to make a killing on the deadly weapons he once denied possessing. It’s time to read some Auden. In Time of War was composed in 1937 against the backdrop of the Sino-Japanese war, the occasion of many atrocities, and it holds up a mirror to human nature, especially its tyrannical aspect. Auden characterized the 1930s as “the age of anxiety” and his work deserves re-reading, given the the anxieties of our age.

In Time of War

Songs came no more: he had to make them.
With what precision was each strophe planned.
He hugged his sorrow like a plot of land,
And walked like an assassin through the town,
And looked at men and did not like them,
But trembled if one passed him with a frown.

W.H Auden (1907 — 1973)

Comments (2)

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  1. Kevin says:

    Peter Ubel physician, behavioral scientist and bioethicist on rational thinking in wartime:

    A billion may turn out to be an extraordinary bargain relative to other recent interventions.

    The US gives billions already to Israel and Egypt, neither of whom, as you know, are signed up to the chemical weapons ban.

  2. Henry Barth says:

    Assad’s remark reminded me of Napoleon’s famous quip about what is necessary to win in war:

    “L’audacite, L’audacite, encore L’audacite!”