How long would a people be content to suffer outrageous violations by their rulers before they do something about it? And if they are so moved to take action, what would they do? Thomas Jefferson pursued that line of reasoning 240 years ago when, in the summer of 1776, he penned these words:
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
The student of American history will recognize this as part of Jefferson’s reasoning in the Declaration of Independence. That was 240 years ago. What application, if any, does it have to Americans in the 21st century? Such a consideration requires some thought as to how the people should respond to a government that appears no longer to be acting in their best interests.
About 6,000 years ago, so the Scriptures tell us, our first ancestors chose to put their trust in their own senses rather than in the counsel of the Creator Who made them. How else do we explain the statement that our first mother, upon examining the fruit of the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise”? Why else would her husband, our first father, take the sample of the fruit she gave him and join her in a forbidden snack (Genesis 3:6-7)? In that moment their judgment trumped the word of the Almighty, and instead of inhaling the life He had breathed into them, they embraced the death He warned would follow their disregard of Him (Genesis 2:15-17). In a very real sense, by choosing to be their own gods, they separated themselves from the only Source of life and made a covenant with death.
This is the account I believe as to why this world is so messed up. Others may not believe it, but they can at least agree that we reap the bitter fruit of the bad choices made by our fathers and mothers extending back to time immemorial. Our agreement is cemented in shared grief and suffering when that bitter fruit robs us of a human package of abundant gifts just waiting to bless the world.
As with all good spy stories, the 1968 movie adaptation of Alistair MacLean’s Ice Station Zebra does not reveal the full truth until near the end. All we know at the beginning is that a US Navy submarine is on a mission to rescue British scientists trapped at a weather station on the Arctic ice pack. We realize something unusual is afoot since the boat’s captain, James Ferraday (played by Rock Hudson), has been ordered to take aboard not only a platoon of Marines, but also a British Intelligence officer who goes by the name Jones (Patrick McGoohan). At sea they are joined by Boris Vaslov (Ernest Borgnine), a Russian defector. After an act of sabotage nearly destroys the submarine, Captain Ferraday confronts Vaslov, asking why he should not believe him to be the saboteur. Vaslov responds, “That should be obvious, Captain. I was born a Russian, but I chose my side out of conviction, not by accident of birth.” Jones vouches for him, and the mission continues.
In time the submarine reaches the destination and breaks through the Arctic ice near Ice Station Zebra. As the Navy crewmen rescue the surviving scientists, Jones and Vaslov go about the real business of the mission. Ferraday finds opportunity to speak with Jones alone as the British agent searches for what we learn is a canister of highly sensitive photographic film created in the United States for use in a British camera of extraordinary technical capabilities. Soviet agents had stolen the film and the camera, and the Soviet Union adapted both for use in a spy satellite. Jones explains this in one of the movie’s most famous lines:
The Russians put our camera made by “our” German scientists and your film made by “your” German scientists into their satellite made by “their” German scientists, and up it went, round and round, whizzing by the United States of America seven times a day.
Just as the film canister is discovered, a force of Soviet paratroopers lands near the ice station. Their mission, of course, is also to recover the film canister. It is at that point that we learn Vaslov’s convictions are not as strong as he would have others believe. He assaults Jones and reveals himself as a double agent whose real intent is to assist the Soviets in recovering the film. As the American and Soviet forces engage in a firefight, Jones kills Vaslov. The fighting ends when the hopelessly outnumbered Americans agree to surrender the canister, but then succeed in destroying it by a final act of intrigue. Having no further reason to remain in conflict, both sides withdraw, leaving the body of the treacherous Vaslov on the ice.
Boris Vaslov teaches us an eternal truth. Unable to choose between two identities, in the end he loses them both. So it is with everyone who halts between allegiance to the Kingdom of Heaven and the kingdom of this world. It is best to choose wisely since Scripture provides an unambiguous statement on the conclusion of this matter:
Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15 NRSV)
The Apostle James admonishes us as people of faith to take action on that faith. His strongest admonition comes in the first part of his letter to the Twelve Tribes scattered abroad:
If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:26-27 NASB)
The real question is this: How many orphans and widows have you visited today?
The very real needs of this world stare us in the face every day. Sometimes those needs walk right up to your car at an intersection and ask for money. Sometimes those needs are half a world away, but still very close to the heart of God. Here is one of them. Her name is Myriam.
In many ways Myriam is one of the fortunate ones. In August 2014, when the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) forced her Christian family to leave their home in Qaraqoush, Iraq, they fled to Irbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. Now she lives with her parents and sister in a mall that has been converted into a refugee camp. The good news is that they escaped with their lives. The bad news is that many did not, and those who did saw things that no one should ever have to see. Many thousands are still held in the grip of violent Islamist terrorists, faced daily with harsh choices that involve death or something worse.
When Empires Die was originally published June 28-July 28, 2014, as a six-part series. The original six part format is accessible here.
I. THE ROAD TO SARAJEVO
The world took a giant step toward death on June 28, 1914. On that day a young atheist shot and killed a prominent Catholic and his wife in an obscure Southeast European city. Within five years, four world empires were dismembered and two new ones arose in their place. Within 40 years, three more global empires breathed their last as the new world system spawned in 1914 grew to maturity. Today, one hundred years later, that world system wheezes with its own death rattle, soon to expire in the process of giving birth to yet another global system which may be the last – and worst – of its kind.
As a historian, a political scientist, a soldier, and an intelligence professional, I cannot let the centennial of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination pass without pausing to remember what his life and death meant to the world. The circumstances that brought the Archduke and his wife, the Duchess Sophie, to Sarajevo, Bosnia, are not difficult to explain, but to understand the significance of their deaths, both in their day and in ours, requires a detailed explanation. If that explanation seems too focused on Europe, the simple reason is that Europe in 1914 ruled the entire world. No nation outside Europe – neither ancient India, nor populous China, nor even the rising powers of America and Japan – was immune to events that shook the state system of the Continent. If we are to know why the world went to war in 1914, we must look at the major players of that state system. Only then can we begin to discern what happened to the world in the summer of 1914, and what is happening to the world now in the summer of 2014.