An ancient tracte on Ye olde troubles in Assyria

The following obscure and ancient manuscript is laid before the reader in the hope that, if only by its contrast with present enlightened views of statecraft, it may provide a modicum of both pleasure and instruction.

'The councils of the mighty here in the Great Blue Empire are much disturbed by events in the distant Assyrian deserts.

"As the turbulent rulers of this displeasing region having long troubled our borders and vexed our allies, a firmer policy was clearly required than that of the former emperor, whose undoubted gifts of mind were negated by his Epicurian temperament. An attack by zealots on our great eastern port resolved us first to a punitive expedition against a still more distant mountain kingdom whose rulers harboured them, which being satisfactorily concluded, the violence, oppression and threats by Sodang Insane, tyrant of Irate, and his defiance of persistent entreaties by civilized nations, provoked us to undertake his removal.

"Many doubted that our mobile expeditionary force could prevail there even aided by the Kingdom of St. George and many valiant lesser allies whom the liberales, formerly sympathetic to small nations, fell to scorning as a coalition of the absurd with many other indignities. And we much feared the devilish engines of war with which Sodang Insane had in the past hurled poisonous smokes at his foes and his own folk.

"Mercifully, corruption and incompetence deprived him of the loyalty even of his army, and amid the collapsed ruins of his regime we found, to our surprise, only a small subterranean chain of alchemists' laboratories. Perchance until he had better engines to deliver his lethal brews and smokes, he saw little profit in comprehensive study of such malice. Either that, or his alchemists were better at turning his bluster into gold than his gold into poison.

"Thus far a not unfamiliar chapter in our long struggle against barbarism. But here mysteries arise. The dictator Insane was much given to the slaughter of his own folk. Yet they were no sooner rid of him than many began grumbling against us. Naturally they felt some humiliation in being unable to rid themselves of this monster, this filler of mass graves. Yet when we offered them substantial control of their own affairs, provided they avoided ineptitude or viciousness, many even of the majority sect long repressed by the tyrant commenced an uprising marked by both.

"These rebels made mock of holy places, profaning them as arms depots and fortresses. And largely foiled in their efforts to kill our troops by a great imbalance not only in weapons but martial skill, they fell to slaughtering their own people and taking foreign hostages including three Orientals they threatened to roast and consume, a threat mercifully as empty as it was barbaric.

"The result within Irate was dismal. Our troops slaughtered many rebels. Yet it seems there prevails in those regions such a cult of death that their own demise is scarcely less pleasant to them than ours would be. As Ricardus Fistulae declares in the Lustratio Nationalis, "These people have an amazing ability to interpret every defeat as 'victory.'" Which makes it a vexed proposition to reach with them such a sensible accommodation as would let the majority raise their families, cultivate their crops and herds and ply their trades in peace.

"Even more puzzling is the reaction within the free lands of the West. Our many demagogues can be pressed into formal denunciation of Sodang Insane, but direct their wrath mainly against our emperor and our civilization. Let rebels in Irate mutilate corpses, or set off an infernal machine that slaughters schoolgirls; they call us wicked. Let us offer a humane settlement; they call us cowed. Let us take decisive action; they call us brutal.

"The demagogues strut and boast of their superior humanity, yet the venomous hostility to Hebrews prevalent in the Assyrian regions prompts complicit silence. And while in this affair we sought only to enforce the repeated demands of our critics' beloved Council of Nations, instead of gratitude that we deposed the tyrant before he could summon some weapon from the depths of hell, they deplore our conduct on the phantasmagorical ground that their Resolutiones, uttered without result for a dozen years, were surely on the very brink of causing all Sodang's alchemy to vanish straight up into the air. Did Insane perchance find, and release within our borders, a subtle poison to corrupt the understanding of scholars?

"Despite all, our emperor and the common folk stand firm. So I hope one day I may be able to relate to you that this miserable affair hath ended in tolerable success."

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson