Plato, Fallujah, and the Virtues of Clear Thinking
May 3, 2003
By Lisa Walsh Thomas

"Iraq belongs to you. We do not want to run it."
    — Donald Rumsfeld at the Baghdad airport in late April

The great black hole of the United States may well be clear thinking. We do wrinkle our collective brow from time to time, but the quality is definitely and rightly being called into question as we continue our avalanche of absurdities, losing the hearts and minds of the world as fast as we lost our financial surplus and Osama bin Laden.

Everybody has a dumb idea now and then, but I'm of the school that insists a dumb idea is one step up from no idea, simply because it gives us something to hold and later anayze, a little like a smart pet rock. Take Plato. For Plato, the ideal Greek city-state would contain five thousand and forty adult male citizens. How many scribes, you think, wrote that down, stamped it "gospel," and went off to the lithium springs fully content to bathe and nibble at figs?

In a time when virtues of the tribe are being celebrated and sociologists are concluding that tribal perfection usually requires a small enough number for everyone to be on a first-name basis, Plato's five thousand and forty (plus women, kids and slaves) sounds a bit hefty. So why? Why that precise number?

No Greeks except Socrates and Ari Onassis ever left questions answered, and Plato was no exception. He explained to us in unequivocal terms that the figure five thousand and forty is divisible by every digit from ten downward.

This would have been a useful determination had Athens had nine volumes of epics, whereby we would have known that each epics accommodated precisely 560 warriors. In times of famine it would have been expedient to know that with the catching of eight barrels of fish, each barrel could have provided a bit of nourishment to exactly 630 hungry Greek men.

Beyond that, it has always struck me as one of those notions that sounds okay when you first wake up, but is more grossly outdone now than pre-Galileo astronomy.

After the slaughter of thousands of Iraqis in this easy invasion of 2003, the United States sent soldiers to Fallujah, thirty-five miles from Baghdad. Probably, it seemed the thing to do. The Yankees were the victors, and victors send soldiers to pound on their chests and remind the losers of what they lost. The army claimed a desire to help Fallujah get itself back on its feet after trying to kill them. So went the unclear thinking. There was nothing in Fallujah to guard or to loot or to conquer, just a school to occupy.

Now civilians, including children, are being shot as they demonstrate against the occupation by the U.S. soldiers. The Iraqis claim someone threw a rock and the soldiers began shooting. The U.S. claims there was sniper fire. Since it's been the U.S. doing the lying lately, I'm ready to give the kids of Fallujah the benefit of the doubt and wonder why fifteen or more people lie dead as a result of the "liberation" that George Bush promised them, including, surely, the freedom to protest.

It may be that the decision-makers forgot to attend briefings and never found out why it wasn't such a good idea to send soldiers into Fallujah.

In the first Gulf War, Fallujah took one of the worst poundings in all Iraq. Its residents and students of the war remember that its markets were heavily bombed by low-flying U.S. planes, possibly further aided by the British. Two hundred civilians died in the bombing, with another five hundred injured. A large civilian area of residences was obliterated. Worse, if possible, the coalition (There really was a coalition in the first Gulf War) then polished off the killing by returning to bomb the rescuers who ran to help the injured who had survived the bombings of the market. Hardly a fair fight by anyone's standards; hardly the place to expect rose petals and welcoming music when the same invaders ride back into town.

But ride back into town, they did. Fifteen or more civilians wanting control of their own territory are now dead from the returning army's bullets. Some say a child threw a rock; some soldiers say the kids had AK-47s. The most recent stories are giving the children Kalashnikovs. Iraqi witnesses swear the killing was unprovoked. Whatever the story, the American soldiers were occupying the school at Fallujah, and the people of Fallujah, already hating the Americans, wanted them out. Wasn't "liberation" touted as part of the general massacre?

Sometimes the heart must step outside the circle and stop looking at things through the lens of morality before it breaks into irrevocable uselessness. But even during those respites, surely a bit of good judgement, clear thinking, has its place.

Plato's notion had at least the benefit of saving time struggling over fractions. The U.S. notion, steeped in ignorance of the hostility that would certainly exist in a place that had experienced such wanton slaughter, had no benefit.

Desperate to stop the senseless killing, perhaps an appeal to the mind during these heartless days will yield some lessening of the ongoing madness. To this writer, slowly giving up on the merits of compassion squeezed from turnips, it is possible that caution and intelligence might still have a place at the table.

Plato had a dumb idea. So what? Some American military men had a dumb idea. And three children under the age of eleven now lie buried and have added to the validity of a hate that will probably track us down like a rabid wolf.

And yet our country continues afloat with glassy-eyed flagwavers who, if they only knew of the reception the soldiers were getting, would call it ungrateful. Is it possible that all these "patriots" would quickly embrace defining a population by the numbers it is divisible by? Is it possible that they would be unable to interpret the chants ringing through Fallujah today:

"Sooner or later, US killers, we'll kick you out."

Lisa Walsh Thomas is a fulltime writer and poet, contributing to several liberal online publications. A collection of her work is due out through Pitchfork Publications at the end of May. Source for some of the above material is found in the report by Felicity Arbuthnont in Common Dreams, at