Barbarians Inside the Gate

In , Thomas Cahill draws a thumbnail sketch of the end of the world as Roman civilization had known it. When I read it, a few years back, I couldn't help but think of our current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the unrelenting pressure of the jihadist barbarians who are hammering at the gates of Western Civilization.

That they are, indeed, barbarians I have no doubt. Those who want to reintroduce the timeless values of beheading, stoning, and disfigurement in response to the threat of freedom of thought and action not only by "their" women, but by everyone, can only be thought of as barbaric. Although, just like the Germanic tribes, if they ever do break down the gates it won't be long until they are subsumed by the culture that they think they have conquered. Nonetheless, I don't want my children to have to live through the interim.

In the meantime, as I look around inside the gates, I see that the barbarians are already here. One black man was murdered (coroner's verdict) in New York City. Another was shot down in the streets of L.A. A third killing has turned the streets of a suburb of St. Louis into a nightmare of tear gas and rubber bullets. All perpetrated by local policemen. All in the last couple of weeks. The news cycle has been so filled with these stories lately, there's probably a line. Anybody else hear about the guy with the toy gun in the toy store?

I remember vividly the long hot summer of 1968. I wasn't in the front lines of the Battle of Chicago, but I can claim veteran status. I was never under any illusion about a "post-racial" society, but I'm shocked, shocked - yes, really shocked - that it's happening again.

It would be nice if there were no racists in our police departments, in our city councils, in the institutions that contrive to manage the lives of millions so that we can go about our business. But that's not likely to happen for some time. Here's the thing:

You don't need to get rid of racism to prevent this kind of insanity. All you have to do is pound into their dear little heads the fact that nothing, absolutely nothing, is private anymore. No one can get away with it. The world will see what you have done. Chances are, the world will watch you do it. And there will be a price to pay.

The barbarians who are still outside the gates? They're watching. Their young men can see what you did there. And they will call it the fruit of democracy, the price of freedom. And they will mock our attempts to impose our way of life. Because this is what democracy and freedom does to young men of color.

What can we offer you? we ask them, thinking to help.

Nothing we want, they answer. Nothing at all.