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History repeats itself 

Ours is a city deeply and inescapably involved with America's military. Our founder, William Palmer, was a general in the War Between the States. Over the decades, military men and women have, after service to their country, made large contributions to the Pikes Peak region.

I had the honor of serving on City Council with West Point graduates Bob Isaac and Jack Forrest (the latter a modest and unpretentious man, who, in the years that I knew him, never once mentioned that he'd retired as a four-star general).

Two of our current mayoral candidates, Lionel Rivera and Ted Eastburn, first came to town as Army captains stationed at Fort Carson.

Dave Zelenok, who heads the city's transportation department, was called to active duty last week; a graduate of the Air Force Academy, he's back to being Col. Zelenok for an indeterminate time.

Meanwhile, thousands of soldiers at Fort Carson have been ordered to the Middle East.

To folks in Boulder or Denver or Aspen, the war may appear to be an abstraction, just another reason to hate the Bushies or love 'em. To us, it's a lot more than that. The rights and wrongs of the war are almost beside the point. What's important is how the war is fought, and whether our fellow citizens make it through in one piece.

A few decades ago, traveling through the Middle East, I ploughed through an exhaustive three-volume history of the region.

It was, and is, a history of brutality and deceit, of heroism and cowardice, of subtle cunning and incredible stupidity. Most of all, it's about centuries of misguided intervention by delusional foreigners.

In light of today's headlines, it's particularly sobering to read about the Crusades. Nine hundred years ago, animated by the belief that Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulchre ought not to be ruled by the infidel, European Christians raised armies, assaulted Antioch and Jerusalem, and slaughtered every Jewish and Muslim inhabitant. There ensued a century of European occupation, ending only when Saladin unified the quarreling Arab states and threw out the crusaders in 1087.

When Pope Urban II called for a Christian army to recapture the Holy Sepulchre, he did so for reasons that seem eerily familiar.

On Nov. 18, 1095, the pope addressed a vast crowd in southern France. He stressed the plight of Eastern Christians, now threatened by resurgent Islam and the desecration of holy places.

Vicious rulers, he asserted, no better than brute animals, oppress our Christian brothers and sisters. He reminded the crowd of the imminence of Judgment Day.

He didn't have to remind the crowd of the popular myth that Charlemagne's successor, the Last Emperor, would one day lead the faithful to Jerusalem, there to await the Second Coming. Finally, he promised a plenary indulgence (the forgiveness of sins) to all participants in this great and solemn cause.

And now let us consider, so many centuries later, our own crusader. Like Pope Urban, President Bush seeks to rally his countrymen and his allies to a great task. Resurgent Islam confronts us; a brutal dictator, aided by nefarious henchmen, threatens not only our beliefs but our very existence. Our foe mocks us; he treats us with contempt; we have no choice but to go to war.

And just as the Crusader armies were to usher in a pious and godly era, which would culminate in the return of the Prince of Peace, so too will we change history.

Once our victorious armies sweep into Baghdad, the people will rejoice at the overthrow of the evil tyrant, help us destroy his weapons, and embrace their new destiny. Why, the newly freed Iraq will create an irresistible momentum for freedom and democracy, transforming the tired autocracies of the region into a sandy Scandinavia!

Like Urban II, George II believes that his is a time of great perils and great challenges. Urban couldn't very well admit that Jerusalem was just a dusty little Asian town of no particular importance and that its governance was of no concern to Western Europe.

And George, animated since 9/11 by the belief that he has been chosen by God to rid the world of the scourge of terrorism, can't see Iraq as his predecessors did -- annoying, impotent and harmless.

So let's hope that Gulf War II ends well for all involved -- our neighbors and friends, and innocent Iraqis whose only crime was to be born in the wrong country.

But I wouldn't count on it.

-- jhazlehurst@csindy.com

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