Are so smart, why do they have such dumb...

IF OUR BOMBS

February 16, 1991|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

IF OUR BOMBS are so smart, why do they have such dumb graffiti on them? I mean, "To Saddam, with appreciation, Dick Cheney"? Gimme a break! That's the way he used to sign photographs when he was a congressman. No flair.

The chairman of the joint chiefs wrote on one bomb, "You didn't move it, and now you'll lose it, Colin Powell." That's a little better, but hardly in the World War II class, such as: "Roses are red, violets are blue, this one's for Hitler, and Goering, too -- the Bard of Brooklyn."

If I were secretary of defense, I would have written this on a Baghdad-destined bomb:

Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin. That is not only the most famous graffiti in the history of the world, but it is also perfect for the time, place and circumstances.

Let me repeat a familiar story. Belshazzar, the son of Nebuchadnezzar (to whom Saddam Hussein has compared himself), eventually followed Dad as ruler of Babylonia (present day Iraq, more or less). Once he had a party at which he kept drinking wine till he saw a detached hand, writing on the wall. (I went to a party like that once.) The hand wrote "mene mene tekel upharsin." Belshazzar called in Daniel and asked him what it meant. Daniel said, "This is the interpretation of the matter: God hath numbered the days of your kingdom, and brought it to an end. You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting. . ."

What a work of enduring literature is the Bible! A few short verses written nearly 2,200 years ago gave us these colorful phrases we use still: "days are numbered," "weighed and found wanting" and, of course, "the handwriting on the wall."

(Of the three phrases, "days are numbered" has always seemed to me the most ominous and the most consequential. That is, when people start talking about someone's days being numbered their days begin to run out.

(I believe that what cost Jimmy Carter re-election in 1980 was the practice of the CBS Evening News to begin each broadcast for a year with the line, "This is Day 59 of America Held Hostage." ". . . Day 104 of America Held Hostage." ". . . Day 201 of America Held Hostage." Et cetera. I know a guy who pulled the Republican lever that year thinking he was voting for Walter Cronkite.

(The "days are numbered" wound can be self-inflicted. When he began his second term in 1973, Richard Nixon gave cabinet members calendars with the term's remaining days numbered, 1,461 down to 1, but a funny thing happened on Day 895.)

There has been some anti-Saddam Hussein graffiti painted on walls in Baghdad. Reuter reported seeing Yazqot Saddam ("down with Saddam") spray-painted on walls in two neighborhoods there.

Mene mene tekel upharsin would really be appropriate there -- and ominous. Daniel also told Belshazzar the words he translated meant his kingdom would be given to the Persians and the Medes. That night Belshazzar was murdered, and Darius the Mede became ruler.

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