Gunslinging at the global corral

We now join this tragedy in progress:

It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a gun to keep the village safe, he thought to himself as he reached for his six-shooter to face another crisis. Cracked Iraq was causing trouble at the Oasis, and it looked like a job for Sheriff America, World Policeman
Sheriff America was feeling stiff. He was showing his age. He had been the global village cop for almost a century now (and what a century it had been — “The American Century,” some folks called it). He was tired. He was broke. He drank too much. He was fat, insecure and addicted to painkillers. Everyone in the village knew it
He had seen better days. When he was younger, the other villagers called for him whenever there was trouble. Back when Germany was acting up, trying to claim the village for himself, Sheriff America came in and saved the day — not once, but twice. Of course, things could have been different. If America hadn’t withdrawn from the rest of the village and retreated into “Fortress America” with his guns, maybe he could have headed things off before they got ugly.
But he won, right? The village was safe, and that’s a policeman’s job.
After Germany had its house divided and its weapons confiscated, it looked like U.S.S.R. was going to be the big bully. For years he looked leaner and meaner than Sheriff America ever did. U.S.S.R. — he liked to call himself “The Bear” — took over a big part of the village, and Sheriff America felt like he had to take the rest.
America and The Bear never fought for the whole village, although there were fights for bits and pieces of it. One time America got beat up real bad over a sliver of Southeast Asia, and a lot of the village thought the sheriff was washed-up. But patience paid off. The Bear turned out to be more of a malcontent than a mauler. Eventually his whole gang left him, and The Bear suffered a nervous breakdown, changed his name and promised to mend his Evil Empire ways.
That left Sheriff America unchallenged as the Law in this global village, although the village still nurtured some major head cases. Of course, things could have been different. The sheriff could have paid more attention to what was really happening to The Bear before his downfall instead of going broke buying guns. Then he would have been better-positioned to deal with the breakdown. But he won, right? The World’s Policeman had brought order — a New World Order — to the village. He was just doing his job.
With the Bear defeated, Sheriff America thought he could settle down to a peaceful life. But he soon realized that it wasn’t in his nature. The village was changing, and the sheriff didn’t know what to do about it. Everyone was acting like they didn’t need him anymore. Old rivals like Germany and Japan were friendly enough, but they just wanted to be left alone to run their businesses. Everyone was waiting for China to start saying she should be the new policeman. And even Western Europe — good ol’ Western Europe, the neighborhood America bailed out more than once way back when — was talking about how they’d solve their own problems now. No need for a policeman.
They were all wrong, Sheriff America muttered as he groped in the twilight for his bullets. The world was still a dangerous place. Just look at Cracked Iraq. A few years back, right after The Bear began to change his ways, Iraq kidnapped Kuwait and said he wouldn’t give him back. He put a gun to Kuwait’s head and said that if anybody came close, he’d shoot.
Iraq had gone too far, and all he did was set the stage for one of Sheriff America’s most spectacular moments as a world cop. The Sheriff rallied everyone to his posse — even The Bear — and after a short shoot-out Iraq was sent back to his home and told to stay there. No one was even allowed to slip Iraq table scraps under the door. Of course, things could have been different. A lot of those guns Iraq owned had been bought with the sheriff’s own money, back when the sheriff was trying to get Iraq to muscle someone else. And Iraq’s ostracism seemed a bit inhumane to much of the posse. Isolation starved Cracked’s body, but the body was never the problem: Iraq was sick in its head. “Can we talk this one through?” the posse asked. The sheriff was skeptical. He didn’t have to be humane; he had the biggest gun. He was there to make the world safe. And that’s what he was doing — right?
Meanwhile, Iraq was isolated, but he was still in the village. And after a while he stopped letting people into his house (suffering from delusions, he called his rooms “palaces”). That worried the World’s Policeman. He knew there was a chemistry set in there. The sheriff demanded entrance, but Iraq wouldn’t open up. He kicked at the door, but it stayed closed. Strange smells came from the house.
The sheriff called his posse, but most of them didn’t want to join this time. Sure, there were a few old friends left. Britain said he’d help bust down the door. Britain understood — it was World Policeman before America. But what use was doddering, sobbing Britain, still broken up because its girlfriend died? Canada said it would help too. Poor Canada — always getting sucked into its neighbor’s schemes. Germany tossed in a couple deutschemarks and said, “Don’t spend it all in one place.” And Saudi Arabia said America could keep his stuff in her garage, as long as he didn’t make a mess.
The sheriff didn’t like confrontations without his posse. He was especially worried that China and Russia (The Bear’s new name) weren’t joining him. It was like they were waiting for him to stumble, waiting for him to show that he couldn’t cut it as sheriff anymore. And maybe he couldn’t, he thought as he peered into the approaching darkness. Maybe the world didn’t need a sheriff anymore — or maybe it did, but it couldn’t just be one guy.
Maybe he’d gone too far. Maybe things could have been different. But they weren’t, and he still had a job to do.
The sheriff loaded his guns. He wasn’t sure why he had to — he just did. He’d been waving his weapons for too long. If he backed down, he might as well turn in his badge. If he had to go it alone, he’d go it alone. He was the World’s Policeman, whether the world wanted one or not. It was the only job he knew how to do. If he wasn’t the world’s policeman, who was Sheriff America, anyway?
It could have been different, he thought as he stepped out the door and into the streets of the village. All the battles, all the fears of the village’s most violent century — “The American Century” — could have been prevented, maybe. And maybe this battle, another round at the Oasis, could be prevented too. But he was too set in his ways, and it was too late in his career for the Sheriff’s mind to be clouded by such thoughts.
The guns were what got him where he was. And as the sun set over the village, showing the night sky to the World’s Policeman, he knew he’d go to his guns again.
Alan Bjerga’s column appears on Wednesdays. He can be contacted at [email protected]