woody zimmermanIn the wake of Italy's devastating earthquake of April 6, news has emerged that Giampaolo Giuliani, a seismologist at the nearby Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Abruzzo, had predicted the imminent occurrence of a large earthquake. After months of small tremors in the area, Signor Giuliani had suggested March 29 as a probable date. When that date passed without event, Guido Bertolaso, head of Italy's Civil Protection Agency, officially denounced Giuliani in court last week for "false alarm."

"These imbeciles enjoy spreading false news," Bertolaso was quoted as saying. "Everyone knows that you can't predict earthquakes..."

Ummm...well, maybe or maybe not. But when the Big One (6.3 on the Richter scale) hit a week later, Signor Giuliani got mad. "Someone owes me an apology," he rasped. "The situation here [in L'Aquila] is dramatic. I am devastated, but also angry." Signor Bertolaso was unavailable for comment in the wake of the severe earthquake, which has killed hundreds and left tens of thousands homeless. It's tempting to make Godfather jokes here ("I want no acts of vengeance"), but people are dead because a foolish official refused to warn people about a coming catastrophe.

Everyone knows that it's bad to yell "fire" in a crowded theater. This means you shouldn't raise a false alarm, of course, but you can yell when you smell the smoke and feel the heat. In that case, one can argue, it's a very bad thing not to give the alarm - and even worse to suppress the alarm just to avoid scaring people. People should be scared - not necessarily panicked - when there's a fire, and it's wicked to hide the truth from them just to keep everyone fat, dumb and happy.

The dueling-officials drama in Italy is curiously coincidental with the week of President Obama's "peace tour" to Europe and the Middle East, wherein he has taken great pains to show the world that: (1) we are not "at war" with Islam; (2) our intentions are entirely peaceful; and (3) the bad old days of the warmonger George W. Bush (curséd be his name forever) are over. Mr. Obama even went so far as to aver that most of the tensions, meanness and bad feeling in the world - not to mention acne, hemorrhoids, ingrown toenails, and the heartbreak of psoriasis - are really our fault, and he promised to be real good from now on.

The president was in "full grovel" posture, something both amazing and depressing to observe - like the sight of the emperor wearing his "new clothes" in public, one imagines. Washington Times Editor Emeritus Wesley Pruden wrote: "We've never seen a presidential performance quite like his Groveling, Toadying, and Apple-polishing tour of the Olde Countries." {1}

All this, of course, was meant to assure the rest of the world that there are no issues of hostility save those that Americans have caused and exacerbated. But never fear. No one has to be a-scairt on our account, any longer. Not only does America not bite; it doesn't even bark. A new day of peace and brotherhood (I mean sibling-hood, of course) has arrived.

But history is - among other things - vastly ironic: almost as though a Higher Power were occasionally amusing Himself by mischievous arrangement of events. While President Obama was bowing so low to the King of Saudi Arabia "that he risked banging his head on the floor, a real presidential first" (quoth Mr. Pruden), North Korea's Dear Leader arranged for his own in-your-face "peace demonstration" by firing an intercontinental ballistic missile across 2000 miles of the Pacific Ocean. World leaders "viewed with alarm" and expressed "grave concern," but no official action has resulted. A committee of representatives from various peace-loving nations will undoubtedly meet to talk about beginning to think about starting to consider conferring on whether to draft a statement telling North Korea that the missile was inconvenient and really not very nice.

The Obama administration's kinder and gentler military forces had, in fact, deployed numerous ships equipped with missile systems capable of intercepting the North Korean missile, should it appear headed for US territory. But we did not challenge (ill) Kim Jong Il by knocking his missile down, as we could have done. An intercept would have spoken volumes about America's technical prowess and our will to use those capabilities. Our shootin' iron stayed in its holster, to avoid sending the world's peace-loving pooh-bahs (Islamic and otherwise) to their fainting couches. No need to scare anybody by yelling "fire" - even when we can see the flames.

This daring new "peace through nice talk" initiative has actually been tried before - although most Obama followers (in addition to The One, Himself) were still wearing rubber britches when its most notable practitioner, James (they call me Mr. Earl) Carter, gave it the full monte. The latter term is apt, as not wearing a stitch is exactly how Mr. Carter ended up after the Ayatollah Khomenei repaid American support for his ascendancy by overrunning our Embassy in Teheran and holding its personnel hostage for 444 days. For good measure, the Russkies kicked us when we were down by launching an invasion of Afghanistan. Although the characterization was probably unfair, Mr. Carter came off looking like our most incompetent commander-in-chief ever. He went down to a thumping rejection by voters - a result over which he is still bitter.

Apparently many of my fellow citizens find it difficult to believe, but international dealings are really not too much different than dynamics between "ordinary" kids and tough kids on the old playground. Unbelievable though it might seem, certain people really don't respond well to soft words. Back in the day, you didn't really have to go around like you had a permanent burr under your saddle in order to be left alone by the tough kids. You just had to be willing to show a little "game", occasionally, at the right time. As the Fonz once said, "You don't have to hit somebody every time. But you have to have hit somebody sometime."

As children, many of us learned that the playground can be a tough place. I don't know if Mr. Obama learned it as a boy, but he's going to learn it now. It's just a bigger playground with tougher characters, some of which play really dirty. The problem for us is that the cost of Mr. Obama's lesson might be more than a bloody nose and a torn shirt. Considering the stakes, I'd like the rest of the world to be a little scared of us. Maybe not exactly quaking, but respectful. I think we'll be a lot safer that way. A little honest fear never hurt anyone.

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{1} "Tickling the Masses with Cheap Flattery" by Wesley Pruden; The Washington Times; April 7, 2009.  http://washingtontimes.com/news/2009/apr/07/tickling-the-masses-with-cheap-flattery/