The National Catholic Review
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Minutes to Midnight

The famous doomsday clock of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved ahead last January to five minutes before midnight. With the news on Feb. 28 that the Israelis are ready to attack Iran, in defiance of the United States, in order to dissuade it from developing a nuclear weapon, there is reason to move the minute hand even closer to midnight. The farthest the clock has been from midnight was 17 minutes in 1991, after the signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union. The closest was two minutes before midnight in 1953, when both powers tested thermonuclear weapons.

Both Iran and Israel bear responsibility for the current crisis. The Iranian regime deserves considerable blame for its refusal to collaborate with the International Atomic Energy Agency and for its overt anti-Semitism. But the Obama administration is well advised to counsel the Israelis that a preventive attack would be no more than a short-term solution and that the unpredictable consequences of a bombing campaign could be disastrous. Israelis and Jews everywhere will be vulnerable to retaliation, as well as Americans. Oil prices, already high, would climb further, resulting in a severe shock to the world economy. A nuclear arms race could also take off in the Middle East. Finally, an attack would also open an opportunity for the black market in nuclear technology to reappear. Israel and Iran both need to step back from the brink.

The best hope for Israel and for the world is vigorous renewal of efforts at nonproliferation, including a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. Israel, an undeclared nuclear power, will not like that. But an Israel-Iran conflict has the makings of a Samson-like scenario, in which the wrathful giant brings the roof down on all. The Iran-Israel crisis constitutes “an existential threat” not just for Israel but for much of the world.

Afghanistan Burning

United States involvement in Afghanistan is at an end. Even if troop withdrawal continues as planned and joint operations between international and Afghan forces still take place, the thoughtless burning of Korans at Bagram Air Force Base and the ensuing rioting and killing of Americans reveal that the protracted U.S. stay in Afghanistan has been a failure. U.S. forces have failed to appreciate Afghans’ Muslim sensibilities, and the Afghans are past the point of tolerating offenses as the deeds of a well-meaning but awkward friend. What’s more, the security institutions we tried to build have been penetrated by the Taliban and other Afghans who are now alienated from us. Like the British and the Russians before us, we will inevitably leave Afghanistan to sort out its own problems.

Post-mortems will have to be written by those closer to the scene than we are. But they will need to be probing, because continued disorder in Southwest and Central Asia will be a problem for the world. Some deterrent and discreet military options will have to be devised to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a harbor for global terrorism. But Afghanistan and its neighbors, India, China and Pakistan, will need to muddle through to the future with minimum involvement from the United States. In the meantime, the United States must consider whether the military is a suitable tool for dealing with such problems, or if in the years ahead it needs to invest more seriously in soft power.

A Masterpiece of Translation

Before 2011 fades into the distance, it is worth noting the 400th anniversary of what many consider the finest single volume of writing in the English language: the King James Bible. Published in 1611 by a group of scholars charged by King James I to oversee the translation, the King James is the source of some of the best known and facund biblical passages. Thanks to the king’s men, we sing with the Psalmist, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Ps 23:1) and feel the sting of Cain’s query to God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gn 4:9). And is there a more elegant summation of the muddle of this mortal life than St. Paul’s phrase, “We see through a glass, darkly” (1 Cor 13:12)?

The King James Bible is often referred to as the only masterpiece written by a committee. What is less often noted is that it drew on several existing translations, including the Geneva Bible and the work of William Tyndale, who was burned at the stake because he dared to translate God’s word. Rather than begin the translation process anew, the king’s committee strove “to make a good [translation] better, or out of many good ones, one principal good one.” They chose text that was both poetic and compact and in many cases revealed new layers of meaning. Key to their success was a sense of humility: they did not privilege their abilities above those who came before them. Through their judicious editing and dedication to the larger good, they produced a prayerful work of translation that endures to this day. Theirs truly was “a labor of love” (1 Thes 1:3).

Comments

Amy Ho-Ohn | 3/12/2012 - 10:02am
The government of Israel must evaluate its options with its citizens' best chances for survival its top priority. That a preemptive attack will provoke retaliation against Israelis and other Jews should not weigh heavily. The iranians are already doing their best to murder Jews throught the world; incompetence, not conscience, will set the limit to their retaliation. Neither should oil prices should not weigh heavily in their consideration; the world will always be eager to sell Jewish lives for oil.

Above all, it would be foolish for Israel to either give up any part of its military arsenal or forswear preemptive attack. It is impossible to deny that Israel is what Rafsanjani has repeatedly called a "one bomb country." Iran, on the other hand, could hardly be bombed back into the Stone Age with a thousand bombs; for Iran, the Stone Age would be a Great Leap Forward.

On the one side is the nation who gave the world the Holy Scriptures and consistently manages to win about one fourth of the Nobel prizes in science. On the other side are the folks who assaulted our embassy, held our diplomats hostage for more than a year and fund terrorist attacks on our soldiers deployed abroad. It shouldn't be hard for any American or any Christian to figure out which side is the good guy in this picture.
Virginia Edman | 3/11/2012 - 6:07pm
Your Current Comments are all three right on the mark.  You certainly called it right in Afghanistan Burning.  Now with the murder of civilians by a United States soldier on a personal rampage, this tragic event will increase the tension that was already there to a very dangerous level.

In the case of Iran, it is not only Israel and Iran, but the entire Middle East and the United States as well.  America has a terrible reputation for looking for war, and the adventure in Iraq and Afghanistan has shown that it is not a winning situation.  To stop a nuclear bomb being developed is a worthy goal, but the consequences of that action could be catastropic, as you say, like Samson pulling the whole thing down on all of us.  What was really frightening was the Republican candidates calling for the immediate bombing of Iran.  Give President Obama a chance to work for non-proliferation in the Middle East.
Bill Kulls | 3/11/2012 - 9:05am
Your editorial completely ignores the time bomb ticking with Iran posessing a nuclear weapon!  Iran has promised to eliminate Israel off the map!  This is not some idle threat! Your editorial is just a an excuse to not stir the pot, but everyday Iran is afforded time to build a bomb, the pot isalready being stirred!
Virginia Edman | 3/9/2012 - 8:42pm
Ever since I learned about William Tyndale and his translation of the Bible into English I have been enthralled by his story.   Apparently he felt strongly that the Bible should be available to everyone to read.  Since King Henry VIII was against an English translation of the Bible, Tyndale fled to Germany where he met with Martin Luther.  In danger and peril he traveled around translating the Bible from the Greek to English.  He completed his translation in 1525 and it was printed in Worms and smuggled into England.  He wrote many pamphlets as well.  He believed that Salvation is a gift of God, not earned by good deeds.  In a argument with a clergyman he is reputed to say:  "I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spares my life, ere many years, I will cause the boy that driveth the  plow to know more of the Scriptures than thou dost!"

Betrayed by someone that he had befriended, he was arrested in 1535 and jailed in the castle of Vilvoorde outside Brussels for over a year.  He was tried for heresy then strangled and burned at the stake in 1536.  Four years later King Henry VIII called for an English translation of the Bible and the King James Version was written by fifty four independent scholars who drew heavily on the Tyndale translation.  According to one extimate the New Testament in the King James Version is 83% Tyndale's, while the Old Testament is 76%.

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