In March 1282, the French King Charles of Anjou, a protégé of the Pope in Rome, controlled southern Italy and Sicily. On the Vigil of Easter a drunken French sergeant began to bother a young married woman at a festival in a village near Palermo. Her husband killed the sergeant just as the church bells were ringing for Vespers. The bells began to ring all over the city as news of the outrage spread, soon leading to cries of “Moranu li Francisi,” death to the French. Within days thousands of Frenchmen were dead and Anjou was driven from the island. Alas, he was soon replaced by the Spaniards.
Celebrated in a Verdi opera, the Sicilian Vespers have been heralded as one of the great popular uprisings against an occupying power. The Sicilian people reached a tipping point and their rage boiled over at their subjugation to foreigners. Since that time there have been similar examples of popular rage, culminating in the American, French, and Russian revolutions. Each required an event or series of events to start the process.
It seems that a Sicilian Vespers type tipping point is being approached, or possibly has already been achieved, in Afghanistan. Urinating on corpses, burning Qurans, and slaughtering whole families have not exactly inspired the Afghans to welcome their “liberators.” Rage against the occupation is becoming a dominant sentiment among Afghans, a unifying principle that defeated the British in their First Afghan War and also led more recently to the retreat of the Soviets. The American Empire is not immune to a similar surge in hostility and has done little to convince locals throughout the Middle East and Asia that it is benevolent or that it has any sympathy for or understanding of local cultures and beliefs. The US lost a protracted war in Vietnam and has more recently been expelled from Iraq. The ill conceived and unnecessary wars produced mountains of dead and have impoverished the nation. The perils of continuing willy-nilly interventionism should be clearly on display for anyone who cares enough to read the signs. It was time to leave Afghanistan ten years ago.
When even Newt Gingrich begins to understand, even for the wrong reasons, it is surely the beginning of the end for the Afghan adventure. Gingrich argues that that the US presence is “probably counterproductive” and explains that “we’re not prepared to be ruthless enough.” Can we see him lining up with Ron Paul against war at any cost advocates Romney and Santorum?