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Nothing Is Forever


Harry Buschman

It was the twenty-fifth year of the war in Iraq. There were few Iraqi left, most of them were dead and the rest of them had gone to other countries and were swallowed up in the vast sink hole of the Mideast. An occupying army half-heartedly patrolled the streets in heavily armed vehicles but took little interest. They hardly noticed Johnny Pilgrim standing in the ruins of the Mosque of Hammurabi.

Johnny Pilgrim looked at the wall frieze behind him, a larger than life bas relief of the figure of Hammurabi, the warlike ruler who laid waste to the ancient cities north of Babylonia. His bloated, pitiless face was buried in facial hair. It wasn’t surprising, he thought, that he was known as the child of the devil to everyone – except the Babylonians.

It was almost 4000 years ago that Hammurabi had marched north from the Persian Gulf, following the fruitful Tigris and Euphrates valleys, and turning westward all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. He was careful to destroy only the armies and kingdoms that opposed him – he spared the rest, the farmers and the craftsmen. It was the technique of a true despot.

The light in the mosque varied in intensity – flickering as though it might have come from torches carried by marching men on a windy road and Johnny Pilgrim thought he could hear them passing – their voices muttering, laughing and singing bawdy songs. He could hear the weeping of innocent women and children.

Johnny Pilgrim was smart enough to know that tyrants never die. The spirit that moved them in life follows them beyond the grave. Hammurabi was no different than Caesar or Genghis Kahn, and if Johnny Pilgrim had lived then – even though he was a messenger of God, his voice would have been lost in the noise of battle. No one hears the peacemakers, their voices are blown away by the winds of war.

Johnny Pilgrim stood in the dimly lit sepulcher and felt the presence of Hammurabi. His native Iraqi guide said this was his tomb and marked his northernmost march of conquest. “From this point,” the guide told him, “he turned westward and his conquering armies marched through the foothills of the Turkish mountains and settled on the south coast of the Mediterranean Sea.”

“Babylonia was the essence of the world’s civilization,” he said. “We were a cultured people then – we named the stars. We predicted the seasons ... mathematics ... literature ... art ... philosophy.”

“Nothing is forever,” Johnny Pilgrim reminded him.

“Even forever,” said the guide.

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