A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


My son, bless his heart, is worried about me.

It isnít my health or my driving or my finances that have him concerned Ė his mother worries about those things enough to fill the entire familyís quota. Joe Jr. is worried about the Old Manís politics. I think it was my recent comment on the Middle East inspection process that made him wonder.

"I keep hearing about these inspectors in Iraq looking for reasons to go to war," I said off-handedly over a Reuben and fries. "What I want to know is, are there people over there who are looking for reasons to have peace?"

Joe almost choked on his Philly steak sandwich. His politics run a little to the right of Rush Limbaughís, and any suggestion that I was nervous about the possibility of war was viewed with skepticism, if not outright horror.

"Dad," he said, "have you been paying attention to whatís going on over there?"

"Yes," I said. Then I admitted: "But Iím not sure I understand it."

He tried to explain it to me, but frankly, I got sort of lost in the discussion. So Iíve been doing some research on my own, and now Iím even more confused.

For example, Iíve learned that Iraq is located in a part of the world that is often referred to as the Cradle of Civilization. If youíre speaking Biblically, tradition holds that this is where the Garden of Eden was. If youíre speaking anthropologically, this is also the home of the Sumerians, an advanced civilization that ruled this part of the world long before the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. These folks invented the wheel, the plow and math, and they developed an agrarian society that evolved into a form of urbanization.

If you think about it, this means we can hold them sort of accountable for Eve, SUVs, work, calculus and rap music. I donít know if this is on any of those reports, but it should be.

I also learned that the Sumerians created the earliest form of writing, called "cuneiform." Basically this consisted of a chopped reed stylus scratching symbols onto wet clay. This is how they passed agricultural information from generation to generation. I donít think it is how their progeny keep track of the locations of their weapons of mass destruction, but you never know.

Sometime after the Sumerians ruled the area, the Babylonians took over. Now, hereís where things start getting confusing. Some faith groups revere the Babylonians, while other faith groups tend to think of them as the bad guys. From what I can tell they were capable of both -- good and bad -- just like every other civilization before or since.

A Babylonian king named Hammurabi developed a code of social justice that was called Ė Iím not making this up Ė the Hammurabi Code. Have you heard the saying, "the punishment should fit the crime"? Thatís straight out of the Hammurabi Code, which held that the state is the authority that should be responsible for enforcing law and that the stateís protection should be extended to the lower classes, and not just to those in power (interestingly, King Hammurabi had the code engraved on a huge piece of black diorite, which is now on display in the Louvre in Paris Ė although no one in France pays any attention to it).

Thereís another saying in the Hammurabi Code that has been bandied about lately: "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." Remember when one of the Jewish villagers in "Fiddler on the Roof" suggested that philosophy as a response to persecution being heaped upon them? I love Tevyeís wise response: "That way we would all be blind and toothless."

I understand that there are a lot of things I donít understand, and Iím willing to trust those who are a lot smarter Ė and have a lot more information Ė than me. But I will continue to pray for peace, and hope with all my heart that solutions can be found in the land of the Sumerians and Babylonians without anyone else ending up blind or toothless.

Only donít tell Joe Jr., OK?

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--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through