"Saddam will eat you Americans alive," a Jordanian refugee yelled
at us last month. "He can eat everything. He can eat rocks, snakes,
donkeys, trees, missiles and soldiers."
As brag talk goes, that's not bad. More colorful and imaginative,
anyway, than some of the things the allies have been saying: "We're
going to neutralize the enemy with all the coercive potential of our
Americans used to do better brag talk than that. Back in the 19th
century, there was a whole school of such talkersthey called
themselves half horse, half alligatorand Mark Twain and other
frontier writers liked to quote them.
"I'm the old original iron-jawed, brass-mounted, copper-bellied
corpse-maker from the wilds of Arkansaw!" Twain has one such
specimen saying as he squares off against another one. "I'm the man
they call Sudden Death and General Desolation! Sired by a
hurricane, dam'd by an earthquake, half-brother to the cholera,
nearly related to the smallpox on my mother's side! Look at me! I
take nineteen alligators and a bar'l of whisky for breakfast when I'm
in robust health, and a bushel of rattlesnakes and a dead body when
.Blood's my natural drink, and the wails of the dying is
music to my ear. Cast your eye on me, gentlemen, and lay low and
hold your breath, for I'm about to turn myself loose!"
Now come on. Doesn't that beat "We're gonna kick some ass"?
The other guy calls himself the Child of Calamity and Twain has
him respond: "The kingdom of sorrow's a-coming! Hold me down
to the earth, for I feel my powers a-working! I'm a child of
sin, don't let me get a start
.Contemplate me through leather
don't use the naked eye! I'm the man with a petrified heart and
biler-iron bowels! The massacre of isolated communities is the
pastime of my idle moments, the destruction of nationalities the
serious business of my life!"
The lovely thing about Twain's two braggarts is that they wear
themselves out talking like that and they don't have any meanness
left for fighting.
And that suggests yet another Gulf peace proposal. With both
sides apparently hellbent for a ground war, this probably won't be
taken seriously, but what's lost? The two sides don't
take serious proposals seriously either.
Here's the proposal:
Instead of a ground war, let's have the two heads of state meet in
single combat in the middle of the Kuwaiti desert for a Half Horse,
Half Alligator Tough Talk Contesta battle of wits that, given the
participants, would be pretty benign.
We'd want a couple of weeks to get the two contestants in shape.
Reading a little Twain would help George Bush understand that
referring to another head of state as "SAD-dumb" might have been
funny the first ten or twelve times, but it's lost its zing by now.
Saddam Hussein could take lessons in humorous hyperbole from
that Jordanian refugeethe boast that allied troops will swim in a
river of their own blood isn't very funnyand someone could tell him
that Western sensibilities aren't much moved by metaphors like "the
mother of battles." He'd make better contact with "the mother-in-law
of battles," or "the drunk uncle of battles."
The Truth, Mainly
The contest would be judged by 100 randomly selected Iraqis and
Americans, and there'd be stringent rules. U.N. monitors would
count yawns and as soon as any brag was yawned at by 51 of the
judges, the speaker would be declared the loser and he'd have to
If Saddam Hussein loses, Iraq would have to apologize to
everyone and withdraw from Kuwait. Even more humiliating, Iraqis
would have to submit to an election with an American-style political
campaign18 months of 20-second sound bites. And most galling of
all, Iraq would have to accept military aid once again from the allies.
Saddam himself would have to clean up the oil spill with a
toothbrush, then live out his life waiting tables in a motorcycle bar in
If George Bush loses, the U.S. would have to withdraw from the
Gulf and cede the Texas panhandle to the Kuwaitis for their new
homeland. The President would have to keep a straight face while
telling the country it'll be in good hands with President Danny
Quayle. Then he'd have to live out his life as a uniformed chauffeur
to Kuwaiti Crown Prince Sheik Saad al-Abdallah al-Salem al-Sabah in
the new Kuwaiti capital city of Amarillo. And he'd have to call him
by his full name. Correctly pronounced.
In one fell swoop, we'd elevate the rhetoric and lower the death
rate. George and Saddam would probably win the Nobel Peace
Prizeor at least the gratitude of friends and families of those troops
lining up on both sides for a ground war that may in fact be
something to contemplate through leather, that may unite both sides
in a kingdom of sorrowor petrify hearts everywhere.
Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.