It is painful to see the decline of Great Britain.
Greatness in individuals is rare; in countries it is almost unique. And Great Britain was great.
It used to be said that "The sun never sets on the British empire." That is how vast Britain's influence was. And that influence, on balance, was far more positive than negative. Ask the Indians -- or the Americans, for that matter. The British colonies learned about individual rights, parliamentary government, civil service and courts of justice, to name of few of the benefits that the British brought with them. Were it not for British involvement, India might still have sati (burning wives on the funeral pyre of their husband), would have no unifying language, and probably no parliamentary democracy or other institutions and values that have made that country a democratic giant, now on its way to becoming an economic one as well. But today, the sun not only literally sets on an extinct British empire; it is figuratively setting on Britain itself.
Two recent examples provide evidence:
One is the way Britain handled the recent act of war against it by Iran. Everything about the British reaction revealed a civilization in decline.
Whether the British sailors and marines should have put up more resistance -- i.e., any resistance -- to the unprovoked Iranian military attack is something for military and other experts to decide. Whether the captured sailors and marines offered more information and more cooperation, and more smiles than was necessary to the leader of their kidnappers, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will also be determined in ongoing investigations. Whether the British government engaged in appeasement of Iran or ineffective diplomacy will also have to be judged.
What does seem clear, however, is that the British government did not confront the Iranians in any way reminiscent of a great country, let alone of Britain's great past. If we judge the British government's reaction alone -- without any reference to the behavior of the British sailors and marines -- Iran was the feared power, not Great Britain, which acted like the supplicant.
But what really makes one weep for Britain's lost greatness is what has happened since the sailors and marines were released.