Paul Greenberg

The routine hasn't changed much since Munich. A different cast of characters follows the same old script. Distinguished statesmen accept peace prizes while assuring war. It is all very proper, polite and carefully modulated. No one loses his temper. They're professionals, after all. It is only the victims who scream.

The world watches the slaughter but does little to stop it. Words like security and justice fill the air, but they resound hollow. And always will as long as there is no connection between justice and power, between law and its enforcement. One without the other is only a fraud. And the fraud goes on. As if we had learned nothing from the past, and insist on repeating its every bloody failure.

Santayana's observation has become a cliche because it's become so regularly applicable: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Every such crisis is different, yet the same. What they have in common is the wanton brutality of those in power. The kind of brutality Bashar al-Assad's regime practices ever more openly in Syria. The kind of brutality that cannot be prevented by words alone. Actions, as always, speak louder.

How long, oh, how long will the world wait before acting? Or will it continue to dawdle and equivocate and generally do too little too late, marking time instead of making use of it?

As still another crisis in the Middle East was developing some years back, the clear-eyed and plain-spoken Margaret Thatcher -- yes, the Iron Lady herself, how we need such a leader! -- had some sage advice for the world, advice that never seems to go out of date:

Now is no time to go wobbly.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.