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NOW with Bill Moyers

Bill Moyers Journal — Crossing the Euphrates


BILL MOYERS: This headline I saw on the web — MARINES CROSS EUPHRATES — got me to thinking.

Do they know? Do they know, these young Marines, this elite American fighting force. Do they know Alexander the Great crossed the Euphrates, too, on his way to battle — and empire... With his engineers, architects, scientists and scribes, and an army 40,000 strong, their l3-foot spears gleaming in the sun.

The mighty Darius also crossed the Euphrates, and on these plains met Alexander in battle. Xenophon … Xerxes and Sennacherib...they crossed the it, too. The Sumerians crossed this river...the Akkadians, Hittites, and Amorites. The Semites, as well.

The Euphrates is the largest and longest river of western Asia. And where it meets its sister the Tigris became the fertile womb of Mesopotamia, birthplace of civilization. A thousand gods sprang forth here — and cities like Persepolis, Seleucia, Nineva, and Babylon. Somewhere between these rivers lay the Garden of Genesis.

Adam and Eve, exiled, crossed the Euphrates fleeing East of Eden. Writing first appeared here — myths and legends took hold. Gilgamesh, the Flood, the prophet Jonah, the Tower of Babel. Sargon, beloved of Ishtar, won 34 battles here, ruled twice as many cities, and vanquished his foes. Inana, goddess of love and war, slaked her thirst and passion here. Hammurabi proclaimed his Code…

And on these stones is all that remain of conquests, rebellions and battles — the violent death of rulers — prisoners of war disposed of by execution. For five thousand years the story repeats itself, the victory of one, the defeat of the other. Tribes and gods turn on each other. Omens fill the literature: "A powerful man will ascend the throne in a foreign city," it is written. "They will lock the city gates and there will be calamity in the city," it is written.

Even Ghengis Khan met his match trying to get here. The last word has always been written in the sand. Cities and states lie buried beneath it. The great figures who once held sway here Ashunrasirpal II, Tilglath-pileser III, Shamish-Adad V, King Nino, Queen Semiramis, King Shar-Kali-sharr. Suleyman the Magnificant, the Ottomons, the British, have all been carried away.

Five thousand years from now, who will be crossing the Euphrates? What will remain from our time? And what will be remembered?