I watched some of yesterday's live television coverage of the events leading up to the naming of a new pope. There were tens of thousands people standing in a pouring rain, but without any apparent police supervision: no SWAT team armed with machine-guns, no helicopters flapping above the crowd, and none of the other presence of state violence that would have occurred had a dozen American college students stood on a street-corner carrying signs.
The Swiss Guard then entered the scene: a handful of men wearing helmets and uniforms of medieval origin, and carrying nothing more lethal than spears. The Guard's numbers seem to have been exceeded only by those comprising the Vatican marching band. The wonderful Peter Sellers movie, The Mouse That Roared, came to mind. How has such a small number of defenders managed to keep the Vatican free from military attack for so many years? How can an institution, with 1.2 billion members, get along without hundreds of thousands of troops with assault weapons, nuclear bombs, ICBM missiles, aircraft carriers, tanks, SEAL teams, drones, and other tools of death? Why haven't "terrorist" groups gone after this organization?
Someone defined television as "empty space held together by commercials." When genuine news is being presented, even the commercials are sacrificed, as was the case yesterday. I suspect that CNN must have gone one to two hours without any commercials. Its on-scene reporter, Anderson Cooper, made up for this somewhat by interviewing two young Americans - each dressed in American flag suits - as if to put the spin of Empire on the proceedings.
At long last the news came: the new Pope was the first non-European - a man from South America - to hold the position. I smiled to myself: the processes of decentralization are even at work within the institution that most symbolizes "tradition" in our world.