If you ever attended one of those late-night animated film festivals that theaters used to sponsor during the 1970s, then you may have seen a short cartoon very short called "Bambi Meets Godzilla."
The cartoon begins with the innocent deer standing in a tranquil meadow as the opening credits roll past. A pastoral melody from the Rossini opera "William Tell" plays in the background as Bambi sniffs the flowers in his animated paradise.
Seconds into the cartoon, the brief credits conclude. Suddenly, Godzilla's giant foot comes crashing down on Bambi, smashing him into oblivion. In less than two minutes, it's over.
If "Bambi Meets Godzilla" were made today, some creative mind would almost certainly find a way to extend it into a two-hour cinematic indictment of global warming, the war on terror or the pharmaceutical industry. When Marv Newland created it in 1969, he gave his cartoon the improvisational brevity merited by an encounter between a naïf and a monster.
Jimmy Carter reenacted "Bambi Meets Godzilla" during a recent visit to Darfur. The people of Darfur are suffering the fifth year of a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing carried out by the government of Sudan and its Janjaweed militia allies.
The numbers and the atrocities are by now so well-known, so commonplace as to be stultifying: 2 million people driven from their homes, as many as 400,000 killed, mass rapes of women and girls.
During his two-day mission to Sudan, Carter intended to meet with Darfur refugees. But when he arrived outside the town of Kabkabiya, a Janjaweed stronghold, the people were too frightened to come out. The former president and his entourage tried to venture into the village. Along the way, according to an Associated Press account, residents slipped handwritten notes to Carter's traveling companions.
Billionaire Richard Branson produced a note from his pocket scribbled in Arabic. "We (are) still suffering from the war," it said, "as our girls are being raped on a daily basis."
Carter made it to a school where he met with one refugee. But when he tried to proceed farther, Sudanese security officers if not the actual monsters of the Darfur genocide, then at least their accomplices stopped him. Carter railed at the armed men, "I'll tell President Bashir about this."
Of course, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is one of the principal architects of the strategy of rape and civilian slaughter.
Carter left Darfur complaining that the West was responding too slowly to the humanitarian tragedy while also criticizing the use of the word "genocide" to describe the situation, a designation he called legally imprecise and "unhelpful."
It was a surprising criticism coming from a man who tosses the word "apartheid" around with careless abandon. The African tribes of Darfur have the bad luck of being ethnically cleansed by fellow Muslims rather than by Jews.
More to the point, when the men with guns who do the killing confronted Carter, his only response was to threaten to talk to someone about it someone, it turns out, who gives the orders to the men with guns to do the killing.
Well-intentioned words won't do a thing to help the people in Kabkabiya today, tomorrow, next month or even next year. One of the frightening consequences of the Iraq war is that people of good will seem to have forgotten that sometimes words are not enough.
"The biggest problem we have today is that we never join words and action," Paul Rusesabagina told the San Antonio Express-News Editorial Board in a meeting last month.
Rusesabagina is a hero of the Rwandan genocide whose exploits are portrayed in the movie "Hotel Rwanda." It wasn't a call for reckless adventurism, as Rusesabagina made clear in his criticism of the Bush administration's motives for going into Iraq. But sometimes, words alone are not enough.
In the animated world, Godzilla squashes Bambi and the cartoon ends. In the real world, ruthless monsters ignore pleas for peace and verbal threats and keep raping and killing.