Retreat or Defeat?
By R. D. Flavin


     Our withdrawal of advisers and Special Forces from Yemen follows the recent closing of our embassy which basically leaves us with NO political and military presence, or the ability to gather intelligence in this most troubled (and dangerous) nation. It should be asked if this is a retreat or defeat, however I can't really separate the two in this case. Once more, it becomes difficult to distinguish between violent Islamic fundamentalists, despots and gangsters, pirates, and other ...'bad' people. Retreat or defeat may also be expressed by action or inaction. Change from within is generally peaceful, as change from without is often violent. Change is inevitable, yet it's up to us to define how it comes about.

     Such negative human behaviors as racism, religious differences, and land (and one day extraterrestrial) border disputes will most likely continue for the next several generations. I'll leave mentions of how we've severely hurt the environment for another column. I'd like to discuss perceptions, both how we regard ourselves (Americans) and how the rest of the world sees us and what they expect.

     Do we make mistakes? All the time... We didn't handle Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, or Syria well. While I usually blame our arrogant Republican Congress, I shan't be petty in this case as the problems we all face far exceed the blame game. Whether one is a 'Believer' or an atheist, ALL recognize the miracle of creation and evolution. Yeah, things are pretty messed up in the world today, but even unbelievers would admit it's a miracle we've gotten this far.

     Most of history written in the last 5000 years has concerned war and conflict. Our studies of prehistory indicate not all hand-axes, arrows, spears, atlatls, etc. were only used for hunting... War has been with us for a very long time. Unfortunately, we've gotten much better at it and will probably improve our ability to kill in the near future.

     Yemen has long occupied a strategic location on the Arabian. During the Bronze Age they were known as the Sabaeans (the Biblical Sheba). They maintained close relations with Ethiopia and were one of the first to use the South Semitic (or Arabian) alphabet. They were exposed to the religious beliefs of both the Phoenicians and the Hebrews, but eventually developed their own identity and religion.

     El-Maqah, Almaqah, or Ilmuqah (South Arabian ; Ethiopic Ge'ez አለመቀሀ, and the ArabicʾLMQH) was a sun god and however one regards either pagan or orthodox religions, as the rest of the Middle East and North Africa became dominated by the Romans, the Sabaean sun god must have shown brightly on the behalf of his followers, as the Sabaeans defeated 10,000 Roman soldiers in 25 BCE. Dispatched by Augustus, Aelius Gallus was instructed to subdue Arabia Felix (Yemen), but instead suffered a horrific loss. Sure, some German tribes and the Scots also resisted Roman rule, but Rome endured no greater defeat then that received by the Sabaeans.

     Sure, there were various periods when one clan or group 'ruled' the land, yet as is well known, with the advent and widespread conquest of Islam ca. 630-631CE, Yemen (Arabic al-Yaman) became Muslim and the Yemeni were faithful soldiers with the conquests of Egypt and North Africa, as well as the Levant, Iraq, and Persia. Though there was some tolerance for Jews and Christians, Yemen has remained an Islamic nation until the present day.

     Various Yemeni established dynasties (some with Turkish backgrounds and fictional heritage), until the Ottoman Empire openly began to attack and rule towns and regions of Yemen, both for their maritime access to India and the Far East, but also because Yemen was the only country growing coffee at the time (though strangely, the Turks outlawed the consumption of coffee during the 17th century CE for political reasons).

     Ethnobtotanists and genetic genealogists place the origin of 'coffee', that is Cofffea arabica (and related species such as C. canephora, which gave rise to C. robusta and other varieties) in Abyssinia (ancient Ethiopia), though its first appearance in the archaeological record is associated with a Yemeni Islamic Sufi ritual in the 14th century CE. The Sufi sect referred to the drink as bunn (Arabic for 'bean'), though qahway is the common Semitic term for a 'dark thing', usually wine (Kaye 1986, pp. 557-558). The 'dark brew' gave one energy and staved off hunger and a likely apocryphal tale of a traveling Sufi in Ethiopia who saw a goat consume coffee beans and then begin to dance wildly. Perhaps there may be some truth in that tale, but it's in Yemen where we first historically encounter coffee.

     Now it was around this time that the Ottoman Turks began to expand their 'Empire' and Yemen was an early starting point. For a couple of hundred years the Ottoman Turks ruled Yemen harshly, until for some unknown reason, during the 17th century CE their interest began to wane. As interest in coffee spread throughout the world (Topik 2009), encouraged by Goethe, the German analytical chemist, Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge (already somewhat famous for demonstrating the mydriatic or pupil dilation effects of atropine) isolated the alkaloid caffeine (Runge 1820).

     As fate would have it, in 1839 the British showed up in Yemen to stock up on coal to power their ships to India. Well, this soon got the attention of the Ottoman Turks who returned to Yemen and expelled the British. This, of course, was only a minor setback for the Brits, as they discovered oil in Iran some seventy years later (BP or British Petroleum is its current company name), and lots of money exchanged hands. The Turks continued to rule Yemen until World War I when the Ottoman Empire collapsed, modern Turkey was born, and Yemen became semi-autonomous, as Yemen has always had occasional sectarian conflicts with the Sunni supported by the Saudis and the Shi'ite backed by Persia or modern Iran. And, most sadly, even with a legitimately elected president, the once peaceful and theological Houthis group founded in 1992, has become radicalized since 2003 and now control nearly half the country. The United Nations recently declared that Yemen was on the brink of “civil war.”

     Retreat or defeat? Perhaps a politically correct move... Well, with ISIS and al-Quada waiting like terrorist vultures, an extraordinary coalition led by Saudi Arabia (with, it's reported, planes from Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain) began bombing Houthis positions. It's also said the Saudis have pledged 150,000 troops and 100 warplanes to the operations and that Egypt, Jordan, Sudan, and Pakistan were ready to take part in a ground offensive. I feel a strong sense of pride in this Islamic coalition. This might be the start of a peace many have dreamed of for centuries.


Kaye, Alan S. 1986. “The Etymology of Coffee.” Journal of the American Oriental Society. 106, 3: 557-558.

Runge, Friedlieb Ferdinand. 1820. Neueste phytochemische Entdeckungen zur Begründung einer wissenschaftlichen Phytochemie [Latest phytochemical discoveries for the founding of a scientific phytochemistry]. Berlin: G. Reimer. See: pp. 144–159.

Topik, Steven. 2009. “Coffee as a Social Drug.” Cultural Critique (“Drugs in Motion: Mind- and Body-Altering Substances in the World's Cultural Economy”). 71: 81-106.

Vowing never to consume anything (Kopi Luwak) excreted from a “toddy cat” or civet,,

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