“A group of people in Najaf have crossed the line,” Bremer said at a news conference. “This will not be tolerated.”

Oh, so they’ve crossed the line? What line might that be?

Mr. Bremer is a courageous man with a price on his head. But he sounds like he’s lecturing recalcitrant schoolboys.

Here in Washington, D.C., during the sniper shootings, then-Chief of Police Charles Moose announced at one point that whoever was gunning down innocent citizens had ‘crossed the line.’

Oh, like now you’ve really done it, huh?

What happens if you cross the line?

In Iraq, it means that our soldiers, forced to spill American blood, are searching for a mullah — they have an arrest warrant (!) for him, you see.

Ah, for a little Victorian clarity.

It’s hard to imagine the sputtering that would issue from the punditocracy and Ted Kennedy if anybody today dared to speak as General David ‘Chinese’ Gordon spoke.

Gordon, who loved the people of Sudan and wanted to free them from slavery, didn’t pussyfoot around.

He did not say the Mahdi had ‘crossed the line.’

What Gordon said was: ‘Smash the Mahdi!’

The mahdi was Mohammed Ahmed, a Sudanese religious leader who preached against foreigners and Moslems he did no consider strict enough in following their faith.

From Khartoum, he wrote to London: “In order to leave Egypt to live in peace, it’s necessary to exterminate the Mahdi.”

As school boys (and girls) once knew, Chinese Gordon did not smash the Mahdi. Gladstone’s government delayed and delayed — the reinforcements did not arrive.

‘If the Expeditionary Force does not come in ten days,’ Gordon wrote in his diary, ‘the town may fall and I have done my best for the honour of our country. Good bye. C.G.Gordon.”

Queen Victoria, a fan of Gordon’s who had failed to get Gladstone to act in time, wrote to her Prime Minister: ‘These news from Khartoum are frightful and to think that all this might have been prevented and many precious lives saved by earlier action is too frightful.’

I worry that we will lose precious lives, too.

(By the way, I’ve thought a lot about Gordon lately. Like our own General Boynton, he was a Christian gentleman. As with Boynton, this evoked sneers. Not, of course, from the dominant society of Gordon’s day, which largely shared his values, but from Lytton Strachey, who belonged to the Bloomsbury set that did so much to birth our current cultural elite. Strachey, of course, made Gordon one of his Eminent Victorians. Strachey was such a great writer, however, and Gordon such a great man that the book is worth reading and relevant for our current struggles.)