Bridging War Culture’s Religious Divide

Symbols representing various religions: Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Baha'is, Eckists, Sikhs, Jains, Wiccans, UU's, Shintoists, Taoists, Thelemites, Tenrikyoists and Zoroastrians. (Credit: Pass a Method / Wikimedia Commons)

Symbols representing various religionists: Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Baha’is, Eckists, Sikhs, Jains, Wiccans, UU’s, Shintoists, Taoists, Thelemites, Tenrikyoists and Zoroastrians. (Credit: Pass a Method / Wikimedia Commons)

Religion separates, often alienates, humans from one another. One church’s orthodoxy is another’s heresy. Praying for peace merges with combating evil in the minds of many believers.

It doesn’t necessarily work that way, however. Religious beliefs can also inspire people to reach beyond themselves and their own communities of faith. The poetry of prayer can transcend—at least partially—differences that make enemies of Muslims and Christians.

Perhaps one example will bring to mind, even motivate us to look for, other instances of how a sense of the sacred can help to bridge the religious divide. (more…)

Indian Ruins

Palenque (Chiapas). Temple of inscriptions. (Credit: Jan Harenburg / Wikimedia Commons)

Palenque archeological site (Chiapas, Mexico). Temple of Inscriptions. (Credit: Jan Harenburg / Wikimedia Commons)

In the 19th century, José Martí warned that no empire is innocent of what Kenneth Burke called the “exaltation” of sacrificial human offerings: (more…)

Hamlet, Prince of Bikers

(Credit:  FX)

(Credit: FX)

Abraham Lincoln believed that there was nothing finer than Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and that Claudius’ monologue in Hamlet (“O my offence is rank!”) was superior to Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” speech. We are long since from the time when American presidents could render intelligent opinions about Shakespearean plays, and yet Shakespeare—much like the King James Bible written in Shakespeare’s language—still lives and breathes with us. His heroes and villains, his dramatic structures and his words, his myths and fables, are still our own.

Edwin Booth (brother to John Wilkes) was the finest Hamlet of his generation during the last half of the 19th century. In the 1930s John Barrymore (scion of two illustrious theatrical families), was the last great American Hamlet. After Barrymore’s time, the great vitality of American performative artistry—along with Shakespeare and the taste of American presidents—moved over to films and television. (more…)

War’s Horrific Violence

Los desastres de la guerra, plate No. 3, by Francisco Goya (1st edition, Madrid: Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, 1863)

Los desastres de la guerra, plate No. 3, by Francisco Goya (1st edition, Madrid: Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, 1863)

The idea of war is an abstraction. Its justification entails an emotionally surcharged logic detached from the battlefield. The decision to go to war is not a strictly rational choice, nor is it easily rationalized when we are confronted with the horrific violence of actual warfare.

Coping with the carnage takes various forms. Looking away is one strategy. Embracing it as necessary and unavoidable is another. Valorizing it is a third. Deploring it makes war more difficult to sustain. Attributing it to the enemy dissociates it from us. (more…)

Prayer as a Weapon

(Credit: Robert L. Ivie)

(Credit: Robert L. Ivie)

I drove by this sign during the day and awoke in the night thinking about it. Sure enough, it was still there the next day. It wasn’t a figment of my imagination. I took a picture of it just in case.

Dreams are to be taken seriously, I’m told. They are symbolic. I was dreaming about this sign, trying to make sense of it, which sounds like I was being more analytic in my dreams than symbolic. Maybe I just thought I was sleeping because I was lying in bed, and it was dark outside.

My analytic dream was an attempt to resolve the sign’s ambiguity. (more…)

Gladiator

"Ave Caesar Morituri te Salutant" by Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1859. (Credit:  Yale University / Wikimedia Commons)

“Ave Caesar Morituri te Salutant” by Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1859. (Credit: Yale University / Wikimedia Commons)

Robert Montgomery Bird wrote his drama The Gladiator in 1831 for Edwin Forrest’s yearly competition of original American plays. In his story—the rebellion of slaves led by Spartacus against Rome—commentators have assumed that Bird had in mind the American Revolution against Britain, or that he had written a dramatic poem reflecting the abolitionist sentiments of northern states.

Cabinet card image of American author and playwright Robert Montgomery Bird (1805-1854). TCS 1.2515, Harvard Theatre Collection, Harvard University

Cabinet card image of American author and playwright Robert Montgomery Bird (1805-1854). TCS 1.2515, Harvard Theatre Collection, Harvard University

Spartacus is brought in chains from his native Thrace to Rome and the following dialogue ensues: (more…)

Spartacus

"Spartacus' Death" by Hermann Vogel, 1882.

“Spartacus’ Death” by Hermann Vogel, 1882.

In 1960, just before a new administration under John F. Kennedy was taking office, heralding the vision of a “New Frontier,” Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus premiered in Hollywood. The film’s screenplay was written by Dalton Trumbo, based on Howard Fast’s novel of the same name, written in 1951. Both writers had been blacklisted in Hollywood during the national persecution of writers and artists with past communist associations (Trumbo was one of the original group of the Hollywood 10). Both had been imprisoned during the Cold War era. (more…)

‘American Sniper’ and Imperial Impasse

Navy SEAL Sniper Chris Kyle signs a copy of his new book “American Sniper” for a Camp Pendleton sailor at the base’s Country Store, Jan. 13, 2012. “American Sniper” is Kyle's first person account of how he went from a Texas cowboy to one of the most distinguished snipers in the military. The book also offers a view of modern warfare and one of the most in-depth looks into the secret world of special operations. (Credit: U.S. Marine Cpl. Damien Gutierrez / Wikimedia Commons)

Navy SEAL Sniper Chris Kyle signs a copy of his new book “American Sniper” for a Camp Pendleton sailor at the base’s Country Store, Jan. 13, 2012. (Credit: U.S. Marine Cpl. Damien Gutierrez / Wikimedia Commons)

The new film phenomenon, American Sniper, has met with spirited acclaim as well as vigorous denunciation. It is a box-office triumph for Hollywood but also a cultural signpost of imperial impasse in which Americans flail at each other over the issue of war or just withdraw into political disaffection.

The film marks a point at which a demoralized people feel the lacunae of an outworn worldview. Such moments provide an opening for fresh thinking, an opportunity to revise a guiding perspective so that it is better adapted to coping with a recalcitrant situation, even at the cost of “the deceptive comforts of ideological rigidity” (Kenneth Burke, Attitudes Toward History, 3rd ed., p. 231).

Mixed reactions to the film are telling. (more…)

Prosaic Empire

Aerial view of the Washington Monument with the White House in the background.  DoD photo by Tech. Sgt. Andy Dunaway. (RELEASED)

Aerial view of the Washington Monument with the White House in the background. DoD photo by Tech. Sgt. Andy Dunaway. (RELEASED)

Tom Englehardt is a persistent and perceptive critic of the war state. He closely monitors its operation and vigilantly critiques its rationalizations. His well-informed insights pierce the stupor of U.S. militarism.

So what does Englehardt mean when he writes about “Washington’s Walking Dead”?

He means: “when it comes to innovative responses to problems, our political system seems particularly airless right now”; “there are only two operative words in twenty-first-century Washington: more and war”; constant “chatter” about “security, safety, intelligence, and war” reveal why the nation’s capital is a “dead zone in terms of new ideas or ways of acting in our world.”

A lack of political imagination is discernible in the stale language of American empire. Facile and prosaic discourse signals a condition of decline in the curve of history. (more…)

José Martí

José Martí. (Credit:  Cuba. Secretaría de Instrucción Pública y Bellas Artes / Wikimedia Commons)

José Martí. (Credit: Cuba. Secretaría de Instrucción Pública y Bellas Artes / Wikimedia Commons)

It is fitting that these Cuban posts will end one day before the birthday (January 28, 1853) of José Martí. We have had occasion in the past to speak of him. But we have not told how on that day, as if following a silent and sacred call, Cuban school children would deposit notebooks, pencils, rulers and other school supplies at the foot of the monuments in honor of the Maestro. And all of them would have learned the rhymes from the Simple Verses:

When I die

without a country, but without a master over me,

I want on my gravestone a branch of flowers

and a flag.

For most of his life he was a banished wanderer. At 17 he was sentenced to political imprisonment with hard labor in the rock quarries of San Lázaro, in Havana. (more…)