Feast of the Goat (La fiesta del chivo)

Mario Vargas Llosa at Göteborg Book Fair, 2011. (Credit:  Arild Vågen / Wikimedia Commons)

Mario Vargas Llosa at Göteborg Book Fair, 2011. (Credit: Arild Vågen / Wikimedia Commons)

Several weeks ago, Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa (Nobel Prize for Literature 2010) published an opinion in Spain´s daily El País in which he characterized Donald Trump as a “racist imbecile.” In his piece Vargas Llosa goes to great lengths to reassure his Spanish-speaking readers that Trump is not a representative figure of the United States, or a characteristic product of American capitalism, and that Trump’s garish brand of Ugly Americanism is not a stench upon the integrity and ideals of the country. This last, legitimate figure of the Latin American literature “Boom” of the 20th century (La ciudad y los perros, La guerra del fin del mundo, La fiesta del chivo), is almost convincing. (more…)

Atrocity

Mugshot of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi taken by US armed forces while in dentention at Camp Bucca in 2004. (Credit:  U.S. Armed Forces / Wikimedia Commons)

Mugshot of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi taken by US armed forces while in detention at Camp Bucca in 2004. (Credit: U.S. Armed Forces / Wikimedia Commons)

Stories of atrocity are compelling motives for war. They resonate to the myth of America’s special virtue. Our goodness exists by contrast with the enemy’s evil actions. As the enemy’s image darkens, our self-image shines (by implication). Shades of grey disappear.

Atrocity is a self-certifying story. Its psychological force and narrative function are sufficient both to persuade and to inhibit rebuttal. Its status as fact is presumed. Its verisimilitude is a cultural given. To question its authority is heretical.

It does not matter that stories of atrocity in past wars so often have proven, in retrospect, to be untrustworthy. We believe what we need to believe in the heat of the moment. Moreover, how can we tell that a given story is untrue, that it is mere propaganda? Especially when the story comes to us through the mainstream news media? Our only recourse seemingly is to accept all such stories on faith or reject all of them out of hand. Outright rejection reduces us to an untenable position of sheer cynicism. (more…)

Trump and the Trickster

Donald Trump Laconia Rally, Laconia, NH on July 16, 2015. (Credit:  Michael Vadon / Wikimedia Commons)

Donald Trump Laconia Rally, Laconia, NH on July 16, 2015. (Credit: Michael Vadon / Wikimedia Commons)

The attitude of war is so deeply ingrained in US political culture that rhetorical combativeness itself is considered to be praiseworthy. Donald Trump is an icon of combativeness. His run for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination is downright militaristic. He boasts that he is the “most militaristic guy ever.” To back it up, he labels China an “enemy,” who is “destroying your children’s and grandchildren’s future,” and he professes his love for America by saying that “when you love something, you protect it passionately—fiercely, even.”

War culture has progressed to the point, as Tom Engelhardt notes, that there is no longer a significant American antiwar movement. It has been demobilized in the endless war on terrorism: “Since 9/11, this country has engaged in a military-first foreign policy across much of the Greater Middle East and northern Africa, launching an unending string of failed wars, conflicts, raids, kidnappings, acts of torture, and drone assassination programs.” The war state has been privatized, the general public has been removed from the actual fighting, and the citizenry has been reduced to a “surveilled and protected populace.” Americans, who have been “inoculated . . . against serious protest,” are content to tune in to a spectacle of slaughter. “Don’t consider it a fluke,” Engelhardt says, “that the war culture hero of the period—on the bestseller lists and in Hollywood—was an American sniper.” (more…)

Death of Lorca (Act 2)

Benjamín Jarnés, Huberto Pérez de la Ossa, Luis Buñuel. Rafael Barradas and Federico García Lorca in Madrid, 1923. (Credit:  Wikimedia Commons)

Benjamín Jarnés, Huberto Pérez de la Ossa, Luis Buñuel. Rafael Barradas and Federico García Lorca in Madrid, 1923. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Then at night, after midnight, he was pushed into a car. They drove him north about 9 kilometers from Granada, to the little square of the village of Viznar. The Falange had set up headquarters at the Archbishop’s palace. He waited in the car seated between armed guards.

They drove him north again to an old building hidden between trees on the left side of the road, a former summer residence for schoolchildren, now a makeshift prison. He was taken to a room where three other prisoners were being held: a one-legged schoolmaster, and fittingly, two banderilleros, bullfighters from Granada. He talked and smoked incessantly through the night, keeping his companions alert. At dawn he called for a priest, but the priest had left. The authorities had said there would be no executions that night. (more…)

García Lorca and the Spanish Civil War

Federico García Lorca in 1914. Anonymous photo found at the University of Grenada in 2007, coming from a student record. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Federico García Lorca in 1914. Anonymous photo found at the University of Granada in 2007, coming from a student record. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

According to legend, he was correcting the manuscript of The House of Bernarda Alba the day he was betrayed. Two weeks before, scared and nervous, he had sought sanctuary at the house of Luis Rosales, a poet friend and Falangist. At Rosales’ house he usually spent his days secluded on the second floor, where he ate his meals, devoured the day’s newspapers, and played popular songs on the piano for Esperanza, Rosales’ sister, and her old aunt. Esperanza (her name means “hope”) later said that he wrote during those days but that his papers were taken to his father after his arrest.

He had come from Granada to Madrid to celebrate his father’s and his own Saint’s Day at the family orchard, the Huerta de San Vicente. On Saint Federico’s Day, July 18, 1936, Francisco Franco read on the radio a manifesto announcing the rebellion of the Nationalists. On that day Federico awoke from a nap, disturbed by a dream. He later described it to his father:

Half-asleep he saw how three women with thick black veils that covered them from head to feet, with their faces lowered to the ground, walked and walked around him. In their hands they carried great crucifixes, and as they walked in front of him they stopped, and lifted them in a threatening gesture.[1]

Granada’s garrison joined the insurrectionary forces on July 20, 1936. (more…)

One Nation Among Many

President Obama delivered remarks at American University on the significance of the Iran nuclear agreement and the consequences if Congress rejects it. August 5, 2015. (Courtesy:  whitehouse.gov)

President Obama delivered remarks at American University on the significance of the Iran nuclear agreement and the consequences if Congress rejects it. August 5, 2015. (Courtesy: whitehouse.gov)

Barack Obama’s capacious case for the nuclear accord with Iran (address at American University) contains an interesting treatment of the myth of exceptional America. “What separates us from the empires of old, what has made us exceptional,” the President declared, “is not the mere fact of our military might” but our advancement, since World War II, of an evolving system of international law “to prevent the spread of deadly weapons, to uphold peace and security, and promote human progress.”

It is unclear whether President Obama means the US in not an empire or that the American empire, unlike others, is a force for good. This point of ambiguity marks a tension between diplomacy and military force that persists throughout the speech. The President manages this tension in a way that makes the US more alike and interdependent with other nations than independent, distinct, above, or apart from them. In his words, “we live in a complicated world” where, despite our power, “we are one nation among many.” (more…)

Unmaking the Devil

Saddam Hussein and Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi during the Algiers agreement, 1975. (Credit:  Wikimedia Commons)

Saddam Hussein and Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi during the Algiers agreement, 1975. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The Obama administration’s nuclear accord with Iran is drawing rhetorical fire. That’s not surprising. Conjuring the devil is a ritual that sustains the war state. It rehearses the narrative of good versus evil. Without the threat of evildoers, the country’s motivation to fight degrades over time.

Congressional war hawks and their neoconservative allies, observes James Carden, warn against being snookered by a despicable Iranian regime. Alluding to the Holocaust, Presidential aspirant Mike Huckabee insists that the deal would march the Israelis “to the door of the oven.” Senator Lindsey Graham adds that the religious views of Iran’s Supreme Leader compel him to destroy Israel and attack the US. Iran is the devil incarnate, Hitler de novo.

Senator Dan Coats summarizes much of the critique that follows from the basic premise that they are evil and we are good. In a guest column published by various Indiana newspapers, the Senator says the more he reads through the text of the Iran deal, the more his concern grows. Why? Because “the deal will not permanently stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions” and “the negotiators conceded [far too much] in order to reach an agreement with a regime that calls America its enemy, brazenly violates U.N resolutions, sponsors terrorism, threatens Israel’s existence and is responsible for more than 1,000 American military deaths since Sept. 11, 2001.” (more…)

Hammett

(excerpt from chapter 6 “Reds,” Ivie and Giner, Hunt the Devil)

Dashiell Hammett, 1894-1961. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Dashiell Hammett, 1894-1961. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

In the 1920s and early 30s, Dashiell Hammett transformed American detective fiction. Hammett joined the Pinkerton’s Detective Agency in 1915. During World War I he contracted pulmonary tuberculosis (an ailment that would plague him throughout his life) in the army during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. Discharged honorably from the military in poor health, Hammett moved to San Francisco where he quit detective work and wrote short stories that were published in H.L. Mencken’s The Smart Set and Black Mask.

Between 1927 and 1933, Hammett wrote the five novels that constitute–along with his Continental Op short stories–his main body of work. In the mid-1930s he lent his active support, along with other American intellectuals, to the anti-fascist (Loyalist) cause in the Spanish Civil War. At the height of his career at age 48 (shortly after the release of John Huston’s film of The Maltese Falcon), he re-joined the army as a private during World War II. By this time, the FBI considered him “to be among the upper echelon of the Communist Party in the United States.”[1]
(more…)

Citizen Trump

Donald Trump Laconia Rally, Laconia, NH, July 16, 2015. (Credit:  Michael Vadon / Wikimedia Commons)

Donald Trump Laconia Rally, Laconia, NH, July 16, 2015. (Credit: Michael Vadon / Wikimedia Commons)

A favorite columnist, E.J. Montini of the Arizona Republic (read his column here), has persuaded me that Donald J. Trump has more than a reasonable chance to become President of the United States. Montini’s point is that Trump is not a mystifying phenomenon. We elect (and re-elect) mini-Trumps all the time to state office in Arizona. And we do so not in spite of their most outrageous political statements or social behavior, but because of them.

Trump says “illegal” Mexican immigrants are drug traffickers and rapists? We can do one better: a federal judge has ruled that the office of Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio (elected to office six times) routinely engaged in racial profiling in the past.

Trump raises questions about Senator John McCain’s war record? We can top that too: the Republican President of the Arizona Senate once delivered a speech in a forum in which McCain was called a “traitor” who should be “executed.”

(more…)

Addiction

Cartoon published by James Gillray in 1803 showing Napoleon in a fury over relations between France and England. (Credit: Library of Congress)

Cartoon published by James Gillray in 1803 showing Napoleon in a fury over relations between France and England. (Credit: Library of Congress)

Retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel William Astore conveys the essence of America’s war on terror under the sign of addiction. War is a drug, and the US is addicted, metaphorically speaking.

In the realm of reality-defining language, terms intermingle and entangle. Thus, we declare a war on drugs while high on the drug of war, seemingly without noticing the irony. And while we are at it, we declare war on poverty and crime, anything actually. It’s a totalizing mindset that constitutes what Astore calls “America’s omnipresent war ethos.”

Addiction is a useful metaphor because it readily conveys how being high on war shuts down deliberation on foreign and domestic policy and replaces reflection with rage. (more…)