Essence of War

Journalist and author Chris Hedges. (Credit:  Chris Hedges)

Journalist and author Chris Hedges. (Credit: Chris Hedges)

Perhaps war is made to seem unimportant by dissociating it from daily life. The physical devastation of war happens elsewhere, not at home. War is fought by volunteers, not conscripts. War is a distant abstraction for 95% of the US public.

Perhaps war is made to seem necessary or even inevitable by a nearly continuous history of warfare. Peace is an empty promise perpetually deferred. It is a word devoid of a concept for most people.

Perhaps war is made to seem right and moral by characterizing it as a heroic act to defeat an evil enemy. Americans, according to the national myth, are an exceptional people blessed by God, a virtuous people who have undertaken a sacred mission, an innocent people confronting a cruel and uncivilized world.

Perhaps war appeals to a deep desire (repressed or not) to kill—panders to a guilty pleasure—which is gratified vicariously for the nation at large by its professional soldiers. (more…)

An Answer Other than War

President Ronald W. Reagan salutes military personnel gathered in his honor, Oct. 12, 1986. (Credit:  PH1 Sammy Pierce / Wikimedia Commons)

President Ronald W. Reagan salutes military personnel gathered in his honor, Oct. 12, 1986. (Credit: PH1 Sammy Pierce / Wikimedia Commons)

To say that war is not the answer (as suggested in a previous post) is to underscore that war lacks salience in the public mind and that peace is next to impossible for Americans to envision. US war culture displaces both an understanding of peace and a desire to pursue it.

War culture is difficult to change. It is deeply ingrained. Americans have been continuously at war for the past 250 years. The absence of war—which is not the same as a positive state of peace—is a rare and short-lived phenomenon in U.S. history. A condition of positive peace is unprecedented.

Nevertheless, culture is something learned and, therefore, subject to change. War culture does not just naturally persist. It is sustained by ritual. At least theoretically, a culture of war can be transformed over time into a culture of peace. (more…)

John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress

Christian's Combat With Apollyon, by H.C. Selous and M. Paolo Priolo, circa 1850.

Christian’s Combat With Apollyon, by H.C. Selous and M. Paolo Priolo, circa 1850.

In the middle of the road of life, having left the City of Destruction on his way to the City of Zion, in the depths of the Valley of Humiliation, Christian (who was once called Graceless) meets the foul fiend Apollyon, who had “wings like a dragon, feet like a bear, and out of his belly came fire and smoke, and his mouth was as the mouth of a lion.”

The above print reflects the recurrent image of the devil myth that has haunted American war culture from the days of origin. There is always a devil to fight, a beast to overcome, Beelzebub to defeat, or Apollyon to engage in combat. (more…)

War is NOT the Answer

Protester holds a "War is Not the Answer" poster from the Friends Committee on National Legislation at the March 20, 2010 anti-war protest in Washington, DC. (Credit: Rrenner / Wikimedia Commons)

Protester holds a “War is Not the Answer” poster from the Friends Committee on National Legislation at the March 20, 2010 anti-war protest in Washington, DC. (Credit: Rrenner / Wikimedia Commons)

The slogan “War is Not the Answer” is occasionally spotted by alert bumper-sticker watchers. It is a nearly extinct species, especially in Red State America. Almost all sightings are in the small remainder of Blue States, or so it seems. The slogan’s shrinking habitat is a bad omen for the cause of peace. It’s a warning sign of war’s irrelevance. Few care, and fewer can imagine an alternative answer to war.

Warmongering is commonplace in contemporary America. It is a ritual that sustains the mythic vision of the war state. One does not have to look long or far to find recent examples of the ritualized call to arms. On March 13, for instance, Joshua Muravchik editorialized in the Washington Post under the headline “War with Iran is probably our best option.” (more…)

John Oliver uses Selma to remind America it has 5 disenfranchised island territories

The Daily Show correspondent John Oliver at Occupy Wall Street on October 16, 2011. (Credit: David Shankbone / Wikimedia Commons)

The Daily Show correspondent John Oliver at Occupy Wall Street on October 16, 2011. (Credit: David Shankbone / Wikimedia Commons)

“With eyes turned toward Selma and voting rights over the weekend, John Oliver reminded America on Sunday night’s Last Week Tonight that more than four million people live in the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Northern Marianas, they’re U.S. citizens, and they still can’t vote for president.”

Click here to read the remainder of Peter Weber’s piece on TheWeek.com.

Hope, Despair, and Something Missing

Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal. (Credit: Collection of Curator Branch, Naval History and Heritage Command.)

Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal. (Credit: Collection of Curator Branch, Naval History and Heritage Command.)

Two war stories caught my attention last weekend. One was about the apparent decline of the Islamic State. The other was about terrorism being a greater menace than ever before. In one sense, this is yet another example of the archetypal metaphor of high tides and low tides, which expresses the natural rhythm of forever warfare.

Something else seemed significant. It was hard to put my finger on it. There was a vague sense of something missing, something displaced by these stories of hope and despair.

The story of hope, from the perspective of the US and its allies, was that “the Islamic State appears to be fraying from within as dissent, defections and setbacks on the field sap the group’s strength and erode its aura of invincibility among those living under its despotic rule.”

The story of despair, again from the perspective of the US and its allies, was about the Director of National Intelligence informing Congress that terrorism trend lines are worse “than at any other point in history.” This on top of the commander of US special operations forces in the Middle East telling counterterrorism strategists that the Islamic State is a worse threat than al-Qaeda had ever been. A former CIA deputy director allowed that his “grandchildren’s generation will still be fighting this fight” against al-Qaeda and its spawn.

What is missing here? What lurks behind the image of war’s ebb and flow? (more…)

Orwell’s Oracle (2)

Credit:  Jordan L'Hôte / Wikimedia Commons.

Credit: Jordan L’Hôte / Wikimedia Commons.

Ignorance is Strength

Governor Scott Walker proposes a $300 million cut in higher education over the next two years in Wisconsin; Governor Bobby Jindal intends a $141 million cut in higher education in Louisiana next year.

Newly elected Governor Doug Ducey and his Republican legislature in Arizona will reduce state funding for universities by $104 million and will cut $19 million from state contributions to community colleges. In defending his budget proposal, Ducey commented: “This budget reflects our values as Arizonans.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of this illustrious country, U.S. Representative Dave Brat, Republican from Virginia, lectured the American public on how to create great minds: (more…)

Orwell’s Oracle (1)

George Orwell. (Credit:  Wiggy! / Wikimedia Commons)

George Orwell. (Credit: Wiggy! / Wikimedia Commons)

Erich Fromm warned us that 1984 (1949) is not just a description of Stalinist barbarism, but that Orwell means us, too, in his dystopian novel.

In this and succeeding posts with the same title we will conduct periodic “State of the Dystopia” examinations in which we will review how many of Orwell’s prophecies (and in what way) have come true. In our time Orwell has become, if not a holy prophet like Jeremiah, at least a political prophet of say, the secular prophet Nostradamus. We study Orwell’s writings the way faithful Christians pore over the Book of Revelation to keep track of the oncoming of the Apocalypse.

To begin with the simplest, and most resounding of Orwell’s prophetic utterances: the building of the Ministry of Truth (Minitrue) in Oceania (see map below) was “an enormous pyramidal structure of glittering white concrete, soaring up, terrace after terrace, three hundred meters into the air.” On its white face, “in elegant lettering,” was carved the three slogans of the Party:

WAR IS PEACE

FREEDOM IS SLAVERY

IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH (more…)

Too Bad to be True

Statue of Liberty. (Credit: Derek Jensen)

Statue of Liberty. (Credit: Derek Jensen)

One nasty attribute of U.S. exceptionalism in this era of perpetual war is the endless exemptions America gives itself from the constraints of international law.

As historian Alfred McCoy observes, the U.S. routinely defies the very rules it helped to write for an international community of nations governed by law. The sum of exceptions includes “endless incarceration, extrajudicial killing, pervasive surveillance, drone strikes in defiance of national boundaries, torture on demand, and immunity for all of the above on the grounds of state secrecy.” Why do Americans so seldom perceive this lawbreaking record as jarring and disconcerting? (more…)

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…)