Merton’s Dance of Death

Marker commemorating Thomas Merton in Downtown Louisville, Kentucky. (Credit:  W.marsh / Wikimedia Commons)

Marker commemorating Thomas Merton in Downtown Louisville, Kentucky. (Credit: W.marsh / Wikimedia Commons)

Thomas Merton’s Peace in the Post-Christian Era was written in 1962 but not published until 2004. Even as superpower rivals held the world hostage to the suicidal doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction, Dom Gabriel Sortais banned the publication of Merton’s timely critique of war culture. The Abbot General of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance wanted his Trappist monk to stop writing on issues of war and peace.

Reading Merton’s Cold War critique in a post-9/11 context can be a jarring experience. It reveals retrospectively why terrorists today are America’s perfect enemy. (more…)

Church of Football (Part I)

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in September of 2014. (Credit:  Andrew Campbell / Wikimedia Commons)

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in September of 2014. (Credit: Andrew Campbell / Wikimedia Commons)

The country will not be brought down by the Islamic State or by Arab extremists; it will not be toppled by abortion or by same-sex marriages. In the future, history will tell that the U.S. defeated communism, avoided the wiles of Satan, but could not transcend its own internal contradictions.

The country will decline and fall because it observes the Roman policy of panem et circenses regarding its citizens, keeping them satiated with bread and games while its plutocrats enrich their miserable selves—even at the expense of the destruction of the planet. We no longer worship—if we ever did—at the Church of Jesus Christ. On Sundays during the season we worship at the Church of Football, and the rest of the year we follow the vagaries of football teams and their players as if we were watching the war of the final days between angelic hosts. (more…)

Cultural Contagion

The Triumph of Death, or The 3 Fates. Flemish tapestry (probably Brussels, ca. 1510-1520). (Credit:  Victoria and Albert Museum, London.)

The Triumph of Death, or The 3 Fates. Flemish tapestry (probably Brussels, ca. 1510-1520). (Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum, London.)

It is difficult to see beyond the reality of war. It is easy to believe that war is natural, destined, inescapable—a matter of fate. There is some question of whether in Greek mythology even Zeus could command the three Moirai, or fates, that spun the thread of life (Clotho), determined our lot in life (Lachesis), and chose the manner of our death (Atropos). The Moirai personified a harsh reality, an uncompromising truth, a grim inevitability.

That ancient cosmology is an example of what evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene) called a “meme”—a self-perpetuating cultural belief, symbol, or practice that persists through ritual regardless of the harm it does. Another such meme “that can infect any society,” observes John Horgan, is “militarism—the culture of war” (The End of War, p. 102). (more…)

What Do You Mean ‘We,’ White Man?

Photo of Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as Tonto, 3 February 1956. Moore is riding Silver, while Silverheels is riding Scout. (Credit:  ABC Television)

Photo of Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as Tonto, 3 February 1956. Moore is riding Silver, while Silverheels is riding Scout. (Credit: ABC Television)

The joke was old even before it appeared in print.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto find themselves surrounded by hostile Indians. The Ranger asks Tonto: “What are we going to do, Tonto?” To which Tonto replies: “What do you mean we, white man (or paleface, or kemo sabe, depending on the version)?” Its racist ancestry is undeniable: the joke partly evokes the picture of a feckless subordinate who will treacherously abandon his superior at the first sign of trouble—usually with the ethnic or social group to which the subordinate belongs. But even before 1956, ancient variants of the joke were meant to deflate the condescension of individuals who used the royal “we,” and the insulting presumption of people who assumed, for their own purposes, what they had no business assuming.

Perhaps because one becomes cantankerous with advancing age, I have increasingly resorted, in the last few years, to Tonto’s wise words to defend myself against the mind-bending onslaught of U.S. political rhetoric. (more…)

The Specter of Eris

Eris (from inscription). Tondo of an Attic black-figure kylix. (Credit:  Museum (I.Gesk) © Berlin Antikensammlung / Wikimedia Commons)

Eris (from inscription). Tondo of an Attic black-figure kylix. (Credit: Museum (I.Gesk) © Berlin Antikensammlung / Wikimedia Commons)

What comes after empire, corporate capitalism, and the war state—the world we presently know?

Chaos?

Chaos is the dark, primordial realm of Eris, Greek goddess of witchcraft, disease, death, and disorder. Eris personified strife and rivalry and was closely associated with war. Her Roman name was Discordia. Mortals invoked her for evil purposes.

Eris symbolized the mystifying realm of ghosts and nightmares, the terrifying menace of the unknown. Her very conception in Greek mythology might suggest our strong preference, even today, to live with the known problems of a badly flawed order rather than undertake the risk of change. (more…)

Vietnam 50 Years

Beach activity at Da Nang, Vietnam during landing of United States Marines of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade in March of 1965. (Credit: United States Marine Corps (Official Marine Corps Photograph #A183813))

Beach activity at Da Nang, Vietnam during landing of United States Marines of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade in March of 1965. (Credit: United States Marine Corps (Official Marine Corps Photograph #A183813))

Fifty years ago the U.S. ground war began in South Vietnam. Among the finest documentaries about the conflict is Peter Davis’ Hearts and Minds (1974). Following is an excerpt from a scene in the film:

LAMENT OF A VIETNAMESE FATHER FOR HIS DAUGHTER 

My 8 year old daughter was killed, and my 3 year old son.

Nixon murderer of civilians.

What have I done to Nixon so that he comes here to bomb my country?

My daughter died right here. She was feeding the pigs. (more…)

Democracy or Empire

11 August 1900 Judge magazine cover cartoon. "A POWERFUL DEMOCRATIC ARGUMENT AGAINST IMPERIALISM". “Bryan- ‘Everybody is against imperialism. Now, here’s Me and the Boxer and the Filipino. What more do youse want?” (Credit:  Victor Gillam / Wikimedia Commons)

11 August 1900 Judge magazine cover cartoon. “A POWERFUL DEMOCRATIC ARGUMENT AGAINST IMPERIALISM”. “Bryan- ‘Everybody is against imperialism. Now, here’s Me and the Boxer and the Filipino. What more do youse want?” (Credit: Victor Gillam / Wikimedia Commons)

We can’t have it both ways. “Imperialism and democracy are incompatible,” argues social critic Chris Hedges in his Empire of Illusion (Nation Books, 2009, 147). We don’t like to acknowledge that the US is an empire perhaps because there is no place for a democratic citizen or for democratic participation in imperial politics. The resources devoted to advancing an imperialist agenda bankrupt democracy.

Unfettered capitalism opposes democracy. Capitalist imperialism tends toward oligarchy and authoritarian rule. The interests of economic elites do not conform to the interests of the people as a whole. As Hedges observes, “Democracy and capitalism are antagonistic entities. Democracy . . . is based not on personal gain but on self-sacrifice. A functioning democracy must often defy the economic interests of elites on behalf of citizens.” Democracy promotes the values of community and equality. Accordingly, Hedges asks whether we will “transform our system to one that protects the ordinary citizen and fosters the common good, that defies the corporate state” (185-86, 145).

Democracy is at grave risk. “At no period in American history has our democracy been in such peril,” Hedges insists, “or the possibility of totalitarianism as real” (145). The US is in economic and moral decline: (more…)

Hitler, Our Disciple

A picture of Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler with members of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross First Class: Gerd Pleiss, Kurt Meyer, Gerd Bremer, Josef Dietrich, Theodor Wisch, Fritz Witt, Heinrich Springer and Otto Skorzeny. (Credit: German Reich Government; Ernst Krause (SS Sturmbannführer))

A picture of Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler with members of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross First Class: Gerd Pleiss, Kurt Meyer, Gerd Bremer, Josef Dietrich, Theodor Wisch, Fritz Witt, Heinrich Springer and Otto Skorzeny. (Credit: German Reich Government; Ernst Krause (SS Sturmbannführer))

A few months before the second U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the German justice minister Herta Daubler-Gmelin compared the methods of then-president George W. Bush to those of Adolf Hitler: “Bush wants to divert attention from his domestic problems. It’s a classic tactic. It’s one that Hitler also used.”

The cries of indignation from the White House were strident. Ari Fleischer, Bush’s Press Secretary, commented: “The relations between the people of the United States and the people of Germany are very important to the American people. But this statement by the justice minister is outrageous and it is inexplicable.” (From the time of Shakespeare to the present day, it is useful to remember that when rulers or politicians “protest too much,” it is almost certain that something is being covered up.) German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder apologized to President Bush for the “impression” given by the statements of his justice minister.

An unstated premise of U.S. politics and the U.S. media is that comparisons with Hitler must be avoided, if not summarily condemned. Who is comparable to the Arch-Devil of history, responsible for the Holocaust and for millions of European deaths in violent conflicts? Certainly not us! And yet the irony is that Hitler himself would have been sympathetic to Daubler-Gmelin’s statement. (more…)

Return of the Evildoers

Former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush, 7 November 2012. (Credit: The World Affairs Council)

Former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush, 7 November 2012. (Credit: The World Affairs Council)

Barack Obama generally avoids the use of the term “evildoers.” That is the language of his predecessor, Bush-the-warmonger. One can make too much of the differences between the two presidents on matters of foreign policy. Both are leaders of the war state and, accordingly, conversant with the demonology of US war culture, which can be more or less nuanced. Early signs are that Jeb Bush prefers his brother’s bluntness.

Jeb’s anticipated run for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination has occasioned the return of the language of evildoers (Ed O’Keefe, “The World According to Jeb Bush,” Washington Post, April 16, 2015). The term distances him from Obama’s foreign policy, which is a policy of “retrenchment,” according to the younger brother of George. (more…)

Hatuey

Burning of Hatuey, a Taino chieftain. From a bas-relief of the portal of El Capitolio of Havana. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Burning of Hatuey, a Taino chieftain. From a bas-relief of the portal of El Capitolio of Havana. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Every time I hear a U.S. politician making the case that this is a Christian country because our Founding Fathers were all Christians and they founded this country based on Christian values (blah blah blah), I tremble. My mind escapes to the early years of my first grade education when my teachers made sure I learned and understood the legend of the Caribbean chieftain Hatuey.

In 1542, Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas—the great Defender of the Indians—documented the first genocide of indigenous nations of the Americas in his Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies:

The reason why Christians have killed and destroyed so many and such an infinite number of souls only because they have gold as their ultimate end, and becoming bloated with riches in very few days, and climb to very high states out of proportion to their persons, it is good to know, is because of their insatiable greed and ambition, which has been greater than it could have been in the world, because these lands are so blissful and rich, and the people so humble, so patient and so easy to subjugate.

“If demons had gold,” Las Casas wrote, “[the Spanish] would attack them to steal it from them.”[i] (more…)