Devil Myth

A Deal with the Devil

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin Meeting with Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (Credit:  President of the Russian Federation / www.kremlin.ru)

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin Meeting with Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (Credit: President of the Russian Federation / http://www.kremlin.ru)

Brian Amsden, who teaches at Clayton State University, produces podcasts about once a month answering—one story at a time—the question of how we humans come to believe the impossible things we believe. His show is called Rhetorical Questions.

The most recent episode, Episode 7, is Brian interviewing me about Hunt the Devil: A Demonology of US War Culture. Brian asks great questions and makes excellent observations throughout the interview. (more…)

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The Devil’s Dictionary

"The Hell," mosaic by  Coppo di Marcovaldo, circa 1301. (Credit:  Wikimedia Commons)

“The Hell,” mosaic by Coppo di Marcovaldo, circa 1301. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

In times of trouble, I do not consult the Bible. I visit the astonishing and still very relevant Devil’s Dictionary by the bewildering Ambrose Bierce. Its word definitions—compiled during the last half of the nineteenth century—are cleansing, illuminating, and especially joyful during times when our minds are full of signs (indeed the certainty) that the prophesied and long-awaited Apocalypse is upon us.

Observe, for example, its sober definition of ABSURDITY = A statement or belief manifestly inconsistent with one’s own opinion. Take heed, all those who labor in “new” universities and houses of learning, of the dictionary’s stern proclamation of the decadence of such institutions: ACADEMY = A modern school where football is taught. (more…)

End of Empire

"Four Horsemen of Apocalypse," by Viktor Vasnetsov. Painted in 1887. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

“Four Horsemen of Apocalypse,” by Viktor Vasnetsov. Painted in 1887. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Like Gabriel sounding the trumpet for the Final Judgment, or like an unwanted guest who names the rope in the hanged man’s house, Francis I stood before our Clown Congress and spoke the names of four American warrior saints. If our legislators would know them, or come to know more about them, they would realize that the Pope was urging upon us the consequences—in the course of time—of following the words of these Four Riders of the Apocalypse.   (more…)

Order Hunt the Devil Now and Receive a 30 Percent Discount!

Jkt_Ivie_mktgHunt the Devil:  A Demonology of US War Culture is now available for purchase, and our publisher — University of Alabama Press — has provided us the opportunity to offer our book to our readers at a 30% discount through October 31, 2015!

Simply order the Hunt the Devil:  A Demonology of US War Culture directly from University of Alabama Press using a special discount code, and you can get this “timely and illuminating exploration of demonic imagery in US war culture” for just $35.00 USD.

Here’s how:

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Tripping the Demonization Trap

“The Great Satan” by Brazilian cartoonist Latuff, 1 October 2003. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Does US Representative Seth Moulton slip or trip war culture’s demonization trap when he endorses the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran?

As mentioned in the preceding post, the congressman allows that the deal does not require the US to trust Iran and concedes that Iran is a determined enemy of the US and Israel that supports international terrorism and violates human rights. The basic premise of the case for rejecting the nuclear accord and its underlying Manichean mythos of good versus evil remains unremarked and unchallenged.

War culture remains rhetorically intact, whether one decides to support the nuclear accord on the congressman’s terms or reject it. The perseverance of war culture on this matter is reflected in the expression of public opinion. (more…)

An Unremarked Metaphor

Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, 10 April 2008. (Credit:  Seyedkhan / Wikimedia Commons)

Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, 10 April 2008. (Credit: Seyedkhan / Wikimedia Commons)

Opposition to the nuclear accord with Iran is yet another occasion for putting US war culture on display. And what we see—if we choose to look—is a rationale for militarism grounded in an unrecognized and unremarked metaphor. We see a culturally compelling, naturalized image of the devil with whom we should never make a deal. The logic of opposing a nuclear deal rests on (and rhetorically derives from) this demonological image as if it is terra firma. Remarking critically on the image is taboo.

This self-justifying image appears in a video of a wounded soldier released in August by a group called Veterans Against the Deal. “Rather than refute the administration’s talking points or rehearsing specific objections to the deal, this [moving and powerful] spot speaks to the very nature of the Iranian regime,“ writes Guy Benson, who is Townhall.com’s political editor. (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…)

Methodology

Illustration by Sidney Paget of the Sherlock Holmes adventure

Illustration by Sidney Paget of the Sherlock Holmes adventure “The Greek Interpreter,” which appeared in The Strand Magazine in September, 1893. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

“I thought you’d like to hear what we’ve found so far about Constance.”

“I take it that doesn’t include whoever killed her,” said Myrna.

“Unfortunately not,” he said as he put on his reading glasses and glanced at his notebook. “I spent much of the day researching the Quints—“

“Then you think that had something to do with her death? The fact she was a Ouellet Quintuplet?”

“I don’t really know, but it’s extraordinary, and when someone is murdered we look for the extraordinary, though, to be honest, we often find the killer hiding in the banal.” (more…)

Game of Flags

"Battle of Kennesaw Mountain" by Kurz and Allison, c. 1891. (Credit: Library of Congress)

“Battle of Kennesaw Mountain” by Kurz and Allison, c. 1891. (Credit: Library of Congress)

How exquisitely American, after a psychotic racist with a gun kills nine people who were studying the Bible in church, to address the incident not by taking guns away from psychos, or limiting their future access to guns, but by lowering a flag!

And what a historical flag! This is a flag which Southern Americans followed when fighting Union forces, an emblem of the cause that captured the devotion of fervent Christians like Stonewall Jackson and brilliant commanders such as Robert E. Lee.

Readers of this blog may remember that in a previous post (“On Waving Flags”) I confessed both my respect for flags and my general dislike of them. Future readers of our book, Hunt the Devil, will come to know that we warn against the perils of demonization of enemies and opponents as an activity that is conducive to war and detrimental to a vibrant democracy.

The problem with de-humanizations and devil hunts is not only that we distort the nature of our enemy to our disadvantage, but also that we fall prey to a fatal illusion: when we say that our enemy is evil, we also say that we are good. Since “they” are bad they do bad things; since “we” are good, nothing we do can possibly be “bad.” For thousands of years, spiritual leaders have warned us that this is the moment of doom before the fall. (more…)

Hunt the Devil Arrives

Hunt the Devil cover smallerFive copies of the book, thanks to Atticus (see previous post), arrive. I open one copy to make sure they have the dedication right before showing it to my wife, Margarita. I leaf through the pages and am glad to recognize the names of old friends always with me: Shaw and O’Neill, Las Casas and José Martí.

As always close to Father´s Day I think of my father, of his time in Vietnam, and wish he were here to see this. I remember the lines by Martí through which I always evoke his memory:

When I was honored

by the generous land

I did not think of Blanca, or Rosa,

or of the greatness of the gift.

I thought of the poor artillery man

who lies silent in his grave.

I thought of my father, the soldier;

I thought of my father, the worker.

(more…)