Pyongyang, North Korea, 2015. (Credit: Uwe Brodrecht)
Cup of coffee in hand, reading my morning newspaper, I feel a sudden jolt. No, not a jolt from the caffeine. It is the story that brings me up short. The story is about a current revival of fear over the possibility of World War III. That topic draws my attention to the story, but it is not the cause for my surprise or the reason to stop what I am doing. I’ve been worrying about war for as long as I can remember. What brings me up short is a bolt-from-the-blue reminder that for some people, maybe most of my fellow citizens, US militarism is a force for peace, which is not too far removed from the mythic sensibility of war as an angel of redemption.
Sometimes it takes an actual example, a singular statement in ordinary circumstances, to recognize an unspoken assumption and make a disembodied abstraction abruptly palpable. It is one thing to think abstractly that we live and die by the myths that constitute us and shape our sense of reality. It is quite different to feel the force of that truism. That difference is what Rick Hampson’s story in USA TODAY brought home to me. (more…)
The dead Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi. Wall painting by Justus Becker and Oguz Sen at the Frankfurt East Harbor. (Credit: Frank C. Müller)
The waves of the sea lap gently around him, belying the horror of his small body face down, immobile on the beach. The boy looks frighteningly like one of my grandsons, and he wears an outfit that I remember my son used to wear—down to the sneakers—when he was small. He could have been any of our children, and he could have been a boy flying to Egypt to escape the Massacre of the Innocents.
His name was Alan Kurdi. His family was leaving Turkey in the hopes of eventually reaching Canada. Their small boat capsized on the Mediterranean Sea. Alan was only peripherally a casualty of war, not one of those swept up in the chilling term “collateral damage.” He was rather a casualty of the refugee crisis created by war, and by our shameful inclination to weep crocodile tears for dead children, even as we refuse to allay their suffering when alive. (more…)
Portrait of Abraham Lincoln, 9 February 1864, by Anthony Berger. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Assume for a moment that the present status of undocumented immigrants in the US is exactly what we want it to be: except for the criminals, we want them working in the country (in spite of our self-righteous talk about walls and mass deportations); but we don’t want to legalize their status—no amnesty and no path to US citizenship. In these times of deplorable political rhetoric, one does well to find guidance in the bosom of Abraham Lincoln, who was once branded “Abraham Africanus I” by a Copperhead political pamphlet.
Lincoln understood the 1857 Dred Scott decision by the Supreme Court as a cog (“piece of machinery so to speak”) in an effort by the Southern states to “declare the perfect freedom of the people, to be just no freedom at all.”
Here is Lincoln’s analysis of the decision: (more…)
Fireworks in New York, 2002. (Credit: Jon Sullivan / PDPhoto.org)
Hunt the Devil will take a brief break for the holiday season. We will return on January 5, 2016.
Oscar and I are grateful for our readers. We wish you a happy holiday.
Over the last twenty-two months, we have written nearly 180 posts based on our book, Hunt the Devil (published in 2015 by the University of Alabama Press) and building toward a sequel to Hunt the Devil, the working title of which is After Empire.
So far, three articles for academic journals on the After-Empire project have emerged from the blog. Two already are in print: (more…)
A phobia is an extreme fear, extreme to the point of irrationality—a fear so large that it exceeds the danger posed. Sometimes it incapacitates us. Other times it incites us to violence.
Risk is inherent to life. That’s commonsense.
Americans crossing a busy London street are endangered by a traffic pattern contrary to their ingrained expectations. They habitually look left before stepping off the curb. Consequently, they miss seeing the bus coming at them from the immediate right lane. One might be traumatized by the possibility of being run over by a bus—which has happened to some unsuspecting pedestrians—to the point of never walking the delightful streets of London or even visiting the UK. That is being paralyzed by fear of the possible.
Muslims have perpetrated terrorist acts in the US and abroad. In Manhattan, Boston, Paris, San Bernardino, and elsewhere. A Muslim neighbor, no matter how harmless he or she appears, could be planning another terrorist attack. Therefore, Muslims in general should be considered an existential danger? That’s an irrational conclusion provoked by fear of the unlikely. (more…)
Photo of the Sunday, August 22, 2010 Cordoba House protest. (Credit: David Shankbone / Wikimedia Commons)
Inspector Malcolm Fox—the protagonist of Ian Rankin’s Scottish crime novel, The Impossible Dead (NY: Little, Brown and Co., 2011)—reflects upon the ever-presence of fear, whether in news reports from 1985 or today:
When you’d stopped needing to fear a US-Soviet conflagration or an impending ice age, something else came along in its place. Fear of crime always seemed to outpace the actual statistics. Right now, people were fearing for their jobs and pensions, fearing global warming and dwindling resources. If these problems were ever resolved, new worries would fill the vacuum. (pp. 329-30)
Fear fills the vacuum of resolved problems. Fear engenders problems. Problems are a figment of fear, the chimera of exaggeration—or at least can be. Exaggeration, whether of crime levels or threats to national security, perpetuates the perception of crisis. The status quo remains on the verge of CRITICAL. (more…)
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…)
1899 political cartoon by Winsor McCay. Uncle Sam (representing the United States), gets entangled with rope around a tree labeled “Imperialism” while trying to subdue a bucking colt or mule labeled “Philippines” while a figure representing Spain walks off over the horizon. Reference to the United States taking control of the Philippines from Spain at end of the Spanish American War and the subsequent Philippine-American War. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
In 2008, seven years into an unending war on terrorism, historian Howard Zinn raised the question of whether the time had come not only to acknowledge America’s imperial past and present, but also to break the habit of militarism.
Have not the justifications for empire, embedded in our culture, assaulting our good sense — that war is necessary for security, that expansion is fundamental to civilization — begun to lose their hold on our minds? Have we reached a point in history where we are ready to embrace a new way of living in the world, expanding not our military power, but our humanity?
Zinn’s question signals a moment of transition or, at least the possibility thereof, which implies an alternative vision of how to live in the world. (more…)
If we are paralyzed into inactivity by the Second Amendment, by the NRA and its lobby, or by fellow Americans who worship guns and vote accordingly, perhaps we can find if not a new path, at least a new direction for a solution if we re-examine some of our premises about who we are, and remember what we claim to be.
First, President Obama presented the nation with this befuddlement in his address after the shooting: “We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months.” The explanation for this puzzling conundrum is simple: despite our riches and our technical proficiency, we are NOT an “advanced country.” We are a nation of savages and barbarians who would rather see our children slaughtered than give up our guns. We believe in human sacrifice, and regularly offer up human victims to the natural law of the Second Amendment and to the bloody cult of the NRA. Any solution to the gun problem in this great country must begin with an acknowledgement of this sad fact. (more…)