Portrait of Romulus Augustus on extremely rare currency, a golden tremissis (1.5g) struck in Rome between October 475 and September 476. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Donald Trump’s July 6th speech in Warsaw’s Krasiński Square is a rhetorical hodgepodge of imperial angst. I won’t summarize the speech. I suggest instead either reading or watching it in full. It gets mixed reviews, largely split in the US along partisan lines.
The speech expresses an anxious mindset. It is a flailing gesture of resentment. Whether or not the gesture represents Trump’s mindset is hard to know. He has his own agenda. He may or may not believe all or part of what he says, but what he says now is consistent with what he said on the campaign trail, and what he said on the campaign trail channeled the anxieties of enough voters to get him elected. (more…)
“Abraham Serving the Three Angels” by Rembrandt, oil on canvas, 1646. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Abram went forth with his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot, following his Lord’s command, into the land of Canaan. He was 75 years old. Abram’s wife was barren, therefore Lot was to Abraham as if he were the son of the old chieftain. There was a famine on the land, and for a time Abram dwelt in Egypt and became rich. Returning from Egypt, Abram and Lot separated: Abram raised his tent in the plain of Mamre in Hebron; Lot went to dwell on the plain of Jordan, next to the city of Sodom.
When Abram was 99 years old the Lord appeared to him and ratified their covenant, changing Abram’s name to Abraham, and that of his wife to Sarah.
In the desert, during the worst time of the day, heat seeps through your pores, dries up the organs of the body and distempers the rational mind creating a blur of vision, which gives way to mirages. (more…)
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…)