A distinction between figurative and literal analogies is sometimes made by teachers of rhetoric, but we are better served to think of analogy as an intersection of the figurative and literal from which a healing insight might emerge. The telling of a fanciful story can help to refigure a perilous reality to which we have become inured. Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat” is just such a story when it is read as a figurative analogy to a troubled actuality. (more…)
In these hyperbolic times, we should pause occasionally to reflect on the casual use of dangerous language. President Trump’s choice of the word “obliteration” in the present context of tensions with Iran is a case in point. It is a term fraught with deadly implications, especially in the midst of a heated dispute between adversaries. That, by itself, is worrisome, even if it were an isolated instance of inflammatory language. The fact that it is characteristic of this president is all the more disquieting. “Obliteration” reflects an ingrained pattern—the rhetorical mannerism of his volatile disposition. Beyond that, it invokes a cultural fantasy of nuclear extermination. (more…)
The First Apparition (“an armed Head”) warned him to beware Macduff, Thane of Fife; the Second (“a bloody Child”) prophesied that none of woman born could harm him. The Third Apparition (“a Child crowned, with a tree in his hand”) counseled him to assume the mettle of a lion:
Take no care
Who chafes, who frets, or where conspirers are.
Macbeth shall never vanquished be until
Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill
Shall come against him (4.1.90-94).
From then on, his purpose became firm and clear. He set to “crown my thoughts with acts” by seizing Macduff’s castle and the dominion of Fife. To ensure the end of Macduff’s issue, he resolved to kill “his wife, his babes and all unfortunate souls / That trace him in his line” (4.1.148-153).
“I think nothing equals Macbeth,” wrote Abraham Lincoln. “It is wonderful.”
Lincoln’s praise has stood the test of time. Hamlet may be a better play and King Lear a greater tragedy, but a special power inhabits Macbeth, which has led superstitious theater people to talk about the great play in hushed tones and to refer to its title by euphemisms such as “the Scottish play.”
Is there any other play the name of which we fear to speak? (more…)
The myth of American innocence and virtue forecloses any question about US imperialism or, at least, makes it hard to imagine that we are perpetrating harm on others for our own purposes and to our own advantage. We may be flawed, but the responsibility has fallen to us to fend off the barbarians and advance the cause of civilization. So the myth insists.
At a relatively abstract level, empire may not seem an obviously appropriate label for US engagement in world affairs. The idea of dominating extensive territories and peoples is unpalatable to most Americans and inconsistent with the nation’s self-image, as I’ve discussed in a previous post. So the myth persists.
Seen in more concrete terms, US imperialism is harder to ignore, to explain away, but also harder to confront. One response when confronted with the record of US imperialism and militarism is reflection-acknowledgement-correction. Another option is denial-repression-projection. So the myth resists. (more…)
War culture is an insidious presence in the ordinary life of the imperial citizenry. The subtle entrapment in its daily rituals is a treacherous seduction of political will that sacrifices democracy on the altar of militarism. The profane is endemic to politics as usual, the self-indulgence of a public alienated from its founding ideals. Mundanity is a spiritual death knell just below the threshold of critical awareness.
The war mentality is a self-sustaining redundancy that renders critical reflection tiresome and seemingly futile. The apparent inevitability of war induces acceptance and rationalization. The public refuses to see its imperial reflection in the mirror. The face of war is too ugly to unmask. Better to suppress it. Repression and projection are the psychological alternatives to critical reflection. (more…)
On the Arizona State University campus around this time of year, one sign begins to appear on posters, walls and t-shirts. It took me years to discover that it is not a reference to the Japanese icon “Hello Kitty,” but rather a war cry as students prepare for the Territorial Cup football game between the ASU Sun Devils and their perennial rivals, the Wildcats of the University of Arizona. And the war cry is: No Pity for the Kitty!
“No Pity for the Kitty” means take no prisoners, have no mercy with the foe, no sympathy for the enemy as you stomp on its corpse, as you cut off the head of the dragon the way citoyens once guillotined members of the nobility during the French Revolution. (more…)
My mother was a gifted psychic who never believed her talent was a big deal. She scoffed at poseurs and charlatans, was highly suspicious of the use of spirituality for profit, and reserved a deep respect for Catholic nuns and Catholic schooling. Never a churchgoing person, she had a profound faith in the power of her plaster image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (a gift from my father to her before their wedding), and an unswerving belief in the principle of Poetic Justice in the world. She never called it karma, but she maintained, to the end of her life, that eventually we all get our just deserts.
I have been thinking a great deal about my mother during this crisis of abduction and hostage taking of immigrant children by the US government. I remember distinctly the day at the Havana airport when we left Cuba in 1961. At the enclosed glass-area that led to the Pan American airplane, my mother and my aunt were taken away by female guards to be body-searched (Castro militias were looking for unauthorized money or jewels leaving the country). To this day, I remember the fear that engulfed me as I was left by myself with my young sister (I was 7, she was 6) in the departure area. (more…)
The torture-house run by Gina Haspel in 2002 was code-named “Cat’s Eye” (Adam Goldman, New York Times, March 13, 2018), evoking images of the Orwellian poster that haunted Winston Smith in 1984 (“Big Brother is Watching You”) and of the Ministry of Love and Room 101. At this site (before Haspel ran the prison), a Qaeda suspect by the name of Abu Zubaydah was water-boarded 83 times. A medical officer recorded the beginning sessions of Zubaydah’s “water-cure”:
“The sessions accelerated rapidly progressing quickly to the water board after large box, walling [slamming prisoner against wall], and small box periods. [Abu Zubaydah] seems very resistant to the water board. Longest time with the cloth over his face so far has been 17 seconds. This is sure to increase shortly. NO useful information so far…. He did vomit a couple of times during the water board with some beans and rice. It’s been 10 hours since he ate so this is surprising and disturbing. We plan to only feed Ensure for a while now. I’m head[ing] back for another water board session.[i]
A common thread in discussions of “enhanced interrogations” by our politicians is the widespread assumption that the times after 9/11 were a “dark period” in our history, an aberration, an exception to our usual humane treatment of prisoners of war, political prisoners and even common prisoners.
Nothing could be further from the truth. (more…)
Now, this is the way we give them the water cure…. Lay them on their backs, a man standing on each hand and each foot, then put a round stick in the mouth and pour a pail of water in the mouth and nose, and if they don’t give up pour in another pail. They swell up like toads. I’ll tell you it is a terrible torture.
Letter by a U.S. soldier in the Philippines during the Filipino insurgency, 1899-1902.
Abject hypocrisy will bring about the collapse of the US Empire and the end of American democracy. Our tragic flaw was in resplendent, sartorial display last week: hypocrites accused each other of hypocrisy; crocodile tears were in abundance; psychological projections were the order of the day; pious, self-serving justifications were rampant; and all throughout the garish spectacle we could do no less than agree with Mark Twain and feel ashamed of the human race. (more…)
Charles M. Blow, in a New York Times column, expresses a worry that must have crossed millions of minds many a time. It certainly troubles me.
Mr. Blow begins his column, “Donald Trump: Man of War,” by quoting a tweet from the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass, saying Donald Trump “is now set for war on 3 fronts: political vs Bob Mueller, economic vs China/others on trade, and actual vs. Iran and/or North Korea. This is the most perilous moment in modern American history–and it has been largely brought about by ourselves, not by events.”
In agreeing with Haass’ assessment of our present peril, Blow makes explicit the dynamic at work. Trump is getting desperate, which makes him dangerous. He will harness the power of the presidency to save himself, which is why he is heading toward actual war.
Would Mr. Trump take the country to war to save his presidency? This would not be the first time that starting a war has raised a president’s approval ratings. (more…)