archetype

Fire and Fury: The Pitfall of Self-Righteous Absolutes

AtomicWar0201

“Atomic War!” #2, Page 1, December, 1952. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities . . . . for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.” (Romans 13:1, 4. NRSV)

Mr. Trump’s bellicose “fire and fury” rhetoric of August 8, 2017 (which he escalated two days later) promised to visit upon North Korea a “power the likes of which this world has never seen before” if Kim Jong Un should make “any more threats to the United States.” Trump’s “apocalyptic” imagery rendered the prospect of nuclear conflagration in familiar, biblical terms—Revelation’s depiction of the complete and final destruction of the world. He framed the crisis publicly, in language he had uttered privately to aides, as the ultimate confrontation of good and evil.

It is possible, of course, that Mr. Trump at some point will abandon his apocalyptic language. It wouldn’t be the first time he distanced himself from previous threats and promises. But a pledge of fire and fury is an especially dangerous ploy, if ploy it is. It exacerbates an already fraught situation and undermines our ability to imagine a plausible alternative to confrontation. (more…)

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Soldiers of Peace

Gandhi walking under the rain after landing at Folkstone (UK), September 12, 1931. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Gandhi walking under the rain after landing at Folkstone (UK), September 12, 1931. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

“I regard myself as a soldier, though a soldier of peace” (Mahatma Gandhi speaking in Geneva, Switzerland on December 10, 1931).

In a recent post, “The Myth of War’s Inevitability,” I recounted US Army Captain Paul Chappell’s rebuttal of the mythic premise that humans are naturally violent and warlike. He advances the alternative vision, grounded in Gandhi’s metaphor, of democratic citizens transcending war by regarding themselves as soldiers of peace [Will War Ever End? (Weston, CT: Ashoka Books, 2009)].

In a subsequent book, Peaceful Revolution (Westport, CT: Easton Studio Press, 2012), Chappell “outlines a path away from war” that channels the “warrior spirit toward peace” (pp. xiii, 41). The knowledge he gained at West Point about soldiering is repurposed to the pursuit of peace by nonviolent means. (more…)

War Tides

"Ship in a Stormy Sea Off the Coast" by Ivan Constantinovich Aivazovsky, oil on canvas, 1895.

“Ship in a Stormy Sea Off the Coast” by Ivan Constantinovich Aivazovsky, oil on canvas, 1895.

The sea, Michael Osborn explained decades ago, is an archetypal metaphor that resonates rhetorically. It sets off a primal emotional response that lends “a special urgency to rhetoric.”

The symbolism of the sea stirs something deep in the human psyche. It serves as an image of adventure, heroic journey, and discovery. It conveys a sense of danger, suffering, cleansing, transition, redemption, and rebirth.

The ambiguity of the symbolic sea is such that it can suggest both the spirit of freedom and a foreboding presence of peril and destruction, such as a tidal wave extinguishing the flickering flame of freedom. (more…)

Old Man Coyote

“Coyote at the River,” original art by Jeff Thomson.

“Coyote at the River,” original art by Jeff Thomson.

¨Coyote is in the origin,” the great Native American poet Simon Ortiz once wrote. “And all the way through.”

Coyote waits on the bank inspecting the river surface, sniffing the cold air and listening to the sounds of the landscape in the dead of frozen winter. But Old Man Coyote waits in the heart of the dark forest, hidden and unseen. The Old Man is an archetype; this coyote waiting at the river is merely his emanation. He yips to be invited across. He yearns for the voodoo priestess to perform her dance, for the heyoka to bring him among us through funny actions, to share the blessings of the truth that comes from the Thunder Beings of the West.

Coyote is a shapeshifter. To impact the world he must work through sacred clowns, through alchemists, and sometimes—not very often—through performative critics. (more…)

Fool’s Errand

"The Fool," Stratford-Upon-Avon, Great Britain (Credit:  Irene Ogrizek / Wikimedia Commons).

“The Fool,” Stratford-Upon-Avon, Great Britain (Credit: Irene Ogrizek / Wikimedia Commons).

Andrew Bacevich, historian of American militarism and empire, has declared the U.S. war against the Islamic State a fool’s errand. His argument is captured in the title of his Washington Post opinion piece, “Even if we defeat the Islamic State, we’ll still lose the bigger war.”

The U.S. is involved in a decades-old enterprise to bring order and stability to the Middle East, which is both costly and counterproductive. “Regime change has produced power vacuums.” The Islamic State is the most recent iteration of “America’s never-ending Middle East misadventure.” We are “inadvertently sowing instability” and thus digging the hole we’re in even deeper.

Bacevich’s critique invokes the mythic force of the archetype. The fool’s errand, as an idiom of war, places the U.S. under the spell of a heroic quest. It is a grand undertaking that has no chance of success, a pointless task carried out against our better judgment.  (more…)

Migrant War

Mars, God of War (c. 1640) by Diego Velázquez.

Mars, God of War (c. 1640) by Diego Velázquez.

Mars, symbol of power and majesty, began as the guardian of the land but developed into the god of war as Rome pursued the ambition of empire.  Imperial Mars traveled with Roman Legions into battle at the far reaches of the world.  He protected the homeland from afar and made peace by means of war, unlike the Greek god Ares for whom destructive warfare was an end in itself.  The union of Mars and Venus (war and love) produced Harmonia (harmony and concord).

War travels to pacify, following the logic of the archetype.  It moves from one place to another, relocating periodically in search of enemies to engage.  Migration is the mythic dynamic, the self-sustaining act, of militancy.  And as the state embraces the wayfare of militarism, it drifts from republic to empire (Rachel Maddow, Drift, 2012).

Obama’s war on terrorism not only is timeless, but it also is migrant.  The traveling image of America at a crossroads frames the President’s speech on drone warfare (May 23, 2013). (more…)

Tricksters and Archetypes in War Culture

Anthropomorphic Coyote trickster, from North American Indigenous mythology, canoeing up the river.  Curtis, Edward S. Indian Days of the Long Ago. Yonkers-on-Hudson: World Book Company, 1915. Page 84.

Anthropomorphic Coyote trickster, from North American Indigenous mythology, canoeing up the river. Curtis, Edward S. Indian Days of the Long Ago. Yonkers-on-Hudson: World Book Company, 1915. Page 84.

Archetypes are powerful and recurring symbols or images that convey models of behavior and bestow fundamental forms of thought and feeling.   Deeply embedded in culture, they typically operate on a people subconsciously, below the level of critical reflection.  They carry mythic force made manifest in metaphors, which function as myths in miniature.  “Archetypal metaphors in rhetoric,” in Michael Osborn’s terms (Quarterly Journal of Speech, 1967), infuse popular language with a stable architecture of preference.  God is conceived as a blindingly bright light and the devil as ominously dark.  Archetypes link experiences to motives with cultural authority.

(more…)