devil myth

Devilish Lies

Donald_Trump_official_portrait

(Credit: U.S. White House)

Lies—big and small, noble or not—are the way of the world, whether we speak of personal, social, and professional relationships or of advertising, media, and politics. Lying is normal—so it seems—yet still disturbing.

When we testify in court, we swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. That is our oath. But as a juror, I find it difficult to determine whether the testifier’s truth telling is stretched, selective, or faked. Truth is not so transparent or objectively known as we’d like to think. Indeed, it is the jury’s job to make a judgment about what is true and what is false.

Among the factors that influence our assessment of a claim to truth, whether in the courtroom, the political arena, or elsewhere, are the credibility of the testifier, the coherence of the story told, common sense, our own experience, and perspective. Seldom, if ever, are we absolutely confident of our judgment, which can leave us feeling uneasy—a little or a lot depending on the circumstances and consequences. (more…)

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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…)

Church of Football (Part I)

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in September of 2014. (Credit:  Andrew Campbell / Wikimedia Commons)

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in September of 2014. (Credit: Andrew Campbell / Wikimedia Commons)

The country will not be brought down by the Islamic State or by Arab extremists; it will not be toppled by abortion or by same-sex marriages. In the future, history will tell that the U.S. defeated communism, avoided the wiles of Satan, but could not transcend its own internal contradictions.

The country will decline and fall because it observes the Roman policy of panem et circenses regarding its citizens, keeping them satiated with bread and games while its plutocrats enrich their miserable selves—even at the expense of the destruction of the planet. We no longer worship—if we ever did—at the Church of Jesus Christ. On Sundays during the season we worship at the Church of Football, and the rest of the year we follow the vagaries of football teams and their players as if we were watching the war of the final days between angelic hosts. (more…)

Return of the Evildoers

Former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush, 7 November 2012. (Credit: The World Affairs Council)

Former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush, 7 November 2012. (Credit: The World Affairs Council)

Barack Obama generally avoids the use of the term “evildoers.” That is the language of his predecessor, Bush-the-warmonger. One can make too much of the differences between the two presidents on matters of foreign policy. Both are leaders of the war state and, accordingly, conversant with the demonology of US war culture, which can be more or less nuanced. Early signs are that Jeb Bush prefers his brother’s bluntness.

Jeb’s anticipated run for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination has occasioned the return of the language of evildoers (Ed O’Keefe, “The World According to Jeb Bush,” Washington Post, April 16, 2015). The term distances him from Obama’s foreign policy, which is a policy of “retrenchment,” according to the younger brother of George. (more…)

John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress

Christian's Combat With Apollyon, by H.C. Selous and M. Paolo Priolo, circa 1850.

Christian’s Combat With Apollyon, by H.C. Selous and M. Paolo Priolo, circa 1850.

In the middle of the road of life, having left the City of Destruction on his way to the City of Zion, in the depths of the Valley of Humiliation, Christian (who was once called Graceless) meets the foul fiend Apollyon, who had “wings like a dragon, feet like a bear, and out of his belly came fire and smoke, and his mouth was as the mouth of a lion.”

The above print reflects the recurrent image of the devil myth that has haunted American war culture from the days of origin. There is always a devil to fight, a beast to overcome, Beelzebub to defeat, or Apollyon to engage in combat. (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…)

Whack-a-Mole

President Barack Obama at the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo.  (Harrywad / Wikimedia Commons)

President Barack Obama at the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo. (Harrywad / Wikimedia Commons)

The senator who opposed the Iraq War is now—as President—engaging in an Iraq War. The Nobel Peace Prize recipient is authorizing air strikes in the Middle East. The candidate who lost a presidential race because he opposed, as a young veteran, the Vietnam War is now—as Secretary of State—organizing allies for a war campaign in Syria. The senator who opposed George Bush’s policy of torturing enemy combatants, and who made a mark in his presidential race by singing bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran, is gleeful at last that his advice has been heeded, and that we are bombing someone.

For once again, another barbarous Devil has appeared in the Middle East; yet again, another heinous adversary threatens “American Interests” (read “American Money”) and “National Security” (read “American Power”). The land is plagued by a Hydra Monster; no sooner does the U.S. cut off one head, another one grows in its place. (more…)

Democratic Citizenship

Political World Map. (Credit: Ionut Cojocaru / Wikimedia Commons)

Political World Map. (Credit: Ionut Cojocaru / Wikimedia Commons)

Nationalism is on the decline.   Outbursts of patriotism are the forlorn growl of chauvinism in retreat. Globalization is ascendant, and with it we face a new set of challenges and opportunities for transforming the war state.

A narrow sense of American citizenship is yesterday’s reality. As a consequence of “the global diffusion of culture and democratic governance,” argues Peter Sapiro, political community is migrating beyond the confines of the nation-state. That does not mean that our troubles are over, however. It means “citizenship can no longer be addressed in comfortable isolation.” When “the state no longer dominates identity,” we are faced with “remapping the contours” of political community (Beyond Citizenship: American Identity after Globalization, 2008, pp. 5-6, 162).

Americans have prospered in the state-based world at the expense of others, and there is no global community ready to replace the old nationalism. It is a scary proposition to contemplate the descent of American exceptionalism and the prospect of chaos. (more…)

A Force for Good

Putin shakes hand with Modi at the 6th BRICS summit. BRICS is an acronym for the economic association of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.  The recently established BRICS bank is an alternative to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. (Credit: Presidential Press and Information Office of the Russian Federation)

Putin shakes hand with Modi at the 6th BRICS summit. BRICS is an acronym for the economic association of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. The recently established BRICS bank is an alternative to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. (Credit: Presidential Press and Information Office of the Russian Federation)

Whether or not the rhetoric is sincere, it aims to persuade us that our country is on the side of the angels. Stories to the contrary are ignored or forgotten. The simple but effective mechanism for suppressing the nation’s guilty conscience is to concoct a devil figure. If our enemy is evil, then we are a force for good. This self-serving logic is regularly recycled. It keeps bad memories in check whenever or wherever they might pop up. It works like a vaccination to immunize us from a dreaded disease. (more…)