patriotism

Trump’s Prophetic Trope

Apocalypse_vasnetsov

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – Death, Famine, War, and Conquest, an 1887 painting by Viktor Vasnetsov. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

We have used the symbol of apocalypse at Hunt the Devil to frame the political ascendency of Donald Trump in mythic terms. It is a rich and resonant symbol, a metaphor with multiple entailments, both religious and secular, each entangled with the others. Its mythos is relevant to interpreting the crisis of US empire that is reflected in Trump’s rise to the presidency.

The imperial presidency itself is a metaphorical precursor of the Trump phenomenon, a term for excessive executive power, which gained popularity in the 1960s and found voice in Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s 1973 book by that title. The power of the presidency exceeded its constitutional limits consistent with the transformation of the republic into an empire. With empire came war culture and the normalization of continuous warfare. (more…)

Waiting for Monica

Mónica Puig at the 2014 China Open. (Credit: Tatiana / Wikimedia Commons)

Mónica Puig at the 2014 China Open. (Credit: Tatiana / Wikimedia Commons)

Two weeks ago, after writing a series of posts about Puerto Rico for our Hunt the Devil blog, I sat at the bar of the Caribe Hilton in San Juan nursing a drink and watching the sunset on the beach. At such times, it is easy to understand how the first explorers believed they had found Paradise when they discovered the Caribbean islands.

Suddenly my contemplation was disturbed by a storm of police sirens, fire trucks blaring, PA systems screeching, TV news reporters and a mob of hotel guests rushing towards the entrance of the hotel. To the anxious question what is happening? the bartender answered with Beckettian simplicity: “Monica’s here.”

He was referring to the arrival of Monica Puig, first athlete to ever win a gold medal playing for Puerto Rico, fresh from her victory at the Rio Olympics in the single women’s tennis event. She was staying in the hotel complex to train for the upcoming US Open tournament, and to attend a scheduled parade in her honor. At this point in time my wife Margarita, who is a native born Puerto Rican, left the seat beside me to join the rushing crowd trying to get phone pictures of Monica. (more…)

‘American Sniper’ and Imperial Impasse

Navy SEAL Sniper Chris Kyle signs a copy of his new book “American Sniper” for a Camp Pendleton sailor at the base’s Country Store, Jan. 13, 2012. “American Sniper” is Kyle's first person account of how he went from a Texas cowboy to one of the most distinguished snipers in the military. The book also offers a view of modern warfare and one of the most in-depth looks into the secret world of special operations. (Credit: U.S. Marine Cpl. Damien Gutierrez / Wikimedia Commons)

Navy SEAL Sniper Chris Kyle signs a copy of his new book “American Sniper” for a Camp Pendleton sailor at the base’s Country Store, Jan. 13, 2012. (Credit: U.S. Marine Cpl. Damien Gutierrez / Wikimedia Commons)

The new film phenomenon, American Sniper, has met with spirited acclaim as well as vigorous denunciation. It is a box-office triumph for Hollywood but also a cultural signpost of imperial impasse in which Americans flail at each other over the issue of war or just withdraw into political disaffection.

The film marks a point at which a demoralized people feel the lacunae of an outworn worldview. Such moments provide an opening for fresh thinking, an opportunity to revise a guiding perspective so that it is better adapted to coping with a recalcitrant situation, even at the cost of “the deceptive comforts of ideological rigidity” (Kenneth Burke, Attitudes Toward History, 3rd ed., p. 231).

Mixed reactions to the film are telling. (more…)

Veteran’s Lament

Wounded veterans pose with 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) commander Paul L. Wentz and the Air Force Theater Hospital commander Air Force Col. Mark Koeniger under Hero's Highway, the passageway that brings injured Warfighters from the medical evacuation helicopters to the emergency department at Joint Base Balad, Iraq; Oct. 19, 2009. (Credit:  U.S. Army Sgt. Keith S. VanKlompenberg)

Wounded veterans pose with 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) commander Paul L. Wentz and the Air Force Theater Hospital commander Air Force Col. Mark Koeniger under Hero’s Highway, the passageway that brings injured Warfighters from the medical evacuation helicopters to the emergency department at Joint Base Balad, Iraq; Oct. 19, 2009. (Credit: U.S. Army Sgt. Keith S. VanKlompenberg)

If the kingdom of God is within you, so is the kingdom of Hell. I have seen more than I can speak, and nothing ever turned out as I expected.

And through it all I followed the flag. The flag!

I once baptized unbelievers in the rivers of Asia. I wore a sacred amulet which I lost in a firefight, and later found around the neck of an Asian boy. I gave him a chocolate bar in trade for it, because I felt threatened and vulnerable without it.

They told me that if I hang on this cross Resurrection will follow, but I suspect that was only another lie. I sacrificed for country, but there was no country where I was sent, and no country left when I returned; only those around me, who sacrificed as well. (more…)

God and Country

First Presbyterian Church of Hartford City, Indiana sanctuary. (Credit:  TwoScarsUp / Wikimedia Commons)

First Presbyterian Church of Hartford City, Indiana sanctuary. (Credit: TwoScarsUp / Wikimedia Commons)

It is not uncommon in the United States to see both the Christian cross and the American flag displayed in the sanctuary of Christian churches. What does it mean to place two such powerful symbols side by side when one stands for a world religion and the other is an expression of nationalism? Does the state circumscribe one’s faith, and/or does one’s religious convictions transcend national boundaries?

The tension between church and state takes various forms. (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…)

On Waving Flags

Flag_of_the_United_StatesThe old veteran was describing, grimly and determinedly, the horrors of the Bataan March. (This was happening on TV, in a WW II documentary the name of which I don’t want to remember.) Not a shred of sentiment did he waste on his memories until the end of his tale. Then he spoke about the moment when USA forces, waving the American flag, rescued the Bataan POWs. At that moment he broke down, and wept like a young boy to finish his account:

“I tell you, I love that flag!”

I understand that. This was the very same flag which my father honored with his service in Vietnam. (more…)

Combative Patriotism

Patriotic Christmas light display in Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA (photo by Pezow / Wikimedia Commons).

Patriotic Christmas light display in Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA (Pezow / Wikimedia Commons).

The rush of patriotism. We’ve all seen it, perhaps even gotten caught up in it. It is a ritual of nationalism that enacts the story of America and the mythic vision of its special calling.

For many (perhaps most) who are U.S. citizens, there is something vital and irresistible, even right, about this public celebration of national identity, especially in times of crisis. Expressing pride of country brings us together, suggests a common past and shared purpose, reassures us that we will overcome adversity, that we are not alone in the face of danger.

Yet, the price we pay for this prideful rite is high. It makes us combative in our assertion of national identity. We define who we are as a people in opposition to an enemy. The rush of patriotism becomes an act of righteous indignation and polarization. It’s US against THEM—the United States vs. the World. It constitutes an attitude of war.

(more…)

The American Hero

George W. Bush passes through the "side boys" after a successful trap aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) in a S-3B Viking assigned to the Blue Wolves of Sea Control Squadron Three Five (VS-35) designated "NAVY 1". President Bush is the first sitting President to trap aboard an aircraft carrier at sea. The President is conducting a visit aboard ship to meet with the Sailors and will address the Nation as Lincoln prepares to return from a 10-month deployment to the Arabian Gulf in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Tyler J. Clements.)

George W. Bush passes through the “side boys” after a successful trap aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) in a S-3B Viking assigned to the Blue Wolves of Sea Control Squadron Three Five (VS-35) designated “NAVY 1”. President Bush is the first sitting President to trap aboard an aircraft carrier at sea. The President was conducting a visit aboard ship to meet with the Sailors and later addressed the Nation as Lincoln prepared to return from a 10-month deployment to the Arabian Gulf in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Tyler J. Clements.)


“Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed . . . All of you—all in this generation of our military—have taken up the highest calling of history . . . Wherever you go, you carry a message of hope—a message that is ancient and ever new. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, ‘To the captives, ‘come out,’—and to those in darkness, ‘be free'” (President George W. Bush, May 1, 2003, Address Aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln).

“Today we honor the warriors who fought our nation’s enemies, defended the cause of liberty, and gave their lives in the cause of freedom . . . Now this hallowed ground receives a new generation of heroes—men and women who gave their lives in places such as Kabul and Kandahar, Baghdad and Ramadi . . . This is our country’s calling. It’s our country’s destiny” (President George W. Bush, Memorial Day Address, May 28, 2007, Arlington National Cemetery).

We Americans revere our heroes and, through them, celebrate our national heroism. The hero animates the war state. It is a key mythic figure in the war state’s code of terror. Deciphering its symbolism can help us to understand the emotionally surcharged logic of the war on terror. (more…)

Baptist of An Hoa

Beach activity at Da Nang, Vietnam during landing of United States Marines of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade in March of 1965.  (United States Marine Corps)

Beach activity at Da Nang, Vietnam during landing of United States Marines of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade in March of 1965. (United States Marine Corps)

Vietnam, 1968. My friend Lee Benjamin arrived two weeks after the Tet Offensive. At the age of 19, he found himself a young Marine at the siege of Khe Sanh, a Jew among Christians.

“But I did not baptize anyone in Khe Sanh. I wouldn’t go out of the sandbagged holes we lived in much because they could sniper at you. I took only 11 showers in 4-5 months, 4 of them while I was in the hospital with malaria.”

At An Hoa, his fellow grunts had “freaked.” The company had gone in with about 150 troops and only 70 were left—some dead, some wounded, some poisoned by tree insects. They had been told by preachers, ministers and chaplains that if they died unbaptized, in battle, they would end up in Hell. Lee came from an upper middle-class white Jewish family in San Diego. He attributed this fear of damnation to the ignorance of uneducated young draftees. He was a Forward Air Control guy and needed their protection in battle. Characteristically, he took direct and efficient action to address the situation.    (more…)