Russia

Militant Peace

0957_-_Nordkorea_2015_-_Pjöngjang_-_Parade_zum_75._JT_der_Arbeiterpartei_(22976775845)

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…)

Say What?

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses a joint session of the Australian Parliament in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra on November 17, 2011. (Credit:  Pete Souza / Wikimedia Commons)

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses a joint session of the Australian Parliament in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra on November 17, 2011. (Credit: Pete Souza / Wikimedia Commons)

Speaking to the Australian Parliament on November 17, 2011, as his administration declared its intention to pivot to Asia, President Obama expressed his commitment to peace. We “partner to keep peace,” he said. We seek a world in which “disagreements are resolved peacefully,” he insisted. “As we plan and budget for the future, we will allocate the resources necessary to maintain our strong military presence in this region.  We will preserve our unique ability to project power and deter threats to peace,” he concluded.

Say what?

What does the President mean by peace? Budgeting for war equals a commitment to peace?

In a word, yes. (more…)

The Spectre of Chaos

Ground Zero, New York City, N.Y. (Sept. 16, 2001) -- A lone fire engine at the crime scene in Manhattan where the World Trade Center collapsed following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. Surrounding buildings were heavily damaged by the debris and massive force of the falling twin towers. U.S. Navy photo by Chief Photographer's Mate Eric J. TIlford.

Ground Zero, New York City, N.Y. (Sept. 16, 2001) — A lone fire engine at the crime scene in Manhattan where the World Trade Center collapsed following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. Surrounding buildings were heavily damaged by the debris and massive force of the falling twin towers. U.S. Navy photo by Chief Photographer’s Mate Eric J. TIlford.

Crises prompt politicians and pundits to draw deeply from the well of myth. The President turned to the biblical language of evildoers to make sense of the tragedy of 9/11. More recently, the Cold War language of falling dominoes and containment has resurfaced in the face of Russia’s sudden annexation of Crimea. It, too, is mythic at its core.

Indiana’s U.S. Senator Dan Coats, among others, speaks in Cold War terms (March 17, 2014). Hoosiers should care about what happens to Ukraine even though, he observes, it is 5,000 miles away, trade with it is miniscule, it has no energy resources or critical materials, it is a corrupt and unstable state, and only 30% of its population is religious.

Why should we care, then, asks the Senator? Because “conflicts grow from small beginnings,” as in the case of Hitler’s unchecked aggression and other incidents before and after World War II, when policymakers failed to draw the line. Disaster in Ukraine undermines European security and stability, which penetrates to the “permanent core” of U.S. strategic interests and threatens a chain reaction. (more…)

Saul or David?

"David and Goliath" (1888) by Osmar Schindler.

“David and Goliath” (1888) by Osmar Schindler.

In Abrahamic mythology, God enabled his people to destroy evil giants and to occupy their land.  Oversized pagans were ousted from the promised land by a chosen people.  David, not timid Saul, was fit to lead the people, for David was “a man of valor, a warrior” (1 Samuel 16:18 NRSV).  Young David slew the taunting Goliath; King David and his army killed Philistine giants to secure Israel and Judah.

Killing the ungodly Goliath is a parable of the courage that comes from knowing the faithful underdog is victorious over those who have “defied the armies of the living God” (1 Samuel 17: 36 NRSV).  The parable equates virtue with the strength of courage, evil with the monster’s bluster.  Aggression is symbolically transformed into defense when one fights the Lord’s battle against satanic forces.

The story of David and Goliath is embedded in U.S. war culture.  It projects evil and transforms the world’s most powerful nation into the righteous defender of the oppressed.  Cowering before a bully does not befit an American president to lead the world to glory. (more…)