Vladimir Putin

Trump the Strawman

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President Donald J. Trump is greeted by Kim Jong Un, Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, at the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel in Hanoi, for their second summit meeting. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Donald Trump’s fizzled summit meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is yet another occasion for commentary on this president’s unfitness for office, particularly in matters of foreign affairs.  The failure in Hanoi was Trump’s greatest blunder so far, according to Simon Tisdall, a foreign affairs commentator for the Guardian.  It was another “Trump vanity project.”  His “self-reverential style of personalized, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants diplomacy” is irresponsible in nuclear talks, per se, and ineffectual more generally.

Tisdall’s summary of Trump’s failed leadership is stunning: (more…)

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The Tautology of War

Graf Krokodil best

Yuliy Graf in Krokodil, 1953 no. 4, p. 8.

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…)

Trump the Traitor

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Joint press conference of Russian President Vladimir Putin and President of the United States of America Donald Trump, 16 July 2018. (Credit: Kremlin.ru)

I count myself among the majority of Americans appalled by Donald Trump’s presidency. Even so, righteous talk of his treason is worrisome from my standpoint as a critic of US war culture. I worry that a desire to defeat Trump and Trumpism by attacking any point of vulnerability works, in the present case, to reinforce militarism, even if inadvertently.

“Trump the Traitor” pretty well sums up the mainstream reaction to Mr. Trump’s resistance to the investigation of Russian meddling in US elections and his affinity for Mr. Putin. That is the title of Michael A. Cohen’s July 16 commentary in the Boston Globe. (more…)

Democracy in Authoritarian Times

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American poet Walt Whitman, September 1872, Brooklyn, New York. (Credit: G. Frank E. Pearsall)

We promote a mythic sensibility in this forum on the assumption that, for good or ill, myth is ubiquitous in human affairs. Our goal is not to debunk myth. We expose it where it harms polity and sustains war, but we also wish to cultivate myth to redeem democracy and promote peaceful pursuits.    

A culture of positive peace requires a democratic ethos. Democracy is not simply a matter of voting. It is an attitude, an outlook, a way of life that entails managing our serious differences robustly and constructively. It is not to be confused with the present outbreak of authoritarian populism and demonizing rhetoric.

As E. J. Dionne Jr. maintains, populism per se is not a villain nor is it necessarily hostile to democracy. The kind of populism that maintains faith with democracy does so by challenging “ruling elites to face up to injustices that undermine free institutions.” It does not define “the people” narrowly or treat political opponents as enemies. (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…)

Demonolatry

"The Golden Calf" by Esteban March (1610 - 1668).

“The Golden Calf” by Esteban March (1610 – 1668).

Ebola outbreaks, Islamic State beheadings and crucifixions, Putin’s provocations, school shootings, cop-killing snipers: demons everywhere.

Are we a nation of demoniacs, a people preoccupied with demons? We should hope not.   Demonolatry is an obsession with evil spirits. It entails sacrificial acts of appeasement and atonement. The war state thrives on a diet of monsters, fiends, and devils.

Some say our identity as a Christian nation reduces to pathology. Conservative Christianity can warp the mind, according to Marlene Winell (a human development consultant) and Valerie Tarico (a psychologist). Evangelicals and fundamentalists—those who literalize the Bible—insist on conformity, focus on the spiritual world, and seek salvation. They are inclined toward authoritarianism, a pervasive fear of sin, hell, and heathens, and an expectation of apocalypse. They operate in the subconscious realm of metaphor, symbol, imagery, emotion, and supernaturalism, which short-circuits their capacity for rational analysis. This pathology goes unacknowledged because it is respectable in a land that sees itself as blessed by God and where our currency declares our trust in God. (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…)

Terrorism in Trickster’s Mirror

MostwantedterrorbannerTricksters sometimes use mirrors to disrupt the projections of the war state. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at Riverside Church on April 4, 1967 to reveal the hypocrisy of a racist society fighting a racist war in Vietnam under the flag of freedom. One year later, to the day, he was murdered in Memphis by a racist.

Russian Premier Vladimir Putin likes to taunt the United States from afar for its “amazing, primitive, blunt cynicism” (March 18, 2014):

Our western partners, led by the United States of America, prefer not to be guided by international law in their practical policies, but by the rule of the gun. They have come to believe in their exclusivity and exceptionalism, that they can decide the destinies of the world, that only they can ever be right. They act as they please: here and there, they use force against sovereign states, building coalitions based on the principle “If you are not with us, you are against us.”

Since we can’t kill Putin, we dismiss him as a bully and a monster. (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…)