World War II

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…)

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The Good War

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Historian Howard Zinn speaking in 2009. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Howard Zinn was a bombardier in World War II. He flew B-17 missions over Germany, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. He didn’t like war, but he joined in the fight against Fascism because he believed this war was “a people’s war, a war against the unspeakable brutality of Fascism.” Unlike other wars, this war “was not for profit or empire”:

What could be more justifiable than a war against Fascism, which was ruthlessly crushing dissent at home, and taking over other countries, while proclaiming theories of racial supremacy and promoting a spirit of nationalist arrogance. When Japan, which was committing atrocities in China, allied itself to Italy and Germany, and then attacked the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, it seemed to be clear—it was the democratic countries against the Fascist countries.[i]

Indeed, World War II is the national archetype of the good war, the just war, the war for democracy and liberty. US wars have been infused ever since with the heroic spirit of its just cause.

Based on his experience and then on his research as a professional historian, Zinn changed his mind about World War II and war in general. His reassessment is worth reflecting upon since, as he put the matter, World War II is the supreme test of whether there is such a thing as a just war.[ii] (more…)

Puerto Rico: Dance Under the Storm (Part II: Borinqueneers)

Painting depiction of the U.S. 65th Infantry Regiment's bayonet charge against a Chinese division during the Korean War, by Dominic D'Andrea, 1992. (Credit: U.S. Dept. of Defense)

Painting depiction of the U.S. 65th Infantry Regiment’s bayonet charge against a Chinese division during the Korean War, by Dominic D’Andrea, 1992. (Credit: U.S. Dept. of Defense)

The illustration pictures the (all Puerto Rican) 65th Infantry Regiment in action. In 2014, President Barack Obama presented the Congressional Gold Medal to the fabled “Borinqueneers” in recognition of their military service in Korea (the word Borinquen derives from the ancient Taíno name for the island).

In The Docile Puerto Rican and Other Essays 1953-1971, René Marqués once argued:

We are docile. If we were not, Puerto Rico would have obtained its national sovereignty in the 19th century…. Puerto Ricans can be antisocial, defiant, non-conformist occasionally and even heroic as individuals in some cases, but we are certainly docile as a people.[1]

History belies such a categorical judgment by one of Puerto Rico’s greatest playwrights. From the first Taíno insurrection by Agueybana el Bravo (the Brave) in 1511; to the repulsion of repeated British and Danish invasions under the Spanish colony; to the slave rebellions of the 19th century; to the legendary insurrection against Spanish rule in 1865 known as the “Grito de Lares”; to the Puerto Rican participation in the Cuban Wars of Independence in 1895; in all conflicts Puerto Ricans have demonstrated the same fighting spirit that animated the Borinqueneers during the Korean War. (more…)

Conspiracy Theory: You Cannot Live

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Jewish refugees from Czechoslovakia being marched away by British police at Croydon airport in March 1939. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

I’m a big fan of conspiracy theories. They are based mostly on what Mark Twain calls a set of “corn-pone” opinions: “You tell me whar a man gits his corn-pone, en I’ll tell you what his ‘pinions is.”[i] I find it endlessly fascinating to contemplate why a man or woman would entertain a belief that is patently false (the United States, for example, staged the moon landing in a Hollywood set), and yet reject an occurrence that is demonstrably true (the water in Flint, Michigan is full of lead).

To my increasing horror, I have begun to weave a personal conspiracy theory—probably as a result of losing my mind after listening to too many Republican presidential primary debates. Since my theory—if it ever becomes fact—signals a great danger for many of us, pray bear with me lest we suffer the same fate of Trojans who did not listen to Cassandra.

(more…)

Hitler, Our Disciple

A picture of Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler with members of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross First Class: Gerd Pleiss, Kurt Meyer, Gerd Bremer, Josef Dietrich, Theodor Wisch, Fritz Witt, Heinrich Springer and Otto Skorzeny. (Credit: German Reich Government; Ernst Krause (SS Sturmbannführer))

A picture of Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler with members of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross First Class: Gerd Pleiss, Kurt Meyer, Gerd Bremer, Josef Dietrich, Theodor Wisch, Fritz Witt, Heinrich Springer and Otto Skorzeny. (Credit: German Reich Government; Ernst Krause (SS Sturmbannführer))

A few months before the second U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the German justice minister Herta Daubler-Gmelin compared the methods of then-president George W. Bush to those of Adolf Hitler: “Bush wants to divert attention from his domestic problems. It’s a classic tactic. It’s one that Hitler also used.”

The cries of indignation from the White House were strident. Ari Fleischer, Bush’s Press Secretary, commented: “The relations between the people of the United States and the people of Germany are very important to the American people. But this statement by the justice minister is outrageous and it is inexplicable.” (From the time of Shakespeare to the present day, it is useful to remember that when rulers or politicians “protest too much,” it is almost certain that something is being covered up.) German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder apologized to President Bush for the “impression” given by the statements of his justice minister.

An unstated premise of U.S. politics and the U.S. media is that comparisons with Hitler must be avoided, if not summarily condemned. Who is comparable to the Arch-Devil of history, responsible for the Holocaust and for millions of European deaths in violent conflicts? Certainly not us! And yet the irony is that Hitler himself would have been sympathetic to Daubler-Gmelin’s statement. (more…)

Landscape of Dead Metaphors

Destroyed Berlin, Germany, 1945.  (Credit: United States Air Force Historical Research Agency via Cees Steijger (1991), "A History of USAFE", Voyageur, ISBN: 1853100757)

Destroyed Berlin, Germany, 1945. (Credit: United States Air Force Historical Research Agency via Cees Steijger (1991), “A History of USAFE”, Voyageur, ISBN: 1853100757)

The Landscape of Dead Metaphors is a petrified geography where dreams of Empire come to rest in a soldier’s grave. Berlin 1945: living corpses gather in the streets to cheer Mother Courage, waving to the crowd from an automobile. She survived, but lost all her children in the business of the war.

A white horse leads the parade, carrying a mounted soldier’s armor encompassing a brittle skeleton. Although the night is dark—the war horse signals—the sun will rise and the day will come. (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…)