You have heard it said . . . but all of history and literature say unto you . . .

May 2, 2011

Bin Laden, they say, is dead; we have slain our enemy, we have exacted an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Our sins came home to roost, and the shame of that had to be expunged.

As I, mesmerized with grief and horror, watched the footage of the Twin Towers tumbling down on 9/11/01, so much life turned into so much debris, one of my thoughts was “whoever did this did not watch enough B-budget westerns and WWII movies,” and thus had no idea what they had unleashed in their attempt at revenge for their own reasons and on their own terms.

And now, after 10 years of immersion in the expensive insanity of vengeful, self-righteous destruction unleashed by exactly the dynamic laid out for all the world to see in our most banal films, we think we have won by killing the “master-mind” of it all. Oh, and by the way, Qaddafi’s son is dead, but not Qaddafi.

Oh my country: how many more enemies, how many more masterminds have we created? How much of our own integrity have we destroyed?

We’ve seen it over and over again, throughout the millenia of history, and doubtless throughout the unwritten life of human beings before “history” (by definition written). Is this why “they” are doing their best to get rid of the humanities? So nobody knows this until long after, until way too late?

Violence, hatred, and vengeance are self-perpetuating and addictive: look at the Irish and English, at the Basques and “franquistas,” at the Palestinians and Israelis. At some point the purpose simply becomes the perpetuation of the adrenalin rush, of the high of violence, of the delusion of omnipotence-for-an-instant. Look at all the computer and video games of war, blasting some enemy to gory pixels, look at how we’ve converted the destruction of human beings into just that: entertainment.

A few days after we entered the conflict in Libya, some headline or other blared out its shock that women and children, civilians, innocents were being killed. WHAT THE F***K DID YOU THINK WOULD HAPPEN? Of course innocents are killed, lives are destroyed — lives, meaning every living thing within range of the weapons’ strike, meaning crops, meaning livelihoods, meaning homes — THAT’S WHAT WAR DOES.

To everybody. Just like 9/11.

War doesn’t happen in algorithms and densely printed pages of strategy, blips on screens, computer simulations. It happens to real people of flesh and blood, to their parents and their children, to their lovers, to their chickens and dogs, to the tomatoes in their gardens, to the very earth itself. But, as John Steinbeck writes of his outing in San Diego on the way to the Gulf of California, in Log from the Sea of Cortez, young pre-WWII Navy gunners were taught never to do that, think of particular lives, families, homes being obliterated.

And when you’ve destroyed somebody’s life, they’re not exactly disposed to be sweet to you. Paybacks truly are hell.

There is an astounding early 20th century text by (of all people) Mark Twain, that we should all read. I can’t imagine why no one (who’s interested in peace, that is) in the last 10 years hasn’t brought out a compelling new edition to make us all think about what our nation is doing (nation: hah. The Military Industrial Complex that owns our government only thinks in terms of its own immediate profit: “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees…”). I see that there was a 2007 film adaptation, but the Wikipedia link is broken.

You can find “The War Prayer” on various websites. I strongly recommend it. Here’s the Wikipedia article on it:

An etext:

An audio version:

And it’s on a site dedicated to Babylon 5, which had an episode with the same name:

And, you know, what Christ is reported to have said in the Christian Gospel of Mathew is not unique in the wisdom literature of the planet, and it’s simply a matter of practicality: violence begets violence, hate begets hate, and if we can’t identify with those we’ve harmed, or who’ve harmed us, to the point of harming them no further, we can’t stop the unending chain of violence (also Twain’s point).

Mathew 5 (KJV)
38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: 39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. 41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. 42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. 43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; 45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? 47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?

Being a bit of a Jeremiah myself, I spent some time a while back reading the Hebrew prophets — try it: you might be surprised. What makes their God maddest is greed, exploitation, profiteering, taking advantage, violating others, ruthlessness — in short: God don’t like no bullies.

I’d bet Calvin’s hermeneutic gyrations incorporating the prophets and Job into a religion of “if you’re rich, it’s because you’re in good with God” would make your head spin.

I used to have this fantasy of Madeleine Albright sending both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to their rooms without supper until they could be nice to each other. Alas, no go.

We’re at an anti-Nike point in the fate of the world, truly:

For God’s sake, for our own sake, to be “perfect” — to fulfill our humanity, common and yet always particular — stop the destruction, the exploitation, the injustice, the rampant self-righteousness, the visiting of horror, whether minuscule and personal or of epic proportions. Just stop — YOU, personally, in all your affairs — stop taking advantage of others, thinking only of your own profit and gratification; stop lying, stealing, cheating, even if everybody else is doing it. The handbook is in every wisdom literature there is, summed up nicely in the Sermon on the Mount, and in the “golden rule”:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Do not unto others as you would not have them do unto you.

P.S. In an interesting essay in Religion Dispatches, Mark Juergensmeyer writes:

So although the hardened activists associated with al Qaeda will linger on, the fate of the global jihadi ideology—or rather the world view of cosmic war that the jihadi rhetoric promoted—is a different matter. This view of the world as a tangle of sacred warfare has been an exciting and alluring image among a large number of mostly young and largely male Muslims around the world for over a decade. It is an image that was brought to dramatic attention by the September 11, 2001 attacks, and stimulated by the perception that US military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq were wars against Islam.

This jihadi vision of sacred warfare was propagated by the internet, through postings on chat rooms and the dissemination of YouTube types of videos showing graphic acts of US military destruction in Islamic countries and calling on the faithful to respond. The jihadi idea of cosmic war provided a strategic legimitization of violence by the implicit promise—as a leader of Hamas once told me—that if one is fighting God’s war, one could never lose. God always wins.

For the moment, however, bin Laden is dead, and Tahrir Square has challenged both the strategic value and the moral legitimacy of the jihadi stance. The legion of young Muslim activists around the world have received a new standard for challenging the old order, and a new form of protest, one that discredits terrorism as the easy and ineffective path and chooses the tough and profitable road of nonviolence.

16.v.11 update:
This from Glenn Greenwald:

It’s the perfect self-perpetuating cycle: (1) They hate us and want to attack us because we’re over there; therefore, (2) we have to stay and proliferate ourselves because they hate us and want to attack us; (3) our staying and proliferating ourselves makes them hate us and want to attack us more; therefore, (4) we can never leave, because of how much they hate us and want to attack us. The beauty of this War on Terror — and, as the last two weeks have demonstrated, War is the bipartisan consensus for what we are and should be doing to address Terrorism — is that it forever sustains its own ostensible cause.

Once again, Glenn Greenwald in “The fruits of liberation” on Salon says what we all should be saying and seeing:

At some point, doesn’t a country’s ongoing willingness year after year to extinguish the lives of innocent human beings in multiple countries, for no good reason, seriously mar the character of the country and the political leaders responsible for it, to say nothing of the way it inexorably degrades the political culture of the nation and the minds of the citizens who acquiesce to it? That should be nothing more than a rhetorical question. The gap between how many Americans perceive of their nation’s role in the world and the reality is indescribably wide.

We would be wise to heed …


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