26 March 2006

Who's Looking Out for You?

I couldn't resist copping one of Bill O'Reilly's slogans for this post. In answer, I can say that even if you took Mr. O'Reilly, President Bush, all the US military forces and intelligence officers deployed around the world, and all the Homeland Security and law enforcement together, they still wouldn't be enough to watch your back during this Global War on Terror. So who else is looking out for you?

Muslims. I think one big reason there hasn't been another major al-Qaeda like attack in the US, like those in Europe, is that American Muslims are not giving aid or shelter to would-be Jihaddicts. Like everyone else in America, they were caught with their guard down prior to 9/11. But now that they know the threat from these fanatics, I think they are watching out for suspicious characters and alerting the civil authorities.

So, next time you think about or encounter Muslims, show a little gratitude and a little respect.

Better yet, show a little love. Now we could say that it is a kind of love-in-action to pour blood and treasure into Iraq and Afghanistan in order to give the people of Islam a chance at anything other than autocratic government. But even if we win in those places (still in doubt at this writing), we can lose in others. This is because oil-rich Wahabbi-Jihadi fanatics are financing the construction and staffing of mosques all over the Islamic world. They are even funding the infiltration of fanatic clerics into mosques in America to try to take away the protection that American Muslims provide.

I have a counter-proposition. We should fund American Muslims to become missionaries back into the wider Muslim world. We should fund them to build and staff mosques, to run charities, to provide aid, care, and instruction. We should fund them to spread a message counter to that of the Global Salafist Jihad: the message that Islam need not be shackled to the honor-shame cultures in which it was born. The message that Islam does not dictate culture, but transcends it. The message that anyone can be a Muslim and still be themselves. The message of the Prophet, without the baggage the Jihaddicts load onto it.

We can use our technology and military might to keep from losing the struggle against the Global Salafist Jihad. But it will take love to win it.

23 March 2006

A Terrible Love of War

James Hillman's book published in 2004 by the above title is an investigation into war by a Jungian analyst. He explores war with his imagination, which well he might, since by his own admission he has never been in combat. This, however, presents no obstacle because of his experience with combat veterans and survivors and their written accounts. Indeed, he has read widely, and refers liberally to the classics, history both ancient and modern, and the literature of psychology, philosophy and social science. Hillman's book speeds over his sources like an insect called a water-strider speeds over a pond - never penetrating the depths, because it is too light-weight to break the surface tension.

His chapters are entitled

  • War is Normal - meaning that it is ubiquitous in history and geography and that psychologically normal people engage in it
  • War is Inhuman - meaning that war seems to have a transpersonal dynamic all its own. Hillman imagines it as the Greek/Roman war-god Ares/Mars. Indeed Hillman seems to prefer a multiplicity of simple, one-themed gods, rather than a single, complex, multi-faceted God, like that of Christianity.
  • War is Sublime - meaning that war calls us to serve and sacrifice for a cause higher than ourselves, that in conflict we can experience a kind of transcendence.
  • Religion is War - by his own admission an attack on Christianity as being warlike and therefore hypocritical.

    I'll give him this. He makes some interesting points. For example, he claims that Clausewitz had it backwards when he asserted that war is a continuation of politics by other means. Having worked for a political campaign I agree: politics is really a continuation of war by other means. He also states the obvious - in order to have a war, you need an enemy. This point was explored more fully by another psychiatrist, Anthony J. Stevens, in his book, The Roots of War: A Jungian Perspective in which discusses enemy-making as pseudospeciation, the portrayal of the enemy group as less than, or at least other than, human. Stevens also delves into the pervasiveness of war-metaphors in our culture, which Hillman merely decries.

    With regard to his attack on Christianity, Hillman would do well to read Thomas Cahill's Gifts of the Jews: How a Desert Tribe of Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels. That is to say, most of what he identifies with Christianity is what Christianity inherited from Judaism. That he attacks it might tempt me to brand him as an anti-Semite, but there is a better designation. I think he may be an Occidentalist, as described by Buruma and Margalit in their book, Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies, or perhaps a Bourgeoisophobe, to use David Brook's designation.

    All in all, I think much of what Dr. Hillman says in this book is said with more regard for its effect rather than for its accuracy. For example, he quotes a well-known hymn:

    Onward Christian soldiers,
    Marching off to war,

    Sorry, James. It's "Marching as to war," and that makes all the difference. If my impression its statements being made for effect over accuracy is correct, then A Terrible Love of War might fall into the category of discourse studied by Dr. Harry G. Frankfurt in his treatise, On Bullshit.
  • 18 March 2006

    Corrupting The Nation's Youth

    Letter Submitted to The Nation
    Re: Princeton Tilts Right

    I was delighted to see that my college friend, Robby George, is doing well enough to attract the attention of The Nation. Though Robby and I disagree on abortion and homosexuality, I have always had the impression that Robby's civility was not a tactic to disarm his critics. Rather, I think he believes that civility and civil discourse are more important to preserving our democracy than winning a particular argument.

    This point may be lost on Max Blumenthal, who characterizes George's Madison Program as an attack to which Princeton University has capitulated. It is more likely that Princeton is becoming tolerant of yet another form of diversity - that of opinion.

    Rather than seeing Robby as Princeton's token conservative, Mr. Blumenthal characterizes him as a corruptor of the nation's youth. If Blumenthal were an ancient city-state, I imagine he would call for Robby George to drink hemlock.

    01 March 2006

    Review: The Battle for Middle Earth
    Tolkien's Divine Design in the Lord of the Rings
    Fleming Rutledge
    No counsel have I to give those that despair. Yet counsel I could give, and words I could speak to you. Will you hear them? They are not for all ears. I bid you come out before your doors and look abroad. Too long have you sat in the shadows and trusted to twisted tales and crooked promptings. Gandalf to Theoden in The Two Towers
    Thus spake the editors of The Nation (a weekly magazine of the American political Left) on their cover of November 28, 2005:
    There can no longer be any doubt: The American war in Iraq — an unprovoked, unnecessary, unlawful invasion that has turned into a colonial style occupation — is a moral and political catastrophe. It has also become the single greatest threat to America's national security.... The Nation will not support any candidate for national office who does not make a speedy end to the American war in Iraq a major issue of his or her campaign.
    Not long afterward, the The Weekly Standard (a magazine of the American political Right) carried as its December 19, 2005 cover story, "Fighting to Win — With the proper strategy victory in Iraq is far more likely than many think," by Frederick W. Kagan. Both magazines are published in English from Washington, D. C. Other than that, they have nothing in common.

    Well, almost nothing. They both get the same news. They just draw opposing conclusions from it. If they were in the world of J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, they would each be staring into a palantir, one of the seven seeing stones wrought by the High Elves in the Elder Days, and brought to Middle Earth by the men of Numenor.

    The palantiri were "crystal balls" that enabled those looking into them to "converse in thought with one another." They could also show one scenes from across both space and time, if one's will were strong enough to direct them. To us, they are a metaphor for the technical means by which we gather and communicate both news and intelligence. The difference between them being that intelligence agencies try to get the truth and keep it private, while news agencies try to get a story and sell it to the public.

    In the Lord of the Rings (henceforth LOTR), palantiri were used by Saruman the Wizard and Denethor the Steward of Gondor. But a third palantir was controlled by Sauron, the Lord of Barad-dur, the personification of Evil, who used the palantiri to drive Saruman to evil and Denethor to suicide, as Gandalf described:
    'The Stones of Seeing do not lie, and not even the Lord of Barad-dur can make them do so. He can, maybe, by his will choose what things shall be seen by weaker minds, or cause them to mistake the meaning of what they see.' (The Return of the King: The Last Debate)
    And so it is with the news. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Iraq is the most dangerous place in the world to be a reporter. This means that all the news from Iraq is going to be bad, because nobody in their right mind is going to risk their neck to report the re-opening of a school or the recomissioning of a water treatment plant. That stuff doesn't sell papers, doesn't bring eyeballs to advertisements, so it ends up in the editorial waste bin. But a roadside bomb attack, now that's news. It becomes part of never-ending drip of bad news, and no end in sight. We begin to feel that we can never accomplish anything good there. Thus, Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia (aka Al-Qaeda in Iraq, or AQI) uses terror in theater to create despair on the home front.

    Now terror and despair are the weapons of Sauron (a stand-in for Satan), which Fleming Rutledge notes in her book, The Battle for Middle Earth: Tolkien's Divine Design in the Lord of the Rings. An Episcopal priest, Rutledge is more concerned to caution her fellow Americans against self-righteous bigotry than she is with the workings of the Enemy. She mentions Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo in the context of warning that we cannot allow ourselves the illusion that "they" are all bad and "we" are all good. For our own military and economic power seduces us, in the same way the One Ring — the Ring of Power — seduces its bearers.

    How men should conduct themselves in war, and why they should fight are great concerns for both Rutledge and Tolkien, who despite his devout Christianity, never explicitly mentions God in this pre-Christian, yet profoundly Christian epic. Rutledge devotes considerable space to explaining what amounts to Tolkien's action-portrayals of the Catholic tradition of Just War (both in deciding whether one must go to war — ius ad bellum, and how to conduct it — ius in bello).

    But her main concern, and indeed her greatest achievement, is to walk the reader through Tolkien's narrative demonstration of how Free Will and Predestination are not opposites. In Christian Doctrine and in LOTR, they are the same thing. Consider that if God has chosen you for His Service, you can refuse. But if you refuse, you turn away from realizing your true self, your rightful destiny. If you accept, you achieve the fulfillment of becoming who you were always meant to be.

    Such a short sketch of Predestination (or Election) does little justice to Fleming's exegesis of it in LOTR, and to Tolkien's brilliance. To best enjoy them, I suggest reading a chapter of LOTR first, and then reading Fleming's exegesis of it afterword. This is made easier by Fleming's approach of analyzing LOTR one chapter at a time in sequence as they are printed.

    Things that are missing from Fleming's treatment are an interpretation of the palantiri as symbolic of both intelligence and news (as above), and an exegesis of Tolkien's theological interpretation of depression. In LOTR, depression is evoked by Sauron in order to sap his opponents' will to resist him. Sauron induces depression in Theoden through the whisperings of Grima Wormtongue (propaganda), and in Denethor through the palantir. The first is cured only by the intervention of Gandalf (quoted under the title of this essay), while the second is too far gone. Not only does Denethor neglect the defense of his City, his attempted murder of his own son during a successful suicide attempt prevent Gandalf from reaching the battlefield in time to prevent the death of Theoden. For Tolkien, depression is one of the chief tools of the Enemy.

    And indeed, in the form of demoralization, depression is one of the chief tools of the terrorist insurgency we have been actively fighting since 9/11. All so-called "fourth generation" warriors use "asymmetrical" means such as terrorism to attack not only the their opponents populace, but more importantly their opponents will to continue the struggle. Their strategy is not to defeat a militarily superior foe outright, but simply to outlast their foe, all the while creating doubt in their foe's mind about the legitimacy and winnability of the conflict. It is even better to create division and conflict within the foe's body politic, as Denethor's subjects fought each other — some trying to carry out Denethor's suicidal orders, and others trying to prevent that suicide.

    Then there is the Ring itself. It was made by a craft that none but Sauron possesses, and as such is symbolic of a kind of destructive technological power. Frodo's mission is to take it back into Sauron's own territory and cast it into the lava from which it was forged in the heart of Mount Doom. Rutledge explores the dimensions of this quest as a journey enabled by the Cardinal Virtues and aided by what some might call chance, but is really Divine Providence. But to me (and I think to Tolkien who was a veteran of WW I) it is a covert Special Operation, with the entire War of the Ring as a diversion to keep the op's cover from being blown. As such, it has inspired many re-readings of LOTR by a retired SEAL Commander I know.

    On the other hand, imagine an al-Qaeda terrorist reading his story into LOTR. He could see himself as Frodo, bearing the One Ring — an Improvised Nuclear Device — into the heart of our, his Enemy's, territory — to bring to ruin the forces of evil, us. With ever more powerful technologies becoming ever more accessible, the most dangerous weapon is imagination. Although Rutledge neglects some of the more mundane and practical aspects of intelligence and conflict, she is right to draw our attention to how we conduct our side of the conflict. We must make it increasingly difficult for our enemies to portray us as evil and themselves as good.