May 12, 2003
Howard V. Hendrix titled his 1989 Ph.D. Dissertation, The Ecstasy
of Catastrophe. (see howardvhendrix.com). Since then he has written five novels, with another due out later this year, plus numerous
short stories classified as "science fiction." Empty Cities of the Full
Moon (Ace, NY, 2001, ISBN 0-441-00937-9) deals with a post-apocalyptic earth cleasned of human population by a mutant scientific manipulation of prion that created a pandemic.
Well-grounded in sciences, Hendrix adds in elements of human evolution rooted in pagan and shamanic perspectives. He places events within two time frames: 2032-2033 C. E. and 2065-2066 C. E.
The twentieth century blurred into the twenty-first with a short-lived dash of hope obliterated within violences almost beyond capacity to rationalize. "All the old racial, tribal, religious and political hatreds of all time -- long smouldering under the glossy veneer of civilization -- were fanned to wildfire again" (p. 371). He earlier notes, "Where humans go, extinction and desertification follow." (P. 105)
Let's drop back to The Ecstasy of Catastrophe and take a walk around some implications. There was a time when I had opportunities to talk with genuine combat veterans, men who had been exposed to others intent on doing to them what they were supposed to be doing to those others. Among survivors, the memories of men for whom death was then intensely present included an ecstatic aura. As the terror melted with time, the ecstatic aura remained -- and grew.
If you have had the opportunity to hang around Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion or other veterans' organization bars, talk of combat experiences, actual or vicarious, tends to come more from the ecstasies than the terrors.
Similarly, there are people who populate the fundamental aspects of religions who focus on ecstasies of catastrophe. Among nominal Christians of whatever classification there are those who are very much involved in prophesy, revelations and rapture. All of which deal with the second coming of Jesus, the Christ. At that time, those who believe will be transported to an immortality while all non-believers find their mortality instantly.
1 Cor. 15:52 "In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump, for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed."
In the Christian religions, there is also concern with an Anti-Christ, the opposite of Christ, who is devil incarnate, among other things. Perhaps now is the time of Anti-Christ?
"He will rule a strong and mighty kingdom." Daniel 7:7
"His kingdom will devour the whole earth." Daniel 7:23
"He will have a great military power that will stand behind him, to enforce his laws." Daniel 11:13
"He will try to change times and laws; and they will be given to his power for 31/2 years." Daniel 7:25
"The mark of the beast will be the amount of his name." Revelations 14:11
Perry Anderson, history professor at UCLA, writing in The London Review of Books (V. 25, No. 5, March 2003, pps.12-13) examines the "Casuistries of Peace and War," an attempt to take a calm, reasonably rational approach to arguments related to impending war on Iraq.
Six principal criticisms:
1. "The projected [now accomplished] attack on Iraq is a naked display of American unilateralism."
2. "Massive intervention on this scale in the Middle East can only foster anti-Western terrorism."
3. "The blitz in preparation is a pre-emptive strike, openly declared as such, that undermines respect for international law and risks plunging the world into a maelstrom of violence, as other states follow suit, taking the law into their own hands in turn."
4. "War should in any case always be a last resort. . . ."
5. "Concentration on Iraq is a distraction from the more acute danger posed by North Korea,. . . "
6. "Even if the invasion of Iraq went smoothly, an occupation of the country is too hazardous and costly. . . ."
And, on the other side:
1. "Unilateralism: The United States has always reserved the right to act alone. . . . Grenada, Panama, Nicaragua, Guatemala, [Somalia]. NATO acted alone in Yugoslavia in 1999. . . ."
2. "Terrorism: al-Qaida is a network bounded by religious fanaticism, in a faith that calls for holy war by the Muslim world against the United States. . . . There is . . . no surer way of demoralizing and breaking it up than by demonstrating the vanity of hopes from heaven and the absolute impossibility of resistance to superior American force. . . ."
3. "Pre-emption: Far from being a novel doctrine, this is a traditional right of states. . . . Israel's Six-Day War of 1967, so far from being cause for condemnation, is actually the occasion of the modern doctrine of Just and Unjust Wars, . . . ."
4. "The human costs of war: These are indeed tragic, and we will do everything in our power -- now technically considerable -- to minimize civilian casualties. . . ."
5. "North Korea: . . .it is a simple matter of good sense to concentrate our forces on the weaker, rather than the stronger, link. . . first. . . . But, do you seriously doubt that we intend to take care of the North Korean regime too in due course?"
6. "Over-reach: An occupation of Iraq does pose a challenge, which we don't underestimate. But it is a reasonable wager. Arab hostility is overrated.
"Now," Anderson continues, "if one looks dispassionately at the two sets of arguments, there is little doubt that on the questions of principle, the Administration's case against its critics is ironclad. The reason for that is also fairly clear. The two sides share a set of common assumptions, whose logic makes an attack on Iraq an eminently defensible proposition."
"What explains this vast, passionate revolt against the prospect of a war whose principles differ little from preceding military interventions, that were accepted and even welcomed by so many of those now up in arms against this one? Why does war in the Middle East today arouse feelings that war in Balkans did not? . . . Three factors appear to have been decisive.
First, hostility to the Republican regime in the White House. Cultural dislike of the Bush Presidency is widespread in Western Europe, where its rough affirmations of American primacy, and undiplomatic tendency to match word to deed, have become intensely resented by public opinion accustomed to a more decorous veil being drawn over the realities of relative power. . . .
Second, there is role of the spectacle. Public opinion was well prepared for the Balkan War by massive television and press coverage of ethnic savageries in the region, real and -- after Rambouillet, to a considerable extent -- mythical. The incomparably greater killings in Rwanda, where the United States, fearing distraction from media focus on Bosnia, blocked intervention in the same period, were by contrast ignored. . . .
Third, and perhaps most important, there is fear. Aerial retribution could be wreaked on Yugoslavia in 1996 and continuously on Iraq since 1991, without risk of reprisal. What could Milosevic or Saddam do? They were sitting ducks. The attentats of 11 September have altered this self-assurance. . . . are we sure we can get away with it this time? . . . .
Great mass movements [antiwar 2003] are not to be judged by tight logical standards. . . . But if the movement is to have staying power, it will have to develop beyond the fixations of the fan club, the politics of the spectacle, the ethics of fright. For war, if it comes, will not be like Vietnam. It will be short and sharp; and there is no guarantee that poetic justice will follow. A merely prudential opposition to the war will not survive a triumph, any more than handwringing about its legality a UN figleaf. . . . Resistance to the ruling dispensation that can last has to find another, principled basis. Since current debates so interminably invoke the 'international community' and the United Nations, it is well to start from these. An alternative prospective can be suggested in a few telegraphic propositions.
1. No international community exists. The term is a euphemism for American hegemony. It is to the credit of the Administration that some of its officials have abandoned it.
2. The United Nations is not a seat of impartial authority. Its structure, giving overwhelming formal power to five victor nations of a war fought fifty years ago, is politically indefensible, comparable historically to the Holy Alliance of the early 19th century, which also proclaimed its mission to be the preservation of 'international peace' for the 'benefit of humanity.'
3. The nuclear oligopoly of the five victor powers of 1945 is equally indefensible. The Non-Proliferation Treaty is a mockery of any principles of equality or justice -- those who possess weapons of mass-destruction insisting that everyone except themselves give them up, in the interests of humanity. . . .
4. Annexations of territory -- conquests, in more traditional language -- whose punishment provides the nominal justification of the UN blockade of Iraq, have never resulted in UN retribution when the conquerors were allies of the United States, only when they were adversaries.
5. Terrorism, of the sort practiced by al-Qaida, is not a serious threat to the status-quo anywhere. The success of the spectacular attack of 11 September depended on surprise -- even by the fourth plane, it was impossible to repeat. . . . As Olivier Roy and Gilles Keppel, the two best authorities in the field of contemporary Islamism have argued, al-Qaida is the isolated remnant of a mass movement of Muslim fundamentalism, whose turn to terror is a symptom of a larger weakness and defeat. . . . In different ways, it suits both the Administration and the Democratic opposition to conjure up the spectre of a vast and deadly conspiracy, capable of striking at any moment, but this is a figment of little bearing one way or another on Iraq, which is neither connected to al-Qaida today, nor likely to give it much of a boost, if it falls tomorrow.
6. Domestic tyrannies, or the abuse of human rights, which are now held to justify military interventions -- overriding national sovereignty in the name of humanitarian values -- are treated no less selectively by the UN. The Iraqi regime is a brutal dictatorship, but until it attacked an American pawn in the Gulf, it was armed and funded by the West. Its record is less bloody than of the Indonesian regime that for three decades was the West's main pillar in South-East Asia. Israel . . . Turkey. . . . Walmart or Dow Chemical. . . .
What conclusions follow? Simply this, mewling about Blair's folly or Bush's crudity, is merely saving the furniture. Arguments about the impending war would do better to focus on the entire prior structure of the special treatment accorded to Iraq by the United Nations, rather than wrangle over the secondary issue of whether to continue strangling the country slowly or to put it out of its misery quickly."
So, you see, it is Bush. He is just, safely you will note, getting his taste of ecstasy of catastrophe.
If indeed Anti-Christ, he is well advanced into his three and one-half years of power.
In years to come, we too may sit comfortably around pubs and bars or cocktail parties and rhapsodize over our hors de combat.
· · · · · ·
America the 'beautiful' on Swans
Milo Clark on Swans (with bio).
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