Tag Archives: War

Why Does America Love War?

bombing Baghdad

Shock and Awe

Ancient epics may tell more about past civilizations (and our own) than either science or history, though all three must be taken with a grain of salt.

Authority of Science

In the enlightened, rational west we tend to give absolute authority to science and history. Their pronouncements are “facts,” while epic literature is “myth.” The problem with this view is that scientists and historians can be wrong. For example, Aristotle’s assertion that flies have four legs was reprinted in natural history texts for 1,000 years. It seems that it would have been easy enough to check this fact by taking a look at a fly, but Aristotle had said so, and he was the authority.

Authority of History

What about history? Although most historians now try to abide by some standard of neutrality, this has not always been the case, and is sometimes not the case even now. The truth is, everyone is biased and this shows up in the choices of sources and certainly in the interpretation of information. Ancient history was often written as propaganda; to flatter a king and demonize the “barbarians.” This spin was scattered amongst many actual facts, but it is very difficult to separate the two.

Probability vs. Certainty

So what can be certain about? Well, flies have six legs and early the British historian Venerable Bede (673-735) was wrong that the air in Ireland killed snakes and even neutralized their venom. Where written history is backed up by archeology the probability of accuracy rises, but nothing can eliminate bias. For example, the spin in most western history called eurocentrism implies that civilization sprang fully-formed from the Golden Age of Greece, passed through Rome, then to Europe. American history implies that the U.S. improved on that already superior path.  When you read ancient history, you find that this attitude is itself ancient: “Our nation is the epitome of civilization; all others are irrelevant.”

Epics and Sagas

We can continue to seek the truth and we can get closer to the truth (and we should,) but we probably can never achieve certainty. Or we can study what the people said about them selves with the awareness that they were biased (just like scientists and historians.) The difference is that people’s epics and sagas are in their own words. They will tell a story with spin, but even the way they spin it will tell you a lot about them.

Glorious Anglo-Saxons

A mighty movement to glorify Anglo-Saxons has not only shaped American history, it is still shaping history. it is probable that Anglo-Saxons have interbred with many other peoples (as have all peoples) until there is no such pure race. This does not stop racists and nationalists from clinging to the myths, though. This year Norwegian Anders Breveik killed 76 of his countrymen to draw attention to the fact that the Nordic race was in great danger of being assimilated by immigrants.

Values of the Norsemen

What were these Norsemens like? What did they value? How have they affected us? The Volsunga Saga gives us a peek into their minds. Old sagas and epics were no doubt passed down orally for many years before they were written; we have no way of ever knowing the date of their origin.


The Norsemen valued warfare; they were pirates and terrorists. They reported their slaughters, pillagings, and village-burnings only as accomplishments-so much gold-so many villages. The morality of these activities were never questioned. Morality for the Norsemen had to do with a code of honor which emphasized bravery in battle. In Chapter VI, of the Volsunga saga, when Queen Signy is told her son was afraid of a snake, tells her brother Sigmund, “Take him and kill him then; for why should such a one live longer?” Her second son met the same fate. Finally, unable to produce a brave enough son with her current spouse, she disguised herself, had sex with her brother and gave birth to a real man, with the DNA of the Volsungs now concentrated in his veins.

Breeding Warriors

As Signy reveals to her brother later, “Take heed now, and consider, if I have kept King Siggeir in memory, and his slaying of Volsung the king! I let slay both my children, whom I deemed worthless for the revenging of our father…Sinfjotli is the son of thee and of me both! And therefore has he this so great hardihood and fierceness, in that he is the son both of Volsung’s son and Volsung’s daughter…”

Anglo-Saxon Superiority

This may bring to mind Nazi Germany’s doctrine of racial purity with an eye toward producing the perfect warrior, but elements of both race and war obviously appear in the British and American psyches as well. Prominent Americans have unequivocally stated that the original Americans (the “Anglo-Saxons”) were superior to all others and should be preserved lest civilization itself deteriorate. Americans still honor war heroes over scholars and America has by far the largest military budget in the world. Counting wars against Native Americans and covert and “police actions,” there are few years American has NOT been involved in a conflict somewhere.

The militarism and racism of the Anglo-Saxons still runs through the collective unconscious of Americans. That this is unconscious can be illustrated by the fact that in any debate about who discovered America, the debaters are trying to determine which white man discovered America, in spite of the obvious fact that it had been discovered by Native Americans long before it was discovered by Europeans. But that, apparently is irrelevant.



How Politicians Killed Karen

3 year0old birthday

I remember the birthday party

I can still easily picture Karen in her modest kitchen. It was her son’s third birthday party, and she seemed a bit flustered. “I’m sorry the place is such a mess,” she said, brushing her short, thick blonde hair out of her eyes. Trying to put her at ease, I commented, “Yeah-this place is gross. I NEVER have toys on the floor at my house.”

For just a second, her face fell and then all the moms burst out laughing. We pitched in, pouring juice, wiping up spilled juice, pulling the baby out of the cupboard, finding a lighter for the birthday candles. Karen still seemed tense, but then cancer had claimed her young husband the previous year. He should have been at this party; he should have been taking pictures. It had to hurt.

When the birthday boy ran his finger across the top of his cake, Karen apologized again. “I just can’t seem to make him listen!” she said, wiping frosting from his chubby fingers. I put my arm around her and said, “Hey Chica, remember what MY son did at the Sunday School picnic?”

My little son, while the two year-old class stood in a circle sweetly singing “Jesus Loves Me,” had pulled down his pants and peed into the center of the circle. Not only that, he continued singing, even swaying back and forth with the melody while he peed. The other two year-olds took no notice of this. The other parents grinned and I was the only one even slightly horrified.

But I won the Most Embarrassing Incident award. After all, I was the Sunday School teacher-that was my class, and my kid who peed in public. Karen smiled. I’m glad I made Karen smile that day, because three weeks later she was gone. Not just dead, but gone. No body to bury, nothing, gone; strange how the “gone-ness” makes it even worse.

Karen was a passenger on Flight 007, going to visit her dad who was in the armed forces somewhere. She had left the kids at home. On September 1, 1983 a Russian fighter plane shot Flight 007 out of the sky. It did not blow instantly to bits. It would have been better if it had blown instantly to bits. It took several long, long minutes to fall from the sky, crash and apparently explode. Nothing was recovered except some flip flops, some sneakers and someone’s dentures.

Immediately and inevitably, politicians started thinking how they could use this tragedy to advance whatever agenda they had going. Both American and Russian politicians lied, accused, covered-up, and propagandized. This always happens-always. As Rahm Emmanuel said, “Never let a crisis go to waste.” Reagan was in office and he had rejected a policy of détente as something fit only for sissies. He was going to flex the steely US military muscles in the face of the Red Menace, even though the USSR was already in terminal decline when Reagan came to power.

Having flexed the United States’ planned deployment of Pershing missiles in Europe and the largest fleet exercise ever in the North Pacific (FleetEx ’83,) the Russians were jumpy. When the Russians finally turned over evidence from the event many years later, it indicated that the pilot questioned the order to fire. But apparently spy planes could disguise themselves as civilian airliners. So he shot down Karen and 267 other people, including 22 kids, out of the sky and into very tiny tatters. Gone.

The pilot had made an error and was off course. The Russian commander had made an error-Flight 007 was no threat. The Russian fighter pilot might have protested more vehemently, like Vasili Arkipov, the Russian submarine commander who refused to fire  a nuclear torpedo from his submarine during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. If Arkipov had followed orders, the resulting nuclear exchange could have been the end of all of us.

I mostly blame Reagan and his warmongering ilk, waving their missiles around like so many willies in the wind. “Look, mine is bigger than yours.” These tactics are designed to intimidate. Intimidation is designed for domination. I despise strong people who intimidate and dominate weaker people. They have zero concept that Karens get blown to tatters as a side effect of their willy-waving. They call it “collateral damage,” the most obscene phrase in the English language.

They are never sorry. They never learn. They won’t stop until we make them stop. Karen is gone. Her boys are grown and have children of their own, children short one Grandma. But I can still easily picture her in her modest kitchen.

Michael Dobbs,  (2008). One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.