Monday, July 4, 2016

Happy 4th of July, Myth American Violence

" You know, they have a plan for 30 or 35 years, we don't even have a five year plan..."
                                                                                                                               - John Kerry

Places where there have been escalating jihadist violence this past month: Paris, San Bernardino, Orlando, Brussels, Kabul, Istanbul, Baghdad, and Dakar, Bangladesh. Experts say that this is only the beginning; as the noose tightens on the ever-shrinking lands that ISIS had taken over, more insistent and shrill the call to wage random jihad is going to be, making this a long, hot, incredibly violent summer.

Foreigners who came and trained with ISIS a few years ago have gone back home to form sleeper cells or live quiet lives until they are called to jihad. In the case of a couple of American killers there is a connection with Saudi Arabia, whose Wahabi sponsored schools and mosques have set the whole tone of modern jihadism.

As an aside, I saw an interview with a Middle Eastern scholar, and she said that the notion that a jihadist will receive 72 virgins is a misinterpretation of the Koran. To a bunch of nomadic desert
tribes, a description of heaven as a green, lush place with flowing water and sweet desserts is an incentive to follow the religious precepts of the day. The original Arabic word meant raisins, not virgins, so the person who waged jihad would get a sweet dessert along with a lush afterlife... Only some leering patriarchic male would twist it into having sex with underage girls, pretty perverse, guys... The next impossible task, is trying to update fairy tales like this and bring it into the light of the present day.

Roy Scranton has a good essay in last Sunday's New York Times, on the myths we tell ourselves about violence and war, variations that every country with an army tells themselves: that going to war has a power to unify or enlighten. Or, as the historian Richard Slotkin calls it, "the myth of regeneration through violence." We see it in Star Wars to every Western ever made, and is what we tell ourselves every time we put boots on the ground in some foreign country. We are protecting and promoting democracy, and defending our country and way of life, and whatever other myths we can cram into naive, impressionable, eighteen-year-old minds.

Roy goes on to say: " The real gap is between the fantasy of American heroism and the reality of what the American military does, between the myth of violence and the truth of war. The real gap is between our subconscious belief that righteous violence can redeem us, even ennoble us, and the chastening truth that violence debases and corrupts."

Every 4th of July I think of an old friend, Charlie Gault, who served as a Marine in Vietnam. One time he and some friends were having a mellow celebration, smoking and drinking some beers, when someone on the street set off a string of firecrackers. Charlie immediately curled up into a fetal ball, shivering and rocking, in a lot of distress. This lasted a good twenty minutes until we could gently talk him down and find a shaky sense of relaxation. He told us that the firecrackers triggered a memory when he was in a machine-gunner's nest on top of a hill, when his group was over-run by the Vietcong. People were dying all around him, including the guy next to him in the nest. Very few survived, and he felt a lot of guilt because he was one of the few who did survive... Going out later to watch fireworks became very surrealistic, bringing up a swirl of emotions inside of myself that I still haven't been able to shake off after 40 some-odd years.

So, Happy Birthday America, enjoy your Myth America, drinking American beer while watching on your American television sets. I'll be having a quieter version of the holiday, indulging in some ribs and watermelon for my sweet dessert...

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