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War Lords, Theologies of Violence, and the Culture of Death

May 2, 2011

“Welcome to hell, bin Laden.”~ Mike Huckabee

The logic of retribution and war is simple and intuitive—and misguided. The pleasure of violent victory is rich and intoxicating—and perverse. It feels great, oftentimes verging on immortality. The world itself seems to be this way: from dangerous ocean reefs to the wild plains, the games of life are filled with bloody conflicts, killing, and survival.

But this is only a small, distorted part of the picture.

The heavens and the earth are also deeply harmonious. The gentle balance of creation is attuned to show us the that life and death conceal deep mysteries that defy the laws of justice, are immune to violence, and build a culture of love. (Note: not cheap, sentimental, “love;” I mean the love of John, the love that is God.)

The universal call to holiness is a call to be whole, to dwell within the wholeness of God—to seek the sacred attunement we witness and participate-in within the balance of creation and the love of children. To be catholic (καθόλου), to become universal, to live in the key of love.

Today, we must bear witness to this truth, to the truth of the call to be holy through the sanctification of love. Amidst the spectacles of modern-day politics, we must also bear witness to the truth by rejecting what is false.

Today is a day of perverse clarity: we can see, in the words and actions of the elect, that we are ruled by thugs and war lords, that Osama and Obama observe the same creed; that the theology of violence, ritualized in the practice of physical, mental, and spiritual war, is at the heart of their politics, irregardless of their polemic affiliations.

Make no mistake: Osama was a killer. The culture of Saudi Arabia from which he came (and both the secular and Islamic Middle East) is a culture of death, ruled by violent men. But make no mistake: Obama is a killer too. His liberal ways of killing are more subtle at times, but he is the commander in chief of the American military industrial complex; he presides over all US wars, those fought through martial forces and technologies and those waged through institutions that violently enslave the bodies, hearts, and minds of people at home and abroad. The culture of the United States of America is a culture of death ruled by killers and slave-traders, who are themselves dying and enslaved.

The age we live in is no different than the other dystopian times of yesteryear. But this modern era, this time of nation-states and nuclear warfare has shown itself able to increase the quality and quantity of self-destruction to the very brink of nihilism. In poignant times such as these; in times of cruel war lords who are captured, killed, and re-elected; in times when a theology of violence can been seen as nearly universal; in times when the culture of death has, like capitalism, become transnational; in times like today we should not despair or presume: we can only hope.

We can hope through the forgiveness and love that come without prescriptive healing or facile redemption—love that comes in the mystery of the God we cannot even begin to imagine, but must always seek, all the same.

Let this become a day of conversion (μετάνοια), a day of revolution. A day to reject war lords, theologies of violence, and the culture of death.

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63 Comments
  1. May 2, 2011 4:30 pm

    Awesome post, Sam. And this:

    In poignant times such as these; in times of cruel war lords who are captured, killed, and re-elected; in times when a theology of violence can been seen as nearly universal; in times when the culture of death has, like capitalism, become transnational; in times like today we should not despair or presume: we can only hope.

    …is especially important, I think.

  2. May 2, 2011 4:50 pm

    Osama and Obama are the same. Okaaaaay…

    • May 2, 2011 5:12 pm

      Agellius: Where in this post did I write that? You may referring to this paragraph:

      “Today is a day of perverse clarity: we can see, in the words and actions of the elect, that we are ruled by thugs and war lords, that Osama and Obama observe the same creed; that the theology of violence, ritualized in the practice of physical, mental, and spiritual war, is at the heart of their politics, irregardless of their polemic affiliations.”

      Not quite saying that, as you put it, “Osama and Obama are the same.”

      Sam

  3. Ronald King permalink
    May 2, 2011 6:38 pm

    Sam, I do not think one can be elected president of the U.S. without being a member of the culture of death. I will include congress in that also.
    Excellent post.

    • May 2, 2011 7:30 pm

      I agree but hope that we’re wrong somehow, Ronald. Thanks.

      Sam

  4. May 2, 2011 7:15 pm

    They are not morally identical, morally equivalent. You are mistaken.

    • May 2, 2011 7:27 pm

      Zach,

      I don’t understand what your first sentence means. Can you justify the assumption that I somehow claim (in this post) that they (Obama and Osama) are “morally identical” or “morally equivalent”?

      Sam

      • May 3, 2011 6:23 pm

        Sam,

        When you write, “Make no mistake: Osama was a killer. The culture of Saudi Arabia from which he came (and both the secular and Islamic Middle East) is a culture of death, ruled by violent men. But make no mistake: Obama is a killer too,” I think you are drawing a direct equivalence. It’s hard to read it otherwise. Indeed the entire paragraph, contains the same claim, albeit left unsaid explicitly, that the killing these men do is more or less the same, that there is no moral difference between the two.

        If you are not saying that, you are not saying much at all. For: if you are not saying that they are morally equivalent, then you are simply saying that both Obama and Bin Laden are responsible for killing people. This makes any competent reader ask, “well, what of it?” What is the point you are trying to make?

        If your point is really so broad as to be the claim that this world is a world of death, and that everyone is guilty and complicit in violence, you should say that. With blog posts especially, it is important to clearly state what you are trying to say, lest morons like me misinterpret you.

      • May 3, 2011 7:05 pm

        Zach,

        Fair enough, but I am unsure as to why I would be making a “moral equivalency,” I have said nothing about morality in this post, as far as I can see. Nihlism is not a moral issue, nor is perversity. At least I have not framed it in that way. I am being fairly specific in pointing out how the time, the era we live in is the same as before in many ways, but also quite different. I am trying to testify to what days such as these might say in a broader context, informed by the universal call to holiness—which is not, in my view, a call to be “moral.” I suspect you are reading me for something I am not up to at all. Or, you may be reading me out of proportion to what I am actually trying to say. I don’t write blog posts, or other things, for a perfect interpretation or a clear meaning. I often write to begin to think and feel about this thing I want to reflect on, in hopes that others may do the same. Now, is there some kind of equivalency going here? Well, of course there is. At the broadest level it is sin and distance from God. At another level it is complicity to the violence of modernity. At another level it is personal choice and intention. And there are other levels too: unintended effects, symbolic communication or exemplarity, and more. To remind oneself of some of this, through language that uses hyperbole, irony, and other things, is not something I am going to apologize for — or oversimplify.

        Sam

      • Thales permalink
        May 3, 2011 7:42 pm

        To remind oneself of some of this, through language that uses hyperbole, irony, and other things, is not something I am going to apologize for — or oversimplify.

        Just a thought and a word of caution: there are some individuals, examples, stories, etc., which aren’t very good to use as obscure or ironic or hyperbolic examples, because the meaning of the point that you are trying to convey gets entirely lost if you don’t explain your distinctions. The obvious instance is Hitler. You can say: “Obama and Hitler observe the same creed – they are both killers”. And you can have in your mind the same point that I think you’re trying to make here (eg, that they are complicit with the violence of modernity, etc), but if you don’t explain the distinction, you just sound silly or outrageous, because it appears you are saying that there is a moral equivalency between Obama and Hitler. Osama may be in the same category. If you don’t explain your distinction while saying that Osama and Obama are both killers in a similar way, your reader is not going to get it.

      • May 3, 2011 7:55 pm

        Sam,

        The universal call to holiness is not a call to be moral? What do you think holiness is?

        The subject of violence is not a moral issue?

        The more you write, the more perplexed I become.

      • May 3, 2011 8:09 pm

        Thales: I really appreciate your generously toned suggestions. I still disagree, though. Ironically, I don’t think Hitler would function in the same way. I think my post must be read as something written on the day that Osama was killed by the USA. Hitler is ineffective insofar as a reference to him is tired and out of “nowhere.” Furthermore, I actually think there is much value in “sound[ing] silly or outrageous.” The Cross, for instance, is outrageous and even silly in many ways, but this madness conceals its truth and its mystery. I think aphorism, hyperbole, irony, myth, story and the rest are rich ways to communicate something that is not entirely understood by the writer, something that is being sought. During my time writing here, I have been trying to find ways to communicate a Catholic politics—indeed I have been trying to do something even harder: trying to say something beautiful, trying to share the Gospel. All my work amounts to nothing, as it should be, but it cannot merely be “understood,” it must be struggled with. This struggle, over the Osama vs. Obama equivocation, is more disengaging than engaging, because it rejects the whole for an oversimplified part. Perhaps other might ask, what is this author trying to say here? Or I might ask the same thing to myself. Now this is a harder question, I think.

        Sam

      • Thales permalink
        May 4, 2011 9:17 am

        Ironically, I don’t think Hitler would function in the same way. I think my post must be read as something written on the day that Osama was killed by the USA.

        That just illustrates the problem further: you’re making a distinction that is apparent only to you and is too obscure for the rest of your readers to follow.

        All my work amounts to nothing, as it should be, but it cannot merely be “understood,” it must be struggled with. This struggle, over the Osama vs. Obama equivocation, is more disengaging than engaging, because it rejects the whole for an oversimplified part.

        But when I see a Obama = Hitler sign, or a Bush = Hitler sign, at some rally, I’m not going to spend any time trying to struggle with it, because that would be a complete waste of time. The person holding the sign is not making a thoughtful or poetic point that I can engage with — the person is saying something outrageous with no meaningful thought behind it. So I dismiss the person’s sign, and the person himself, as wacky and I give no more thought to him. Now I know you’re more thoughtful than the wacky person at the rally, so I know there is something more behind your post – but the average reader doesn’t.

        Of course, this is a blog, and I realize that a blog can be a personal diary. Blogging can be a a place to wrestle with one’s own thoughts, personal exercise, a creative outlet, and a source of entertainment, all for the writer, irrespective any reader. I understand that (in fact, for me and I think for most people, it’s the primary reason for blogging), So you are entirely free to write your thoughts and make poetic observations – and I respect that completely. But if you would like your post to also be something that readers engage, I reiterate my word of caution: sometimes a distinction needs to be explained if you don’t want them to dismiss the post as a wacky rally sign.

    • May 3, 2011 8:13 pm

      Zach: Indeed I do not think that the universal call to holiness is a call to be what is often termed as ‘moral.’ Indeed I am very skeptical about what morals are, exactly. The call to be holy is an invitation to theosis, a call to dwell with and in God, a summons to radical communion. This precedes and exceeds morals and morality, in my view. That excess is what this post is trying to be about, I hope. at least that is my desire.

      Sam

      • May 3, 2011 8:52 pm

        For Catholics, morality is the way up the mountain to God. Communion with God is impossible without goodness. Sin is separation from God; full communion is impossible with sin.

        I do not think you are really trying to be poetic; I think you are trying to argue, in a passive-aggressive way, for conclusions that don’t have a rational basis. For example, the proposition that morality does not concern holiness, or the equivalence of the actions of the US president and the leader of a group of extremist Islamic Terrorists.

      • May 3, 2011 9:17 pm

        If you think I am arguing for irrational conclusions, then, you might be right. The madness of the Cross is not a rational conclusion, nor is the love of God. These things are the the way to God, I think. I am a pretty bad poet, to be sure.

        Sam

      • May 4, 2011 5:52 am

        Of course, I do not think that the Cross and God’s mercy are rationally explicable. But I don’t think that’s what you were talking about.

        And that’s alright – we’ll probably get no where with this. I wish you the best.

  5. digbydolben permalink
    May 2, 2011 11:28 pm

    Well, actually, in terms of effect on the world, and in terms of the karma resulting from the sheer AMOUNT of killing (of the innocent; those who are dying in Afghanistan and Pakistan as collateral damage are INNOCENT), Obama is far more of a “killer” than Osama bin Laden ever was.

    • Jayden Cameron permalink
      May 4, 2011 4:05 pm

      Amen to that.

  6. Thales permalink
    May 3, 2011 10:08 am

    Sam,

    In your post, you say that Osama and Obama are “thugs and war lords”, that they both “observe the same creed”, that they share “the theology of violence, ritualized in the practice of physical, mental, and spiritual war, is at the heart of their politics, irregardless of their polemic affiliations;” that both Osama and Obama are “killers”, that Obama presides over an institution “that violently enslave the bodies, hearts, and minds of people at home and abroad” and you imply that Obama is a “killer and a slave-trader”, which is apparently similar to Osama.

    But you say to Agellius and to Zach that Obama and Osama are not the same and are not morally equivalent. Well, it’s not clear in your post how you find them morally different. You’re going to have to explain why, because it’s not obvious to a reader.

    • May 3, 2011 11:36 am

      Thales,

      What you say I say is not quite so cut and dry and is not making such simplistic claims. I do want to highlight the extent to which the “times” and “era” we find ourselves in is structurally set-up to produce these kinds of leaders and icons. However, I think you can extend the point — rather than fine tune it — into all the elect and the iconoclasts. I do think that, in a certain venue and style (i.e. a journal or periodical), I may need to make my points differently. However, this writing in this post is very consistent with other things I’ve written here, and at times developed more fully. Nonetheless, I think this post is speaking in much broader terms than Obama and Osama — they are just instrumental to thinking about the times.

      Thanks for your careful and clear objection, though.

      Sam

      • Thales permalink
        May 3, 2011 12:02 pm

        Sam,

        Fair enough. I just wanted to let you know where a new reader who wasn’t familiar with the other things you’ve written would be coming from.

  7. William Kelly permalink
    May 3, 2011 12:50 pm

    Mr. Rocha:

    You are a typical literary bomb thrower. You put forward the ridiculous notion that Osama and Obama are two peas in a pod and then, when called to task, start parsing sentences and claim that you have been misunderstood. The speed with which you backpedal tells me that you are not to be taken seriously.

    • May 3, 2011 1:53 pm

      Mr. Kelly,

      Literary bomb thrower, huh? Well, fair enough, I guess, but the simple descriptive point to the Osama/Obama point is that they share similar status as war lords who believe in a theology of violence and are parts of the (modern) culture of death. I think that is fairly obvious. It is not a comprehensive statement, nor (as I said above), is it a statement limited to them two. Furthermore, is you want to know whether to take me seriously or not, then, you may want to read the archives of commentary that help to contextualize this view I jotted down here. Plus: there are serious theological implications too, that have gone untouched so far here.

      In all seriousness,

      Sam

      • May 3, 2011 2:58 pm

        Sam,

        Can you name a head of state of any major country in the world who is in fundamental disagreement with Obama over the use of military force? Surely all of the NATO countries look at military force in basically the same way. I think your condemnation of Obama would probably apply to Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Wilson for fighting WWI, and FDR for fighting WW2. I really don’t see how the American Revolution is justified from your near-pacifist viewpoint.

        I didn’t know we democratically elected “warlords” in the United States.

      • May 4, 2011 12:45 am

        David,

        We’ve democratically elected many, many war lords. Depending, of course, on what the term “war lord” means. You clear don’t think use it the way I am using it here.

        Sam

  8. Darwin permalink
    May 3, 2011 3:57 pm

    Maybe I’m missing something, but it seems to me that there’s a significant grounds for the number of misunderstandings of your piece that are occurring.

    When encountering your statement:

    we can see, in the words and actions of the elect, that we are ruled by thugs and war lords, that Osama and Obama observe the same creed; that the theology of violence, ritualized in the practice of physical, mental, and spiritual war, is at the heart of their politics, irregardless of their polemic affiliations.

    One can either draw from this that:
    a) Osama and Obama are both, as some basic moral and philosophical level, the same and doing the same thing or
    b) That they are both men who exercise power and violence towards certain ends related to the organization and guidance of society as they believe it should be.

    Several people have concluded that you mean a), but you have said this is not the case.

    However, if you mean b) it would seem that your statement is true, but trivially so, since basically every temporal ruler who has ever lived (including a great many popes between 500 and 1860 AD) fall into the same category. At that point, the strong words that you use would be so completely emptied of meaning as to leave one wondering why you chose to use them in the first place.

    • May 3, 2011 8:27 pm

      Darwin: I don’t want to sound like a broken record, so I’ll refer you to my replies above. Thanks, as always, for your well thought-out objections.

      Sam

  9. digbydolben permalink
    May 3, 2011 7:10 pm

    I’ll take “a,” and qualify it only enough to say that Obama couches the justifications of his acts of moral depravity (i.e. murdering innocent civilians as “collateral damage,” torturing prisoners of war and an American serviceman who blows the whistle on the atrocities he presides over, fattening the profits of “banksters” at the expense of the working poor, enabling the massacre of children in wombs, etc.) in language that is most palatable to the American people’s values.

    The “American exceptionalism” that characterizes most commentators here, the refusal to actually apply the teachings of your God to real political life, the stony-hearted refusal to view modern life from the perspective of the wretched–the increasingly wretched–of the earth makes of this website mostly a congregation of “whitened sepulchres.”

  10. Anne permalink
    May 3, 2011 8:16 pm

    Oh, Lord. This is hard to watch. Drawing comparisons between the universally hated and somebody or something you don’t like never works out the way you think it will when the idea first hits you. Never. Nothing good can come of it. Nothing. Don’t try this at home.
    Or anywhere else.

    • May 3, 2011 8:27 pm

      Anne: Sorry. I don’t understand what you mean? Could you elaborate? Thanks.

      Sam

  11. Anne permalink
    May 3, 2011 9:03 pm

    Well, Sam, I guess I’m just reiterating Thales: I know you didn’t mean that Osama bin Laden and Barack Obama are equally bad. You were trying to make a point about the rule of violence, or something like that. But when you associate someone like Obama with someone like Bin Laden through hyperbole, or what-have-you, you lose the argument before you start, because the association is so outrageous most people can’t get beyond it.
    You wind up explaining what you didn’t say, endlessly, until your audience is hopelessly confused if not downright angry.
    Just an observation….from personal experience, I’m sorry to say.

    • May 4, 2011 12:47 am

      Anne,

      I agree, but those who can see beyond the surface (myself included) will often be rewarded. Plus, these replies are a very small fraction of my “audience.” In fact, outrage in comments — or being ignored in them — often is a sign of something beyond the surface too, I think.

      Sam

  12. digbydolben permalink
    May 4, 2011 3:40 am

    Let me try to explain something to you, Anne and Sam Rocha, caught inside your American bubble, wherein you obviously cannot get a proper perspective upon how the actions of your pontificating, self-righteous President and his bumbling government are being perceived in places like India, here where I live now:

    The spectacle of people behaving in the streets as if a football game has been won, whereas, in truth, a sovereign nation’s frontier has been violated; a criminal who has committed offenses against the very country he’s resident of has been extra-judicially MURDERED, when, being unarmed, he could have been apprehended; when his family–some members of who must obviously be innocent–could have been taken into the custody of the arresting force and not left to the tender mercies of a force known, in India especially, as prone to torture and “disappear” people–these things absolutely HORRIFYING Indian folk who’d normally be pro-American.

    A lot of them are saying to me, “What are your fellow citizens THINKING? Don’t they understand that this looks like cowboy-style mayhem?” One gentleman said, “It’s worse than immoral–it’s stupid. What about the lost opportunity to apprehend the terrorist, turn him over to the country that obviously sheltered him, and saying to them, ‘Now, decide who and what you are through demonstration of what you do with this reprobate.’ Doesn’t your President understand that what happens to Pakistan is far more important now than whether a has-been terrorist’s life is snuffed out? Doesn’t he understand that his winning a election through placating an ill-informed, brainwashed electorate is not nearly so important as the threat to WORLD peace that is simmering here?”

    I’m sorry, but you people in America, and your President are, in the eyes of very many people in the part of the world where I now live, behaving on the same plane of amoral, end-justifying-means, and terroristic behaviour as Osama bin Laden played on. You are behaving like people who do not know the rule of law. The principal of my school just walked away from the lunch table in the posh Mumbai international school where I teach shaking his head, saying “Your countrymen are disgusting!”

  13. digbydolben permalink
    May 4, 2011 4:04 am

    And I think you folks also should read THIS and come to understand that your barbaric and imperialistic obsession with revenge and an imperial role in the world for yourselves is DESTROYING YOUR NATION!

    • Jimmy Mac permalink
      May 4, 2011 8:19 pm

      What is your country of residence, please?

  14. Ronald King permalink
    May 4, 2011 9:14 am

    Sam, To clarify what I think you are saying and why I fully agree with your post is that what connects Obama and bin Laden is the choice to use violence as a problem-solving method. Consequently, that choice is connected to a heightened physiological arousal triggered by an experience or history of victimization and helplessness in relationship to the object who is perceived as the antagonist in the present situation. The protagonist then can claim moral superiority for his justification in the use of violence to defeat the identified evil object. In this situation both participants and all those who support them become “quantumly entangled”–Frank, I will address this more clearly with you–in unknowingly being co-creators of delusional systems about God and morality to support the use of violence as a “rational” response to uphold and protect the good. In essence, the intensity of this violence strengthens the foundation of evil upon which the culture of death is built and within which we form our identity and morality based on fear and self-preservation rather than on a deepening relationship and understanding of God’s Love for all.

  15. May 4, 2011 11:13 am

    Digby writes, “The spectacle of people behaving in the streets as if a football game has been won, whereas, in truth, a sovereign nation’s frontier has been violated…”

    That’s silly. People of any country, ANY country in the world, would celebrate when its archenemy, responsible for killing 3,000 of its citizens in a single day, is killed. Yes, it would be wonderful if the citizens of every country in the world were completely selfless and mature, and would act only in the most sober and thoughtful manner, considering all the ramifications of its actions before doing so. But let’s be real here, shall we? It’s a victory and the people celebrated. Sheesh.

    If the people of India can’t understand that, then so be it.

    • Thales permalink
      May 4, 2011 2:35 pm

      Contrary to Digby, the celebrations (which I thought were improper) didn’t remind me of a football game — it reminded me of the celebrations on 9/11 in certain countries for a far worse reason.

    • Ronald King permalink
      May 4, 2011 3:04 pm

      Agellius, Aren’t we told not to conform to the ways of the world because the ways of the world are death? Aren’t we told to always look to God and to “pray without ceasing”? Aren’t we told to “…be perfect as the Father in heaven is perfect.”? In Romans 8 aren’t we told that we are to live in the spirit because it is the spirit that brings life to the world?
      We are told to live by different standards than those of the world. So, “let’s be real” in the spirit.

      • May 4, 2011 4:16 pm

        Ronald writes, “Aren’t we told not to conform to the ways of the world because the ways of the world are death?”

        I’m not sure of the relevance of this comment. I was responding to Digby’s statements that people in other parts of “the world” were disgusted with Americans’ celebrating OBL’s death. No one claimed that the celebrating Americans were Christians in particular.

        But be that as it may, I don’t think that celebrating a military victory over an enemy is a particularly worldly thing to do. It’s more or less the same as celebrating a sports victory, except that the victory concerns something of real consequence. Do you think celebrating a sports victory is a bad thing for a Christian to do? If not, then I don’t see what’s wrong with celebrating a military victory.

        After all, OBL was a professed enemy of our country, sworn to its destruction. We don’t know what other 9/11s he had planned, or might have planned and carried out in the future. He had not foresworn enmity towards us, nor surrendered, nor foresaken his threats against us. There is every reason for Americans, whether Christian or not, to be glad he is dead.

  16. digbydolben permalink
    May 4, 2011 8:43 pm

    Put this in your pipe and smoke it, Agellius. It’s something I overheard yesterday in the teachers’ lounge of my international school, where some of the most powerful people in India send their children:

    “Who do these people think they are, trying to lay down the law to us or the Pakistanis? We knew before that they were financially bankrupted, and now we know that they are morally bankrupt. The Chinese will soon be teaching them a thing or two about where the real power in the world lies.”

    • May 5, 2011 11:36 am

      Digby writes, “Put this in your pipe and smoke it, Agellius.”

      Whoa, Digby! I’m the one who loves Leo XIII, remember? Can’t we disagree without getting mad at each other?

      As to what you overheard, well, I’m sorry. If they think the Chinese are going to be an improvement, I’m doubtful but we’ll just have to see. As far as moral bankruptcy, I wasn’t aware that the governments of India and Pakistan were known to be paragons of morality.

      Look, what I’m saying boils down to this: OBL needed to be got. We got him, and that makes me happy. I submit that most people in the world with normal human sentiments would feel the same way in the same circumstances. Is that so terrible?

      Other than that, I’m not defending any action or policy of our government in that region. There may be a lot of things we’ve done that some of the people over there think are pretty crappy. And they may be right.

      But those Indians sure do love coming here to make money, don’t they? ; )

      • May 5, 2011 1:25 pm

        It strikes me that digby has such extraordinarily strong “anti-American” opinions that I wonder how accurately he reports sentiments from the various countries he writes from. I am not for a moment suggesting he is not telling the truth. I am wondering if it is not so clear where he stands that while on blogs it is possible to disagree with him, in person one would think twice about contradicting him. Now, I know I personally must often sound more aggressive and even angry in my blog comments than I actually am, and perhaps digby is the same. But if he comes across in person as he does in his written comments, I am sure those who disagree with him self-censor rather than risk getting their heads bitten off.

        From what I have read, the reaction in India to the killing of bin Laden was basically positive from the man on the street to high government officials.

  17. Ronald King permalink
    May 5, 2011 9:53 am

    Agellius, If you thought about it you would see the relevance of my comment.

    • May 5, 2011 1:28 pm

      Ronald writes, “Agellius, If you thought about it you would see the relevance of my comment.”

      Oh, I see. We only disagree because of my failure to think. ; )

      • Ronald King permalink
        May 5, 2011 1:43 pm

        Agellius, Perhaps I do not clearly express my thoughts. I do see the relevance of what I wrote and you do not. Is that disagreement or a “failure to communicate” on my part?

  18. May 5, 2011 2:41 pm

    Ronald writes, “Agellius, Perhaps I do not clearly express my thoughts. I do see the relevance of what I wrote and you do not. Is that disagreement or a “failure to communicate” on my part?”

    It could be either one. No doubt if we spent several hours delving into it, we could figure it out. But from my perspective it’s not a big deal.

  19. May 5, 2011 2:45 pm

    David writes, “I wonder how accurately he reports sentiments from the various countries he writes from”.

    Good point. Not that I think Digby necessarily bites people’s heads off. But that when reporting local sentiments, you do have to take into account that the report may be limited to the sentiments within one’s social circle.

  20. digbydolben permalink
    May 5, 2011 10:29 pm

    Frankly, Agellius, and in all honesty, I am much milder and more diffident in person.

    I have now lived all over the world, on almost every continent except South America and Australia, and I’m telling you the TRUTH: that anti-American sentiment is growing almost everywhere. I actually suffer from it, when I attempt to justify SOME of the actions of the government and people of my official “country of report.”

    And, as for the responses of people in India to what America just did in Pakistan, your reports are DEAD WRONG; in fact, the newspapers here in Mumbai are SCREAMING that the Americans don’t give a damn about the terrorists who attacked this city and won’t do ANYTHING to help to bring THEM to justice, and only care about avenging a crime that took place a decade ago and whose perpetrator was obviously a has-been, no longer a serious threat to anybody, whereas the jihadists who attacked Mumbai are, unlike Bin Laden, moving freely in Pakistan, and, like him, probably being protected by the Pakistani intelligence agency.

    Please, I IMPLORE you, at least do one thing, as American citizens who attempt to be informed about international affairs: please bookmark to your computers the major newspapers’ English editions, if you want to know what foreigners–particularly foreigners in the Third World–actually think about America’s behaviour in the world. If you do so, some of you are going to get the shock of your lives!

    • May 6, 2011 10:44 am

      Digby,

      Could you recommend the web sites of three or four good non-American newspapers in English? I subscribe to the print version of The Economist and enjoy getting a slightly different slant on world news, but it is certainly not radically different.

  21. May 6, 2011 1:20 pm

    Digby writes, “Frankly, Agellius, and in all honesty, I am much milder and more diffident in person.”

    You seem to be attributing to me some things that were actually said by David Nickol.

    Anyway, I don’t know what to tell you (but I’ll proceed to tell you anyway ; ). I’m sorry that people don’t like what we do, but we have to do what we think is best, just as every other government does. As I said before, I am not defending everything we do because I don’t know everything we do. And even if I knew everything we do, I might not know why we do it, or what is the net effect. To know and have a full understanding of all our foreign-affairs activities throughout the world would be a full-time job. The average citizen simply cannot be expected to have that level of expertise.

    People hated what we did under Bush, and for that reason a lot of people voted for Obama. Now we hear that they hate what we’re doing under Obama. Well, we’ve tried both approaches now, haven’t we? What more is there for an average Joe like me to do about it?

    Our system of government calls for us to elect the people we think will do the best job, and then let them do the best they can under threat of being voted out next time. It’s not up to me to take responsibility for the evil our government does (or is perceived to be doing) or take steps to combat it. My job is to go to work every day and feed and educate my children. That job takes all my time and energy. I don’t have time to be a foreign-policy expert or a revolutionary. Certain people are called to those vocations, but I’m not.

    In that regard, Fr. Ronald Knox once wrote that a common citizen who supports a war based on what he’s told by his leaders, which war turns out to be actually unjust, does not bear the guilt of waging unjust war, since he has neither the responsibility nor the competence or sufficient information to judge such a thing for himself. People may get mad at our leaders, and in doing so they may be right or they may be mistaken. But I’m not the one to judge. If they’re mistaken I’m glad, and if they’re right, I’m sorry. That’s all I can say.

  22. digbydolben permalink
    May 6, 2011 9:12 pm

    Agellius, remember that Father Knox lived in a society that was a declining empire, but which still had an empire’s values. if you don’t want to live in a republic, and to accept a free citizen’s responsibility of helping to conduct his republic’s affairs, I strongly suggest that you continue to support the neo-conservative agenda that continues to drive American foreign policy. Its primary goal is really not to combat jihadist tendencies in the Muslim Arab world; its primary goal is to end the “liberal” tradition in America. If you put no credence in that claim of mine, I suggest that you read THIS article.

    Now, if a republic has truly become unmanageable for you and others, and, if American politics have become so divisive and unruly that the only thing that can effectively compete against the nihilism of the absolute rule of money, and if the American people can no longer discipline themselves to compromise with each other and LEARN about how the world actually works outside of America, perhaps the neo-conservatives are right, and perhaps it IS time to accede to the “man on the white horse”: General Petraeus is on your horizon and I believe that, promoted and catered to by the faux-liberal Obama, he will probably fit the role of Caesar Augustus admirably. He’s a virtuous man, but, at the same time, I think it’s obvious that he doesn’t believe in letting average citizens make crucial decisions. I think he’ll be the Republican OR Democratic candidate for President in 2016 (it really doesn’t matter much), and I believe he’ll be the one to formalize the enduring structure of a “national security state” for America.

    The “liberal tradition” in America always depended upon a spirit of radical self-discipline and an almost ascetic reluctance to embrace the materialist temptations of empire, and that’s been entirely lost by the American people, so, for the sake of world peace, it’s probably important to let the republic go, and let the “experts” rule, just as you seem to suggest. My own father, who, as a scientist and a government bureaucrat, helped to implement the policy of “mutually assured destruction,” always believed that it was necessary to keep the American hoi polloi ignorant of the dreadful choices his officialdom were called by duty to make, and I grew up arguing with him that that was to “infantalize” what were once free citizens. But maybe, considering the dreadfully barbaric and immature responses to recent events (and I’m not just talking about Osama bin Laden’s judicial murder), it’s better to just let it go.

    Please remember one thing, though: once you persuade the citizens of America of what you seem to be persuaded of–to wit, that they are not directly responsible for what their tribunes do abroad–then they will also begin to persuade themselves that they are not responsible for what their government’s officials do in their city streets. For example, here in Mumbai, when I try to argue with my Indian friends and tell them that the terrible problems caused by homelessness and by aggressive, even sometimes dangerous beggars is THEIR responsiblity to help alleviate, because they are citizens in a democratic society, and living in what is potentially one of the wealthiest cities on earth, they tell me that they and all the other Mumbaites are too busy struggling “to earn a living” and that it’s the “politicians’ responsiblity to do something about it (politicians whom they hate and constantly revile as being irredeemably corrupt).

    One of the reasons I have chosen to leave America and never to come back is that the free republic of 19th century Americans like Whitman and Emerson and Thoreau is the only American society that I cherish. It reminds me very much of the enlightened society that the Pali scholars are now telling us was the Buddha’s real dream–and not “Nibbana” or privileged reincarnations, which, they now are telling us, he cared not a whit about. But, of course, he failed in that enterprise as well, and left a so-called dhamma be ossified into arcane ritual and then preached by an increasingly corrupt and power-mad sangha.

    The foreign publications that I read, to get a broader perspective on the world’s affairs are: The Guardian, UK; Le Monde (in French); Haaretz; The London Spectator; al Jazeera English; Der Spiegel English; The Hindu and, yes, The Economist. Among American online publications, I read only The New York Times (which, being an international journal, cannot afford to directly lie, but which does BURY important things in its back pages) and AndrewSullivan.com. And I read this blog, in order to learn how the American Catholic Church is becoming increasingly ineffectual as a force for positive change.

  23. digbydolben permalink
    May 6, 2011 9:49 pm

    In the above, I meant to write “the extra-judicial murder of Osama bin Laden,” obviously.

  24. May 7, 2011 11:18 pm

    Digby:

    I wrote, “My job is to go to work every day and feed and educate my children. That job takes all my time and energy. I don’t have time to be a foreign-policy expert or a revolutionary.”

    You seem to have read, “…you don’t want to live in a republic, and to accept a free citizen’s responsibility of helping to conduct his republic’s affairs…”

    Nothing I said indicates that I don’t **want** a “free citizen’s responsibility”. What I said is that I **can’t** be a foreign policy expert. I get up at 5:45 a.m. and after working and picking up my wife and kids from work/school, and due to our long commute, don’t get home until 6:45 a.m. Then I have to go to bed by 9:45 p.m. in order to get a full night’s sleep.

    This gives me 3 hours a day of leisure time, part of which is spent eating dinner, part helping my kids with homework, part doing grocery shopping or buying gas, etc. I feel fortunate if I get one hour a day in which I can do whatever I please.

    Is one hour a day enough to become conversant in American foreign affairs in every area of the world, to the extent that I can judge which actions we’re taking are good, which are bad, and which are neutral (and condemn those who disagree with me)?

    And if that were enough time to become conversant with current events in foreign affairs throughout the world: What if I also want to be conversant with every area of domestic policy? For that matter, what if I also want to be conversant with current events throughout the world within the Church?

    What if I also want to read good but challenging spiritual books? Or spend time helping my son improve his basketball skills? Or help my wife with the laundry or cooking or dishwashing?

    My point was, and is, that there simply is not enough time in the day for the average citizen to know and understand all aspects of everything his government does in the area of foreign policy. You have a limited amount of time, and you spend it the best you can. But no matter what you spend it doing, you are necessarily giving up doing something else.

    Foreign policy is not my job. This is a statement of fact and necessity, not a willful abnegation of responsibility. As much as I would love to oversee all the activities of the State Department and the U.S. Armed Forces, and pass qualified and competent judgment on all their movements, I simply can’t. I have no choice but to leave that job to those who are qualified and elected or authorized to do it.

    Since I cannot know all that we do in foreign affairs, and am not qualified to judge the prudence and morality of each and every act, lacking the training and most of the information necessary to do so, I cannot and will not be held responsible for it. I am responsible for what I am aware of and have control over; not for what you think I could and ought to be aware of and have control over in an ideal democratic world.

    “God grant me the courage to change the things I can, the patience to accept the things I can’t, and the wisdom to know the difference.” This is simply a matter of knowing the difference between what I can help and what I can’t, and not worrying myself about things I have no control over.

    There was a period in my life when I spent all my spare time following the news and trying to educate myself on every controversial issue, and arguing with everyone who disagreed with me. But I found myself neglecting my wife and children, and therefore put it aside for a while. After a year or so, I realized that my not staying “in the arena” and fighting it out with my opponents, had not made any difference in the real world. Sometimes elections go the way I vote and sometimes they don’t, but they rarely have any correlation with how much time I spend studying and arguing over the issues. Thus I came to the conclusion that it was not my job to be a master of all issues and a champion of political causes, and that trying to do so was in fact rather quixotic of me.

  25. digbydolben permalink
    May 9, 2011 2:15 am

    Bravo, Agellius. I wish I could let my father–joshingly called, in our family, “the war criminal”–see this; he’d feel thoroughly confirmed in his notion that to inform the hoi polloi at public hearings of the dangers from radiation and table water pollution of the nuclear reactors being built in their neighbourhoods would be to “unnecessarily confuse them regarding the risks.”

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