"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, September 23, 2022

Our Love Affair With War–The Allure Of Fiery Destruction

Imagine Genghis Khan with an army of ten thousand men thundering out of the Steppes, slaying all in his wake, laying waste to village after village, and nothing but carnage and death in his wake from the Far East to Europe.  It must have been a grand and heroic  spectacle.

Khan was charismatic and fearsome; and he and his armies were known for their cruelty and barbarity, and the sight of them advancing across the battlefield in a storm of dust, the feel of the earth shaking with the thunder of 50,000 hooves were enough to send enemies into retreat; but the thought alone of this terrible, bloodthirsty, and mighty warrior would have been enough. 

Genghis Khan was a man of absolute will and power, a frightening figure of power and vengeance.  He was a horseman of the Apocalypse.

The Crusades were Christian but just as barbaric.  Pope Urban’s armies were sent out to destroy and annihilate the Muslim occupiers of Jerusalem, to rid the world of them and their godless, heathen, insidious religion.  The mayhem and slaughter wreaked by the crusading armies was little different from that of Genghis Khan.

The battles of wars past were exalting in their ferocity –  banners flying, swords flashing, and thickets of arrows flying them through the dust of battle.  Armed horsemen – mammoth, incredible figures to most enemies who had never seen horses – charged through the enemy lines, slashing all from their mounts until the battlefield was littered with dead.

There have been many successful armies in the world.  Julius Caesar, Scipio Africanus, Pompey the Great, and Marcus Agrippa were as brilliant generals as Genghis Khan, and brought Roman organization, discipline, and management to the battle.  They won because of superior ability, armaments, and military thinking while Genghis Khan added an almost untamed savagery to his victories.

The battles of the Aztecs were more like those of Genghis Khan, for in addition to classic military strategy, organization, and a half-civilized barbarism, they added a powerful spiritual element.  Soldiers dressed in the skins of animals whose spirits they possessed.  When they attacked the enemy, they killed like a panther would; or ripped and tore flesh like an eagle.

The army of Montezuma which pursued the enemy across the Mexican highlands was not just comprised of men, it was made up of powerful animal spirits. It was the panther which killed, the eagle which ripped enemy flesh, and the jaguar which tore at enemy throats. There could be no greater spectacle of battle than that of the great Aztec armies and the wild soldiers dressed in animal skins, talons, and feathers charging across the plains.

The armies of the European Crusades fought for their Christian God, and felt his spirit within as they attacked the Infidel.  Theirs was a military engagement with strategy, operations, and tactics; but it was also a holy war, inspired by a holy cause, and guided by God himself.

Early modern warfare was tame by comparison.  World War I was a war of mud, trenches, barbed wire perimeters, mortar fire and infantry charges.  It was a war without spectacle, fought without clear cause or purpose, and was responsible for the deaths of millions.

World War II was the first fully modern war, for it combined classic military tactics with a full complement of armaments – planes, tanks, artillery, riflery, rockets, mortars, and bombs. Soldiers had a cause – Hitler had invaded their countries and they were determined to drive him out – but they were part of a military machine, cogs in its wheels.  Battles were hard-fought, territory often gained by feet, not miles, and battle lines shifting by the week.  It was an ordinary war.

It was not until Vietnam when the spectacle of war again appeared.  F-16 jet fighters were once again Apocalyptic as they rained terror down from the skies.  The destruction was Biblical and epic.

Despite Hinduism’s image as one of shanti, Om, and peace, its mythology is based on endless cycles of destruction and rebirth.  The goddess Kali is the Destroyer and the god Siva dances for its rebirth.

Image result for images of Kali the destroyer with sword

Despite our intentions to end war and to progress towards a peaceful, accommodating, compassionate, and respectful Utopia, brutal, bloody, insensate conflicts will – as always – exist.   How can millennia of violent, aggressive, brutal, human history not be of relevance? Genghis Khan is more expressive of human nature than Jesus Christ ever was.

The Old Testament, of course, reads in parts like the chronicles of Genghis Khan.  Yahweh having seen how badly the Garden of Eden turned out, destroyed the world in the Flood.   When the world repopulated and returned to its evil ways, God sent a message to the sinful.  He destroyed the entire populations of Sodom and Gomorrah – men, women, children, and babies – in a vengeful, murderous purge.  That too did not work, and he sent Jesus to deal with a seemingly irremediable world.  His message of love, compassion, and brotherhood went unheeded, and the world now is no different than it ever was.  God anticipated this, of course, and vowed to destroy the entire universe in a fiery inferno.

So Genghis Khan, the Crusades, Sodom and Gomorrah, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the firebombing of Dresden, the napalming of Vietnam, and the nuclear intentions of rogue states are all part of the same, predictable scenario.  The comic books of the Fifties were not aberrations but prophetic.  It would not be aliens who would destroy the world, but ourselves.  The same inevitability, the same destiny.

A few years back American boys played with He-man figures and created out of imagination and popular lore their own existential battles.

Image result for images fifties comic book covers aliens taking over earth

Hindu philosophy teaches cycles of destruction and regeneration as the natural order, but the destruction is much more human than the regeneration.  Nietzsche believed that an expression of pure Will – one beyond morality, beyond good and evil – is the only thing that validates our humanity.  The F-16 fighter pilot raining terror from the skies, the panther man ripping the throat out of his enemy, or Genghis Khan, Nietzsche’s perfect Superman rampaging his way through the civilized world, are all very much like us all.

Although we may live in a quiet, orderly, predictable world, there is something violently primitive still in us all; and as much as we talk about peace, community, and diversity, we cannot ignore it.

Our religions have become tame and tepid compared to the animistic and supremely powerful religions of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, where the Zapotecs worshiped thunder, lightning, earthquakes, and violent storms and sacrificed their own to appease their gods. Our wars have become tame, remote, and surgical. Acts of human will and expressions of pure power are – for the time being – things of the past. 

This period of temperance, judicious political restraint cannot last,  Our lust for violence, our blood lust, sanctioned by acts of war must be satisfied and it soon will be. The New Age has tried to tame such lust, and boys are encouraged not to destroy things but to build them – trucks, cranes, and bulldozers are sought-after toys by concerned parents – but little boys find ways to engage the trucks in battle, to crash them, overturn them, and destroy them.  It’s in our genes.

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