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

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

The Power And The Glory–The Eternal Allure Of Raining Fiery Death And Destruction From The Skies

There seems to be no end to war.  The war in Ukraine is but the latest version of a perennial, permanent feature of human society.  It is, unlike the fiery holocausts of Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki a tame war, one of attrition and gradual escalation.  It goes on and on with give and take, incursions and repulsions, destruction of territory, and the loss of military and civilian lives. 

It is an unattractive war, a seemingly unwinnable one.  It is an old-style war of tanks and howitzers, perimeters and battle lines.  It is nothing like Vietnam where American B-52s dropped thousands of tons of bombs on the Ho Chi Minh trail and Phantom jets unloaded napalm in a scorch and burn Armageddon policy of horrific vengeance and retribution.

F-4 Phantom II in the Vietnam War

One fighter pilot described his experience this way:

There was nothing like it.  I was God, Shiva the Destroyer, a master of the universe flying no more than a few feet  over the treetops, unloading death and destruction, howling in the cockpit over the roar of the engine and the explosions below, dropping napalm and seeing the forest explode in a firestorm with great orange clouds of fire, ascending to 5000 feet, looking down on the smoke and ash and burning, incinerating carpet below.  It was magnificent.

Nixon responded to North Vietnamese successes with ever increasing B-52 bombing of the north – Haiphong harbor and North Vietnamese supply lines to the South. While deferring calls to level the North, Nixon unleashed an unparalleled display of American air superiority.  Rolling Thunder was as close as the American President would get to total destruction; and it had a ‘once-and-for-all’ intention.

Nixon was not one of a kind. With an army of ten thousand men Genghis Khan thundered out of the Steppes, slaying all in his wake, laying waste to village after village, leaving nothing but carnage and death in his wake from the Far East to Europe.  It was 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.

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 popes’ armies may have fought for their Christian God, and felt his spirit within as they attacked the Infidel; but theirs was a military engagement with strategy, operations, and tactics.  Most importantly it was also a holy war, inspired by a holy cause, and guided by God himself.

The battles of the 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.  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.

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 until the Biblical nuclear destruction of Japan. This was the apotheosis of war. Atom bombs dropped on the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki destroyed them completely in a few minutes of unthinkable power.  Wars of annihilation and Genghis Khan were back.

It was not until Vietnam that the spectacle of a fiery superhuman war again appeared.  F-16 jet fighters were 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.

If there is to be an end to war, it will come as a result of minor wars like the one in Ukraine – a war of gross miscalculation on the part of Russia, an unexpected and surprisingly defiant military unanimity of the West, and one which, after years of attrition and destruction will end with a negotiated settlement – a settlement which could have been concluded early on in the conflict before principle got involved.  

The continuing war is not really about Ukraine or even Russia for that matter, but for airy concepts like sovereignty, national integrity, democracy, and determined, righteous response.  It is these concepts which keep the war machine going, principles which sound right but result in nothing but unnecessary devastation. 

Since all-out, fiery blazes of destruction seem to be things of the past; and as much as Pentagon generals may regret their passing, only small, unsatisfying wars will take their place.  War has lost its majesty, so why bother to fight?

The war in Ukraine is the kind of war that may make nations think twice about conflict.  There is no glory, no pyrotechnics, no godlike destruction.  In many ways it is like World War I, a miserable war with millions of miserable deaths open-field slaughters, sure death from Gatling guns, mustard gas, sepsis, or pneumonia.  it was a pitiful, horrible war with no glory and only sure, unheralded, grisly death.  

In Ukraine, troops fight for the same narrow purchase as doughboys did in France with small advances and retreats, regroupings and renewed assaults.  The battles are largely ground maneuvers.  There is no air support, no napalm, no carpet bombing.  It is a temperate war slowly becoming a nuisance.

However this period of temperance 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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