Breaking horns on terror

Antonio Machado, one of my favorite poets, wrote:
De diez cabezas, nueve
embisten y una piensa.
Nunca extrañéis que un bruto
se descuerne luchando por la idea.
(Proverbios y Cantares, XXIV)
Which is to say:

Of every ten heads, nine / charge and one thinks. / Never be surprised when an imbecile / breaks his horns struggling for an idea.

On the subject of terror, we have a lot of people in Washington crashing around breaking their horns and too few thinking. Here are two thoughtful articles, available without subscription from the magazine Legal Affairs. "What Would Allah Do?" discusses a re-doctrination strategy that may sometimes work. "The Dread Pirate Bin Laden" proposes a legal redefinition of terrorists as "pirates," which seems to me brilliant. There is already established international law on piracy, and terrorists fit the definition beautifully (except of course for state terrorists, which nobody is going to prosecute anyway).

Berlin: The Wall and its traces

While we were in Berlin, our hosts took us to the new museum constructed like a watchtower overlooking a section of the Berlin Wall. Not much is left, and the wide swath it left through the middle of the city is now very valuable property. Mostly, it is being reserved for public uses, including the new memorial designed by Peter Eisenman, which actually has turned out to be more effective than if the designer's original intentions had been strictly followed. City authorities insisted on adding an information center beneath the Eisenman monoliths, which gives literal depth and figurative meaning to the work. (For images and background, see the official Holocaust-Mahnmal site.) When I got home I thought it was time I read what had been the emblematic novel of the wall -- though "novel" is a misleading term for what appears to be lightly disguised personal memoir by a West German writer who was about 40 in 1982, when it still seemed as though the Wall would last forever.

Schneider, Peter (1983). The Wall Jumper (Der Mauerspringer, tr. by Leigh Hafrey). New York, Pantheon Books.
Anecdotal "novel" about Berliners on either side of the Wall and those who cross repeatedly from one side to the other, and about their radically different ways of perceiving the world and of relating to one another. In the West, lefties like Schneider are laid back, curious & naïvely open to the ideas of the East; in the East, & among those who have recently come from the East, every intellectual he meets is suspicious, guarded and cynical.
"It will take us longer to tear down the Wall in our heads than any wrecking company will need for the Wall we can see." 119

"'I come from Germany.' Either it [the expression] has no meaning, or I am speaking of a country that appears on no political map. ... If I were asked where it lies, I could only locate it in history and in the language I speak." 126-127
To see what Schneider was talking about, look at this marvelous collection of photos by Jürgen Müller, Die Berlinermauer. And this observation about news presentation is still relevant, 16 years after the cracking of that particular wall:
"Network executives on both sides are laughably alike: in ther own camp, they let only the rulers speak; in the enemy camp, only the oppressed." 117-118
One of the participants at the conference we attended was the Dutch artist Ronald Klein Tank, who has been documenting the disappearance of the wall and its lingering "traces," die Mauerspuren.

For more links, check out Andreas Ramos's Personal Account of The Fall of the Berlin Wall: The 11th and 12th of November, 1989


Intelligent design

Now it is revealed. See this scientific explanation from the world-renowned Venganza Organization of how our universe was created by The Flying Spaghetti Monster.


On memory and amnesia

First, about selective amnesia regarding the bombing 60 years ago of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, see Danny Schecter's News Dissector.

And on selective remembering, from my friend and colleague Dirk van Nouhuys:
I was in Berlin recently. The idea of a war memorial was naturally quite touchy for the Germans after the Second World War, and they did not make one for many years. This is what they finally did-: They took an existing neoclassical building -; basically it looks like a Doric temple, a smaller version of Grant’s tomb. Inside is one large room with in the middle a sculpture of a mother morning her dead child. A bit pietá-like, but not too. Three corpses are buried there, an unknown German soldier, and unknown concentration camp victim, and an unknown resistance fighter.

This seems to me to represent maturity born of suffering.

Really, the principal should apply to most war memorials. Not only the victors suffer.

Shouldn’t US memorials for the Second World War include a victim of the Hiroshima bombing, and the Dresden bombing as well?

I think the Vietnam memorial in Washington is one of the great pieces of public art, but should there not be recognition of the tens of thousands of Vietnamese whom the Americans killed? Maybe some one killed at Kent State s well?

And when the Americans declare victory and scuttle out of Iraq, or whatever happens, should not the ensuing memorial include representation of the tens of thousands of Iraqis who died? Maybe even proportionally?

Fat chance.

- Dirk van Nouhuys
Susana & I were also in Berlin recently, to participate in a week-long symposium of Germans and Argentinians on how to commemorate state atrocities. I hope to say more about that here soon.

(Nagasaki bombing image from Bombardements.)


Empires, sub-empires & peripheries

Hubert Sauper’s 2004 documentary Darwin’s Nightmare is an astonishingly intimate and compassionate inquiry into one of the garbage heaps of our global consumer society, on the shores of Lake Victoria in Tanzania. It is also beautifully filmed, the colors of sky and water and shimmering of rotting fish, the smiles and gestures of the people, their obvious embarrassment at the strange and contradictory situation they're in, all make it hard to distance oneself from this complicated story or to deny our own complicity.

In Mwanza, giant Russian cargo jets swoop down to scoop up loads of frozen fish for the European market, while the greater part of the local population starves. The big planes sometimes arrive empty, but at other times bring cargos of tanks and other weapons to supply and enourage the region's many warlords. Sauper gets amazingly intimate interviews with those conflicted pilots, with Tanzanian prostitutes who serve them and other foreigners, a fish-factory owner, and a night watchman who hopes for war (because it would mean a better salary), and also shows us neatly-uniformed factory workers, crippled fishermen, street urchins squabbling over fish carcasses and intoxicating glue, Tanzanian government officials and European investors who want to look only at the "positive side" of the fish export business, and at the fish itself -- the Nile perch, a foreign species that has taken over the lake and grown almost as big as the Ilyushin cargo jets.

This whole complex story made me think again of a 2-year old lecture I just listened to last week, and that you may want to listen to on the web: A New American Empire? by Professor Stephen Rosen of Harvard. Rosen thinks the U.S. is not yet an empire, but that it has since Clinton been behaving like one -- disregarding the sovereignty of other states within its "imperium," or area of hegemony, and exercising overwhelming military force within that region. The disparity of power between the U.S. and every other potentially allied country is so great that this country has only three choices, Rosen thinks: to assume full imperial control in the regions of interest to it, to limit itself to intervening only in coalition with other military powers, or to withdraw from any interference overseas and just take care of our own North American territory. The second option is unrealistic, because there just isn't any other military power the U.S. needs to take seriously, at least not among our potential allies. The U.S. army spends more on R&D than France does on its entire military. The third option is also unlikely, though the Tom Delay wing of the Republican Party would probably favor it. But the first option implies more than invading and trying to police a foreign country whenever we are provoked. Rather, it implies assuming responsibilities of maintaining stability and some degree of prosperity in the regions that accept our imperial dominance. Rosen proposes the establishment of an "imperial civil service," similar to what the Romans, the Ottoman, the Chinese, and the British all had in their respective empires -- that Harvard and other institutions undertake to train people to serve in foreign regions.

OK, so how do I connect Sauper's film and Rosen's lecture? I see what is happening in Mwanza as a consequence of the breakup of an older imperial system, and the failure so far to consolidate a new one. But this note is already too long, and the connections you see between the film and the tectonic shifts in global imperial systems since, say, 1989 may be very different from the ones I see. But check out both the lecture and the film, if you can.