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Vale to Babylon - Part III

Stirling Newberry's picture

The Armies of Ashur

I built a pillar over against his city-gate, and I flayed all the chief men who had revolted, and I covered the pillar with their skins; some I walled up within the pillar and some upon the pillar on stakes I impaled, and others I fixed to stakes round about the pillar; many with the border of my own land I flayed, and I spread their skins upon the walls; and I cut off the limbs of the high officers, of the high royal officers who had rebelled. Ahiababa I took to Ninuwa, I flayed him, I spread his skin upon the wall of Ninuwa.

Annals of Ashur-Nasir-Pal

The Neo-Assyrian Empire offers lessons for our own age, because, on the one hand, the empire had a cultural complex which included mastery of a variety of tools which made them one of the fastest rising empires in history, and the most potent military force that the world had seen to that time. At the same time, there were inherent contradictions in that cultural complex which brought about the downfall of their empire. America's experience in Iraq in the present duplicates many of these contradictions. The first is the need to have internal legitimacy rooted in a place cult, even as there is an economic and political necessity to have a concept civic religion which allows embracing a world trading empire.

[Part I is here, and Part II is here].

section break

The second lesson has to do with the nature of the Assyrian military machine itself, and the basis upon which it rested.

Ishtar the first among the gods, the lady of confusion,
Who makes terrible battles –
Ye Great Gods, ye Rulers of heavan and earth,
Whose onward rush is battle and destruction.
Who have enlarged the kingom
Of Tiglath-Pileser, the beloved prince…

And ye have decreed that his rule
Should be mighty, and that his priestly seed
Should have a palce in Ekharsagkurkura

Address to the Gods, 12-17,24-27
Cylinder Inscription Ca 1100 BC

Tutankhamen is buried with a small iron dagger with a gold hilt. The production of iron from solid blooms began somewhere in the 3rd millennium BC. This involves heating the melt and pounding out impurities, quenching with water, and then pounding again to beat the metal and its trace elements into a strong lattice. Muscle power without a blast furnace can create areas of solid iron – called blooms – and then mix these with carbon from the fire by dint of sheer brute force. It is a bootstrapping process – an iron hammer makes pounding more iron much faster. An iron anvil faster still.

Beginning around 1300 BC, hotter furnaces – though still not blast furnaces, and the iron ores with the "right" impurities allows the Hatti – the Hittites as they are called – to rapidly expand their empire in the mountain regions of Anatolia. That this upset the delicate balance of power might well be a contributing factor to the "Dark Age" of 1150-750BC. It is certainly important in what happened with Neo-Assyria.

You see, the Neo-Assyrians faced a basic energy problem. Iron made cities and warriors far more productive, since even limited amounts of iron dramatically reduce working times in leather, wood, other metals, and human flesh. They improve tack and harness dramatically. People can carry more, work more and do more. But the invention of the iron plow lays centuries in the future – the Chinese have the first iron bit mouldboard plows in the Warring States period. The importance of this invention can't be stressed highly enough – the mouldboard plow, with its iron bit and ability to turn the soil over as it plows is still the commercial standard. Today, some 2500 years later.

This plow is so important to agriculture after its introduction, it revolutionizes farming where ever it appears – that the absence of it is something that many people have trouble accepting. Applying iron to tillage is so self-evident, that we forget the economics of the early iron age.

It is important to connect this to the main thesis of Vale to Babylon:

1. Assyria had three legitimacy problems that forced particular responses: internal, within a cultural sphere, and over the wider empire.
2. The Assyrians had geo-political pressures based on economics and the collapse of the previous trading order.
3. The Assyrians had a cultural complex to thrust outwards, but the components were in contradiction with each other.

In the second part of this essay one of the most important conflicts was looked at: namely that for internal political purposes, the Neo-Assyrian Empire had to keep a localized god cult religious system, but this same system made it impossible to use concept god based assimiliation. Local god cults are very good for assimilating invaders, and keeping people's together, but are poor for assimilating those who are conquered. The tension between the kind of god cult necessary for holding the Assyrian core, and the kind of god cult needed to run a multi-ethnic trading empire, is seen in the beginning of Neo-Assyria, in the only epic that survives to us.

This tension was made worse as the onset of the Dark Ages that divides what I will call mesoäntiquity from neoäntiquity grew deeper, as the Assyrians could no longer be attached to the trading system run by the Hatti-Egyptian axis along the Eastern Mediterranean. This Dark Age now needs to be examined from the point of view of a crucial technology: Iron working, which, while in small forms had existed for hundreds of years in various locations, became a generally available process in the Hatti (Hittite) Empire.

There are scholars who argue, and I won't disagree, that ironworking accelerated internal political conflicts within the Hatti political space, and that the empire imploded, in part, under the pressures of militarization of iron, there are also arguments that the failure to have iron implements hindered the Egyptians. I am going to leave aside these arguments, because the fact of the Dark Ages at the end of Mesoäntiquity is more important than the reasons for the purposes of Neo-Assyria, and for the purposes of lessons in our age.

The first lesson to be drawn is that the United States is also an international trading empire, but that it is using a localized version of a god cult for its political legitimacy. As the power of this localized god cult grows, the ability of the US to project its culture outwards and integrate other nations, declines. The mentality of its military corps becomes hardened into thinking of conflicts in territorial terms, and in terms of body count, and not in terms of assimilation of other localized cults into a broader framework, which is the process that the Greeks used in their successful cooption of previous cults, and the techniques of which were to be retained by Christianity through the conversion of Europe to the Cross.

The second lesson, is about energy and technology.

The Black Gold of Neo-Antiquity

Iron had been worked for almost a thousand years by the time that the Hatti push matters into higher gear. Iron working comes in two types – cold iron, where iron is heated, but not enough to melt it, and then repeatedly pounded and quenched to form a matrix of iron an certain impurities – particularly carbon – to form stronger alloys. Steel is at the pinnacle of this process, but in antiquity sponge iron, that is iron produced at low temperatures, created a material which was harder than bronze, but also harder to work. Early iron production is found in Nigeria, India and in other areas, but it was the Hatti who, in the 1300's BC began systematic working of iron and production of iron implements.

Realize at this point that Iron traded at several times its weight in silver – the main monetary metal of exchange – and above its weight in gold, that is the main monetary metal of wealth storage. Some accounts fix the price as high as 40 times its weight in silver, a First Assyrian Empire text fixes its price at 8 times that of gold. Presently the theory is that iron came as a by product of copper production, but that the ancients were not reliably able to identify the "right" ores to be able to smelt iron in quantity.

Iron, like aluminum in the late 18th century, was an exotic metal that had exotic properties. It was still an age dominated by pottery but augmented by iron. The key shift is this: it is impurities that make iron more flexible, and give it a hardness edge over bronze. While Iron was valued simply because it was rare, it was not used in weaponry, and in the form of cold iron, it is softer, not harder, than bronze weaponry.

The iron of the time is not pig iron of later periods – that is formed into iron matrix with other materials by heat. It is a laborious process of working what would later be called "cold iron". Cold iron is brittle compared to bronze, but it is also hard. Iron, however, is superior to bronze for so many applications, that it is difficult to overstate what the introduction of Iron did to the productivity of cities. An iron age city has access to better rivets, better blades, better hammers. Iron is best used for cutting and joining as these pictures from the Iron Age show – clasps, needles, chains are as important as swords in the technology of the period. This dramatically expands the productivity of garment making, and creates more demand for textiles, wool and leather. This extended all the way up to the "tank" of that day and age: the chariot.

The Hatti discovered the pounding/quenching cycle which produces the first useful grades of worked iron. These kinds of iron/carbon mixture are not generally called steel, but they are 5 times as hard as base iron, and harder than cold worked bronze, which base iron is not. However, it is not clear that this produced the military revolution that some scholars advocate, however, the other extreme, that it offered no military advantage, over looks the most common kind of iron artifact in weaponry – the arrow head. Small, hard and able to pierce bronze and leather, the arrowhead is an advantage. But it is not yet enough of one to dramatically alter the balance of power.

Instead, it is the iron of tool working – clasps, needles and all of the "joining" and working uses of iron which gives an army the advantage of mobility. An army that moves better and faster is one which has the advantage on the battle field. It would take an entire book to document all the times that mobility advantage, not advantage in actual arms, was the decisive feature in war.

This ability to be better equipped was not lost on the Assyrians – their army featured a military boot, and a backpack, which were the first of their kind. An army that can travel with its own food can out march and out maneuver other armies. And when we look at the long history of Neo-Assyrian campaigns, this is indeed the pattern, one that would be the trademark of Fredrick the Great much later on – the use of interior lines, where armies could be moved across the interior of a compact country, and defeat in turn attacks from outside, or press the advantage on multiple fronts.

It is a high risk strategy, and one that plays into the sense of historical destiny which was present even in the epic at the outset of the Neo-Assyrian period. They believed, and they had the tools to enforce, the idea that their cultural core was superior, and the ability to move through it untrammeled was essential to their ability to campaign over a large space than any other empire to that point.

Looking at Jane Waldbaum's oft criticized, but still seminal study of the transition From Bronze to Iron, it is clear that the disruption of trade prevented the copper sourced from Cyprus, and the Tin which came from outside the region, from being available at the same time. Tin, in particular, is the bottleneck.

This is where the dark age collides with technology. The weakness of the bronze economy is that it requires copper and tin. Tin is harder to come by that common copper, and harder to extract from its ores. With the trading system collapsing – because, in part, iron was not yet providing a real advantage in battle – the ability to get both copper and tin together was dramatically reduced. The bronze age cultures did what many cultures hav done – cannibalized older artifacts, in this case, remelting them into new ones. Part of what makes a dark age seem dark, is that it is busy erasing its own history to feed its present.

Iron however, needs only be matrixed with carbon. Carbon, suffice it to say, is as close as the nearest fire pit, if one can heat the iron up enough to get the process of "carburization" to happen. Thus the superiority of the best kinds of iron – which had been known about, but not understood how to reproduce – collided with the need for "metal self-sufficiency" to drive iron adoption forward. And once it is possible to produce the first tier of iron-carbon materials, bronze is no longer the metal of choice for hardness or durability.

That it is not in weapons, but in tools that Assyria experiences the iron age can be seen by comparing the acceptance of iron weapons, where cites in the Assyrian space lag behind, for example, Crete, and instead looking at tools: within a century of introduction, almost all tools in the Assyrian space are iron, not bronze, this is well ahead of the other states.

The iron age then, is a bastard child, a product of the need for replacement for bronze, and the greater capabilities of iron once it is carburized in quantity. This is a recipe for a dramatic contraction, at first, of affluence – because easy to make in quantity bronze is replaced by harder to make in quantity iron, and because the lack of bronze for equipping large armies leads to vulnerability to invasion, which further disrupts the trading, and the spiral downward continues.

Iron working then provides, at first, not the advantage of individual superiority, but the advantage of size. It is possible, once iron manufacture is going, to equip larger armies against bronze starved opponents. One reason for the rise of the Medes is that they had access to tin from outside of the region, and thus were able to mount armies with bronze even as the transition to iron occurred. However, other states were not.

The result is that iron creates the ability to make larger, more heavily equipped armies, with more horses. However, early it offers no significant man to man advantages except in the area of bows, and to exploit this requires horse drawn chariots, which were the way that bows were brought to grips with infantry. This in turn feeds a basic energy problem.

You see, a heavily armored fighter requires upwards of 3000 calories a day to put in the field. The Assyrian Army, the largest field deployable one in the world, had an enormous stomach. And thus was in a precarious position. On one hand, getting the east-west trading system going again allows bronze production – the old economy, and better iron production with iron from Anatolia. On the other hand, to feed this army requires access to the whole of the Tigris-Euphrates basin. In short, to build the East-West trading empire that the Assyrians know they need, they must control the resources of Babylon. Legitimacy of empire, and fuel for empire, are one and the same thing.

Hence the fascination with going south and east, even when other states pressed on all sides.

America in Babylon

The United States began its period as a trading empire in a similar manner to the Assyrians, first as the client state of another trading system, and then taking over when that trading system collapsed. This is not to compare the two experiences directly, as the United States lived in a different era and world. However, the mechanisms of power politics remain remarkably similar – client states, puppet governments, dislocation of populations and atrocities were tools of state power in Assyria's age, and our own.

As Assyria's fascination with Babylon was both based on cultural and economic needs, so is our own. Where the Assyrians need grain to supply their attrition first Iron Age army, and again to supply their second Iron Age army, the United States needs petroleum, found, in no small part, in the South East of the cradle of civilization.

The American experience in the 1950's corresponds to the early Assyrian attempts to simply install friendly governments. However, by the Neo-Assyrian period, direct rule, or rule through a puppet state, was the preferred mode for Neo-Assyria to deal with its relationship with Babylon. The fundamental contradiction of the Ashur cult – that it was not strong enough to dislodge the Neo-Babylonian Marduk cult, in no small part because the Assyrians were among the worst writers in the ancient world – and yet they could not stay away from Babylon.

The United States is in the grip of a localized version of Christianity which has many of the same problems in encompassing the region of Iraq. As the primary motivation for a large fraction of both the political elite and the officer class, imposition of this Homeland Jesus cult, as opposed to the more generalized civic and secular religion of democracy or the broader ecumenicism of empire – has lead to the need to obliterate religious centers of power because they would not submit.

The Assyrians faced the economic problem of needing to supply a vast army, and as with most attrition powers, they thought in terms of attrition – by direct sack and destruction. Over and over again in the Assyrian king chronicles we are treated to might lists of the great cities that Assyria had laid waste to.

The corresponding ethos in our own time is the cult of body count. The US military, as the Assyrians, thought of defeat of enemies in terms of collecting tribute, and in slaughtering the military age males who would make up the back bone of a potential counter force. In both cases this strategy has failed to produce the degree of subjugation that was desired. We have an obelisk dedicated to Tiglath-Pilser I that, while weathered heavily, still bears a line noting that the king did something to 1000 of the men of someplace, and took 4000 into slavery. We can guess that what happened to the first 1000 probably was not very nice. In the epic poem, the poet declares at a similar point that the king "committed no atrocity". And yet, the people taken are not mentioned again in the text.

The rest of the obelisk is a list of conquests and victories, most of which remain outside of Assyrian control. The obelisk makes it clear that the Assyrian kingdom's dance card was very full, one year has 6 battles listed in it, in different regions. The Assyrian army, like its modern American counterpart, had an enormous advantage in mobility – derived in no small part from the staff apparatus that both countries have – but could not keep areas defeated in the conquered zone. The obelisk often says "raided" and "fought" and hopes that we don't know the difference between that and actual conquest.

The result of this is the next layer of failure is seen in the actions of such a military in oocupation.

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On June 29, 2006 - 5:16am CoCo said:

History is always interesting and educational...but the battles and tactics and lessons of history don't matter any more....all anyone needs to understand about where the here and now is going is this:

The US, the world's largest (former) democracy, no longer recongizes or supports the International law it itself helped write after WWII....we no longer respect or abide by universal agree on international law....

Think very hard about what that means.... and you can probably fast forward and write up a final chapter of history on the reign of the US.

On June 29, 2006 - 5:52am Stirling Newberry said:

It is far more complex than that, because such changes do not take place in a cultural or economic vacuum. They rely on the, at least passive, consent of those who are part of the state.

On June 29, 2006 - 12:40pm BevD said:

I can't think of a single example in the 20th C. where the strategy of the U.S. military has been to demand tribute and slaughter males of military age to prevent a counter-insurgency. With the possible exception of the Indian wars of the 1870/80s, the strategy of the U.S. miiitary has always been a two pronged offense aimed at cutting supply lines, encircling the enemy and forcing them to use up remaining resources in a defensive posture. The U.S. military has never "set policy" for the very simple reason that a government of civilians defines policy.

One reason (of many) why this war is going so disasterously is that this administration has no clearly defined policy - they have many strategies, but as Grant said, "strategy must be the servant of policy, policy cannot be the servant of strategy." In other words, you can't make it up as you go along - something this administration thinks is imaginative management by taking advantage as situations present themselves, but is in reality a lack of clearly defined goals and objectives.

On June 29, 2006 - 12:57pm Stirling Newberry said:

Then you are completely ignorant of US military history. The term is "War of Attrition" and the United States has practiced it repeatedly. In fact, the current term is "the flypaper theory" and "we are fighting them there so we won't have to fight them here." After Fallujah the devastation was justified by saying "the casaulties were military age males".

In the next essay I am going to detail the failures of the attrition strategy in Iraq.

Stirling Newberry

On June 29, 2006 - 2:12pm BevD said:

You are dead wrong and you have not the slightest clue as what military strategy is or how it is implemented. You're confusing military strategy with government policy and obviously don't understand either one.

With (as I pointed out to you) the exception of the Indian wars, all wars fought since the revolution (which was a combination of a Fabian strategy and what Washington called a "concatenation of causes) the strategy has been the same - surround the enemy, cut the supply lines and force them to use resources in a defensive posture. Even during the American civil war the strategy was exactly that - the fact that there were high casualty rates was a by product of that strategy not the goal of the strategy. If the goal was to kill males to prevent a counter insurgency there would be no pow camps. They would simply kill them, and they certainly wouldn't waste resources on feeding them.

As to the "fly paper theory" that has never been a strategy of the U.S. military. It's a term made up by administration flacks and hacks to promote the idea that this administration has/had a goal in invading Iraq, which by the way, is one of many "goals" set by this administration as the tides began to turn against us. No miitary strategist would ever propose anything as stupid as a "fly paper theory" to fight terrorism. The goal of terrorists isn't to fight the U.S. army, the goal is to terrorize civilian populations in order to demoralize them and break civilian will to support a government's policy. The very unexpectedness of the attack is what gives it value - military strategists know this, the only people who don't seem to know it are the idiot civilian appointees at the Pentagon and in the administration who are either brazen or stupid enough to put this forth as a "strategy".

"Sir, what's our mission today?"
"Lt., take your platoon out - try to get terrorists to snipe at you, blow you up with IEDs and launch missiles at you - we're fighting a war of attrition here, soldier!"
"Where'd you get this strategy, Sir?"
"Why I read about it at Andrew Sullivan's blog, Son, it's called the "fly paper theory."

On June 29, 2006 - 2:49pm Stirling Newberry said:

Strategic bombing, search and destroy missions and use of firepower in Korea, Vietnam and now Iraq are of a piece in their use of attrition. We also use indirect attrition strategies by, to take merely one example, supply weapons to both sides of the Iran-Iraq conflict in a manner which was intended to cause maximum attrition of manpower.

Manpower attrition as strategy is documented, and documentable fact. It leads me to ask why you have a problem with facts.

Stirling Newberry

On June 29, 2006 - 4:03pm BevD said:

Strategic bombing is used to prevent collateral damage, not cause it. The purpose of search and destroy missions isn't to "kill as many men of military age as possible". In fact, search and destroy missions are just as likely to be operations to destroy communications, fuel reserves and intelligence capabilities as well as other supply lines and support. Why do you think we bombed their telecommunication centers at night? Think it might have been to limit casualties? Of course the U.S. military will bring superior fire power to bear in battles but its use is threefold - to soften up enemy positions, to wage a war of nerves and to kill enemy soldiers. Its use isn't solely to kill the enemy.

Modern military strategy isn't about attrition, it's about shutting down the enemy's ability to wage war. My question to you is why can you not understand the difference between U.S. military strategy (whose primary objective is to defend the United States of America) and civilian policy?

By the way, this whole "parallels to the Assyrians" is fatuous. I can point to any time period and claim parallels.

On June 29, 2006 - 4:29pm jhc said:

I suppose I am missing the point, but to a layman who does not pretend to know anything about military strategy, the

fire-bombing of Japan, not to mention the use of nuclear weapons, would seem to go beyond the purely practical goals of

reducing the enemy's supplies. All I know about strategic bombing is what anybody with curiousity would know if they

had an uncle who was a flyer on B17s in WWII on bombing missions in late 1943 including the Schweinfurt mission. In theory, the B17s were supposed to be doing pin-point bombing, but in actual practice the Norden bombsight was ineffective, so they were actually doing what could only be described as carpet bombing. The lack of precision in our bombing, combined with the inaccessibility of the target, could also be cited as a rationale for what we did in Japan. The distinction, however, between strategic bombing and attrition seems to an outside observer to be purely verbal.

On July 3, 2006 - 12:32pm Stirling Newberry said:

That wasn't the opinion of the people ordering the firebombing of Japan. They knew full well the consequences to the Japanese people. This is also why "virgin targets" were kept for the atomic bomb.

The realization, particulary after Iwo Jima, was that in World War II the United States was going to have to do more than defeat Japan, it was going to have to break Japanese will on a basic level. The fear at that time was that an invasion would cause horrendous casualties, with the Japanese military and their civilians defending every inch of the way.

The Japanese cult of race and place formed a matrix which created a fanatical loyalty to the empire. It is a similar matrix to the god cults of Assyria, and for the same purpose - to keep absolute political control over the homeland.

Again: war of attrition against civilian populations in the 20th century is a documented fact. The United States participated in this, though to a far lesser extent than the worst nations. In many cases the worst abuses of civilian attrition were not by invading nations, but by governments who had uncertain tenure over an area. The Stalinist famines used against Ukraine are a case in point.

It is important to face war, particularly war in the modern period, as it is, and for what it is. It is also important to recognize when there has been either "mission creep" - that is the expansion of goals beyond those originally approved of or assigned based on the belief that once an army is in the field it is easier to expand its objectives than to send another - and, as is the case in Iraq, political degradation, where the conflict not only assumes a logic of its own, but creates an internal political imperative which strips away the ability to correctly assess means and ends.

Iraq is not new in this respect. There are some who assert that the evidence is that LBJ stayed in Vietnam in order to gain the support of the US military and those who were part of the military culture. Regardless of whether this is so, the Cold War became a cultural imperative which stripped away the ability to make judgements about the allocation of US forces globally, and caused Nixon in particular to allow the Middle East to spiral out of control precisely at that moment where it became strategically important to the United States and the West at a higher level of urgency than before.

Only by recognizing the costs, cultural imperatives, and patterns of war, can the public make informed decisions about where, when, and under whom, a war should be fought, and if it should be fought at all. The Assyrian Empire was ripped between the need to maintain the East-West trade route, the desire for North-South dominance of the old Hatti-Egyptian axis, and the energy and legitimacy need to control the North-West/South-East axis of the river valley itself. These imperatives overloaded a culturally unsophisticated locality cult, and collapsed into civil war.

The United States is duplicating this overloading of our basic cultural matrix, and is allowing its political culture to degenerate under pressures to turn the United States into a homeland-centric militarist state. This is a state, as the next section will make clear, which is incapable of running the economic and trading engine that supports the military, and is, therefore, in contradiction.

Stirling Newberry

On July 3, 2006 - 12:46pm jhc said:

This is very interesting. I wasn't aware of the "virgin targets" in Japan.

I think it supports your argument to recall the strategic bombing survey that was carried out in Germany after WWII. If I remember correctly, it was concluded that bombing did not weaken the will of the German people to fight, but actually increased their resolve to fight. And if it was not the purpose of the bombing to break the will of the people, then why did the survey ask the question in the first place? In other words, there must have been a consciousness that the bombing was not merely intended to destroy material resources. The survey implies that there was a premeditated intention to inflict damage on people. Does that make sense?

On June 29, 2006 - 1:37pm jhc said:

Your singling out of the military need for petroleum is very significant. Even if our domestic economy becomes energy-independent, our military will not be. I am not an engineer, but the idea of an energy-efficient, hybrid, tank, for example, seems out of reach.

On June 29, 2006 - 3:05pm phelicity said:

Does anyone know what winning the war in Iraq will look like? I remember when we won WWII, I know what that looks like. We didn't win in Korea, however, we, with south Korea signed a cease fire agreement with north Korea - if I remember correctly. Who would we sign a cease fire agreement with in Iraq since we're not at war with Iraq. Is Iraq really a police action? Why doesn't, or can't, the military or even the "idiot civilian appointees in the Pentagon" tell us what winning the war in Iraq will be. I suspect it's because they have no idea.

On June 30, 2006 - 6:15pm mjshep said:

The war with Iraq is already over. What we have now is an occupation. Occupations can not be won, they can only be ended. Whether this one will end reasonably or ignomiously is the remaining question. Even a reasonable end, leaving behind a stable, civil state which more or less politely asks us too get out, will not make us look good and at this point even that seems a remote possibility to boot.

On June 29, 2006 - 6:03pm KingElvis said:


you're finding that the longer your post, the less likely people are to read it, but they're no less likely to respond to it!

Samuel Johnson (?) I think said that a corrupt culture corrupts language. I wonder if the internal contradictions you compare in Assyria aren't mirrored in the corruption of our own syntax/grammar - logic itself.

Even supporters of Bush - actually Wolfowitz himself - have said the stated reason of defending the US from Iraq were not the 'real' reasons or "didn't matter" compared to the noble goal of scaring other nations in the mideast...or...

democracy/power/oil/influence/'fight them there, not here/this/that/something else/whatever/instigating another "domino theory,"

These neo/con "Straussians" get to become men of derring do - action heroes. All these people really had was thought and speech - 'logos', and they didn't just ignore logos, the seemed to openly repudiate logos altogether. All to give themselves that macho feeling they had with their first Lone Ranger capgun and holster set.

Can it be any wonder that what was once news is now just another US army "Psy-op." Speech "weaponized" is deceit, and deceit only. Truth indeed is the first casualty of war.

Even people on TPM will say "The reasons we went in were wrong, but now that we're there, we have to...('finish the job'/establish security/establish democracy).

What? It's just another way to say that logic, reason, speech, rationales are completely inconsequential. Logos is the cornerstone, but we have reduced it to a Potemkin village - or a Hollywood set.

Bush himself takes pride in his inarticulateness ("In Texas, we don't 'do' nuance.")

We love to say our enemies "corrupted" Islam. Really? If it were corrupted, why is it so powerful? We've corrupted our civic religion of democracy and much more importantly, we've corrupted "Logos." What does The West really have to offer without the concept of objective truth?

One last thought: I was in Dubois Wyoming in September and somebody at a gas station had hung up a local letter to the editor about the boys in the Army. It was full of affected folksy-isms.

"He's traded in his pickup for a Hummvee, he's exchanged his cowboy boots for combat boots (and get this - my caps) HE'S STILL DEFENDING THE HOMESTEAD, ONLY THE HOMESTEAD'S MOVED A FEW THOUSAND MILES EAST."

This wasn't supposed to be ironic or funny at all.

Iraq is our homestead?

On June 29, 2006 - 9:48pm JPF311 said:

Re: The United States is in the grip of a localized version of Christianity

Given the fact that USA has a veritable Tower of Babel of Christian churches, and that a plurality of our citizens are in fact members of one of the most ancient such bodies one which is profoundly cosmopolitan and international in scope (the RCC of course) I wonder how you can justify the above statement.

On June 30, 2006 - 12:24pm Stirling Newberry said:

Since you can't read, I can't explain it to you.

Stirling Newberry

On June 30, 2006 - 3:25pm BevD said:

What a pompous, abrasive ass you are. The problem isn't your readers' comprehension, the problem is your inability to write a straightforward, concise sentence without literary pretension and conceit. (By the way, your preening "dark ages of Assyria" argument has been made before - in fact there were two dark ages of Assyrian rule that historians have pointed out using that exact phrase.)

You make a claim and offer arguments supporting your claim. Your readers may agree or disagree, and offer their arguments in refutation or in agreement with your claim. Not everyone who disagrees with you is "ignorant of the facts" or "can't read". Those kinds of remarks are childish and meanspirited, not to mention contrary to the site's mission which is to solicit comments from readers. If you're unable to bear criticism, don't offer your essays on a public forum.

On June 30, 2006 - 7:28pm JPF311 said:

Thank you for doing my dirty work in regards to the author's rude reply.

Now on the subject of Christianity and America let me disagree with him more thoroughly: even if we grant that American style Christianity (I assume he means Evangelical Protestantism) is in some sense the "official" religion of the United States, and ignore the very stiff competition it has from mainline Protestantism, the Roman Catholic Church and various smaller bodies like the LDS, still there is nothing nationalist or particularist or limiting about it as religion. If Roman Catholism did not limit the reach of the Spanish, French and Portuguese empires, if Anglicanism (a avowedly national Church) did not limit the British Empire, if Calvinism did not limit the Dutch or Orthodoxy the Russian, I fail to see why America's native Christianity limits American hegemonic efforts. And it's not as if we are like the Spanish, demanding conversion from the conquered. We aren't even very much like the British or the Russians, bankrolling by government policy well-intentioned if a bit clueless missionaries out to persuade the natives. Of course our churches do send out missionaries and some of them have been quite cluless or even obvoxious, though others have done well by the standards of their faith, and indeed some of them are even quite liberal (recall those American nuns murdered by death squads in Central America). This is all a far, far cry from a purely nationalist religion like that of the Assyrians, the Baylonians or even the Persians. Christianity does occasionally get tangled up with nationalism of course and the result is rather foul and nasty, but at he end of the day salvation and faith, for Christians, are still set before all peoples and nations, and the Gospel is still preached in all tongues.

On July 1, 2006 - 1:08pm SqueakyRat said:

The increase, in both quantity and virulence, of nationalist and xenophobic rhetoric in American protestantism in my lifetime seems patent. It is indeed "foul and nasty," but where your confidence about the "end of the day" comes from I have no idea. And I think Stirling's emphasis on the growing power of this ideology in the US military is completely sound. We are talking about a military establishment that cannnot recognize a Gen. Boykin as a demented whack-job who should be nowhere near any position of authority.

On July 1, 2006 - 1:36pm JPF311 said:

Re: It is indeed "foul and nasty," but where your confidence about the "end of the day" comes from I have no idea.

Because I know religious people, including conservative ones, and they are constrained by the universalist message of Christianity. Are they capable of barbarity in the name of God? Probably-- but so was the medieval Catholic Church and that was an avowedly international institution with universal pretensions.
But in fact, look around you: the reaction has already begun. You have religious people turning against the war (even if they are not denmonstrating in the steets-- yet) and religious leaders starting to focus on matters like global warming and America's failures toward the poor. Sure, the Dobsons and Robertsosn will cling to the sinking ship that is the Bush administration but only a rump gang of loyalists will cling with them singing, of course, Nearer My God To Thee as they are finally swamped. Most Christians, including stalwart conservatives, are already moving on, wondering how to rebuild from the wreckage in time for the 2008 elections. Which, by the way, are looking like a cold shower for the old Religious Right since none of the likely GOP nominees, not McCain, not Giuliani, not Mormon Romney, will be singing from the Falwell hymn-book.

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