Thursday, March 27, 2003


I don't know if you remember when the big insult was to call someone 'retarded.'

As in "Hello? Are you retarded?"

It's not very nice. But of course insults never are. I can't recall using it much when it was appropriate (e.g., between the ages of 6 and 9) but I occasionally find myself saying it now.

I tend to be a bit behind the curve.

So now...I keep hearing over and over things like "Um. The Iraqis are fighting back!" With this note of incredulity...disbelief. Amazement. How could this happen? How could we have anticipated such an unprecedented string of events? A war--where people actually fight back. Who would have imagined it? I mean, who fights back when you invade? It's just like...I don't get it. I really don't.

OK, I guess the idea actually was something like: "This army will go and shoot at you. Planes will drop bombs on you. I will come at you with a giant weapon firing a deadly round of ammunition. I will come clothed in armor with many lethal objects pointing at you. And you will sit down and wait for me and not do much. You will say 'I give up!' 'Don't shoot!' Oh, and this is actually your home, your neighborhood and stuff I will be blowing to pieces (or threatening to blow to pieces). Oh no, it's more than that! You will in fact be really, really glad to see me! You will jump for joy!

Why do you do this? Well, I told you that when I came with my massive firepower I really had this secret plan (which you don't know much about) but it involves making things a whole lot better for you. "Things suck for you now, don't they?" I said. "I know how to make them a whole lot better. I have nothing against you personally. I like you. No, I love you completely. In fact, I'm doing this all for you. Pow! Pow! Duck! I'm shooting but I'm not trying to hit you. Now...back to my secret plan to improve your life dramatically which I'll tell you about when this is all over...Once you put down that weapon and surrender."

In a certain way I guess that makes sense. Would I do that? Yes, probably. Knowing me, I would say "Stop! I give up!" But I wouldn't bet that anyone or everyone would do that. I mean, hello? How retarded.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

My dad majored in History. One person he taught us to love as children was Hannibal. I think his admiration for Hannibal was partly due to the fact that Hannibal was black, partly due to the fact that Hannibal stood up to and beat the snotty Romans and partly due to the fact that Hannibal did this cool thing of taking elephants over the Alps.

My dad also taught us that Jesus was black. He claims not to remember this. His argument was: “Israel is in Africa. People in Africa are black. Even though there are no pictures of Jesus, he still had to be black.”

We are Catholic so when I repeated this in Catholic school a few people took the trouble to refute my view and a few people seemed more than a bit bothered by this idea. I am amused by the memory of one girl telling me that she had lived in Saudi Arabia and in Saudi there are desert dwellers with blue eyes and blonde hair. (The Circassians I realized later from watching Lawrence of Arabia for the 30th time.) I guess that shows there is a .0001 percent possibility Jesus had blue eyes if you care about that kind of thing?

In my innocence, I assumed the vehemence of those denying the possibility of a Black Jesus stemmed not from the very idea of a black savior but from some other source.

In my mind, Jesus is still black. I don’t really have a specific picture of Jesus in my head—when I think about it though, Jesus looks like a black guy.

As a child I imagined a kind of light-skinned (well, fairly swarthy but not black) baby Jesus who turned into a black grown up Jesus. Black babies are often light skinned at first. So it isn’t completely impossible.

Now that I think about it, I wonder if someone will dispute my father’s claim that Hannibal was black also? Or does that not bother people the same way?

At the age of nine, Hannibal swore a vow to his father that his only goal in life was to hate the Romans, to punish them and to be victorious upon them.

The story of the Punic Wars is not as good as the way Thucydides tells the story of the Pellopenesian wars.

But it's hard to forget Hannibal.

Hannibal makes more sense to me than the Spartans. We can break him down into an anti-colonialist warrior. The Tupac Amaru of Carthage. It makes sense that he should spend his life hating and fighting the Romans—revenge, payback, a valiant struggle for justice and freedom against oppression. Who knows what Alexander the Great’s problem was or why the Spartans were the way they were? We might have difficulty imagining being Hannibal but it’s easier to project our idea of a good reason to fight onto him. He wanted the Romans on their knees. From what we know about the Romans, can’t we just imagine they deserved it?

Hannibal swore his oath in 238 B.C. Rome conquered Carthage in 241 B.C. Again, it was technology that made the big difference. The Romans built ships based on a beached Punic vessel they found designed to beat the faster galley ships of Carthage. They stole the technology from Carthage and used it against them.

The story of Hamilcar--father of Hannibal is also remarkable—a warrior, popular leader and foe of the Carthaginian oligarchy. When he was killed by an assassin and Hannibal’s elder brother was killed Hannibal took command of the army at the age of 26.

Hannibal spent the next 17 years fighting the Romans. He's blamed even now for the fact that Southern Italy is poorer (he destroyed it). He took elephants and an army of over 11,000 over the Alps, eventually making it to the gates of Rome. He could not take Rome--he didn't even try that hard.

His engagement with the Romans was often very bloody and horrible. The battle at Cannae killed 50,000-70,000--he was close to triumph over the Romans and perhaps could have taken the city but chose not to. He turned back and the Romans pursued. In Zama, 75 miles Southwest at Carthage Scipio Africanus began to defeat Hannibal. By 202 B.C. Hannibal was on the run. In 183 B.C. near Istanbul Hannibal took poison to avoid capture. In 146 B.C. the last Punic war destroyed Carthage. It was burned to the ground and the smoldering ashes sown with salt.

Polybius quotes the adopted grandson of Scipio as he weeps over Carthage: "All cities...must, like men, meet their doom."
Snippets of historical weirdness
Can't seem to follow history in chronological order...

It is hard to conceive of people desiring war, admiring war, building their whole lives around war. But the Spartans did this—the whole society was devoted to creating invincibility in war. The Spartans led...well, a Spartan life Their food was terrible and such small portions! A visitor said, after eating the horrible black broth they drank for soup, "now I know why the Spartans do not fear death."

They avoided becoming too hooked on pleasure except when it came to sex. What they were Spartan about was not the act of sex but about the love and all the pleasures of family life. You didn't spend the night with your wife but went back to the barracks after making love. You didn't eat dinner with her but with your fellow soldiers in the barracks. Celibacy was not an option. If you were a bachelor, hoards of women might attack you and beat you up. If you were unmarried you might be thrown into a dark room with a bunch of young men and women and grab any nearby female as your mate. Plutarch said that Spartan men might have a child by a woman "before they ever saw their faces by daylight."

Euripedes was shocked by the tarty Spartan women "They're always out in the street in scanty outfits, making a great display of naked limbs. In those, they race and wrestle with the boys." He thought the Spartans were evil.

Oh, there's too much to say about the Spartans. Eventually, I'll probably move on from Time-Life books to Herodotus and Thucydides. I can't now remember why I liked reading the Peloponnesian War

I don't know why the Spartans organized their society this way but I can imagine why any Spartan man would fight--that was his life, his only option. They virtually starved the Spartan boys when young to get them used to the idea of fighting on empty stomachs. They were known to steal food from hunger. Maybe they fought for the glory of Sparta but maybe fighting was just what Spartans did?

What is the point of domestic security when there isn't anything else in your society that is good--when your whole society is designed to make war? They turned conquered people into fighting slaves and then of course had the problem of worrying whether those slaves would rebel. Non-slaves had to be worried about threats from the inside of society and from the outside.

Monday, March 24, 2003

Sister Matthias Would Be So Proud...

When I was young and my heart got broken, I turned to poetry, literature, Shakespeare's sonnets (I highly recommend 'my ex-girlfriend is a bitch!' ones to anyone--male or female--desiring to escape the clutches of a conniving former love.)...

When I wasn't finishing my thesis, I became addicted to daytime soap operas.

When I was failing out of grad school first I turned to renting BBC dramas from the library (I became obsessed with I, Claudius), then to women's magazines then to novels and short stories.

Now history is my new comfort. Bad, popular history. Not some kinda super-intellectual stuff--but Time-Life Books-type history. I don't want to bother with complex analysis. I want maps, I want illustrations, I want travel photos of the charming ethnically-dressed peasants that now populate the places of history.

Maybe it is no comfort to read the popularized story of Alexander the Great but somehow it gives me perspective. Not a good or useful perspective to understand current events but some imagined world to occupy from which to see this one. And it is fully imagined since I do not even begin to comprehend Alexander or his era or the things people thought were good ideas back then. This is alright since I do not begin to understand current events either. And yet I can't give up the idea that these things will be intelligible from some point of view--even if it is not one I can have at the moment.

(I was often curious about war as a child and had a peculiar desire and assumption that I would someday fight in a war. They say that giving your children guns or letting them watch TV is very bad for them. I got all my sick-o ideas from books. I don't know where this idea comes from that books will not warp the mind. I got this way due to constant, voracious reading.)

He wept when there were no more worlds to conquer. He went all the way to India but his army finally got fed up and wanted to go home. He gave in (after raging for three days) saying that no army in the world could conquer him but his own (meaning they 'won him over.')

You have to wonder: What the hell was his deal? Was war fun for him? Did he
simply like naming cities after himself?
Have a complex and need to upstage his father?
Suffer from some Oedipal thing with his mother?

Or maybe he had some sort of need to show those snobby Greeks that Macedonians were not the hicks they thought?

Maybe battle distracted him from Hephaistion's death...or maybe he simply had some kind of personal death wish as well?

He maybe just read the Iliad one too many times. A very bad book to promote a peace-loving attitude. Keep it from your children.

Oh, of course I know we can't occupy the same perspective as Alexander. I'm not sure we can comprehend his world view at all. The glory of battle and so on. Battles then generally involved many fewer casualties than modern warfare. Soldiers fought for booty, glory...not patriotism and freedom. Prior to the rise of the modern state many soldiers were paid. The stradioti and other paid mercenaries fought by strict rules. As soldiering was a job rather than a patriotic duty it made little sense to engage in battle unless you could be reasonably sure you'd come back home alive.

Now it's on to Napoleon...

And there's still the Ottoman Empire, Prussia and its contribution to WWII, Attila the Hun, Kublai, Genghis, the Aztecs...Yeah, I've got plenty to read. Hope Time-Life has books on all these things. And hope someone is selling them at a yardsale near me soon.

Let's see took about 10 years from the end WWII for Germany to become a fully democratic country. Gee, in 10 years I'll have read so many books.

Oh, I forgot that there is no chance in hell that the U.S. will bother rebuilding Iraq into a democracy if it takes longer than 2 years (and that is pushing it.)

Well, there will be more to prompt escapist reading in the next 10 years. I'd say I'll be so smart by then but of course I'll probably forget it all. I have a mind like a sieve.

The twisted glory of war


another poem

The glory of war euphemisms

Posters from the German Propaganda Archives

Sunday, March 23, 2003

Someone else said what I have to say about having nothing to say

Maybe this person didn't say it exactly as I would but it is close enough.

Above link from darklemon

We've had beautiful skies at dusk. One night it was cobalt twilight. The inside of an aquarium. Tonight a slate grey cloud cover like in Goya's "View of Toledo."

I've pretty much given up on the idea of thinking or writing about anything else for now. Maybe I'll be entertaining or worth reading when 'this' is over--or maybe things will be like 'this' for such a long time it's hardly worth mentioning what comes later? I guess one thing is different than the person in the above link and that is that I think I have much to say. But not the energy or inclination to say it, at least not now.

And it is surely no amusing distraction. Sorry.