|writings of Peter Tammer|
Lessons of History?
Just what exactly is "history"?
History is a subject that used to be taught in schools when I was young, and which has now been replaced by many new subjects which are considered to be more practical, more useful in the modern world. When I was a young high school teacher in the 1960’s it was a subject that most of my students described as "Yuk!" The same word they reserved for the study of "poetry" which was even more despised!
It was common for teachers in those days to justify the teaching of history on the grounds that "You need to know what happened in the past so you can avoid making the same errors in the present, or in the future." This excuse carried little weight with my students as they seemed quite happy to start making their own mistakes right off, without worrying too much about any that had been experienced before they were born.
Another phrase we’ve all heard, over and over, throughout our lives... "re-inventing the wheel". It was assumed that the world-changing invention of the wheel, a wonderful event in the evolution of human intelligence and capacity for work, (which was not in use everywhere in ancient times), that once the wheel had been invented, that was it! You shouldn’t have go back to a time before the invention of the wheel and start all over again. You just move on from that invention, try something new. That’s progress!
This admonition assumes that once the wheel has been invented the idea will ‘take’, remain in use, not be forgotten. Otherwise you would have to wait until another person somewhere else, or in another era, goes through the whole exercise once again and re-invents the wheel.
There is another interpretation and use of the word "history". You often hear people use the phrase, "Well, that’s history! " What they usually mean when they use this phrase is: "OK! That’s over and done with, it happened in the past. There’s nothing we can do about it. Let’s move on." I really love this one. It stands for a commonly held view of the "uselessness" of history. You can’t undo the past, so let’s just get on with it. As you can’t undo events, and as you must go forward regardless of what happened, there is just no point to dwelling upon, or living in the past.
Another common use of history in every person’s life is the collection and storage of personal memorabilia, photographs, letters, artefacts such as jewellery, sometimes even utensils, which have a special quality for us, reminding us of loved ones, or merely reminding us of times before the present which we hold dear, moments or people who are precious to us. ("Re-minding" is a good one, eh?) In a disaster such as the Black Saturday bushfires on 7th February 2009 in Victoria, Australia, many victims of the fire lamented the loss of memorabilia more than the loss of the family home, because insurance can replace the house, but the memories attached to the lost photographs, objects, or documents, cannot be restored. This sentiment was also clearly re-stated just the other day by an American survivor of fires in California who had lost his house. He was fully insured, but he had lost everything "which had a special meaning for him". This happens everywhere in the world where calamities such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis and fires obliterate people’s homes.
In this case people are attached to ‘history’ which is a subject they mostly disliked when they were at school, because it is their personal history, and has special significance, for them, and possibly for no one else. In such an instance, they do not think of it in quite the same way as we think of ‘history’ as a category of knowledge, or thought, as we do consider maths, music, or science as a special category.
In this essay I intend to deal with the huge subject area we call ‘history’, although I will not be concerned with that vast period which is often called ‘pre-history’, the period before written history. The scope of this essay will mainly be confined to events from about 5000 years ago, until today. Why am I making this distinction? The reason is simple, I want to concentrate on the period of recorded history, history recorded in the form of writing, or records of the spoken word (including radio and TV), rather than the much older, broader history of architecture, artefacts, cave paintings, ruins, weapons, and other archaeological evidence.
Another reason for avoiding pre-history is because I’m trying to focus on issues relating to conflicting ideas, opposing world views, belief systems. Of course we can hypothesize about these when confronted by a set of symbols painted on a cave wall, or ruins which indicate defence works, rather than no defence works, but those forms of historical record are much more open to interpretation and imagination, whereas the written record is more specific, although still problematic, still open to interpretation, and arguable. Inside some European caves where paintings adorn the walls and ceilings, there are some strange symbols which palaeontologoists call ‘tectiforms’.
There are a number of possible explanations for these symbols, but none as yet are certain. And at Dholavera, near the western chamber of the northern gate of the citadel, the as yet un-deciphered symbols which may or may not form a word.
What most people think of as ‘history’ is what has been written, translated and preserved. Although it does include the archaeological record, archaeology is somehow considered as an adjunct to what people generally mean when they use the word ‘history’; an account of the facts and events and activities, which happened in different places and different times, and which have led to the situation in the world as we know it today. This is where we find the problem of the general understanding of the word ‘history’:- the position which any "people" (ethnic group, race) takes today not only has been formed by how they think they got to where they are, but it also informs their interpretations of those texts describing the sequence of events which led them to the position they currently find themselves in. The following is an attempt to demonstrate the difficulty of this closed loop.
Once upon a time, the date is uncertain, let’s say four thousand years ago, Abraham arrives from Iraq (the city of Ur, country of the Chaldeans, once called Sumer) settling in the land we know today which includes Israel and Palestine. One part of this land was called Canaan. How did Abraham deal with the people who occupied that land before he arrived? Genesis Chapter 14 describes the many skirmishes that Abram, (that's what he was called at first), undertook to defeat Ched-or-lao'mer and the kings who sided with him, and then Melchizedek and the King of Sodom wanted to reward Abram, but he would not accept any reward for his part in the fray. The original writer of Genesis 15: 18-21 states these fateful/tragic words, which will haunt Western civilisation for the next 3000 yrs:-
"On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, 'To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Ken'ites, the Ken'izzites, the Kad'monites, the Hittites, the Per'izzites, the Reph'aim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Gir'gashites and the Jeb'usites'. "
The great thing about this so-called ‘historical’ record is that it fails to record what any of the other peoples thought of the Lord handing over the titles of their lands to his servant Abram, who later came to be called Abraham, and who was much given to using his wife as a lure to the Pharaohs and other kings he occasionally visited. In the first case, Abram, (Genesis 12: 10-20) urges Sar'ai to go with the Pharaoh, and by pretending she is his sister, brings about a scourge which is a precursor of the plagues in Moses; in the second episode, (Genesis 20: 1-18) , after his name has changed from Abram to Abraham, and Sar'ai’s name has changed to Sarah (Genesis.17: 5-8) Abraham tricks Abimelech in the exactly the same manner as he had previously tricked the Pharoah. Abimelech, quite understandably outraged by this behaviour, takes Abraham and his God to task, asking why they had treated him so poorly when he had done Abraham no harm at all. The answer poor Abimelech receives could hardly have satisfied him as he and his people were also cursed on this occasion. Never let it be said that the God of the Hebrews was loathe to send plagues upon the enemies of his ‘chosen’ people.
This ‘repetition’ of similar events forces one ask the question: why are these events, which bear such a close resemblance to Moses and the plagues sent upon Egypt, repeated in the account of the life of Abram/Abraham?
Now we must follow the lives of some of Abraham’s descendants (skip a few generations and miracles like Sar'ai, a woman of 95 years of age, bearing her first child, and her son Isaac being saved from sacrificial slaughter at the hand of his father, Abraham), until we arrive at Jacob and his twelve sons, whose descendants later come to be called the twelve tribes of Israel. One of the youngest of Jacob's sons is Joseph, who later became famous for his sartorial splendour.
You all know the story of Joseph and his coat of many colours, his technicolour coat! I shouldn't have to go over it again, you've probably seen the musical.
Well this Joseph was a right royal little prick wasn't he? Not only does he start off as the youngest brother, favoured in his old dad's eye, "the light of my eye"... but a real little know-it-all spoilt brat. Not only that, he also tended to tell everyone, including his brothers, what to think and how to behave even though they were all older than him and more worldly wise. And like lots of Biblical characters he seemed at an early age to have the hotline to God, not as in hotmail, like actual direct contact:
God uses him as a conduit. Well how could this fail to get up the noses of all his older brothers?
But he doesn't just start off like this right-royal little know-it-all precious ponce that he is, he keeps behaving like this right throughout the whole story, his goody-goody-two-shoes stuff with Potiphar's wife, the sheer bloody-mindedness he displays with his co-prisoners whose dreams he interprets, one of which dreams predicts a fatal outcome. Then he proceeds to enrich the Pharoah, after being made the grand vizier, using the dream and the God-given interpretation of the dream as the mechanism for buying up all the land from all the Egyptian people under the pretext of helping them through the famine years, and who does it all go to... he gets all the dough from all the produce of the land so that all the people can be slaves to the Pharoah, and I suppose you're gonna tell me that I just made that up, well, no! It’s in "The Book", Genesis 47, verses 20 -26. And if it's in "The Book" you gotta believe it, haven't you?
Along the way he pays his brothers back in a way that would have made Sulla sick with envy. He really sticks it to them, puts them through hell for what they have done to him, and then, as in any good Hollywood story he reveals himself as a wonderfully good guy that wouldn't harm a fly in the end, their own true long-lost brother who loves them all most dearly.
Well this is not the standard way the story is told, and I have to admit it is a pretty good yarn the way it is told, considering it was written about the time the Iliad and the Odyssey were being written. Nearly 3000 yrs ago ! Like most legendary stories it has its sticking points where you find it incredibly difficult to suspend disbelief. One example: can you believe a wily old patriarch like Jacob would be so easily tricked into believing that his son was killed by a wild beast, that he would accept the animal blood as a good stand-in for human blood, that he would not see the lying in his sons' eyes as they told him this screaming porky? Then later you gotta believe that the brothers don't recognise Joseph as their brother because he is wearing Egyptian garb, and speaks in the Egyptian language, and that they don't recognise his voice, as if voices change that much. etc. But what stories don't have such points where they fall to pieces at some moment or other?
And another thing, it may be a ‘coat of many colours’ in one version of the Bible, and in the musical, but in the Revised Standard Version it is merely a long-sleeved coat that marks his "distinction" from his brothers in the very beginning. We could also call this distinction "favoritism" or "elite-ism", being "put upon a pedestal", being "set apart".
And what is this distinction really? As with many of the Bible's leading men, it is that they have some magical ability or abilities, e.g., Moses, most notably. But Joseph is welcomed by the Pharaoh into his stewardship above everyone else in the land, by virtue of being able to decipher the Pharaoh’s troubling dream so aptly, when all the Pharaoh's "magi", "wise men", "sages", or "priests" (all the regular minders of superstition) could not. In other words, to the Pharaoh, and the future readers of the Bible, Joseph was the superior magus, or shaman. It is possible to read the "coat of many colours" as a symbolic representation of his many attributes away from the normal. It's a uniform. Don't all Priests, Mullahs, Rabbis, witchdoctors and shamans wear some uniform to separate them from the masses?
You may well ask why have I taken so harshly to what is after all a bloody good mythic story, finely threaded with legend and fable, and hardly any history at all? I am very sure that Egypt during the period 3000 BC. – 1000 BC. suffered many droughts and failures of the flooding of the Nile. Some of these droughts and failures of the annual flood were more widespread and affected large parts of the entire Middle East. And just as the "Flood", the "Deluge" in the Bible, may refer to a catastrophic period of interglacial melt, or else, the Black Sea fault-line scenario, which then became deeply embedded into the racial memory, retained down the ages through storytelling, legend, myth or fable, so too the famine. Because the flooding of the Nile was so crucial to the fertility of the land, and the ability to produce the food that kept the nation going, I am sure that there were many repeats of bad periods, such as "the seven good years swallowed up by the seven bad years". Proof of the importance of the flooding of the Nile is indicated by the preservation of records on that wonderful flood-measuring pillar (Nilometer) in an underground cistern on Rawda Island, Cairo, with its markers of different flood levels for the Nile from 861 AD., carrying through to recent historical periods. There are even more ancient devices for measuring floods in Egypt which were used by priests to help predict flooding, and to calculate the tax applied to farmers.
And why would the Jewish scribes who wrote the story have written so favourably about their Jewish hero enslaving all the Egyptian people to the Pharaoh, so that they no longer owned their own land, but paid 1/5th as taxes? Only because it was a necessary step in the bigger picture, the story that was coming later, of that other great shaman, Moses, and his Exodus from the land of Egypt.
The main reason for my interpretation of this particular story from the written record of Genesis, is that it tells a story which was probably repeated endlessly throughout pre-history, where the shamans served the titular head of the people against the interests of the people. Not only was the priestly caste super-important to the Greeks and Romans, ( I mean, really, would you go to war without reading the entrails?) but also in all more recent cultures where religion has been a force since 1000 AD we have seen the same thing, over and over, churchmen and mullahs aligned to emperors and kings. And we have also seen this in other ancient Empires from Asia to the Americas.
The style of the writing is clearly a fusion of fable, myth and legend. Lack of realism. A special example: when Joseph is thrown into jail after the incident with Potiphar's wife, no description is given of the conditions in the jail, but there is a brief account of the jail keeper putting Joseph in charge over the other inmates, which is a precursor to the Pharaoh putting him in charge over the larger jail of Egypt. There are many similar examples which all indicate that the primary purpose in writing the story is towards the numinous and the sacred, and not really towards the ordinary or everyday. The use of ordinary everyday events, local colour, and other embellishments are there for only one reason, to support the over-arching through-line that the prophets are special people selected by God to lead his chosen people, to guide them to serve his will, which requires a lot of meandering through space and time to be revealed and fulfilled. The story is primarily about reinforcing cultural identity.
Well, as you can see, part of the story of Joe and his coat is just a fore-runner for the next big story, the Exodus... otherwise called the "Flight from Egypt". Because the scribes who wrote the Holy Bible required a motivation for the story of the Exodus, they used the story of Joseph as a precursor... Joseph leads them to Egypt in a time where famine causes regional hardship, and then the people apparently get stuck there for a few hundred years, during which time their special status falls down to one of slavery, ‘downward mobility’ we would call it... and their condition is so parlous that they are desperate to get out of there, and Moses is ‘The Man’! Moses is the great hero of the biggest Blockbuster of all time. Bigger than Ben Hur, Bigger than D-Day. Even bigger than Mission Impossible and Die Hard 1,2 or 3.
So now we arrive at the part in the bible where Charlton Heston gets to play Moses, Edward G. Robinson gets to play Dathan, and Cecil B.de Millions gets to play God, a cast of thousands pretend to be Hebrews and Egyptians, special FX part the Red Sea, Moses and his unruly flock get to wander around the desert for 40 years, (can it be their leader was suffering advanced Alzheimers?). Moses ends up only seeing "the promised land" from afar, and Joshua gets to lead these desert-hardened wanderers into a land flowing with milk and honey (even though it doesn't look like that anymore) and launches a rather vigorous episode of ethnic cleansing or genocide upon the unsuspecting people who inhabited the land after Joshua's forebears had vacated it some hundreds of years previously.
Let's now examine just a few elements in the life of Moses.
First, he may have been brought up in an Egyptian palace after having been saved from the water, in his crib, by the Pharaoh's daughter, (and also this is probably mythic rather than historic) but as a young adult he left the Egyptian kingdom and went into the desert and became a Bedouin of sorts. He married and became settled in the desert community, had a number of wives and children, like all good patriarchs do as they're casting their seed to the wind, or sowing their wild oats. At quite an advanced age (and of course we only have the testimony of the Bible to go on), eighty years of age, when most old chappies just want to enjoy a siesta in the middle of the day, and a few, no several, lovely women to look after them, lots of small grandchildren running around, and sitting on their knees, Moses was called back into the service of God, by God, directly. Mission Impossible, and he's no spring chicken remember, "Go back to Egypt and tell old Pharaoh to let my people go!"
Rather reluctantly, considering his advanced age, he tears himself away from his adopted Bedouin family and goes off to do the Lord's will. In Egypt he has his celebrated stoush with the Pharaoh Rameses 2 (if the historical and archaeological record matches the Biblical history) and in a slanging match with the Pharaoh's priestly caste he sends ten plagues upon the poor bloody Egyptian people (who are really not his enemies). This is actually a magic contest between rival shaman camps. If the high priest and his mates do something "magical" it's just a cheap trick, but if Moses throws his staff onto the ground and it turns into a snake that devours the priest's snake/staff, that's a miracle and not magic at all. And definitely not just some cheap trick, because it has God behind it. Get it? if you do get this, you're a better man than I am Gunga Din.
The Egyptians are superstitious enough to believe in such cheap tricks as meaningful or significant, but the Hebrews believe their man's tricks are the real thing, because like Joseph in the earlier story, God is talking through Moses. But I can't for the life of me see it as anything but a competition between shamans, and the most successful team wins the day, Pharaoh finally relents and lets the Israelites go, then changes his mind and loses his cavalry in the Red Sea, (if that's where it took place, or was it a "reed sea"), and once again God gets to show he's on the side of his Chosen People. Now ain't that just something? But not all of them, because some of them are just as bad as the enemy. Take Edward G. Robinson for example. He's playing Dathan, a pesky Jew who obviously can see that the old guy, Moses, is losing his marbles, and wandering and wandering, and behaving most strangely, so he decides to lure the people away from Charlton Heston and Cecil B.de Millions, despite even the impressive staging of the Red Sea special effect.
Now there's a rather simple way to look at this struggle between Dathan and Moses... one is the "accredited" leader (alpha male) and the other is the "aspiring" leader. Each one knows that the other is his enemy, and that the struggle is for the hearts and minds of the people, because it seems the power associated with leading a bunch of people, even the unruly, blasphemous and scheming Jews, who have forgotten how bad it was back there in slavery in Egypt, is more desirable than sitting home at night with your feet up, a good book, a nice glass of brandy, and a cigar, just taking it easy.
So the old stag and the young stag lock horns, and it is going to be an almighty struggle. Forget the Golden Calf idol, it's just a ‘macguffin’. Dathan will use any means in his power to wrest authority from Moses, and Moses will pull any trick to keep his grip on the people. Including the Ten Commandments. Now these Ten Commandments are a pretty good steal from Sumerian antiquity, yep, that's right folks, about 1800 years before the Moses story, an old chap in Mesopotamia, a Sumerian law-giver named Hammurabi, set out the first written version of this behavioural code. Well, let’s call it the earliest known recorded version of the code! And you would recall that Abraham, the father of the chosen people, also hailed from these parts, the city of Ur. The similarities between Hammurabi's code and Moses' code are striking. I'm not trying to suggest that Moses himself plagiarised the code of Hammurabi, but the scribes writing down the Exodus story many year later had a very good chance to pinch a bit from here and there, and probably did, just to give the story a splash of local colour, and a few more dramatic twists and turns. And anyhow, who had ever heard of Hammurabi? It was a safe steal.
And why the two trips up the mountain for the stone tablets recording the Ten Commandments? Well, the most obvious reason is that the Bible, while pretending to be a book of history is much more a book of storytelling, and moralising through fable, and rules for its followers to live by, and it engages in quite a lot of repetition, as we have already seen in Abraham's and Joseph's story. And as well as clear repeats there are also echoes, where the repetition is just slightly disguised. One of the reasons for this is to allow an opportunity to drum the message into the people. If you tell them The ten Commandments story once only, they might forget them. But you can also include a little bit about the Golden Calf, which of course is an important event in the distinction between one sort of god and another sort of god, the sort of distinction which allows you to use lower case for the wrong sort of god and capitals for the right sort. The Golden Calf story which is actually a very brief interlude, also adds colour and drama to the story and permits you to use a storytelling trick to reinforce the main message by repeating it.
So after getting rid of Edward G. Robinson and his mob (and perhaps there was a smidgin of gratuitous violence in this section) Moses' god takes revenge on all the other murmurers who have been plotting against Moses. This god of Moses is a particularly nasty piece of work, the Hebrews might have been better off under a Golden Calf or any other idol. This is a god who is vengeful, unforgiving and fairly irrational. Even Moses makes several special pleas for god to be a little less ferocious and a little more reasonable, trying to dissuade him from wiping out large numbers of troublesome plotters who have shown no gratitude for their release from slavery in Egypt, and who have dared to suggest they were better off, better fed, in Egypt rather than starving in the desert. And sometimes Moses is successful in bringing his god around to a more "humane" attitude, letting off some of the offenders, as long as there are also some who will have to pay the full price for their transgressions, such as Dathan and his co-conspirators.
But despite his unswerving loyalty even Moses can't win out in the end against this vengeful, ferocious, unforgiving god. For some minor transgression, such as striking a rock with his rod twice, after god had specifically instructed him to "talk" to the rock, strike it only once, and draw water for the people, Moses is refused entry to the Promised Land despite his 120 years dedicated service. It's a bit like someone working for a boss for a lifetime, and being laid off at the last moment, thereby being denied their full entitlements. Except 120 years is a good deal longer than 40 years.
Moses finally hands over the reins to Joshua, probably telling Joshua that the whole purpose of the 40 year wanderings was to whet their appetite for the new land, and to toughen up the troops so they'd be much stronger than the people they were about to steal the land from. Oops, I mean re-settle the land that was theirs, as promised by God, who seems to take only one side in all these affairs. So Joshua accepts the leadership of his people, enters the Promised Land, which should more correctly be described as "invades a land now populated by other ethnic peoples", and records one of the earliest recorded instances of genocide, the second really substantial "ethnic cleansing" recorded in the old testament, wiping out all the inhabitants of the towns of what will later become Israel, and later, Palestine, and later again, Israel.
In the Book of Joshua, Chapter One, Joshua reminds the troops of God’s promise to Moses that they will cross over the Jordan and take all the lands on which they set foot. In Chapter Two Joshua sends out his spies to get a better idea of what obstacles lie in his path. Chapter Three details the drying up of the River Jordan, which the Lord arranged so conveniently to allow Joshua and his army to make the crossing. Does this considerate act of the lord remind you of anything? It’s only in Chapter Six that the real action gets under way, where the fun starts, so to speak.
The celebrated Battle of Jericho is described in Chapter Six, and this is where an entire city is destroyed by trumpets made of Rams Horns. This may be the first case in the "history of the world" where a city is destroyed by sonic waves, manipulation of the audio environment. After all this build-up for five and a half chapters we come to Joshua 6 : 21 :-
This sentence is pretty compact and matter-of-fact, isn’t it? Let’s put it into a modern hypothetical context: an American President takes it into his head to invade a country, say Iraq, because God told him to do so. After a bit of mucking around and marshalling of the troops, establishing the most practical point of invasion, ooops I think I meant to say point of "entry", or "dis-embarkation", the armies of God move into the region, until they get to the largest, most important city of the nation, Baghdad, which they surround and destroy utterly, including all the men and women, young and old, and all the livestock within the city. And that’s all OK because that’s what God told the President to order his armies to do. And then it is described as "breaking news" in the New York Times in a pithy statement of just 25 words.
And after the famous Battle of Jericho, a series of battles, Ai, Bethel, Gibeon, Gilgal, a number of cities or towns, where countless thousands of the inhabitants of the Promised Land were slaughtered, all the men, all the women, and all the children, the Book of Joshua progresses up to Chapter 13 when the invasion is considered complete and successful, according to God’s plan. That is, according to the Bible, unless the Bible was exaggerating, and even exaggeration indicates something, doesn't it?
But most people only know of the major battle, the Battle of Jericho, which was won by magic or divine interference, depending upon how you interpret these things, where Joshua was told to circle the city of Jericho a number of times, blowing the rams horns, making a fiendish din, "and the walls came a'tumblin' down." Well that may be a good line in an African American spiritual folks, but ‘history’ it is not. Jericho may have been attacked and razed many time during the period 7000 BC – 1200 BC. Joshua’s annihilation of the people of Jericho was probably not the first such, and not the last in the real history of a region which was part of the fertile crescent, and where modern agriculture is reputed to have been invented.
The Book of Joshua is an abbreviated account of extensive "ethnic cleansing", in which large numbers of inhabitants of numerous cities were wiped out, and the cities were razed to the ground. As is the case in many accounts of such annihilations throughout history a poetic phrase is used which graphically describes the total effect:
which is the model Rome decided to copy in respect of Carthage:
Only one difficulty: how can an annihilated people learn a lesson?
After Joshua completed his genocide of the people who had inhabited the cities and owned the land, and after Joshua’s twelve tribes had taken possession of a land that their god had supposedly promised his chosen people, (conveniently their god had forgotten to inform the people from whom the land was being taken, even though they had inhabited the land for hundreds of years, since the Hebrews had abandoned it when they left for Egypt at the time of Joseph), along come the Assyrian hordes and they wage war upon the Hebrews, and once again not a stone is left upon a stone, and the Jews are all whisked away to Babylon, and the captivity, and they’re thrown into slavery again. There the Great King Nebuch-ad-Nezzar, after having built the archeologically un-discovered and as-yet-unproved "hanging gardens of Babylon", one of the great wonders of the ancient world, eventually loses his wits and is found roaming the fields like a wild beast. Here he sets a precedent for Saddam Hussein being hauled out of his hiding place looking like Nebuch-ad-Nezzar, some millennia later.
Then we come to a most unusual event, the writing on the wall. "Mene Mene Tekel Upharsim." Magical writings. A dis-embodied hand writes large upon a wall. Another great shamanistic display. I forget how it translates, but isn't it, after all, just another way of saying "Let my people go"?
Belshazzar, the reigning King of Babylon, and his advisers had a problem! They couldn't read god's handwriting, well the reason was obvious, it was in Hebrew wasn't it? So of course, god's own people could and did read it for him. Belshazzar’s reign comes to an end because Cyrus of Persia successfully invades the city, and frees the Israelites. Once again the bewildered and beleaguered followers of the one true god head off to the promised land, and start up all over, where they remain in civil uncertainty until the time of the Roman occupation, Herod, Christ, Pilate, a better-known part of ‘history’.
When the people who call themselves "Jews" are not under a serious threat from other, distant nations, it seems they revert to fighting amongst themselves. Just as the Greek city-states stopped fighting each other for a little while, until they disposed of the great Persian King Xerxes and his overwhelming numbers, and finally got back to business-as-usual fighting each other every new springtime, to keep their hand in, so to speak, to make sure their weapons did not get rusty, so too the Hebrews fell to fighting amongst themselves until about the time of Christ when Rome had just started taking an interest in Judea.
Then the Romans get really serious because these Jews are so pesky they can't stop killing, not even killing each other, (Josephus), so the Romans decide to teach them the big lesson:-
Once again, Jerusalem, not a stone upon a stone, the whole box and dice in flames, and all the people sent to every corner of the world, a mini-apocalypse. And the early Christian writers use this devastation as proof that their god, the one true god, of course, was repaying the Jews for the terrible treatment that they had given to his son, (and that this Christian spin has held good for 2000 years was demonstrated recently by the actor Mel Gibson in his drunken, free-associating rantings and railings, and implied in his film "The Passion of Christ") even though it was this self-same god who supposedly decreed that his son would be the redeemer of the world, meaning of the Jews, for the sins committed by two ancient Hebrews in a garden somewhere to the east of Eden. Yes folks, it seems we are all descendants of two Hebrews, Adam and Eve. But aren’t Adam and Eve meant to be the father and mother of all humans? Not just the descendants of Abraham?
Well, the great division of people into separate ethnicities, or races, each group hating the next group with almost equal vehemence and unbridled intolerance, seems to have been caused by the abortive attempt at building the Tower of Babel, which was intended to reach into the heavens and show the people they could get closer to god, talking with him as an equal.
The great act of "hubris", aspiring to the godhead, finally led to the social disintegration and splitting off of the people from the main genetic line into what we may now call races: separateness from each other, lack of understanding between each group because of the failure of language to hold its integrity, giving rise to dislike, distrust, and hatred, all of the important ingredients in the recipe for war and genocide. This act of hubris was so potent, so destructive, that its effect continued unabated throughout the entire length of recorded ‘history’ and shows no signs of letting up today!
War, pogroms and genocide are what follows when one group of people hold themselves as separate from and superior to another group of people, whom the first group usually consider to be inferior, physically, mentally, religiously, significantly wanting in the fashion stakes, and having some commodities which the superior people desire, as has most commonly been seen in colonial takeovers such as our own here in Terra Australis, (also known as Terra Nullius) despite its obvious possession and inhabitation by an "inferior people". Usually such inferior peoples are called ‘savages’ or ‘barbarians’. As you might expect, the people who steal their land from them and occasionally annihilate them do not consider themselves savages or barbarians.
So there are some serious problems with the notion of ‘history’, excluding the over-arching view of history which would include all palaeontology and all archaeological observations, even if we restrict ourselves to considering only what has been written down in a rather short time-frame, a mere 5000 years since the first evidence of writings, the beginning of the written record. Thousands of millions alive today still view this Biblical account of the period as the entire ‘history’ of the world. Hundreds of millions of different "races", or even "religions" who swear by it as "God given", and who claim to live by it.
So if it is supposed to be ‘HISTORY’, who wrote it?
When Plutarch wrote his famous "lives" he compared and contrasted many of the subjects in pairs: Alexander and Julius Caesar, Nikkias and Crassus, Demosthenes and Cicero. Usually he chose the pairing because of striking similarities in the lives of these men which are obvious once you have read the individual lives. Well, Plutarch doesn't seem to have thought highly of Xenophon as he left him out altogether, unless he had planned to write about him, but died before he got to it. And in my humble opinion, it would have been a fruitful pairing to compare and contrast the life of Caesar with Xenophon because they had quite a lot in common. A brief summary will show that they were both masters of that confrontation which has always engaged humanity: "US AND THEM".
Let's begin with Xenophon. He lived through the Peloponnesian War and wrote one of the histories of the last years which Thucydides didn't get to complete because he died mid-sentence while reporting the twenty-third year of a thirty-year war.
Xenophon, a highly-regarded Athenian General later went over to the side of the Spartans, as did Alcibiades before him. But Xenophon really shot to fame during the Persian Expedition where he went to fight on the side of the usurping King, Cyrus the Younger, against his brother Artaxerxes II, the Great King of Persia. King Cyrus and his army won the day at the battle of Cunaxa near Babylon, but unfortunately for the Greek mercenaries the young King died at the end of the day! With the army of the Great King in full flight, Xenophon and 10,000 Greek mercenaries who had been hired by King Cyrus were stranded deep inside Asia minor.
No wonder they were wary of strangers, which is what Xenophon's name has become synonymous with, fear of strangers. After an initial period when they tried to find their way under a group of elder leaders, Xenophon and some other leaders mutinied against the older established leaders, whom they handed over to the enemy. New leaders were elected:-
These five men shared the leadership of this crew of hired guns, promising to lead them back to home and safety, despite the many dangers along the way. Not only were they confronted with the anger and hostility of many groups of people who didn't appreciate them trespassing in their country and eating up all their produce, but they were also faced huge difficulties crossing the terrain, especially the icy mountains.
Xenophon tried to encourage some of his soldiers not to chuck in the towel, not to die in the cold of the mountains, but to get up like men and push on. When some of these men refused to get up and push on, according to his own report, he belted and kicked them until they did get up and push on, and was later thanked for saving their lives by accusations of abuse when his troops later mutinied and tried their leaders.
This occurred when they were almost back home, at Trapezus on the shore of the Black sea. Ungrateful bastards eh? So who could blame poor old Xenophon from getting the huff and going over to the Spartan side because he admired the behaviour of one Spartan general, and it was predominantly the Athenians among them who had reacted so badly to the tyranny of Xenophon and the other leaders’ joint leadership.
Gaius Julius Caesar
The following from Wiki explains some events which led to the ten years Caesar spent in Iberia (Spain) and Gaul (France).
When Cicero, who was consul that year, exposed Catilene’s conspiracy to seize control of the republic, Catulus and others accused Caesar of involvement in the plot. Caesar took part in the debate in the Senate on how to deal with the conspirators. During the debate, Caesar was passed a note. Cato accused him of corresponding with the conspirators, and demanded that the message be read aloud. Caesar passed him the note, which, embarrassingly, turned out to be a love letter from Cato's half-sister Servilia. Caesar argued persuasively against the death penalty for the conspirators, proposing life imprisonment instead, but a speech by Cato proved decisive, and the conspirators were executed. The following year a commission was set up to investigate the conspiracy, and Caesar was again accused of complicity. On Cicero's evidence that he had reported what he knew of the plot voluntarily, however, he was cleared, and one of his accusers, and also one of the commissioners, were sent to prison.
That year the festival of the Bona Dea ("good goddess") was held at Caesar's house. No men were permitted to attend, but a young patrician named Publius Clodius Pulcher managed to gain admittance disguised as a woman, apparently for the purpose of seducing Caesar's wife Pompeia. He was caught and prosecuted for sacrilege. Caesar gave no evidence against Clodius at his trial, careful not to offend one of the most powerful patrician families of Rome, and Clodius was acquitted after rampant bribery and intimidation. Nevertheless, Caesar divorced Pompeia, saying that "my wife ought not even to be under suspicion."
After his praetorship, Caesar was appointed to govern Hispania Ulterior (Outer Iberia), but he was still in considerable debt and needed to satisfy his creditors before he could leave. He turned to Marcus Liinius Crassus, one of Rome's richest men. In return for political support in his opposition to the interests of Pompey. Crassus paid some of Caesar's debts and acted as guarantor for others. Even so, to avoid becoming a private citizen and open to prosecution for his debts, Caesar left for his province before his praetorship had ended. In Hispania he conquered the Callaci and Lusitani, being hailed as imperator by his troops, reformed the law regarding debts, and completed his governorship in high esteem.
Being hailed as imperator entitled Caesar to a triumph. However, he also wanted to stand for consul, the most senior magistracy in the republic. If he were to celebrate a triumph, he would have to remain a soldier and stay outside the city until the ceremony, but to stand for election he would need to lay down his command and enter Rome as a private citizen. He could not do both in the time available. He asked the senate for permission to stand in absentia, but Cato blocked the proposal. Faced with the choice between a triumph and the consulship, Caesar chose the consulship.
Big Julie was one of the earliest to write a personal account of his own atrocities as though they were merely business-as-usual. Now of course Caesar may have dictated the "De Bello Gallico", and his scribe may have been a soldier or a slave, but we can’t avoid the question: Why did he tell this story in the third person? It seems fairly clear that he was the actual author, writing these "eye-witness" accounts of his ethnic cleansing in Gaul and Germania for a number of good reasons. One, there were no friendly journalists embedded with his troops. Two, he needed to make the Romans back home remember that he was still a force to be reckoned with, despite having run away from Rome because the going was getting too hot. Furthermore, there was no real reason for him to feel shy about putting to the sword a whole city, thousands of people, men women and children, merely because some bellicose Gauls refused to surrender to his siege. His justification was that he had to teach the other Gallic chieftains a lesson, and the United Nations wasn't set up at the time, or he may have found himself in the same position that Milosevic found himself in, even without his personalised diary.
In any case, in ancient history, whenever the victor writes about his exploits, it seems it’s quite normal to boast about the atrocities dealt to his vanquished enemies. Here is an example I discovered many years ago:-
This statement is by an Assyrian conqueror, Assurnasir-pal, who reigned about 1000 BC. It was quite common for a victorious King or General to boast so unashamedly concerning his deeds. It’s just that we squeamish ‘modern’ people find it a bit too gruesome and are surprised that there is no embarrassment, only boastful gloating in the statement.
But Caesar couldn’t wait a couple of hundred years for some scribes to write him up as they did for Joshua, and he wasn’t yet an Emperor, so he couldn’t erect congratulatory statues in honour of himself, as did Assurnasir-pal, so he just wrote despatches from his ten year war with the Gauls and Germanic tribes who didn’t want to become Roman citizens, but who were persuaded to do so in the end.
The point of all these diaries, both his and Xenophon's, were to store up creds back at home, to make the people at home value these leaders more, to miss them if they were absent, and to want to have them return and be useful to the homefolks. And also, to remind the folks at home that they were not to be taken lightly, and not to be messed with. When Julius was writing about his "ethnic cleansing" in Gaul, and how sorry he was to have to put to the sword so many thousands of men women and children who had defied him, he was not serious. His purpose was to subdue the Gauls, and by winning new territory for Rome, to make himself famous at home, to further his career.
Some more snippets from WIKI:
At Alesia :-
Caesar decided on a desperate measure and took 13 cavalry cohorts (about 6,000 men) to attack the relief army of 60,000 from the rear. This action surprised both attackers and defenders. Seeing their leader undergoing such risk, Labienus' men redoubled their efforts and the Gauls soon panicked and tried to retreat. As in other examples of ancient warfare, the disarrayed retreating army was easy prey for the disciplined Roman pursuit. The retreating Gauls were slaughtered, in his Commentaries Caesar remarks that “only the pure exhaustion of his men saved the Gauls from complete annihilation”.
Vercingetorix witnessed the defeat of his relief force. Facing both starvation and low morale, he was forced to surrender without a final fight. On the next day, the Gallic leader presented his arms to Julius Caesar, putting an end to the siege of Alesia.
Alesia proved to be the end of generalized and organized resistance to the Roman invasion of Gaul. The country was then subdued, becoming a Roman Province and was eventually subdivided into several smaller administrative divisions. The garrison of Alesia was taken prisoner as well as the survivors of the relief army. They were either sold into slavery or given as booty to Caesar's legionaries, except for the members of the Aedui and Averni tribes, which were released and pardoned to secure the alliance of these important tribes to Rome.
For Caesar, Alesia was an enormous personal success, both militarily and politically. The senate, manipulated by Cato and Pompey, declared 20 days of thanksgiving for this victory, but refused Caesar the honour of celebrating a triumphal parade, the peak of any general's career. Political tension increased, and two years later, in 50 BC, Caesar crossed the Rubicon, which precipitated the Roman civil war of 49–45 BC, which he won. After having been elected consul, for each of the years of the war, and appointed to several temporary disctatorships, he was finally made dictator perpetuus (dictator for life), by the Roman Senate in 44 BC. His ever increasing personal power and honours undermined the tradition bound republican foundations of Rome, and led to the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire.
So these comments show you something about the campaign against the Gauls, the siege of Alesia being the most decisive stage of the subjugation of the various tribes which were loosely united against the Roman forces. How do we know all of these things? Mainly from what Caesar wrote, although there will be some commentaries from other writers who record some of the events second-hand. As far as I know Caesar’s own account is the major "primary" source, the closest we can get to an eyewitness account. This was also the case in Xenophon’s account of the Persian Expedition. But Caesar’s account claims very large numbers when referring to his enemy, numbers which make his efforts seem super-human, beyond belief. If he says "13 cohorts" of his own troops, well that’s a definitive number of men, ("about 6000"), as military analysts will know how many men made up a cohort. The numbers of his enemy must be considered mere speculation, as we can see from the following:-
Plutarch claimed that Caesar’s army had fought against three million men in the course of the Gallic Wars, of whom 1 million died, and another million were enslaved. 300 tribes were subjugated and 800 cities were destroyed. Almost the entire population of the city of Avaricum (Bourges) (40,000 in all) was slaughtered.
Julius Caesar reports that 368,000 of the Helvetii left home, of whom 92,000 could bear arms, and only 110,000 returned after the campaign. However, in view of the difficulty of finding accurate counts in the first place, Caesar's propagandistic purposes, and the common gross exaggeration of numbers in ancient texts, the totals of enemy combatants in particular are likely to be far too high.
It’s reasonable to conclude that Big Julie was sending a message not only to the other Gauls but also to his friends, neighbours and enemies in Rome that he really meant business. And I'm equally sure that those Romans read his intent perfectly well.
Xenophon and Caesar were great self-promoters. They were both powerful military men who were using all their charisma and all their ‘nous’ to carve futures for themselves in their old age when they could no longer fight the wars. This was the main prize, not just victory in the field. Xenophon leaves behind a name forever associated with the fear of strangers, and distrust of others, but this quality which he shared with his co-leaders was instrumental in getting quite a large number of the Ten Thousand back home alive. Big Julie didn't really care about the people who were the "Them" because Romans were quite ready to receive most people they vanquished into the arms of the Roman Empire. If Roman legions were fighting Germanic tribes, it is likely that these legions would have comprised many men from all parts of the Empire who were not Roman, but who were gradually being absorbed into the citizenship of Rome (various grades of citizenship of course) by virtue of their success as soldiers. Soldiers expected to be well-rewarded when fighting and winning for Rome. Mostly they were not disappointed, when they fought under a successful General like Caesar, or Pompey before Caesar got rid of him. In later times when the troops were disappointed, the Empire suffered greatly.
So for humans "Us v. Them" is a pretty normal state of affairs, which may have been inherited from the animal kingdom and retained, despite our supposed ‘progress’ from that state of being. The Romans were very good at accepting new members into their society and had a system called manumission which catered for the integration of slaves as citizens once they had served their time as slave. They were also very good at making treaties with their neighbours, after nearly annihilating them, so that those neighbours who survived were incorporated into the consortium ruled by Rome, under strict conditions which included some level of citizenship rights. On a "national" scale the Romans kept expanding the territory under their control by continually incorporating the "them" within "us". This was an enlightened solution to the problem of Empire building, and an advanced form of colonialism for its time. Without it there would never have been a Roman Empire. But it led to problems which surfaced frequently.
Within every social group there are many "binary opposites" which create the potential for division:-
It's a list we could keep adding to. Suffice to say that there is no society on earth today, and probably never was one in history, exempt from these forces towards division. What we call the "success" of a society or Empire is usually calculated by the length of time it held together, e.g., The Roman Empire, roughly 1,000 yrs, depending on where you start or stop your count. The British Empire, roughly 400 yrs. The Nazi Empire, the Third Reich, a measly 12 years, when they intended it to last 1000 years, and what an amount of death and destruction they managed to achieve in that first twelve years. In such a brief period they re-wrote all the records for destruction on a grand scale, and the elimination of the peoples they called "them" in numbers beyond measurement.
The residue of the British Empire which we call the Commonwealth contains countries and societies which are chock-a-block full of difference and division, people who are descendants of many racial groups, and cultures, people with vast wealth and those with no wealth at all, people who live to support others and those who support no-body but are rather supported by the rest of the social group. And yet all of these countries combine to play Cricket and compete at the Commonwealth Games, and often have similar political and legal structures, although these political and social conditions are not guaranteed to hold in all cases, e.g. Zimbabwe over the past 10 years. And now Fiji also, under the dictatorship of Frank Bainimarama.
We may admire the way the Romans functioned, compared with those they subjugated and incorporated into the Pax Romana, which just meant ‘peace on our terms’, we rule, you give us men for our armies, taxes, foodstuffs and other goodies, and we leave you in relative peace and quiet, and protect you from the barbarians, who are people exactly like you used to be before we civilised you.
There were some occasions where we saw some people in some regions really struggling against the yoke imposed by Rome. Owing to our Judeo-Christian heritage we have a prime example of this during the early years of Christianity. The Romans had not long been in control of Judea when Christ was born, and for millions of Christians this was the point at which real history began, as though nothing existed before Christ came along. At the time the Romans occupied Judea, the Hebrews were considerably divided, and had been for hundreds of years. They had the same divisions in their society that you found in many another social group, and when they were not at war with the Assyrians or Persians, they had plenty of time to be warring amongst themselves. The advent of Rome into the local arena did not stop the war they were waging amongst themselves, as was the case for the Hellenic states after Xerxes was defeated. So really they had two struggles going at the same time. How do we beat our local enemy, and how do we get Rome out of here so we can continue belting our neighbours? The Hebrews of the time of Christ and of the early years of Christianity do not seem to have been a particularly peaceful lot, and Rome, under the leadership of that wonderful person, Nero, thought they needed to be taught a lesson. So they sent Vespasian off to Judea to put them right.
Another major case of ethnic cleansing, Vespasian in Judea, having already made quite a name for himself in Britannia. At that time there were writers in many languages whose accounts have been preserved. In Judea there was Josephus for one, in Rome there were many e.g. Suetonious,Tacitus, Pliny, senior and junior, etc, and soon after came Plutarch, who though Greek, was probably writing in Rome and in Latin. And there were the early Christian writers, many of whom included references relating to the razing of Jerusalem and Judea. Of course there would have been people in Egypt and Persia who might have heard about the goings-on in Judea, and may have recorded their view of these accounts. There may be an account left by Vespasian himself, but I am not aware of it, it’s not likely that he would have had the time, given the job he had ahead, and remember, he had to get back to Rome, fast, because of the vacuum left by Nero's death and the contenders he had to deal with so that he might eventually become Emperor himself.
Between 65 -79 AD political events were of considerable importance, but we should not forget that major geological event, Vesuvius, the destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum, an event which astonished even the most highly educated people, because they didn't understand and couldn't logically explain such a huge eruption, the enormity of which had not been experienced in recent history. Although Vesuvius had erupted 17 centuries earlier, (there is archaeological evidence for this), it was not in the written record and therefore not known even to Pliny the Elder who was something of a walking encyclopaedia. Writings at the time cast it in the superstitious realm, which also embraced the political world. So one would not be surprised to find some historians of that period confusing practical everyday reality, political shake-ups and assassinations, destructions of a people (the people in Judea) with a grand purpose e.g., the will of the Lord. It is also probable that every writer who records the events of these times will unconsciously record his own biases and beliefs, the givens of his own particular background (was he a Roman, a Greek, or a Judean?), was his education encyclopaedic? (Pliny), secular? (Suetonius), or religious? (Josephus and Paul).
After Vespasian and his legions had "put down the Jewish rebellion". and in the process razed Jerusalem and most other Jewish cities to the ground, causing another mass exodus of the survivors, the Hebrews had to take a rather more extended holiday away from their promised land and so settled in every corner of the globe, where they were no more welcome than when they had settled Israel the first time, (Abraham), the second time (Joshua), the third time (Nabuch-ad-Nezzar and Cyrus).
This most recent absence from home was for a rather extended period, considering the relinquishment of title to possession of the land... this absence was for nearly 2000 years.
Then along came the Zionists who made it their business to re-shtettle the Jews, from all the corners of the earth, by this time a greatly increased body of people, much more numerous than ever before, fulfilling god's promise to Abraham of descendants more numerous than the stars in the heavens, if my memory serves me rightly, into a little piece of land that has been occupied by, well almost indigenous peoples, at least 2000 years indigenous, except for some disruptions by crusaders, and some incursions into their blood-line by various warring parties, and these people are the Palestinians, not Canaanites, not "Philistines", whom, you might say, had every right to think of Palestine as theirs, because it had been theirs for so many generations. It was their homeland! As far back as they could remember, it was where their fathers and fore-fathers had farmed, traded and lived.
A brief digression is in order. Some historians have asserted that the monks on the desolate islands off the British coast, Iona , etc., the Book of Kells, preserved a view of Christianity which was increasingly under threat and in danger of extinction during the period that has come to be known as the "Dark Ages".
Similarly, while the descendants of the survivors of the Roman ethnic cleansing in Judea were finding new corners of the world to live in, predominantly in countries where they were unwelcome, hated and persecuted, the original writings of their sages were preserved and subjected to a massive revaluation and interpretation (Talmud). These combined writings served to re-affirm their identity as Jews, to keep their culture and religion separate from the people amongst whom they were trying to find a way to survive, to retain their separateness so that they would not lose their identity and become indistinguishable from the barbarians around them.
On the one hand this separateness was religious, being good Jews, being "holy", following the dictates of god, and on the other hand it was political, philosophical, psychological, and cultural, all wrapped up together. A third way of looking at it was keeping the bloodline of the clan or tribe "pure" as one thinks of "well-bred", "thoroughbred", "pure-bred". According to Koestler, "The 13th Tribe", this patently did not succeed in preserving racial integrity.
However the Jews find very few places, and only for very short periods, where they can flourish in cultures in which they are generally distrusted, hated, and persecuted. Throughout two thousand years they survived and increased their numbers, in many countries or states where they were always considered the "Them". It is true that their own religion and culture made a similar separation in which they are the "Us" and everyone else is the "Them". However it is the Nazi regime of the Third Reich which takes the payback for this separation to a level previously inconceivable.
This is one of the most challenging subjects facing anyone who wishes to make a comment on history. It is so horrific, so gruesome, and on such a vast scale, that efforts to depict it usually fall very far short of the mark. In my lifetime I have seen two extraordinary films which deal with the subject most powerfully: "Night and Fog" and "Shoah". These two films are at opposite ends of the spectrum, not only as to the manner in which they deal with this ghastly subject matter, but also in matters of style, and also in comparison of running length. Let's take the last point; "Shoah" (Director, Claude Lanzmann) runs approximately 9 hours and is extremely confronting, partly because it challenges the audience to endure a mere 9 hours, when the people involved had to endure weeks, months and years, some even a lifetime. "Night and Fog" ("Nacht und Nebel"), made by the French director Alain Resnais, is extremely short and concise, possibly 30 minutes, and is in the form of a document, with a tersely ‘poetic’ narration. There are many other films and documentaries which try to deal with the Holocaust, but none I have seen can match either of these two films.
In Resnais’ film "Night and Fog" which can be seen in French, without subtitles, here, there is one shot, probably held on screen for only 20 seconds or thereabouts, (about 23 mins from the start of the film) which, although it is placed amongst many memorable shots from war records of the time, has never left my mind, and never will. It is a shot inside a large storage shed, which starts with an extreme close-up of matted human hair, and gradually pans and tilts to reveal the whole shed filled with a mountain of human hair. It is one of those images which one experiences from time to time that defy categorising. It is from such images that we derive the phrase, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. This is an image of the final outcome of the "Us and Them" divide. It represents the rendering of masses of people into ‘material’ which may be useful, such as gold from teeth fillings, jewellery, and skin from which hideous lampshades can be made. I don't think it is possible for one group of humans to do this to another group of humans unless they employ the over-arching idea that these are not people, they are less than people, as we view animals we send to the slaughterhouse, and because we consider them less than human it is permissable, even good, that we can do this to them.
I was born in 1943, a year which was notable for many of the countless deaths which occurred directly as a result from warfare during World War 2. It was also a year in which the Nazi regime was stepping up the hideous process called the "Final Solution", meaning the genocide of European Jewry. Of course I am angry about this crime against humanity, just as every person feels hopeless rage at the news of any man-made atrocity. But I feel another sort of anger which is less direct, relating to my "Christian" education. I have a major issue with my time at school and my education as a child being raised in the Roman Catholic religion, which specifically concerns the Holocaust. I was "brainwashed" with my parents' religion, just as children in many countries, cultures, and throughout all historical periods are indoctrinated before they are old enough to think for themselves. This occurred both at home and at school, right up to the final years of secondary college, and even when I commenced University.
As a frequent church-goer I was regularly subjected to the horrific story of Christ's "Passion and Death on the Cross" which, of course, was laid on heavily during the Easter period every year. One phrase which sticks in my mind from that time (say 1948, when I was only five years old) was the sentence presented in Matthew: Chapter 27:25, in response to Pilate's statement of finding no fault in Jesus:
This single sentence has been largely responsible for approximately two thousand years of anti-Jewish sentiment and hatred, and right down the ages since the death of Christ has been used by many Christians of many nations in their persecution and victimisation of Jews. At school we heard this same set of words and we probably swallowed the line as millions of other Christians had before us. I do not recall this sentence ever being questioned by any of the brothers who taught me, nor any of the priests who gave the Easter sermons. I do recall however, one argument that I witnessed between my father, and his brothers, my uncles, in a factory in Fitzroy when I was about eight years old. Of Lebanese Christian faith, my father and uncles were discussing Christ and arguing the merits of his place in the Church, whether he really was God or not God, the logical difficulty of ‘Three Gods in One God’ and other problems to do with faith and history. Inevitably Matthew 27:25 came up. They argued heatedly in front of an eight year old child that they believed the Jews were entirely responsible for Christ's death, citing this famous line from the New Testament, which surprisingly was not recorded by any of the other three gospel authors. I already knew that line from school and Church, and it had worried me. The way they used this line was exactly the same way the Polish ‘neighbours’ of the man, who as a boy had sung for them in their cathedral, justified the deaths of hundreds of Jewish people from their town and region, that they’d "brought it all upon themselves when their ancestors said the famous line to Pontius Pilate". Or did they ever say it at all? Well if it’s in "The New Testament" it must be true, mustn’t it, after all it is supposed to be the word of GOD!
So that is my own personal experience of how this "curse" was recorded and its effect on my own family, and myself, until I was a little bit older and wiser and could think it through for myself.
Years passed and I met, and was befriended by many Jewish people, and even worked for a few years as a part-time journalist with the Australian Jewish News. This caused further difficulties between me and my father who had a seriously anti-Semitic streak. So you can imagine the stress it caused him, and my mother, although Mum was not anti-Semitic, when I married Monique, a beautiful young Jewish woman. ‘Havoc’ would be the appropriate word! My relationship with my father took a turn for the worse, and in some respects it never really recovered from this period.
Then in 1997, I saw "Shoah" the film, the whole nine hours of it, for the first time. There are many sections of this film which are deeply disturbing, incredibly difficult to endure. I wish to draw attention to just one sequence which occurs on the steps outside a Cathedral in Poland. This scene involves a celebration which has occurred inside the Cathedral, honouring the return of a middle-aged man, Simon Srebnik. You can see this sequence in French, via Youtube. I have not been able to locate an English language version, nor one subtitled in English.
When he was a boy Simon sang for the Christians in their Cathedral, because he had a beautiful voice. As a teenager he fled the persecution. In escaping he may have been assisted by some of his Christian townsfolk. He survived to middle age, and on this particular day returned to his town, standing amongst his Christian ‘neighbours’ on the steps outside the Cathedral, which is the scene in the film I wish to address.
There is something in the framing and choreography of this scene, and also about this event, that is incredibly powerful. It reminded me of the El Greco painting of Christ expelling the money-lenders from the temple, as the scene was "staged" or "grouped" in a particular way.
The Purification of the Temple, c.1600
In the scene from Shoah the Christian people surround the Jewish survivor, who remains silent and smiling throughout the long-running scene, flanked and surrounded by his Christian neighbours. He smiles benigngly throughout this scene, while they argue beside him, across him, around him, their various rationalisations to justify the actions of their people of the 1940's, who supported the Nazis actively, or else were too afraid to resist the Nazis, and who were therefore complicit in the killing of so many of their townsfolk. Inevitably Matthew's famous sentence came up, and some members of the crowd reminded everybody else that the Jews had called their punishment upon themselves when they admonished Pontius Pilate:
There is something else which is curious about this statement, aside from the fact that it is not recorded by the other three Gospel writers. If we merely think about it is an act of journalism, and of the Book of Matthew as a primary historical source, it raises many questions. How long was the period of time that passed between the actual event of Christ being paraded before the Jews when Pilate offered them the choice between his life, or that of Barabbas, and the writing or recording of the event? How many of Christ's followers were amongst this crowd? If there were a few, surely they would all have heard such a statement, and surely it would have been told to all the Christians, and therefore perhaps it should have appeared in at least one of the other Gospels. But none of these Gospels were written soon after the death of Christ, I think 30 years elapsed before the first, and 60 years before the last was written. So it's not very likely that this recording would pass muster as an accurate eye-witness account. And of the Gospel writers, John was the one who was reputed to be the most courageous in following Christ through to his death on the Cross, but this sentence does not occur in John’s Gospel.
It seems to me extraordinary that a statement which had such a powerful effect, stimulating the persecution, torture, pogroms and genocide of the Jewish people could just appear in the storytelling of one storyteller, and be given such weight by the early Christian Church fathers who selected the various gospels from the twenty down to the four, and who then gave their "imprimatur" to the four of their choice. Once again this indicates the confusion between fact and fiction, eye-witness account versus modified "historical" documentation, and the approval of certain documents as accurate and true, over those which are selected out. And if the ones which are selected out cause any problems, then they are called "heretical" teachings, and those people who believe that particular version of the story are "heretics", and just like the Cathars who were wiped out by the Church with much asistance from French Crusaders for refusing to accept certain doctrines insisted upon by the Church, and many other so-called "heretics", they can, and should, be persecuted:-
I have included these thoughts on "Shoah" merely to indicate how a document which "pretends" to be history (the New Testament) can arise in the first place, be accredited with a status of great "significance" and the appearance of "truth", then may be retained through countless generations by followers of that line of religious doctrine, to the detriment of countless numbers of people who are innocent, for almost 2000 years. I have included it because it was crucial in my personal experience, one example of the brainwashing that affected me until I was about 16 -17 years of age. I have included it because it was considered a "primary source" for the justification of many atrocities. I have included it because it was an example of misleading information which was not addressed by the countless priests, popes, scribes and teachers who could have challenged it on many occasions along the way.I sometimes wonder how many innocent people were persecuted, tortured, suffered and died, over the past 2000 years, as a consequence of that single sentence from the Gospel according to Matthew?
When catastrophes occur which are caused by natural events such as tsunamis, volcanoes etc., we find it extremely difficult to come to terms with the destruction entailed.
When catastrophes occur which are generated by people against people we are equally, perhaps even more disturbed. But at least we can attribute blame as an answer to the question "Why did this occur?" How does one distinguish, and is it even right to make distinctions, between the various different methods of mass-killing employed by humans since the dawn of consciousness, which came to fruition on a grand scale in the twentieth century of the so-called Christian Era? Firing squads and mass graves, gas chambers, extreme bombings such as the Dresden and Tokyo firestorms, and finally Atomic Weapons and Germ Warfare.
THE UNITED NATIONS REPLACES THE LEAGUE OF NATIONS
THE STATE OF ISRAEL ESTABLISHED IN PALESTINE
MAO ESTABLISHES A COMMUNIST GOVERNMENT IN CHINA
AUSTRALIA WINS THE TESTS SERIES AGAINST ENGLAND
THE HYDROGEN BOMB UPSTAGES THE ATOMIC BOMB
"Exodus" is a term we usually associate with Jewish history, and is the name of one of the major books of The Bible. But the leaders of modern Israel are not particularly concerned about the plight they have caused the Palestinian people by forcing them off the land they have occupied for hundred of years. For after all, the land was promised to the Hebrews by their God, in the form of a personal promise to Abraham and Moses, which is on the record, in the BIG BOOK, and has been so for approx 3000 years.
Needless to say the Palestinians, although being predominantly Muslim and owing some allegiance to THE BOOK, were relegated to the position of refugees in their own land, and neighbouring lands, where they were equally unwelcome. After all, who wants a body of people in their country, especially impoverished, homeless, lazy, intractable and inferior people, under the auspices of a newly formed international body called the United Nations, and America and many other nations shamelessly supported this state of affairs through the UN, and the rest, as they say, ‘is history’.
Some of the most famous ancient texts still being read by many people around the world in our times:-
The Old Testament,
well, the list is extremely long....
the most obvious example of an influential book is the Old Testament, ‘THE BOOK’ read by :-
This collection of writings has been through numerous translations and sometimes these translations are in fact forms of editing, re-writing, or spin. Like Homer's two books, which Homer almost certainly did not write, but which later writers "ascribed" to him, the books of the Bible were frequently written long after the period they referred to. Adam and Eve do not appear to have written their story of the events in Eden. Moses and the Exodus would have been written many centuries after the Flight from Egypt, by people who were both original writers and scribes who preserved the sacred scrolls. It also seems that much of what they wrote or preserved was written to serve a purpose in their own time, to meet the political needs of the time in which they were writing, not the time being described in the writing. This process also involved the absorption of myths and legends from other cultures, of peoples who lived nearby. One example (according to Robert Graves in "The White Goddess") is the transposition of the "Samson and Delilah" story from Greek culture into Hebrew culture where it was interpolated into the Bible as though integral to a story of actual political clashes between the Hebrews and their enemies the Philistines. This story in the Bible, like many others, bears all the hallmarks of myth and legend.
It is common knowledge that numerous major works of antiquity were preserved during the "Dark Ages" in many disparate centres of learning, where they were translated from Latin, Greek, or Hebrew, into the language of the region. This process also occurred during the period of early Islam, particularly from about 800-1400 AD. In this period of Islamic culture what later comes to be the cornerstone of European knowledge of antiquity, without which the advent of the modern world would have been seriously delayed, is preserved in Arabic by scholars from Morocco and Spain, Sicily, Egypt and Persia. Some European scholars sought rare copies of works from libraries which were preserved and managed by Islamic scholars.
One can easily imagine that these Islamic scholars would have had some difficulties translating the Greek, Latin and Hebrew texts into a suitable equivalent in their own language. It’s possible that they introduced some unconscious spin during these periods of translation and interpretation, in fact, most likely. Eventually their translations were re-translated back into Latin, where they were taken up and copied by scholars in monasteries. Later these same texts were translated once again, into the languages of the European nations, Italian, English, French, German, Dutch, etc. In England there was a tremendous struggle to achieve the translation of the Bible and the Prayer Book into the Middle English of the times, and this struggle was echoed across Europe as the Church tried to maintain its hold over the people of those different nations, because it was to the great advantage of a few powerful people to keep the books in Latin when the common folk could not read Latin.
I often wonder how much "slippage" occured between the meaning which was intended in any original text before it was finally made available to the people of the late Middle Ages in their own language.
Throughout the entire period of written history there are many records of altercations between states and civilisations which are called "Holy Wars". By this they don't mean to suggest that war is always a "holy" endeavour, but that some wars must be fought by the "holy" to protect "the good society" from "the evil society".
As we have seen, such "holy" wars are described in the early stories of the old testament, when it seems that the god of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses, expected his "chosen" people to go to war against all the other peoples of the region. (see "The Problems of History"). These hardy chaps all took the word of their god very seriously, and even though there were often rebellions in their own ranks, they took up the struggle which "the Lord" supposedly ordered them to undertake with great gusto. Conducting these wars in the certainty that they were merely doing what their god had told them to do, they killed great numbers of their enemies, stole the lands of those they had annihilated, and finally settled down in comfort in those stolen lands, snug and secure in the knowledge that they had merely done the Lord's bidding, and were therefore glorious in the sight of the Lord.
The Crusaders in their "holy wars" intended to liberate "the Holy Land", Palestine, (in the 11th -13th centuries AD), from the Muslims who were "infidels", while the Muslims fought to save the same "Holy Land" from the invading Crusaders whom they similarly considered to be "infidels".
In Medieval times the Catholic Church was the dominant force in Europe and controlled much of the knowledge and information available to people at that time. Books were extremely rare and most of those few which existed were copied and guarded in "centres of learning" which were generally monasteries run by the Church. To make matters worse for common folk the books were mostly written in Latin, a language that was not widely understood outside of the cloisters, and in some periods such as times when society was ravaged by Plague and populations were severely reduced, Latin was not widely understood within the cloisters.
So the Church could get away with a great deal of misinformation in those countries where its power was great, whereas its opponents, e.g., the Eastern Church, held a similar sway over the "common" folk in its sphere of influence. The common people in each sphere of influence were kept ignorant except for what their church leaders wanted them to know.
A particularly good demonstration of this control of knowledge and the spread of information is the Flat-earth v. Round-earth argument, which required extraordinary courage and tenacity on the part of people like Columbus, Magellan and others. Also, the Earth-centric v. Solar-centric argument (first raised in Europe by Copernicus) which lasted even beyond the time of Galileo. In the world of religion and theology, where church "scholars" taught that Gideon had requested God to make the sun stand still in the sky so he could defeat the enemies of the Lord before sundown, there were equally ridiculous claims made for "indulgences" which could be bought from the Church to free the sinner from some punishment in the after-life, e.g. a reduced sentence for time that would otherwise have to be spent in Purgatory.
Then came Martin Luther and the Reformation, a huge revolution in the world of ideas, knowledge and reason. Luther questioned the Church’s interpretations of the Bible while at the same time, he and others questioned the authority of the Church. Thinking men in many European countries were asking why the Bible and the Prayer Book could not be made available in the language of the common people of whichever country. The printing press was invented at just the right time to help disseminate the new ideas. Intelligent men of all nations discovered new truths concerning the sciences, and knowledge blossomed in the fields of astronomy, medicine, the physical sciences, architecture, and philosophy.
As children growing up to be Catholic, we were taught to recite the "Credo", in Latin, which just means "I believe", before we properly understood the meanings of the words we were taught to recite. We eventually developed into adolescents and discovered a certain number of books, quite a large collection of the writings of antiquity and of many more recent writers, whose works were banned: "on the Index". Adolescent boys took this to mean that these books were not considered "fit" to read because they were ‘dirty’ books, books which encouraged depraved sexual activity, dangerous and degrading ideas of free-thinking people such as de Sade, Voltaire, D. H. Lawrence, and Henry Miller, who were the villains who wrote such filth. It did not occur to many of us that the real reason all the books were on the index was that they contained "ideas" which were difficult for the Church to allow young minds, and even older minds, to read, in case these young minds or even older minds were contaminated with ideas different from those being pushed by the Church.
Of course it is now obvious to me and many of my friends that this was so, but it still took me until I was 45 years of age to realise that Martin Luther was not a villain in his attack upon the Church, rather a great hero. Without his intellect and his passion, and that of many like him, the modern world might not exist and we might all be stuck in the middle ages. Similarly people of other religions have certain books approved and other books restricted, even vilified. Is there any religion which encourages the acolyte to read all the books, and which trusts absolutely the intellect and judgement of the acolyte? If so, would it still be technically a "religion"? (derivation: "to bind"? or "to read again"?)
Books have disappeared from general view in many cultures to re-surface at a later time, for many reasons. My favorite example of a book which had such a chequered path into our age is a book considered to be by Archimedes, a mathematical treatise which disappeared into the mists of time, to re-surface at the beginning of the 20th Century. When I say re-surface I really mean, except for an incredibly small number of people, its existence and its contents were virtually unknown, and it was rediscovered in the form of a palimpsest, a vellum from which the writing had been erased by monks (about 1000 AD) so that a prayer manual could be written over the original text. Since its rediscovery and re-examination by scholars of the C20, we now know that Archimedes was a much greater mathematician than had ever been known in western culture prior to that. We also know that the extraordinary work of a mathematical nature which he described in that book was erased, and its slight traces over-written for religious purposes, which the zealous monks considered to be much more important.
So now we have come full circle. The Hebrews have their Promised Land but the Palestinians and other Arab nations want to push them out, this time, into the sea, because they can't risk them going into the four corners of the world again, in case they come back even stronger, after another few thousand years. Saddam got to play out his impersonation of Nabuch-ad-Nezzar, and then was tried for genocide, and hanged. But Saddam’s ex-friends Cheney and Rumsfeld, who sold him arms and chemical weapons during the war with Iran, (both of which he was naughty enough to use), a war which America supported against the (Persian) Ayetollah who had returned from his exile in France to reclaim his own promised land of Iran. Saddam started to play his own political games which worked against the interests of the USA and Israel, and put the Yankee nose more than a little out of joint. For the Iraqi and Iranian leadership, this war may have been about political issues. For the Americans, their support of Iraq was most likely to do with trade in oil, and influence in the region. This small event in human history is reputed to have cost 500,000 Iraqi, and 500,000 Iranian lives! These 1,000,000 Persian lives, or deaths, are just another blip in history. Once again, the mind-boggling problem of numbers when it comes to appreciating catastrophes.
Would the catastrophe of that war between Iraq and Iran have been less if the numbers had only been 400,000 on each side?
A year or two ago John Faine interviewed Bernie Baynton on local radio 774, Victoria, Australia, concerning the James Hardie asbestos poisoning case and its settlement. Since then ASIC has charged the directors of James Hardy they have stood themselves down from their positions on the board. (More recently they received extremely light, ‘token’ fines). When John asked Bernie if he had any regrets that these directors might face jail, despite having put the financial settlement in place, he came out with a statement something like this:-
Given the continuing bad news from the James Hardie company and its mismanagement of asbestos, mining, production, waste treatment, etc., it's very difficult to challenge that interpretation. When Bush Junior and his cronies went into Iraq, they claimed that Saddam and his supporters were the "bad guys", which they probably were, while Bush and his side were the "good guys", which they probably were not. We humans always judge the enemy as the bad guys, just as we tend to judge people on our side as the good guys.
This reminds me of Saturday afternoons 50 years ago when we went regularly to see "flicks" at local cinemas. Not only Westerns with their sherrifs and their possees, and not only Batman and Superman against the bad guys... even the cartoon characters were based on the good guys/bad guys dichotomy. It was only in later adolescence that one came to understand that the sherrif and his posse may actually be the bad guys, and the person being hunted may be innocent, and therefore, the good guy. Usually problems of this nature were sorted out by the hero, e.g. Hopalong Cassidy, Tom Mix, Audie Murphy etc.
I survived the indoctrination of the Catholic Church, I survived the terrors of wars reported regularly since the end of the Second World War, and many mass starvations of impoverished nations. I discovered much about the Holocaust, and many other genocides which have followed since, to reach the ripe old age of sixty. Now in my "old age" I’m reminded of the local cinema of my childhood, hearing the same simple-minded distinctions being made by Bush and Blair and their posse versus the Taliban in Afghanistan, Saddam and his buddies in Iraq, and Kim Jong Il in Nth.Korea. Despite the fact that the US had supported, and armed Saddam against Iran, and also financed and armed the anti-Russian Afghanis when it suited them to do so. And despite the fact that many of us in the western world felt, as the hundreds of thousands of protestors demonstrated at the time, that the invasion of Iraq was wrong, a bad decision, based upon rigged evidence in respect of the Weapons of Mass Destruction. The views of opponents of the invasion have since proven correct!
It seemed far less confusing during World War Two when the whole world pretty well joined hands against Hitler, Mussolini and Japan. Then it was easy for "us" (the Allied Forces) to believe that we were fighting a manifestly evil regime or "ism" from the point of view of protecting our way of life, freedom and "the right". A "just" war. During the six years of that terrible conflagration we believed that nations on our side were "the good guys", and nations aligned with the other side were definitely "the bad guys", and this is a position I still believe, despite the fact that one of "the good guys", (Stalin) was responsible for the deaths of many millions of his own countrymen outside the theatre of war, and seems to have had much more in common with Hitler than with Great Britain and the USA during that period.
After the end of WW2, the world's nations seemed to have arrived at a new position, a new determination concerning international conflict and injustice. The League of Nations had failed, so the United Nations was set up in its place, to prevent conflicts which led nations to war, to be a sort of international policeman. There were many aspirations which developed out of this incredible theatre of world war, a World Bank to help developing nations, an international Court of Justice, the World Health Organisation, and the World Trade Organisation. It is arguable how much the world has been helped by these institutions.
In the first few post-war years the USA showed that it really wanted to be the international policeman, and when Russian power collapsed and the Cold War came to an end in 1989, there was a vacuum which allowed the US to play out this role to the full. Even a casual observer would have had to admit that the United Nations had frequently failed, and seriously mis-managed its designated role of peace-keeper in places like the "Killing Fields" of Cambodia, Rwanda, the Balkans, Somalia, and more recently, in its inability to stop the invasion of Lebanon by the Israeli's 2006. A few years ago I heard a TV interview with ex-UN employees who had served in trouble spots, and they said something like this:-
So you could easily imagine the impatience of the Americans who like to get things done, efficiently, and who saw the UN as a source of stalling and blocking its plans for a better world.
The World Bank, although it has helped many nations in many ways, continues to oversee the growing divide between richer and poorer nations, the haves and the have-nots. The sudden improvement in major areas of the "Third World" has placed a huge strain on the resources of the planet, and "First World" nations now want "Third World" nations to make sacrifices which were not made by the "First World", now blaming the nations of the "Third World" for the crisis of global warming.
Then we come to the International Court of Justice, which to its credit has tried some of the war criminals of the past 50 years, but only a tiny number compared with the large number of suspects available, so about ten years ago they got Milosevic. He was put on trial and died before the case was fully tried. Eventually they got Karadich, last year... it only took 14 or 15 years to get him. Some other major war criminals of that period are still free!
The other great apsirational organisation was housed in the World Trade Centre in Manhattan. Like all organisations which "aspire" to bring great goodness to humans, which build "spires" and "towers" like the Tower of Babel, the World Trade Centre went one step further and built two towers, ‘twin towers’ as they came to be known, to house the functionaries, and represent the hopes and ideals of the people of the world's poorer nations for a better deal at the table of plenty. So why should we be surprised to learn of a number of attacks directed at this "emblem" by parties who wished to demonstrate their hatred of America, at institutions which are deemed by these parties to be the running dogs of America? Why should we be surprised, if one day one of the parties manages to infiltrate the great USA, and despite leaving clues around everywhere, such as
an attack upon the World Trade Centre scores one hit for each tower, the Pentagon, one hit, and the White House is saved only because of the actions of a few courageous passengers who took on their hijackers, saving the White House from a direct hit by sacrificing their own lives?
Now in the 21st century the world has entered a new era.... "the War Against Terror". No-one can predict how long this new major war will continue. It is quite conceivable that it will never come to an end. Wherever there is a group of people who are opposed to another group of people, and wherever one or both of these groups can claim to justify their actions in killing innocent people for political or religious reasons, and wherever those who claim to be defending the rest of us from the ravages of these misguided terrorists continue to cause death and mutilation to innocents which are casually dismissed as "collateral" damage, one could be forgiven for seeing no end in sight. Lives of countless innocent people will continue to be evaporated in explosions like the "Twin Towers", ruined by explosions such as the Bali Bombing, and thousands will have to find "refuge" in another country which may or may not recognise their status as genuine refugees.
But during the 1980's, while Iraq and Iran were slugging it out, the Yanks didn't lose any lives of their own people at all. Instead they made a lot of dough, and Rumsfeld and Cheney in particular made a lot of dough, joining the ranks of the super-rich, and also made good friends in the Arab nations e.g., Saudi Arabia. They got the short-term political outcome they desired, which led to the invasion of Kuwait by the unmanageable Saddam, who, would you believe, had the temerity to forget just who it was that made him so strong. No gratitude these Persians!
Then Saddam showed that the Arab nations had not forgotten who was really to blame for the state of things, and sent off a few scud missiles into Israel. Well that really put the cat amongst the pigeons, so to speak.
So the Americans had to teach him the big lesson, (remember Carthage, remember Caesar, remember Vespasian in Judea?). But Bushy-one didn't have the ticker to go the whole hog, and quite a large number of Shi'ites, who dearly wanted to assist America and overthrow Saddam, had to die... thousands of them. Saddam stayed in power for a little while longer so that Bushy-two, also known as "W", Cheney's little puppet, would have to do what daddy-Bush had not been able to do.
Let us examine what happens in the US & THEM game when all three dichotomies come into play together:-
At a very early stage of the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq, George W. made the error of using the word "crusade" to describe the invasion. This error was very quickly pounced upon by his minders so that, being the able puppet that he is, he was not heard to use this pejorative word after that. What the "Coalition of the Willing" found most useful at this stage was the combination of the three dichotomies listed above fused in the one purpose.
First, the name-calling: Saddam Hussein was obviously a bad guy. Anyone could see that. His regime had tortured and killed thousands of its own citizens, as well as using chemical weapons against the Iranians in the earlier war in which Iraq was supported and supplied by the US. The very same chemical weapons used against the Iranian forces, reputedly supplied by the US, were also employed against the Kurdish population of Saddam's own country. Aside from ruling a patently corrupt regime (unlike the brand of corruption which applies in nearly all other regimes) Saddam had imprisoned, tortured and killed thousands of Iraqis during his period of power. And although he was "democratically" elected by 99.9% of Iraqis, his form of democracy was not recognised as democracy by the US whose leaders find it difficult to get 40% of the voting public out to vote, and where the polling protocols are never in doubt, not even in Florida, 1999.
Secondly, the cognoscenti versus the masses who are born ignorant, don't want to know anything, and in fact know nothing. We, (the US, Great Britain, and Australia, because no other nations out of the 160 plus in the UN wanted to have a part of it), we have this special knowledge that Saddam Hussein is hoarding "weapons of mass destruction". Not that we ourselves don't have weapons of mass destruction like the H-Bomb and the Chemical weapons we first supplied to Saddam when he was almost a good guy. Of course we do! We need 'em to protect ourselves from bad guys like him, and the proof that he really is a bad guy is that he has these weapons of mass destruction which we don't want him to have, so he shouldn't have them, and that proves he's a real bad guy doesn't it?
We also have all this secret information gathered by our "intelligence" services to prove that he has this stuff in abundance but we can't share that with you, the public, because it's highly classified. Top secret! But we will let out little bits of it selectively, as when Colin Powell displayed a phial of an extremely toxic bacteriological substance in the UN, even though he was lied to by his own side just prior to this event, so it's no wonder he retired from the job very soon after.
After the invasion and the overthrow of Saddam's regime they couldn't find any evidence of the weapons of mass destruction, despite combing the territory up and down and all over, so they just shrugged their shoulders and said,
Third: The Holy War. Who can forget the magical phrase "Axis Of Evil" ? Where did that one come from? Well, it combines a number of associations from history. Remember WW2 when we were fighting the "Axis" powers, Germany, Italy and Japan. They were the original "Axis" of evil, and very few people would dispute that great evil was perpretrated by those regimes. So you have the conjunction of the two words "axis" and "evil' and it's got a firm basis in history, that in a previous war the USA helped Britain, (and Russia also), to fight a "just" war against truly evil men. In that war the Allies could claim they were fighting a "good" war, albeit forced upon them, to defeat the powers of "evil". This doesn't quite make it a "holy" war, but it does carry some of the vestiges of holiness by virtue of fighting evil, which is the battle the "holy" always have to wage against the "evil-doers".
Another thing which we shouldn't forget... this invasion of Iraq was a war conducted by "Christian" powers against a predominatly "Muslim" nation. So from the point of view of most Iraqis, and all the other Arab nations, as well as the non-Arab Muslims like Malays and Indonesians, this was a war of "Christian" powers directed at "Muslim" people. These same Muslim people everywhere also view the war between Israel and Palestine (which has only been going on for 5000 years so far) as a war now supported by the USA and its Christian allies, against the Muslim Palestinians, who had been forcibly ejected from their own land by the Jews, who took ownership of the land under the State of Israel, confirmed by the United Nations in1948 with special support from the USA.
That's why Bush's blunder in calling it a "crusade" was so quickly hosed down and not repeated. Some of his minders had the good sense to note that this would inflame even those Muslims who wanted to see Saddam toppled.
And who can forget the televised scenes of Bush at church, in prayer, once or twice with others like our ex-PM John Howard, to confirm his Christianity and his decency, and his direct connection with God?
So we see how easy it is for a powerful elite to use resonances of history (the "axis of evil"), control over the information, which may or may not be accurate, division of the issues into the most simplistic form, "Us and Them", the "good guys" v, "the bad guys", to achieve the result that they are going after.
When democracy was first invented in Athens (BC) some Athenians responded to the idea of democracy as a "generally acknowledged folly". In the thirty year war with Sparta, one of the constant themes was that the Athenian democractic way of life was supposedly preferable to the Spartan non-democratic system. (Of course this judgement, like most judgements, depended entirely upon which side you were on as you viewed the issue).
However, one would hesitate to say that this 30 year war was about bringing a fledgling democracy to the other Greek city states as there were certainly other huge issues regarding trade, also treaties for protection, and taxes. Not to mention just liking or hating other people who lived near you.
What were the Coalition of the Willing really going after in Iraq? It's most unlikely that the leaders of the free world were really trying to set up a democracy in Iraq. There were many other motives, including the following possibilities:-
Oil: vast quantities of oil accessible in a country which would in be disarray without a government for some time after the invasion.
Business opportunities for the pals and buddies of the invaders, the Halliburtons, security chiefs, etc.
Business opportunities in the re-building of an Iraq reduced to rubble by the invading army.
Business opportunities in the manufacture of weaponry which will be required to run security during this period, until the Iraqis at some time in the future may be able to run a stable country, but that's not looking very likely, and the current "war against terror" must be making millions for those companies in America and the West which produce the armaments, the HumVees, the choppers, the troop-carriers, the uniforms, the guns, the night-sights, the communications inventory.
The massive material support the army needs is supplied by companies just like the ones in the top 500 companies listed in America which are merely listed as industrial entities and are not listed specifically as arms manufacturers.
Free Market Conditions:-
War may not make the people rich in the country where the war is being waged... but it sure makes a lot of people much richer in the countries who are outside of that war zone, and that includes even companies in many other Western Governments which did not participate in the invasion.
Perhaps it was their intention to de-stabilise the region in their own favour, but it doesn't look like that will work either. They may have expected that they would quickly set up Iraq as a democratic foothold in the Middle East, alongside Afghanistan, but it certainly looks as though democracy, either in Iraq or Afghanistan, just will not hold, and concommitant with that, the de-stabilisation of the whole Middle East will be to the advantage of Syria and Iran. Isn’t that something? Who could ever have anticipated that? The USA may have to call upon the good services of Iran and Syria to solve terror in Iraq and civil war, a civil war which was not there when Saddam was in power.
Meanwhile back in the land of the Hebrews, their "promised land" now regained, Palestinian suicide bombers could no longer be controlled by Saint Yasser, previously their terrorist leader. The weakness of the PLO encouraged the emergence of Hamas to escalate the killing of Jews in Israel, using home made rockets, as they lacked sufficient firepower to run them into the sea. (The sea has long historical associations for the Jews, Moses had used this to his own advantage some time before).
And at about the same time, another terrorist organisation in Lebanon, Hezbollah, supported by Syria and Iran, managed to send rockets into Northern Israel, (which they are starting to do again just over the last few days), so you had to forgive the Israelis for counter-attacking, didn't you? Of course, they must return fire with fire, and why must it be proportional? We don't recall God saying to Joshua, "Be careful Joshua, be proportional... don't go too far!" Just as Nero didn't say to Vespasian "Careful Wes, teach them a lesson, bring them to heel, but don't go too far."
In every war throughout recorded history, and even before records were kept, whenever war occurred, innocent bystanders were also killed, or maimed. The current jargon for this ‘by-product’ of war is ‘Collateral Damage’.
We may not be comfortable with the idea that innocents everywhere will suffer as a consequence of just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, whether it be in a ‘conventional’ war, or the ‘war against terrorism’, or that suicide bombers have made civilians their main target. Our daily news is full of stories of collateral damage, and no-one anywhere seems able to do anything to reduce it, let alone eliminate it. (One exception here, Princess Diana and the elimination of landmines!) I think politicians and military leaders of every nation accept that in a modern war, there will automatically be a percentage of civilian casualties.
The everyday occurrence of collateral damage, and the media mission to report all atrocities in graphic detail, means that we are inundated with constant reports of the deaths of hundreds, even thousands of innocent bystanders. This flood of death and maiming has become almost a ‘normal’ part of our lives.
At the beginning of 2009, like many ordinary people everywhere, I was incredibly angered by Israel’s incursion into Gaza, which was provoked by Hamas. There is no way we should forget the part that Hamas played. It reminded me of Lebanon just two years before, when a similar incursion into Lebanese territory destroyed so much, so many lives, many of them innocent bystanders, including children. Israel was provoked in that war also by the firing of rockets into their territory. However most people who viewed the media reports of Lebanon and Gaza would say that in each of these cases Israel’s reaction was "out of proportion" by a considerable margin, compared with the provocation. Israel has been criticised by many nations for a reaction that was ‘not proportional’.
What is it in human nature that ensures an over-reaction almost every time?
It depends on which book you read.
The outcome, of course, is always in the hand of a god. Or God. Or Allah.
"It is God's will..." The Lord said that we should go into Jericho and kill everybody, and leave not a stone upon a stone.
"and the Lord said... " God may also have said that Jerusalem would be razed to the ground as payback "for what you did to my son", although that was initially just a pact between me and Adam and Eve.
It seems it was also "the will of God" that the Crusaders should invade Palestine, and "Inshallah", that Salah-a-Din would honour his name and protect the religion of his people against the infidel.
If a tsunami wipes out a huge area of Indonesia, the people will hope they can recover somehow, and that it will never happen again: the regions which are Muslim-dominated will say "Inshallah" while the regions which are Christian-dominated must say "God willing" .
It appears that it is also the will of a Baptist god from the Deep South that the Iraqis must learn to love democracy even if they don't understand it, and have no stomach for it, and no way of keeping the peace till democracy is up and working.
It is also a great benefit for a leader to have a hot-line to his personal god so that he can inform his people of "God's will". It seems that modern American technology enabled George W. to have such a hotline to his deity.
It is also the "will of Allah" that Hezbollah and Hamas keep firing rockets into Israel and "God's will" that the Israeli's continue reacting in a way that is not necessarily proportional. And that Iran will develop a nuclear capacity unless Israel takes out their current nuclear facilities as they did with Iraq's fledgling nuclear installation in the 80's.
It can only be the "will of Allah" that the the Sunni and Shi’a people of Iraq will continue to destroy each others' Mosques, and kill each other's children because the Christian God doesn't get much of a look in here. It seems it is also the "will of God or of Allah" that countless numbers of innocent people, men, women, and particularly, so many innocent children, on all sides, sons and daughters of parents of whatever religion, children who can hardly pronounce, and certainly not understand the meaning of the prayers they are taught, that these innocent children, if they are not killed outright by their parents' enemies, will have to live the rest of their lives maimed, amputated and disfigured.
Whether you call this god "God" or "Allah" doesn't matter in the slightest, because this implacable god, under whichever name, always allows his followers to get away with the most hideous atrocities.
And because it is the will of a god whose desire for the blood of innocents is never satiated.
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