Just words

Death Sentence.jpgA good little letter by David Hall published in this month’s Crosslight newspaper alerted me to Don Watson’s old book, Death Sentence: The Decay of Public Language, and to the wonderful words in its Introduction:

PUBLIC LANGUAGE CONFRONTS MOST of us every day of our lives, but rarely when we are with friends or family. Not yet, at least. It is not the language in which we address lovers, postmen, children or pets. So far.

True, in the households of young professionals they will say sometimes that the new dog adds alpha to their lifestyle; that they need closure with their orthodontist or mother; that they are empowered by their Nikes. There is seepage from the public to the private. But that’s all it is. At this point in time.

Public language is the language of public life: the language of political and business leaders and civil servants – official, formal, sometimes elevated language. It is the language of leaders more than the led, the managers rather than the managed. It takes very different forms: from shapely rhetoric to shapeless, enervating sludge; but in every case it is the language of power and influence. What our duties are, for whom we should vote, which mobile phone plan we should take up: in all these places the public language rules. As power and influence are pervasive so is the language: we hear and read it at the highest levels and the lowest. And while it begins with the powerful, the weak are often obliged to speak it, imitate it. ‘Even politicians speak / truths of value to the weak’, Auden said. Believing as they do that everyone needs something even if they don’t know it, marketing people would agree.

The influence of marketing shows itself in advertising and commerce, where we would expect to find it, and in politics and war, where its presence might surprise us. Marketing goes wherever the media goes and the media goes pretty well everywhere. Naturally the language goes too, which is why all kinds of institutions cannot pass on the simplest information about their services without also telling us that they are contemporary, innovative and forward-looking and committed to continuous improvement, as if the decision to raise their rates or change their phone number can only be grasped in this context-sensitive way. To help us all get going in the same direction they might give the context a name, like Growing Victoria Together or Business Line Plus, or Operation Decapitation where the service is a military one.

Managerialism, a name for various doctrines of business organisation, also comes with a language of its own, and to such unlikely places as politics and education. Even if the organisational principles of management or marketing were so widely appropriate, it is by no means certain that their language is. Marketing, for instance, has no particular concern with truth. Management concerns are relatively narrow – relative, that is, to life, knowledge and possibility. This alone makes marketing and managerial language less than ideal for a democracy or a college. In addition their language lacks almost everything needed to put in words an opinion or an emotion; to explain the complex, paradoxical or uncertain; to tell a joke. If those who propagate this muck really believed in being context-sensitive, they would understand that in the context of ordinary human need and sensibility their language is extraordinarily insensitive. It enrages, depresses, humiliates, confuses. It leaves us speechless.

Public language that defies normal understanding is, as Primo Levi wrote, ‘an ancient repressive artifice, known to all churches, the typical vice of our political class, the foundation of all colonial empires’. They will tell you it is in the interests of leadership, management, efficiency, stakeholders, the bottom line or some democratic imperative, but the public language remains the language of power. It has its origins in the subjection or control of one by another. In all societies, ‘To take power is to win speech’. Whatever its appearance, intimidation and manipulation come as naturally to public language as polite instruction, information and enlightenment. That is why vigilance is needed: an argument concerning the public language is an argument concerning liberty.

To Levi’s list of obfuscating types we could add many sociologists and deconstructionists, including some who design school curricula and courses with the word ‘Studies’ in them. The politically correct might have a case to answer for years of philistine abuse (often, strangely, in the name of cultures), had the Prime Minister not abolished them. We are now all free, he says, to speak our minds; but the language continues to decay, which rather lets political correctness off the hook. Political correctness and its equally irritating twin, anti-political correctness; economic rationalism; dope-smoking; Knowledge Management – wherever cults exist the language inclines to the arcane or inscrutable. This is no bad thing of itself, but obnoxious in a democratic or educational environment. Among Druids, Masons or economists we expect the language to be unfathomable or at least unclear or strange. They speak in code. This can only be because they do not want us to understand, or do not themselves understand, or are so in the habit of speaking this way they have lost the ability to communicate normally. When we hear this sort of language it is, therefore, common sense to assume there is a cult, or something like a cult, in the vicinity. And be alert, if not alarmed.

While English spreads across the globe, the language itself is shrinking. Vast numbers of new words enter it every year, but our children’s and leaders’ vocabularies are getting smaller. Latin and Greek have been squeezed out of most journalists’ English and ‘obscure’ words are forbidden unless they qualify as economic or business jargon. You write for your audience and your audience knows fewer words than it used to and hasn’t time to look up unfamiliar ones. The language of politics is tuned to the same audience and uses the same media to reach it, so it too diminishes year by year. Downsized, business would say. Business language is a desert. Like a public company, the public language is being trimmed of excess and subtlety; what it doesn’t need is shed, what is useful is reorganised, prioritised and attached either to new words or to old ones stripped of meaning. In business, language is now productivity-driven.

What of the media whose words we read and hear every day? The code of conduct of the International Federation of Journalists is categorical: ‘Respect for the truth and the right of the public to truth is the first duty of the journalist.’ There can be no respect for the truth without respect for the language. Only when language is alive does truth have a chance. As the powerful in legend turn the weak or the vanquished into stone, they turn us to stone through language. This is the essential function of a cliché, and of cant and jargon; to neutralise expression and ‘vanish memory’. They are dead words. They will not do for truth.

Therefore, to live according to their code, journalists must choose their own words carefully and skilfully and insist that others do the same. The proper relationship of journalists to the public language is that of unrelenting critics. It is their duty to see through it. But we cannot rely on them. Norman Mailer once wrote on behalf of writers like himself that ‘the average reporter could not get a sentence straight if it were phrased more subtly than his own mind could make phrases’. They munched nuances ‘like peanuts’, he said. True, it happens and it’s maddening, but inadequate prose is still journalism and roughly meets the requirements of the code. It is something else, however, when journalists ignore abuses of the public language by people of influence and power, and reproduce without comment words that are intended to deceive and manipulate. When this happens journalism ceases to be journalism and becomes a kind of propaganda; or a reflection of what Simone Weil called ‘the superb indifference that the powerful have for the weak’.

The war in Iraq provided a case in point. The military provided brand names – Shock and Awe, for instance – and much of the media could see nothing but to use them. Each day of the campaign the media were briefed in the language of the Pentagon’s media relations people, whereupon very often the journalists briefed their audiences in the same language. The media centre in Doha was always on message, and so was the media. When the military said they had degraded by 70 per cent a body of Iraqi soldiers, this was what the media reported. Few said ‘killed’ and only the Iraqi Minister for Information in his daily self-satire said ‘slaughtered’, which was a more honest word but a blatant lie because he said it of American soldiers, not Iraqi ones. One journalist, who knew something about the effects of Daisy Cutter bombs, said ‘pureed’. And no one showed any pictures of the bodies. To be embedded with the Coalition forces was to be embedded in their language and their message. It turned out that embedded just meant ‘in bed with’ in the old language. If they said they had attrited an enemy force, generally that was what the media conveyed, and it was the same if they said deconflicted. All this was a sad retreat from both the journalists’ code of conduct and the noble achievements of twentieth-century war reporting. Just as significant was the way these words spoke for the willingness of journalists to join the military in denying the common humanity of ordinary soldiers – especially the largely conscripted cannon fodder – on the opposing side. Here was another retreat: from war reporting standards going back to Homer.

The public language will only lift in tone and clarity when those who write and speak it take words seriously again. They need to tune their ears to it. Awareness is the only defence against the creeping plague of which this is a microscopic specimen. The inquiry may allow for relevant businesses or industries to be identified and for investigation into the possibility that certain regional or rural areas of the state would be more affected than others. No doubt in the place from which these words came they were judged competent. But they are not competent in the world at large. They are not competent as language. They represent an example of what George Orwell described as anaesthetic writing. You cannot read it without losing some degree of consciousness. You come to, and read it again, and still your brain will not reveal the meaning – will not even try. You are getting sleepy again. Read aloud, in a speech for instance, an audience hears the words as they might hear a plane passing overhead or a television in another room. We can easily make it sound less like a distant aeroplane by the simple expedient of saying it as if we mean it: The inquiry will decide which businesses are relevant and which parts of the state will be badly affected. In fact, to guess at the intended meaning, it might come down to the Inquiry deciding which businesses and which parts of the state will be most affected.

Of course, it’s just one sentence. But we have to begin somewhere.

We must keep it in perspective of course. The decay or near death of language is not life threatening. It can be an aid to crime and tragedy; it can give us the reasons for unreasoning behaviour, including war and genocide and even famine. Words are deadly. Words are bullets. But a word is not a Weapon of Mass Destruction, or a jihad, or unhappiness. Like a rock, it is not a weapon (or a grinding stone) until someone picks it up and uses it as one. We should not get cranky or obsessive about words. You can’t eat them, or buy things with them, or protect your borders with them, and it will not do to make a great display of your concern. There are more important things to think about than what we say or how we say it.

In any case resistance is probably futile: as futile as the Luddites’ resistance was futile. Managerial language may well be to the information age what the machine and the assembly line were to the industrial. It is mechanised language. Like a machine, it removes the need for thinking: this essential and uniquely human faculty is suspended along with all memory of what feeling, need or notion inspired the thing in the first place. To the extent that it is moulded and constrained by opinion polls and media spin, modern political language is the cousin of the managerial and just as alienating. To speak or be spoken to in either variety is to be ‘not in this world’.

Bear in mind just the same that if we deface the War Memorial or rampage through St Paul’s with a sledgehammer we will be locked up as criminals or lunatics. We can expect the same treatment if we release some noxious weed or insect into the natural environment. It is right that the culture and environment should be so respected. Yet every day we vandalise the language, which is the foundation, the frame and joinery of the culture, if not its greatest glory, and there is no penalty and no way to impose one. We can only be indignant. And we should resist.

The Eucharist ‘puts an end to every war waged by heavenly and earthly enemies’

Francisco de Zurbarán, Agnus Dei (1635–40). Prado Museum, Madrid.

Francisco de Zurbarán, Agnus Dei (1635–40). Prado Museum, Madrid.

A good read here from William Cavanaugh. Here’s a snippet:

True sacrifice can never be the immolation of a victim, making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country. True sacrifice is nothing other than the unity of people with one another through the participation in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Christ’s sacrifice reverses the idea that one must achieve domination over the enemy to achieve unity. Christ instead takes on the role of victim, absorbs the violence of the world instead of deals it out, and thereby offers a world in which reconciliation rather than violence can hold sway.

This is why the Eucharist is the antidote to war for Augustine. In the Eucharist, the whole economy of scarcity and competition that leads to war is done away with. Augustine makes clear that God does not need to be appeased as the Roman gods do. God is abundance, not lack, so participation in God’s life in the body of Christ does away with competition over scarce goods among people. True sacrifice is unity, and true unity is the participation of the human community in God’s life …

War depends on dividing up the world in such a way that some are excluded from this drama. We prefer to make rigid distinctions between friend and enemy, between our virtue and their depravity. We are thereby licensed to ignore the role our own interventions in their world may have had in stirring up their animosity toward us. When faced with war, we might do better to respond first in a penitential key. At the beginning of World War II, the Catholic Worker newspaper ran a headline: “We Are Responsible for the War in Europe.”

Christians who embrace non-violence are often accused of unrealistically trying to impose a perfectionist ethic on mere sinful human beings. I find it remarkable that travelling to the other side of the world to shoot people is considered somehow everyday and mundane, while refraining is considered impossibly heroic.

The reason we should reject violence is not from a prideful conviction that we are the pure in a world full of evil. The gospel call to non-violence comes from the realization that we are not good enough to use violence, not pure enough to direct history through violent means. Peacemaking requires not extreme heroism, but a humble restraint in identifying enemies, and an everyday commitment to caring for members of one’s body in mundane ways: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, all of whom, Jesus says, are Jesus himself.

Christian non-violence imitates Jesus’s nonviolence, but it also participates in Jesus’s self-emptying into sinful humanity, his sharing in the brokenness of the world. It is this peacemaking that we enact in sharing the broken bread of the Eucharist.

Thoughts in the Presence of Fear

What Wendell said.

‘The Muddy Trench’

In the dream, Clarrie Dunn
sits naked with many thousands
in the muddy trench. He is saying
The true god gives his flesh and blood.
Idols demand yours off you.

– Les Murray, ‘The Muddy Trench’, in Collected Poems (Melbourne: Black Inc., 2006), 554.

Lest We Forget

Lest We Forget

Anzac Epitaph

Anzac Epitaph

On war commemorations

So, Leunig on its first casualty:

Truth is the first casualty of war commemorationjpg

And some good thoughts here on the costs of war and peace from Laurencia Grant, a cyclist in Alice Springs, published in the Alice Springs News.

John Milne: some new choral work

Siegfried SassoonJohn Milne, who is no stranger to this blog, has recently produced two new choral pieces, both anti-war in theme.

The first, ‘Soldier Boy’, is based on a Siegfried Sassoon text ‘Suicide in the Trenches’, written during WWI. Sassoon penned a number of better-known anti-war poems, but this one’s quite unusual in that it deals with suicide among the ranks (a huge problem in Iraq and Afghanistan even today with about 20 US veterans committing suicide every day, about 20% of the overall suicides in the US while only 1% of Americans have served in the military) – a manifestation of the mindlessness of war and of the vain belief in the soteriological powers of violence’s stunning machinery.

Edith SitwellThe second piece is ‘Still Falls the Rain’. The text here is provided by Edith Sitwell, and cites scripture, ‘Faust’, and all sorts of arcana. Sitwell endured a night of the Blitz in London in 1940, and it is believed that she wrote the poem as the sun rose, bringing with it life’s announcement of perseverance and graced permanence (the Germans bombed exclusively at night). While nowadays we seem to accept with little protest the faceless and mechanised bombing of civilian populations as commonplace, the Blitz marked the first time it was ever done in earnest, and it must have seemed unspeakably vile. John Milne described the closing lines of the poem  as ‘as powerful an affirmation of God’s enduring love in the face of near-infinite human evil as I’ve ever encountered’. Those interested in reading further about the poem can read the exegesis provided by Robin Bates, a professor of English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

‘War’, by Thomas W. Shapcott

Sidney Nolan, 'Gallipoli'

Sidney Nolan, ‘Gallipoli’

Remembrance Day. In school assemblies, talk
of manhood achieved in the trenches of World War One.
At seventeen, the boy my father ran from home
and enlisted, falsifying his age. Gallipoli had begun.
Proudly he sat for his photo in the glib slogan
of his army uniform, before he sailed.
The other side of war re-shaped that soldier,
and the later pictures stare bleakly, exiled.

Yet fifty years have silted over the scars;
impossible for me to recognize my father
in either photograph. Time’s habit of movement, event,
long before my birth, wove in him a tidy shelter
of reunion, committee, club, appeal and agenda.
The stories that I grew up with of battles, and “Winter
in ’16” were scraps and relics, toys in an old shoebox.
In the R.S.L. he became a Life Member.

But wars do not finish: it is not over. I speak
of more than personal discoveries.
Gallipoli that was a selfish blunder in high places,
a battle fought for nothing or for polluted seas
of sodden corpses, is other than a ribbon: the errors
are not the meaning, finally. My father woke
struggling, one night, an old man in warm pyjamas,
into the pillbox concussion of old darkness, and it broke

into his age and stranded him. He stumbled past us,
his grown sons, a strange dead boy choking him silent
and spitting stale blood in the safe rooms of our home,
blind for a terrible reckoning, demanding atonement.
And we, in the comfortable bedrooms
taken for granted always, innocent,
were forced among the spaces of his acts and words
to where his gains burned through like punishment.

– Thomas W. Shapcott, ‘War’, in Inwards to the Sun: Poems (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1969), 59.

Friday with Leunig: (a triple) on the ‘forces of evil’

Vasco Pyjama

The Age, 27 September 2014

Stone Age

The Age, 1 October 2014

Cult pie

3 October 2014

Some notes on Henry Reynolds’ Archibald Baxter Memorial Peace Lecture

‘No war can be called just; they all use the same machinery’. So argued Professor Henry Reynolds (University of Tasmania) at tonight’s Inaugural Archibald Baxter Memorial Peace Lecture, sponsored by the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago. Reynolds opened his public lecture by making the case that pacifism need not necessarily be anti-patriotic. On the contrary, the best thing one can do for a nation, he argued – in the spirit of him whose name and witness were being honoured, the great Archibald Baxter – is to keep it from going to war. He also argued that wars beget war, and that a victory to any side only further perpetuates the violence in one form or another.

Unsurprisingly, Reynolds spent most of his time in what for him is familiar territory – Australia. He rehearsed his oft-played themes about Australia’s hidden wars (see his Black Pioneers: How Aboriginal and Islander People Helped Build Australia, Why Weren’t We Told?, The Other Side of the Frontier: Aboriginal Resistance to the European Invasion of Australia, and Forgotten War – all which are well worth reading), noting how between 1788 and 1928 (or, according to some other historians, 1934) Australia was home to large-scale wars between European settlers and indigenous Australians, and that the frontier conflicts (most of the wars took place in isolated regions) in Queensland saw the deaths of tens of thousands (Reynolds argues for a figure of over fifty thousand people – significantly more Australians than were killed in WWII, and on par with those who died in the war to end them all). And yet, as Reynolds and many others have noted, and John Pilger has recently made most public in his film Utopia, these hidden wars remain uncommemorated at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, that ‘great emporium of white nationalism’ (Pilger) and pantheon of Australia’s most enduring and important cult – war. (On this, see What’s Wrong with ANZAC?: The Militarisation of Australian History edited by Reynolds and Marilyn Lake.) It is difficult to see how Australians will even begin to think honestly about its wars until this scandal is rectified.

Reynolds suggested that the calendar for military commemorations in Australia is fuller than the religious calendars ever were during the Middle Ages. He might be right, although there’s little at stake if he’s not. But drawing attention to the Edwardian conviction (surely it’s much older than that?) that nations are made in war, and that there can be no true nationhood without war, Reynolds is certainly right to call out the propaganda machines which publish ad infinitum the narrative that Australian involvement in overseas conflicts are the nation’s most important defining events, a fact which begs the question about what nationhood might have meant prior to 1914, and which does wonders for tourist operators arranging parties at ANZAC Cove.

Reynolds concluded with some discussion about the Boer War, noting that there were only four members of the Australian Parliament who voted against involvement, and that there was scarcely any discussion at all – either in Parliament or elsewhere – on either the legality or morality of the war. The new egalitarian democracies of Australia and New Zealand were keener to join Britain’s war than were the Brits, and the colonisers were desperate to secure the allegiance of her loyal subjects (including India), frightfully concerned that they might go the way of Canada or, God forbid, of the United States. The second half of the Boer War in particular saw numerous and widespread atrocities and human rights violations, violations which Australia felt no responsibility for – just as contemporary white Australia, ‘Team Australia’, feels no responsibility for its most costly wars, the one’s which took place upon her own soil – because this was, after all, Mother Britain’s war and not ours.

I left feeling grateful for the work of places like the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, emboldened in my own commitment to the ways of non-violence in the ‘broken middle’ (Gillian Rose), and thinking about the ongoing relevance of Desmond Tutu’s words (published in God Is Not a Christian): ‘There can be no future without forgiveness. There will be no future unless there is peace. There can be no peace unless there is reconciliation. But there can be no reconciliation before there is forgiveness. And there can be no forgiveness unless people repent’.

A wee footnote to Herbert Read’s ‘Bombing Casualties: Spain’

Doll’s faces are rosier but these were children
their eyes not glass but gleaming gristle
dark lenses in whose quicksilvery glances
the sunlight quivered. These blanched lips
were warm once and bright with blood
but blood
held in a moist blob of flesh
not split and spatter’d in tousled hair.

In these shadowy tresses
red petals did not always
thus clot and blacken to a scar.

These are dead faces:
wasps’ nests are not more wanly waxen
wood embers not so greyly ashen.

They are laid out in ranks
like paper lanterns that have fallen
after a night of riot
extinct in the dry morning air.

– Herbert Read, ‘Bombing Casualties: Spain’, in Poems of Protest Old and New: A Selection of Poetry, ed. Arnold Kenseth (London: The Macmillan Company, 1968), 64.

Herbert ReadThese words were written in the 1930s, in response to a photograph accompanying a newspaper article on the Spanish Civil War. Like much of Read’s writing, they could have been written this week or, indeed, in any week since the third century BCE, when the first paper lanterns were created. This is part of their enduring power. But what most strikes me about Read’s poem is the contrast between the violence and loss described in the first three stanzas and the order and reclamation – the being ‘laid out in ranks’ – spoken of in the final one: the mocking plastering-over of violence blasphemously championed under the pretext of bringing order to chaos.

Such efforts to bring about order like this are not necessarily wasted or misguided; indeed, they are a requisite part of the responsibility laid upon us as creatures made in the image of one who is himself set against those parasites in the cosmos which threaten life. However, and to state the obvious, not all that promotes itself as doing that work is, in fact, doing that work. And so the hard and patient and ceaseless work of discernment, the drawing of a line (one not necessarily straight or entirely clear) which steers us away from those Forsyth calls ‘the facile hierophant and the sweet exalté’ and towards a world made new, transformed not by the invasion of a foreign power or by the ascension of a paladin self-made but from within the very bastille of the human condition, charged with Spirit.

Leunig on Aussies, fighting, President Obama, and being kicked up the foxhole

Fight

War, a reflection from Leunig

image

Daniel Bell on ‘Just War and Christian Discipleship’

By way of a wee follow up to a recent post on ‘just war’ theory, I wish to draw attention to a talk, which I have only just gotten around to listen to, by Daniel Bell on ‘Just War and Christian Discipleship’, the subject of a book and of this pamphlet also by Bell. It’s a paper presented at Wheaton’s Theology Conference earlier this year on Christian Political Witness, and is available for download in both MP3 and MP4 formats.

Leunig, Hunsinger and Hauerwas on ‘just war’ theory

As the US continues to beat its war drums in the Middle East, it’s a good time to think again about the so-called ‘just war’ theory. So, I draw attention to three pieces – from Michael Leunig, from George Hunsinger and from Stanley Hauerwas.

So, Leunig:

Just war

And in a recent piece published in Commonweal Magazine, Hunsinger argues that ‘a defensible case for the attack on Syria would have to satisfy traditional “just war” standards. In its modern form the just-war tradition (jus ad bellum) involves at least four primary elements: just cause, legitimate authority, last resort, and reasonable chance of success. If these criteria remain unmet, the recourse to war is unjustified’. In Hunsinger’s view, the proposed attack on Syria meets none of these standards.

And here, Hauerwas argues that the real realists are not the just-war advocates anyway, but the pacifists. Moreover, he contends that ‘the lack of realism about realism by American just war advocates has everything to do with their being American’. ‘In particular’, he suggests, ‘American advocates of just war seem to presume that democratic societies place an inherent limit on war that more authoritarian societies are unable to do. While such a view is quite understandable, I would argue that democratic society – at least, the American version – is unable to set limits on war because it is democratic. Put even more strongly, for Americans war is a necessity to sustain our belief that we are worthy to be recipients of the sacrifices made on our behalf in past wars. Americans are a people born of and in war, and only war can sustain our belief that we are a people set apart’. Such democracies, Hauerwas believes, ‘by their very nature seem to require that wars be fought in the name of ideals that make war self-justifying’. And, characteristically, Hauerwas concludes his piece with a reflection on the relationship between war, christology and ecclesiology:

Pacifists are realists. Indeed, we have no reason to deny that the “realism” associated with Augustine, Luther and Niebuhr has much to teach us about how the world works. But that is why we do not trust those who would have us make sacrifices in the name of preserving a world at war. We believe a sacrifice has been made that has brought an end to the sacrifice of war.

Augustine and Luther thought Christians might go to war because they assumed a church existed that provided an alternative to the sacrificial system war always threatens to become. When Christians no longer believe that Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient for the salvation of the world, we will find other forms of sacrificial behaviours that are as compelling as they are idolatrous. In the process, Christians confuse the sacrifice of war with the sacrifice of Christ.

If a people does not exist that continually makes Christ present in the world, war will always threaten to become a sacrificial system. War is a counter church. War is the most determinative moral experience many people have.

That is why Christian realism requires the disavowal of war. Christians do not disavow war because it is often so horrible, but because war, in spite of its horror – or perhaps because it is so horrible – can be so morally compelling. That is why the church does not have an alternative to war. The church is the alternative to war. When Christians lose that reality – that is, the reality of the church as an alternative to the world’s reality – we abandon the world to the unreality of war.

For what it’s worth, whenever I happen across Christians defending just-war theory to justify their participation in the state’s various machineries of cross-border violence (which, for the record, is not what I think Hunsinger is doing), I’m reminded of another George – George Bernard Shaw – and his challenge to (hypocritical) church leaders:

They have turned their churches into recruiting stations and their vestries into munitions workshops. But it has never occurred to them to take off their black coats and say quite simply, ‘I find in the hour of trial that the Sermon on the Mount is tosh, and that I am not a Christian. I apologise for all the unpatriotic nonsense I have been preaching all the years. Have the goodness to give me a revolver and a commission in a regiment which has for its chaplain a priest of the god Mars: my God.’ Not a bit of it. They have stuck to their livings and served Mars in the name of Christ, to the scandal of all religious mankind.

John Pilger and ‘The War You Don’t See’

John Pilger‘s film The War You Don’t See is, above all else, a call to responsible journalism, especially by those ‘journalists’ who have en masse lost their nerve, or who have temporarily (one hopes) mislaid the purpose of their craft. (Of course, Pilger himself has attracted no shortage of detractors over the years who would accuse him of irresponsible journalism. The onus on proof is clearly on the side of the detractors. And then there are those who find themselves in broad agreement with Pilger’s interpretation of things but struggle with a style that is perceived to be arrogant or hyped. I have some sympathy with these critics, although I’ve tried to never let his style get in the way of the content. This interview with the queen of ego herself, Kim Hill, is a case in point.)

There’s challenge here too, it seems to me, for those of us charged with the responsibility of rightly dividing the word of truth, especially for those who have lost our nerve to boldly address the powers or to do the demanding work it takes to simply tell the truth rather than spout the party line.

Anyway, for those who are yet to see the film, I thought I’d commend and post it for viewing here:

Pilger’s latest film (currently in production) is called Utopia and is due out at the end of the year. I look forward to seeing it.

Hauerwas on war and non-violence

some monday morning link love

On blood and guts, violence and death

I’ve been enjoying this delightful collection of short essays by the Melbourne-born poet, artist and cultural commentator Michael Leunig. Here’s a snippet from his essay ‘Blood and Guts, Violence and Death’:

“No nation can go to war without a sufficient reserve of hatred, cruelty and bloodlust politely concealed in its general population, and if our so-called Western democracies wanted their ‘war against terror’, then let them now at least see the graphic details of war’s sickening and hideous consequences.

The curse is, however, that it’s the children who are most defiled and blighted by such frightening imagery – and they had no part in it.

My years in the abattoir taught me that society denies its bloodlust and cruelty and imagines that such impulses appropriately belong to prehistoric barbarians, or ‘rough and uncouth men’. But I believe we now have the unique modern cruelty of the refined and educated Western man, the respected gentleman in the fine suit who has never much dirtied his hands or killed a living creature, never meditated upon a rotting corpse and never had his consciousness infected with the messy organic substances of violent death – yet who can sign with an elegant golden pen the document that unleashes the cowardly invasion and who can then go out to dine on claret and lamb cutlets.

The likes of these men abound in the halls of academia, the boardrooms and corridors of power, and the chicken-coop workstations of the media, where they have clamoured for war, for all sorts of ungodly and unfathomable reasons, without really knowing in their bones how it works – the business of violence and blood and guts.

They are primally inexperienced, unconnected and unwise. Their flesh has not been seared. Their  repressed death fascination and sly cruelty has not yet been transformed into reverence and understanding by initiation into things carnal and spiritual, by the actual sights and sounds of splattering blood and crunching bone, and the pitiful flailing and wailing of violent death – the very thing they would unleash upon others. Just one sordid street-fight or one helpless minute of aerial bombardment might redeem them. They lack the humbling erudition of the slaughterman, the paramedic and, no doubt, the soldier who has really been a soldier.

I dare say there’s something foul, creepy and disgraceful emerging in the character of corporate and political leadership in ‘Western civilisation’, and I sense it’s substantially the result of an insipid masculinity problem.

The insatiable need for heartless power and ruthless control is the telltale sign of an uninitiated man – the most irresponsible, incompetent and destructive force on earth.”

– Michael Leunig, The Lot: In Words (Camberwell: Penguin, 2008), 50–2.