Necromocracy (Part One)
"Across history, other nations had gone insane. Other movements had been evil or tried awful wizardries. But none perpetrated murder with such dedicated efficiency. The horror must have been directed not so much at death itself, but at some hideous goal beyond death."
When I was taught history in high school, Athens was a favourite historical analogue for the United States. Both were considered accidental empires and, for the most part, benign necessities of their dangerous times. (For America, this was the period of its so-called soft power, even though its application often felt hard as hell away from home. But Mossadegh and Allende could tell you better.) The self-celebrating mythology of America's global reach was always democratic, and its extended aspects - its colonies, though they would never be called such - were assumed to be dependencies by choice. America's Athenians were regarded as individuals, and its military the champion of an individual's liberty. Unlike the Evil Empire of the Soviet Union, whose subjects and armed forces were thought more comparable to the severe and undifferentiated Spartans.
But in wartime, and in a time of re-mythologizing war, America's mythmaking undergoes a radical makeover to favour Sparta and the 300 of King Leonidas. It's too tempting a story to resist, because no matter its overwhelming might, it seems that for the good of its soul America must also, at least in its fiction, regard itself as the underdog. (You could perhaps sense something of this in the relish with which supporters of the Iraq war recounted America's "abandonment" by its traditional allies and the United Nations. "Going it alone" never felt so good.)
A new film treatment of the Battle of Thermopylae, 300, will be released early next year, and it looks like just the ticket to introduce the legend of Sparta to America's popular culture of perpetual war. Particularly appropriate, since Persian arms are once again the perceived enemy, and the few who stand against them now are Rumsfeld's 150,000. (And that reminds me: do you remember reading how, "in the summer of 2001, when security agencies were regularly warning of a catastrophic attack by Al Qaeda, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s office 'sponsored a study of ancient empires—Macedonia, Rome, the Mongols—to figure out how they maintained dominance,' according to the New York Times"?) This latest, and most extreme version is based upon the work of graphic novelist Frank Miller, of the admirable Sin City, but who is also an unabashed propagandist for the White House shooting script. His next project is Holy Terror, Batman!, in which bin laden targets Gotham City and the Dark Knight "kicks al Qaeda's ass."
An inspiring defeat is sometimes worth more to a military and its masters than a sure victory, just as allowing an attack to happen can be of greater long-term benefit than its prevention, and through the centuries the blood of 300 soldiers has probably nourished a thousand campaigns. Perhaps, recalling this post, some of the same soldiers, over and over again. General George Patton was persuaded he was one, as dramatized here ("I fought in many guises, many names. But always me.")
Reincarnation aside, there's a certain necromancy here, in romanticizing the deaths of those long dead in order to stir the living to want to join them. A similar working was accomplished with the 3,000 dead of 9/11 who, though representing many nations, after death all somehow became alchemical Americans. Not only by the Let's Roll! stage-management of their unoffered sacrifice were many thousands more inspired to enlist, die and suffer grievous injury, but their blood is deemed sufficient to cover that of 655,000, and the murderers of Iraq and their enablers still enjoy untroubled sleep.
Call it what you want, but that's some strong magic.
By the way, this may be old news to some, but if you haven't viewed BBC's nearly three-hour documentary from 1992 on Gladio and NATO's secret fascist armies, please do. You can find it in three parts on Google Video. The first segment establishes the context of history and the prominent role played by future CIA wizard James Angleton, and features interviews with William Colby and Licio Gelli; the second examines the Bologna railway station bombing, and the third the Brabant Massacres and the assassination of Aldo Moro. Perhaps because it's another British production from the early 90s, or because it's a history that's largely unknown to North America, or because William Colby appears in both shortly before his likely murder, it has a strong Conspiracy of Silence vibe about it. And I mean that in the best possible way, about the worst possible truth.