Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Horror, the Horror

The Devil's method is to distract you
To make you think some great drama is important. 
And all the while, 
he's getting your soul
in a hundred little ways
 you don't even suspect.

Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now is Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 masterpiece that examines the far horizon of war, where an American Army officer, Colonel Kurtz (played by Marlon Brando) has followed the ruthless logic of his vocation to his own dark corner of the Vietnam War. Although the rogue colonel is undeniably successful in fighting the Viet Cong, the higher-ups have determined he must be "terminated with extreme prejudice" -- assassinated. The job falls to Captain Willard (played by Martin Sheen).

Captain Willard is transported up the Nung river aboard a Navy riverine boat with a crew of four. Various episodes highlight the insanity of war until the river finally takes them to Colonel Kurtz's village. There, they are met by an American photojournalist (a manic Dennis Hopper) who has fallen under Kurtz's spell. Bodies hang from trees and (near the end of this clip) Willard comes upon severed heads. (More on the severed heads in a moment.)

The 7 minute clip begins with Captain Willard's ominous welcome by Colonel Kurtz's fanatical Montagnard tribesmen, whereupon Dennis Hopper's photojournalist steals the scene. As they enter the village, Captain Willard sees his eerie doppelganger: the previous assassin that has evidently decided to join Kurtz instead of killing him. (This is excellent film making, and worth a watch even if you have seen it before.) 

At the end the photojournalist sounds embarrassed for his idol.

"The heads. You're looking at the heads. Sometimes he goes too far. He's the first one to admit it."

Clip: "The Arrival" (rated R for severed heads and brief nudity).

If the only rule in war is victory, the only real strategy must look very much like madness. Colonel Kurtz matches the enemy in barbarity while taunting the generals he left behind for their own moral schizophrenia: they train young men to drop fire on people, but will not let them write an obscenity on their airplanes. Colonel Kurtz has unapologetically embraced horror. The movie ends with the dying Kurtz whispering, "the horror, the horror."

Apocalypse Right Now

Fast-forward 2016. ISIS is occupying the cradle of empires along the Tigris and Euphrates. The historically inclined might call them Babylon, reborn.

Where ISIS rules, there is no such thing as too many severed heads. Sorry to discuss this topic, but we are talking about a popular Muslim uprising, so perhaps you will forgive the Bear. They hang them from utility lines. They stick them on fences. Their Islamic clerics pose in front of them like they're at severed head Disneyland. ISIS probably makes regular head-cutting-off Muslims feel embarrassed for them. You can imagine bearded Taliban banditos or sand-chafed clerics wagging their beards. "The heads. You're looking at the heads." Sometimes they go too far.

Stalin said one death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic. ISIS has not reached a million heads, but insha'Allah maybe next year. But in terms of whatever it is they are trying to accomplish, is it working for them?  When you're hanging heads from telephone lines, you have moved beyond horror, and into wretched excess. You're not Jack the Ripper soaking Victorian London in pity and morbid curiosity for each mutilated serial victim. You're a freak show. And always the cameras, the Tweets. They're proud of their handiwork. It's what they have to show for their miserable lives' aspirations.

They're not a movement, they're history's largest self-sustaining insane asylum. Colonel Kurtz would feel at home.

They are dehumanizing themselves. They have cast themselves as the zombies in the Islamic version of World War Z. How else to get across the pestilential, mindless violence than to invoke zombies? Even Colonel Kurtz had a flicker of insight.

People don't saw off other people's heads. This is so basic you can't even articulate it without getting the tone wrong. Propaganda has always tried to dehumanize the enemy. ISIS is dehumanizing itself for us. If it wasn't easy to hate them before, their self-dehumanization makes it hard not to. Everybody knows it's okay to kill zombies. That is their function and attraction, if you care for that sort of thing, in zombie movies.

Even so, they ape their betters. Consider the latest videotaped beheading. Two cameras, a masked murderer with a London accent, slick editing and relatively high production values. Perhaps it aids in recruitment, but they're not scaring anyone. Ironically, as they try to be more "professional," they are adopting the technical arts of the despised West and looking over-produced, too slick, inauthentic, too Western. And of all the equipment necessary for the production, the only thing they can even dream of making for themselves is the knife -- maybe.

Perhaps Arabic has no word for "irony."

What is the highest cultural achievement of the new Babylonians in the 21st century? Severed heads. Congratulations, Islam. You win the FAIL award for all time. One is tempted to sing with the psalmist about the enemies of God: "I hate them with a perfect hate." Hold that thought.

The Secret Fight Against the New Babylonians

We're never going to "solve" the Middle East. The Babylonians had to run the course allotted to them by God, but not before they had destroyed Jerusalem, King Solomon's magnificent Temple, and taken captive thousands of the chosen people. Before that, in the Promised Land, God's solution was to wage a war of utter extermination of the Canaanites, right down to their animals. Perhaps Colonel Kurtz is thinking of this when he broadcasts:

But we must kill them all. We must incinerate them. Pig after pig. Cow after cow. Village after village. Army after army.

Even under God's orders, the Hebrew people did not finish the job. We do not have the mandate and are thankfully more civilized. Colonel Kurtz got results, but we don't want to be him. The Bear feels confident that below the righteous anger, his readers are not quite ready to endorse genocide. Not really.

Which raises the real point of this essay.

Islam: Vomited Forth from the Depths of Hell

The Bear, like you, gets very angry when he reads of his brother and sister Christians driven from their homes and churches, forced to convert to the false religion of Islam, sold into slavery, into marriage, into sex trafficking, tortured, killed, beheaded.

The Bear is confident in saying Islam is an impostor religion vomited forth from the bowels of Hell to accomplish from the outside by terror what Satan could not accomplish from the inside through error: the destruction of Christianity. The Bear believes that anyone who cooperates with or makes excuses for Islam is providing material assistance to the enemy in the real war, the very long one, whose first casualty was Eve. The Bear is so sorry if the interfaith sensibilities of anyone are hurt by that. But read what the Apostle John has to say about the Antichrist in his epistles.

Who is the liar? Whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Whoever denies the Father and the Son, this is the antichrist. No one who denies the Son has the Father, but whoever confesses the Son has the Father as well. 

New American Bible. (2011). (Revised Edition., 1 Jn 2:22–23). Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"Three Great
Abrahamic Religions"
If the Bible is not clear enough, there are, after all, the heads. Satan can't help but sign his work in blood. Wherever Islam gets to be as Islamic as it wants to be, from Muslim enclaves in Sweden, to Mosul, we have bad results. Yet the platitudes about how peaceful Islam is, and how it is one of the Three Amigo Religions of GAR (Great Abrahamic Religions) will never cease from the White House and the Vatican. The first casualty of interfaith dialogue is truth.

The Bear finds it to be a useful test for exposing those willing to lie to him about everything else.

In case, this is not clear enough, yes, the Bear believes President Obama and  Pope Francis are liars.  All agents of the Prince of the World are liars. It's how they operate. They know most people are stupid and wicked enough to believe them. Jews don't need Jesus. The Reformation must be celebrated. Islam is a religion of peace. We have some sort of plan in Afghanistan. These are all lies, of course. But at least they're truthful in their lies. They announce where their loyalties lie. The reveal their contempt for us. All you have to do is pay attention.

Satan: "Keep Your Eyes on the Heads, and I'll Just Take Your Soul."

Muslim terrorists want to scare us, but there is a more sinister, inhuman goal: to make us angry, to make us hate them. To fill us with hatred, and to make us kill them in our hearts. This is the real warfare, the strategic goal of their infernal master. Even as we sit far from the atrocities that break our hearts, we think we are safe, but in reality we are engaged in immediate spiritual warfare. If we're not careful, we may find ourselves agreeing with Colonel Kurtz, even if we lack the ability to carry out his ideas. We can become infected from the zombie's bite, and become one of them, a ghastly parody of humanity. A hater.

Yet Jesus demands the seeming impossible: that we love our enemies. Those enemies, perhaps without realizing it, are trying to lead us into a new Babylonian Captivity of hate.

Beware of hate.  The Bear is not standing on some mountain peak addressing you as your better. The Bear is a hater. It is the nature of a Bear to pitilessly rend and tear and proudly display the purp'ld muzzle. But, as he understands it, God expects more from humans. Not-hate is hard for Bears. It's probably not easy for humans. The Bear is a hater, it's true. Old habits, etc.

The Bear also knows the real story is always on the inside. The real headlines are made in the heart. The Devil couldn't care less how many heads ISIS cuts off, or how many people are murdered in your own country by Muslims shouting about how great their head-cutting-off god of blood is. The Devil's method is to distract you. To make you think some great drama is important. And all the while, he's getting your soul in a hundred little ways you don't even suspect.

The Bear would like to close this reflection on events in the Middle East with some thoughts he hopes may be of use to you.

  • If you're thinking things are weird, that something more than human evil is abroad, the Bear would tend to agree.
  • If you're tired of the State Department and professional "dialoguers" with the USCCB telling us this has nothing to do with Islam, welcome to the Bear's clubhouse.
  • As hard as it is to swallow, the murderers beneath the black flag of Islam are to be pitied -- fought and pitied. They are locked into a 7th century false religion whose only fruit is death. They are sons of Adam -- our brothers -- cursed to live under Satan's regime in this life and damnation in the next. The Church used to teach that such was the fate of those who deny Christ.  Another dogma of the indefectible Church that has been jettisoned to conform with the world.
  • We should recognize there is little we can do except support our government in taking ISIS pressure off the humanitarian crisis and supporting the threatened where feasible. Our government should be ready to welcome and resettle non-Muslim refugees, and not hold their inability to speak Spanish against them.
  • There are times our information age is more of a curse than a blessing. There are news aggregators we may need to avoid if they upset us too much. We don't have to read every story, or look at every picture. The Bear has deliberately kept them out of this article. We know what's going on; we don't need to get sucked into graphic stories and images that can only darken our hearts.

Movements of history, great and small, come and go. They are nothing compared to an eternal human soul. This is a time when prayer really does matter. We pray for deliverance of Christians and other non-Muslims, but we also pray that God strengthen and comfort them no matter what. We should pray for the conversion of Muslims, especially our enemies. We must immerse ourselves in prayer so that we do not become victims ourselves, victims of spiritual attack. If we read what inflames us, we shall be inflamed. We can stay informed without falling into the enemy's trap. Hatred is a choice, but, like all sins, we can find ourselves well and truly caught in the snare before we realize the danger. Our hearts are besieged fortresses in a dark age. May we all find help from God in whatever battles we must face.

[Revised and republished.]


  1. Now... speaking of movies.

    TCM had the 1939 version of Four Feathers.

    Best part of the movie is the battle of Omdurman. Kitchener+field artillery+maxim machine gun+will to use all of them to their fullest effectiveness = dead/crushed fanatical muslims. And, for extra sweetness, the non PC term Fuzzies is used to refer to the revolting tribesman. Take that, Mahdists everywhere!

  2. "What ever happens, we have got, the Maxim gun and they have not." - Hilaire Belloc.

    Fuzzy was not really a derogatory term at the time, and Kipling praised their courage. Kipling's famous poem about Afghanistan "To a Young British Soldier:"

    When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
    And the women come out to cut up what remains,
    Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
    An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.
    Go, go, go like a soldier,
    Go, go, go like a soldier,
    Go, go, go like a soldier,
    So-oldier of the Queen!

    1. You're right, the term Fuzzie identified them by their unusual hair do. I was surprised that this stuff even makes it on cable without some sort of trigger warning.

      Gunga din is a tribute to the water bearer's courage.

      I think Kipling and Kipling's Tommy ATkins were more offended by the natives lack of mannners and organization. I don't understand why Kipling is not read more. There is a great deal of wisdom in his poetry. Read his "The 'eathen". Or, for great beauty and knowledge in "A Hymn before Action"

      Ah, Mary pierced with sorrow,
      Remember, reach and save
      The soul that comes to-morrow
      Before the God that gave!
      Since each was born of woman,
      For each at utter need --
      True comrade and true foeman --
      Madonna, intercede!

    2. Advice to suicide.


      Could we expect less of a Mason?

    3. I wonder if Kipling meant for that poem to be taken seriously as advice, or whether it was reflecting current practice, or at least lore, or meant to be ironic. Kipling would be a prime example of an "intellectual traitor," in Benda's sense - someone who applied his art and thought to English imperialism. In fact, I think Benda mentions him specifically.

  3. What the wounded British soldier in Afghanistan and Col. Kurtz alike fail to understand is that death is not the solution. Death is the problem. My plan is to go to my God as a penitent sinner.

  4. The Bear's plan is not to go at all. After 1300 years, we'll see. Suppose everybody's time comes eventually

    Apocalypse Now is a retelling of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness." "Mistuh Kurtz - he dead" is part of the epigraph to T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men." Kurtz, in the book, was an idealistic ivory trader who became overwhelmed by futility and illness. He ended scribbling "exterminate the brutes."

    Is death the problem? "Everybody wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to die." Killing is the solution, sometimes. In self-defense, you don't have to be scrupulously particular about an attacker's life, since your first duty is to protect yourself.

    But your plan is indeed a good one.

  5. Oh Conrad, my favorite secular author. Has the Bear read "Lord Jim"?

  6. God must have a purpose in all this madness. If we all pray a little more we will worry a little less.

  7. ISIS may get their inspiration from History's "greatest" murderer - Tamerlane. He is better known as Timur the Lame (no one every called him that while he was alive), but Tamerlane's body counts (which included beheading) was in the millions. From Western China to the Levant, from India to the Black Sea, cut a swath through History that is mind-boggling. Even the Persians (especially the Persians) feared him and his armies.

  8. I salute you, Bear, for you are wiser than most philosophers.


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