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Tag Archives: H. L. Mencken

Aspects of Terror 3. 1945 to 2015.

Laws and customs are useless without fear.
Niccolo Machiavelli, Il Principe, 1532.

In 1987 President Reagan said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”. Though history gave Ronnie credit for the wall’s fall, it had been obvious for years that Communism was a lame duck, an empty threat. When Gorbachev did as he was told, we took to calling him “Gorby”.  Anyway, after more than four decades of bloviating politicians, nuclear threats, military posturing and armed engagements, everybody needed a break. The US had suffered major shocks of its own after World War II and was in need of some psychic R and R.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (1941) had unified the United States. But then came the military stand-off in Korea (1953) and the assassinations of President John Kennedy (1963) and five years later, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. Richard, “Tricky Dick”, Nixon’s criminal Presidency and the defeat of U.S. forces in Vietnam in 1975, topped off consecutive seasons of discontent. These successive traumas gradually undermined America’s self esteem and raised doubts about a future world order. All the while, allies of the U.S. continued to expect the US to confront and pay for any global conflict, arising anywhere, at any time. Talk about Schaden Freude!

–  All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.          ….Thomas Paine

At the time of  Reagan’s Berlin speech, religion had ceased to be a significant moral force in many western cultures. But, still gripping the heartland of America was a deep Christian belief in the wrath of God, the fear of death and its aftermath.

Then came 9/11, 11 September, 2001, when hijackings of four US commercial airplanes by Jihadists galvanized the US, bringing terror back to the heartland and providing political opportunists a ready made bandwagon. Before a joint session of Congress in January, 2002, George W. Bush used 9/11 to unveil  what became his presidency’s slogan, “Axis of Evil”, a not very subtle allusion to our II World War enemies and Biblical admonishments.  “Axis of Evil” and “Weapons of Mass Destruction” paved the way for a March, 2003 US invasion of Iraq.

– The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary          …H. L. Mencken

Tragically the War with Iraq, as it came to be known, was unnecessary.  Provoked by Dick Cheney, and justified by Gen. Colin Powell who, in February 2003, presented the United Nations with seemingly unimpeachable proof of Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction, the US invaded Iraq, dragging its allies behind it. But Colin Powell had been set up.  When Dick Cheney’s proof later proved to be fabricated, world wide condemnation of the US followed.

US tactics have been useless against individual acts of terror and so called Mid-East Jihadists. Those tactics, for there is no evidence of an intelligent strategy, have only exacerbated Mid-East problems. The institutional chaos among today’s Muslims is comparable to the Reformation in northern Europe when Catholicism splintered into multiple Protestant sects. Then as now, the conflicts have more to do with power than religious doctrine. Finally exhausted from years of carnage, Europe began to sort things out, sort of. The Mid-East must do the same.

It’ll take time, probably a long time, but that’s okay. Let’s leave the ball in their court and while they’re figuring out which strain of muslimicity is the purist, we can keep busy at home, shedding our ethnocentricity and recouping the losses we’ve suffered during our attempts to impose our brand of capitalism and democracy where it’s unwanted. Oh yes. We can also deal with the crooks on Wall Street. [1.]

Meanwhile, the Cold War has morphed into the War on Terror. According to current political cant, it will take years, perhaps generations to defeat terrorism. Now everyone can breath easily. No need to confront national problems, simply fixate on terror. However, proponents of a long term engagement with terror would do well to remember the fate of the French in Viet Nam, the Russians in Afghanistan, Napoleon in Russia, the Brits in America twice and the US in Viet Nam. Terror is part of the human condition. It will never be defeated by war. It can be sublimated, but that’s something our politicians seem willing to avoid.

For people saturated with terrorism, perpetually trapped, as it were, inside an Iron Maiden with an adolescent suicide bomber, I suggest the following remedies. Frequent and liberal doses of sarcasm, mockery, laughter and ridicule would certainly help. And read up on some terrorists from back-in-the-day. History will reveal contemporary terrorists to be merely tawdry exhibitionists.

Their kidnappings, beheadings, bombings, burnings and mass murders, constantly talked about, reported on and analyzed, will pale into insignificanse when compared to the exquisite terrors inflicted byTimor Lane, Pope Innocent the IV,  Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. These sadists did not wear masks nor seek publicity. They were confident of their missions. Leave all this Mid-East stuff to the Mid-East, the entire Mid-East. They’ve started killing each other, a good sign, so leave them to it. As Jon Stewart said, ” It’s all Bull shit”. So let’s start cleaning the shit off our boots. They’ve been on the ground for far too long.

[1.] The financial crash of 2008 was another kind of terror. American’s awoke to discover their  investments and pensions had been electronically siphoned into Wall Street banks. Overnight, America’s middle class almost disappeared and to date, no bank financial officer has been prosecuted, much less put in jail. The nation’s unity, so prominent after World War II, was fractured into a corrosive cocktail of bewilderment, disbelief, cynicism, disgust and fear. In seventy years, the US has dwindled from the world’s richest, most optimistic and powerful nation, to third world status.

The question is, will it stay there?

Note: In 1945, I was 8 years old. I clearly remember VE Day. I and my fellow students were given small paper American flags and sang “God Bless America” as we marched en mass around our school.

 
 

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The Impossible H. L. Mencken

A letter to Michael Enright, C.B.C. Radio host

January 27, 2003

Dear Michael,

I was delighted to hear H. L. Mencken’s voice on your Sunday Edition broadcast of January 26th.  I too was born in Baltimore, Maryland and like Mencken have fond memories of that city, although unlike Mencken who was 57 years old at the time of my birth, I never had to worry about typhus, malaria or a lack of sewers.  The miserable heat of a Baltimore summer remains to this day.

Baltimore and the state of Maryland has a distinguished list of natives: among them, Babe Ruth, Eubie Blake, Francis Scott Key, and Edgar Alan Poe.  Well, O.K., Poe was born in Boston, but he went to his alchohol crazed Romantic death in Baltimore, his grave is there, and Baltimore claims him.   However, my particular favorite son has always been H. L. Mencken.

One of the best books about him is “The Impossible Mencken”, a selection of his newspaper stories, edited by Marion Rogers with a forward by Gore Vidal.  To read Mencken at his best is to realize that Political Correctness is the real terrorist of our times.  It has reduced our journalistic debates to shouting matches between rating seekers and too often, our already cowardly politicians to blithering idiots.

No one revealed better than Mencken the disingenuousness, greed, superficiality, stupidity and hubris of our politicians and captains of industry. What he wrote is valid today. But today, alas, no one could write about Presidents, “Babbitts” and “Pecksniffs” as Mencken did without being branded a traitor, being fired, or buried under a mountain of shibboleths by people Mencken called “Homo Neanderthalensis”.

He did rant, but he knew what was going on and woe be to those who dared to take him on.

I’m enclosing an audio tape of an interview with Mencken at The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. on 30 June, 1948 conducted by Donald Howe Kirkley of the Baltimore Sun newspaper.  The tape may prove to be more than you ever wanted to know about Mencken, but a snippet every now and then is refreshing. The interview begins with some interesting comments that precede the excerpt you played on Sunday Edition and a little further along, Mencken brands people stupid who write to newspapers or radio broadcasters – although he does say that people of intelligence do write once in awhile.

This is my first letter to a broadcaster.

All best wishes,

Robin Engelman

Copyright©2009, Robin Engelman

 
 

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