Wednesday, 16 October 2019

The Seduction and Horror of War


President Woodrow Wilson
Siegfried Sassoon













“You will see the effect upon  people. They will acclaim it with enthusiasm; everybody is already looking forward to the first onslaught—so dull have their lives become.
—Herman Hesse, Damian

"One of the most troubling reasons men love war is the love of destruction, the thrill of killing...all you do is move the finger so imperceptibly, just a wish flashing across your mind like a shadow, not even a full brain synapse, and poof, in a blast of sound and energy and light a truck or a house or even people disappear, everything flying and settling back into dust."
William Broyles, "Why Men Love War," Esquire, November 1984, veteran of the Vietnam War

"Oh! What a Lovely War does recreate this time, in a bitter mixture of history, satire, detail, panorama and music.
Especially music. There is something paradoxical in the thought of singing about a war, and yet cheap popular songs often capture the spirit of a time better than any collection of speeches and histories. Miss (Joan) Littlewood (in the 1963 stage production), and (Richard) Attenborough after her, present the war as a British music hall review; there's a lot of smiling up front, but backstage you can see the greasepaint and smell the sweat, and the smiles become desperate, and there begins to be blood.

This sense is captured most tellingly in Maggie Smith's scene. She plays a robust, patriotic broad who lures the young men from the audience to the stage with promises of love and implications of heroic death. But death is reserved for the young, not for the old, and John Mills (as Sir Douglas Haig) stays far behind the lines, studying the front from an observation tower. Meanwhile, politicians, kings and rulers play stupid games of diplomacy and etiquette, and 'acceptable losses' are counted in the hundreds of thousands. But always everyone whistles a happy tune...."
— Roger Ebert, October 30, 1969

Monday, 16 September 2019

Redeeming the Past in Alexi Zentner's Copperhead and Eli Saslow's Rising Out of Hatred

Author Alexi Zenter. (Photo: Laurie Willick, Viking)Add caption
Alexi Zentner's, Copperhead, spins several threads that eventually knit together. Although the President's name is  mentioned only twice, in reference to the Woman's March that occurred shortly after his inauguration, the novel is firmly ensconced in the Trump era where racial and class tensions have been exacerbated. The novel's incendiary language exploits these divisions mirroring the raw rhetoric the President deploys in his rallies and almost daily tweets. There is an incisive exploration of toxic race relations and the stigma associated with being labeled as so-called "white trash." It is also an investigation about the relationship between the alt-right and the religious right in America. Throughout, a teenager navigates through these treacherous landmines, makes a serious mistake and as an adult attempts to address it.

In a gripping third-person narrative relayed in bite-size chapters that
unfolds over a few days, Zentner introduces us to Jessup, a high-school senior living in a small community in upstate New York "where history is everything." Despite being raised by a single mom on a limited income and living in a trailer-park home, Jessup maintains good grades and works at the local movie theatre when he is not hunting to supply food for his family. Perhaps most importantly, he excels at athletics. Even though some of his classmates dismiss him as "born into the wrong family," even a Nazi, he is a standout football player and has the possibility of acquiring an Ivy League football scholarship.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Humanity Challenged: A Thematic Overview

 For the next eight weeks I will be highlighting on this site an overview of talks on the topic "Humanity Challenged" that I will be presenting for Learning Unlimited. Quotations have been sometimes lightly edited and are sourced whenever possible. Most of the longer quotations are linked to the complete article. 
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"People who lack empathy see others as mere objects."
― Baron Simon-Cohen, Zero Degrees of Empathy, 2011


"Hatred is the vice of narrow souls. They feed with all their smallness. They use it as an excuse for their vile tyrannies.”

― Balzac

“Genocide is a process. The Holocaust did not start with the gas chambers. It started with hate speech.”
― Adama Dieng, the UN’s  Special  Advisor on the prevention of Genocide

“We are, I know not how, double in ourselves, so that what we believe, we disbelieve, and cannot rid ourselves of what we condemn.”
― Michel de Montaigne

"Forgiveness allows us to actually let us go of the pain in the memory. And if we let go  of the pain in the memory we can have the memory but it doesn't control us. I think it's the fact that when memory controls us, we are then puppets of the past."

― Alexandra Asseily, psychotherapist in Lebanon


    Conditions that challenge one’s humanity:
    A lack of integrity or moral compass, and the inability to       respect and demonstrate empathy for others
    A desire for revenge or to get even
    The inability to forgive
    The willingness to inflict harm on others physically or     emotionally through exploitation, humiliation or ridicule
    The unwillingness to accept personal responsibility
    A disregard for the rule of law, a free press and an independent judiciary