July 27, 2016

In Pakistan, Islamic militants have recently attacked Christian sites. Is this a change from the battle between Islam and western society generally to a more sectarian one?
That's longstanding in the Middle East. Christians are seen by many Muslims as representing the ideology of the west. So while the attacks are new, the enmity isn't new.

But as we saw in Bosnia, you need that religious language to give these rapacious killing sprees theological justification. I remember sitting around with Bosnian Muslim soldiers in the fall campaign of '95, and realizing I was the only one in the room who had read the Koran. Yet it was portrayed that they were fighting for Islam. We've do the same thing, as in Bush's religious language. Lincoln did it too. Stalin resurrected the church during World War II for Old Mother Russia. And it worked.

What if George W. Bush got up and said, "There are many reasons for what happened on Sept. 11, and we're partly culpable. But what they did was wrong and we have to fight back"? Would that be a better stance?
Well, the question is, what did the bombing of Afghanistan really do? Al-Qaeda is not crushed. Since it looks like we're not going to put the resources into rebuilding Afghanistan, just like last time, we may find ourselves with a messy problem on our hands. What would happen if a politician got up and told the truth? Well, people who get up in the middle of national euphoria are very lonely figures. People don't' want to ask those questions because they are having too much fun.

What would you have someone stand up and say?
That we're not who we portray ourselves to be. We're not who we think we are. We must have pity on those whom we kill, not just our own. And until we see that spark of divinity in the other, we're doomed to be the mirror image of those we fight against.

You say that the first act of a country at war is to destroy its own culture. Do you mean impinging on civil rights, that kind of thing?
Yeah, but beyond that, infusing art with patriotic symbols. Waving American flags at the symphony, playing "God Bless America" instead of Beethoven. Everything is destroyed by the patriotic myth. What sells is kitsch, doggerel, jingoism--cultural garbage. Quasi historical novels and sappy sentimental poems about soldiers and heroes--it's all myth. These people were just as frightened, and the moral ambiguity was just as rich as it is now. But all that is ignored. The myth dominates every aspect of culture. It's a terrible kind of contagion. It becomes very hard to think independently.

We inherited this phrase, "the fog of war," from Bob Kerry's revelations last year about a massacre he was involved in in Vietnam. Is there such a thing, or is that myth too?
The unfortunate thing about the Kerry incident is that that's the rule, not the exception. What his unit did is what, if you stay in combat long enough, most soldiers do. That's what we couldn't accept as a nation. We had to look at it as an aberration. It wasn't an aberration, and Kerry knows that. Nor are his feelings of guilt or remorse an aberration. Soldiers carry those. So that's what's disturbing. We didn't want to see that about war.

The fog of war-look, if you're flipped out on the drug of war, you don't think a lot. You've got adrenaline coursing through your blood and fear, and you've got this god-like power to destroy everything around you. It's a kind of drug frenzy. In the midst of it, you can't talk to soldiers. They speak gibberish. Their eyes are glazed. I've seen it in every conflict I've covered. It's probably the closest human beings come to the divine, where they have, within seconds, the power to revoke another person's charter to live on this Earth. And they do.

Having seen as much fighting as you have, what does it make you believe about the existence of God?
You understand the power of love. It's not a term St. Paul would like, but let's use Freud's term, eros. The only sane people in times of conflict are couples who are truly in love. They find they have the completeness that they don't need the state. They don't need the myth. In Bosnia, they were often mixed couples. They were by nature excluded from this ethnic triumphalism. It's usually couples who rescue an individual life. They have the moral rigidity on one hand and the compassion on the other to take care of someone hiding in their basement for three years.

So you see the power of love, and to the extent that that is the divine, you see that it is an undeniable force in human existence, and the only force finally that can confront thanatos.