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Archive for the tag “militarism”

Queen Sheba’s ring

Queen Sheba's RingQueen Sheba’s Ring by H. Rider Haggard
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

H. Rider Haggard was a writer of adventure novels, often set in imaginary locations, and has been credited with creating the “lost world” genre of literature. Like many of his books, this one is set in Africa, in the imaginary kingdom, or perhaps one should say queendom of Mur, ruled by Maqueda, a descendant King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

Richard Adams, a British medical doctor, who had wandered the world practising his trade, met and married an Egyprian woman in Cairo, and also met an Egyptologist, Professor Ptolemy Higgs, whom he cured of typhoid, thus earning his gratitude. Adams’s wife dies, and their only son is kidnapped, and many years later Adams has news of his son who is a slave of the Fung tribe in North Central Africa. Maqueda’s people, the Abati, are traditional enemies of the Fung, and avoid being conquered by the Fung because they live in an inaccessible valley surrounded by mountains. Maqueda tells Adams of a prophecy that the Fung will leave if their sphinx-like idol is destroyed, and if Adams does that, the Abati will help him release his son.

Adams returns to Britain, taking the Queen of Sheba’s ring to prove his bona fides, and enlists Professor Higgs (who is drawn by Adams’s stories of ancient artifacts) and a soldier, Captain Oliver Orme, with his sidekick Sergeant Samuel Quick, and they return to Mur with the explosives needed to blow up the idol, with the two soldiers having the necessary expertise in their use.

Unlike some of Haggard’s earlier books, this one seems rather contrived and unconvincing. Queen Sheba’s Ring was first published in 1910, by which time most of Africa had been colonised by European powers, and very few parts remained unknown to Europeans. Perhaps Mur was in the south of Libya, which had not yet been colonised by Italy. Soon after this book was written, modern communications ensured that most educated people in most parts of the world were at least aware of the existence of places and peoples living in continents other than their own, though I am sometimes surprised by the degree of geographical ignorance displayed by contestants in quiz shows. So Rider Haggard was pushing the “lost world” trope a bit hard, though the success of Tarzan stories, and later Indiana Jones, showed that there was still a little juice that could be squeezed out of it. But most writers looking for imaginary settings moved their stories to other planets, which gave them more scope for developing exotic civilizations.

In reading this book, however, I was constantly being reminded of the time in which it was written, because if strongly reflects the arms race that preceded the First World War.

In Britain, the Liberal Party, especially, reacted against the aggressive imperialism and violence that had led to the Second Anglo-Boer War. In Queen Sheba’s Ring Haggard shows himself as a convinced militarist, stressing the need for arms production and military training and conscription. At times I wondered if he had been asked, or even paid by the “hawks” in the Conservative Party to write a book that would do this.

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US quietly garrisons Africa

In an ominous development, the USA has started establishing military bases in Africa.

Why should they want to do that? Are they wanting to start wars here, as they have done in Europe and Asia?

“With little scrutiny from Democrats in Congress and nary a whimper of protest from the liberal establishment, the United States will soon establish permanent military bases in sub-Saharan Africa,” write Glover and Lee in The Nation. “An alarming step forward in the militarization of the African continent, the US Africa Command (Africom) will oversee all US military and security interests throughout the region, excluding Egypt.”

Several African countries, including South Africa, Nigeria, and Libya, are opposed to Africom, and late Tuesday, West African military chiefs denounced the US approach to the project.

Africom officials claim the project will strengthen humanitarian and peacekeeping operations and is not about building more US bases. But critics allege that it’s a move to secure US access to natural resources and counter the growing Chinese presence across the continent. African nations supply the United States with more than 24 percent of its oil

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Courageous COWARDism: What would you do…?

Courageous COWARDism: What would you do…? discusses a common hypothetical moral dilemma that militarists pose to pacifists, or proponents of non-violence:

Those of us “pacifists” who have gone the conscientious objection route have heard all too much of the familiar question: “What would you do if…?” For those of you who are in the dark, let me reconstruct the argument used to challenge the nonviolence as a viable means of conflict resolution.

The accuser begins by placing you in a hypothetical situation in which you a faced with a choice of killing an aggressor that threatens the life of a loved one. You, the subject, hold the power to decide between one life and another. For example; your grandmother, sister, niece, or mother is held captive, a gun to her head (it seems arrogantly patriarchal that the victim consistently is portrayed by a feminine figure…), and you have the power to prevent the crime. Many accusers also insert the stipulation that death is the only thing that will stay the attackers hand. The great responsibility of choosing the moral necessity of killing the attacker rests upon you. What would you do?

The argument typifies so much of what seems wrong with the Western mindset from an Orthodox point of view. I’m not concerned to analyse the argument and discuss all its flaws — the original blogger whom I’ve quoted does that quite well, and also points out some of the flaws in the assumptions on which the argument is based. The main assumption, of course, is that moral principles should always be sacrificed to self-interest. It is the idea of the just war writ small — the just homicide. And there lies the core of the problem — Western theology is obsessed with justification: not merely justifying sinners, but justifying war, and homicide. It is the same kind of argument that is used to justify the killing of doctors and nurses at abortion clinics — think of all the babies one is saving.

The Orthodox understanding is somewhat different. It is not so wedded to sets of moral principles, which one is obliged to apply with instant omniscient wisdom when someone has decided to murder one’s grandmother. Christos Yannaras wrote about The freedom of morality, which includes the freedom from the necessity to justify. One may, perhaps, kill the would-be murderer of one’s grandmother, and thereby save her. But one would not attempt to justify the deed. No, if one killed such a person, far from attempting to justify it, one would repent, and confess the killing as a sin.

Orthodoxy has had both those who have fought in wars and those who have refused to fight, and honours as saints some among the first and likewise some among the second. In this world, wars happen. But they are never just.

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