Bob Schwartz

Tag: U.S.

Why We Should Teach and Learn Ancient History First

Children in America who attend some sort of religious school, even before going to secular school, may learn some limited sort of ancient history. Ancient in that it concerns purported people and events from millennia ago. Limited in that some number of those people and events, however instructional and enlightening, may be of some historical question.

There is other ancient history worth teaching our kids early, and catching up with ourselves, just in case we missed it in our own education. There are continuous civilizations all around the world that have been ongoing, in the same place, also for millennia.

China, for example. Or India. Or the native populations in the Americas. This is where education should start, before we start talking about admittedly important people arriving on these North American shores and establishing an admittedly important nation just a few centuries ago.

Why? Because it would give us a sense of perspective on what we have, or have not, achieved so far. And because it would give us a missing sense of the scope of history, in that everything comes and goes. Which you could learn from the history of China. Or you could learn from reading the I Ching, the book about things changing, written in China millennia ago. Or if you prefer something more Western and familiar, from reading the Bible itself. A time for every purpose, it says. And so it goes.

Defeating ISIS: Lessons from the American and Israeli Wars of Independence

We can’t “defeat” ISIS. Not if that means declaring “victory” over Middle East-based Muslim radicalism and terror.

There are lessons from the American and Israeli Wars of Independence. This isn’t to suggest any moral equivalence comparing those world-changing events to the monstrosity of ISIS. But there are things to learn.

Both Wars of Independence were attempts to upend empire and established order and create a new model (both uprisings, not coincidentally, involving the British). Both were insurgencies by True Believers, one political and economic, one religious. Both are examples of the power of the heart, because the heart not only wants what the heart wants, it will do anything to get what the heart wants. True belief will find a way.

The British thought that their massive and formal force would roll right over the Americans. They did not count on all sorts of stealthy and tricky techniques, on secret communications, on a guerilla war. Mostly, the British didn’t account for the depth of American commitment: hearts and minds and souls. It may not always work that way, but competitions often go, simply, to the side that just wants it more. And that would be the Americans.

The British were never quite sure what they were doing in Palestine. But they did know something about world order and keeping order. Besides, some Brits didn’t much like the Jews anyway. The Zionists believed, literally, that they had God on their side. As far as hearts and minds and souls getting what they want, doing anything to win did mean the occasional act of terror (for example, the 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, leaving 96 dead). As far as who wanted it more, the founders of the modern Jewish state not only defeated the British, but turned back all attempts by hate-fueled neighbors to root them out.

In the aftermath of Paris, just as with 9/11 and other recent terrible events, if we keep talking simplistically about “defeating”, “eliminating” or “building American-style democracy”, we are—there’s no other way to say this—fools. We should eliminate and prevent horror, terror and monstrosity wherever and whenever we can. But if we think that the toxic mixture of true belief, grievance and pathology is just going to vanish because we are purer and more powerful, that would be funny if it weren’t so sad and dangerous.

If you don’t think that hearts, minds and souls matter when it comes to extremism, just look at the sorry record of irresolute and wasteful wars when we ignore that. We may feel righteous and superior, and want to vindicate civilization. But that doesn’t relieve us of the responsibility to be smart. Smart about what we face, what we can accomplish and how to accomplish it. So we can do some good, and do less harm.

Hiroshima: The Year 70 AH and I Ching Heaven

Flag of Hiroshima City

How special is the atomic bomb? So special that many nations want one, many nations have more than one, and yet despite how crazy and desperate some nations have been in the past decades, only one nation has ever used one. A hoarded treasure so dark that it is displayed and demonstrated but not deployed.

So special that it should be the zero of a standard human calendar. Just as Jews measure time from the creation of the world, Christians from the birth of Jesus, Muslims from the hijra from Mecca to Medina, we might all measure time from August 6, 1945.

The U.S. did drop atomic bombs. Twice in three days (August 6 on Hiroshima, August 9 on Nagasaki). And divided history in half, before and after. Before, things might be brutal, tens of millions might be slaughtered, but it would take superhuman effort, and would be followed by an opportunity, however arduous, to rebuild and repopulate. After, in these times, our times, there is a theoretical prospect of erasing some, most, or all of the world and its people. Not easily, but not that hard either, leaving behind a wasteland the size of a city or country or continent.

Above is a picture of the Hiroshima municipal flag, adopted by the city in 1896, almost fifty years before the weapon that destroyed and damaged so many lives. Historians still debate the effect and necessity of the Bomb in hastening the end of the war with Japan, an argument heightened when talking about the second bomb.

On this 70th anniversary, 70 After Hiroshima, let us focus on the flag.

Brief research doesn’t reveal much about the flag’s design. But students of Asian culture might see in it one of the eight I Ching trigrams, since the Chinese oracle has been widely used across Asian nations for thousands of years.

This particular trigram, composed of three unbroken lines, is Qian. When doubled it forms Hexagram 1 of the I Ching, also known as Qian. Heaven. The Creative. Sublime success.

I Ching Hexagram 1

 
John Minford explains in his recent translation:

Heaven above Heaven. Pure Yang. This is the first of eight Hexagrams formed by doubling a Trigram of the same Name. The word chosen for the Trigram/Hexagram Name, Qian, whatever its original meaning may have been (and there are many understandings of this), came in later times to be used more and more as a shorthand for Heaven, emblem of Yang Energy and Creativity.

The classic Wilhelm/Baynes translation notes:

The first hexagram is made up of six unbroken lines. These unbroken lines stand for the primal power, which is lightgiving, active, strong, and of the spirit. The hexagram is consistently strong in character, and since it is without weakness, its essence is power or energy. Its image is heaven. Its energy is represented as unrestricted by any fixed conditions in space and is therefore conceived of as motion. Time is regarded as the basis of this motion. Thus the hexagram includes also the power of time and the power of persisting in time, that is, duration.

The power represented by the hexagram is to be interpreted in a dual sense—in terms of its action on the universe and of its action on the world of men. In relation to the universe, the hexagram expresses the strong, creative action of the Deity. In relation to the human world, it denotes the creative action of the holy man or sage, of the ruler or leader of men, who through his power awakens and develops their higher nature.

THE JUDGMENT

THE CREATIVE works sublime success,
Furthering through perseverance.

We have come a long way in 70 years, and whether or not that trajectory is to everyone’s liking, here we are. That we have managed not to drop any more nuclear bombs or fire any nuclear missiles might be a miracle, or might just be a sign of self-interest in survival coming before everything else.

That we did drop those bombs was a high price to pay for learning just how much damage the “good guys” were capable of and might feel compelled to perpetrate when dire circumstances seemed to call for it. It’s a lesson in self-awareness that we are still learning, more or less studiously. It’s a lesson that the traditions try to help us with. The devil, for example, is not an arm’s length third party who bargains and cajoles. The devil is in us, and handling it is one of our missions. The I Ching is clear on the fluid dynamics of our lives and the world, knowing that we and it flow this way and that, and heaven can be hell for a while, maybe deep and for a long while, but not forever.

Afghanistan Loves Russia

Hamid Karzai - Congress

Karzai and Putin sitting in a tree
K-I-S-S-I-N-G

In 1979, Russia invaded Afghanistan. The U.S. supported the insurgents who eventually chased Russia out of Afghanistan. In 1989, Russia left Afghanistan.

In 2001, al-Queda attacked the U.S on September 11. That same year, the U.S. sent troops to Afghanistan to remove the Taliban from power and to eliminate their safe haven for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

In 2004, Hamid Karzai was elected President of Afghanistan. That image above shows him addressing a joint session of Congress on June 15, 2004, with Vice President Dick Cheney and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert applauding.

In 2011, the U.S. found and killed Osama bin Laden. Plans were made to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, but not before thousands of U.S. and other allied troops died, in the longest war in U.S. history.

In 2013, negotiations began with President Karzai for an agreement that would allow some U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan in a support role after withdrawal. President Karzai, not wanting to appear to be in friendly partnership with the U.S., has so far failed to reach such an agreement.

Today, President Karzai announced that he supports the Russian position in Crimea, putting him in the same league as Syria, North Korea, Iran, and Venezuela. We still have troops in Afghanistan. The troops who died on behalf of President Karzai are still dead. The Afghans who died at the hands of the Russians are still dead. There are no reports yet about whether Dick Cheney or Dennis Hastert are still applauding.

There are no words to make sense of this. So instead, here is the Afghan flag, along with an explanation of the flag from the ever-authoritative CIA Factbook. Note especially the part about the Afghan flag having more changes in it than any other national flag in the 20th century. As always, a funny old world.

Afghanistan Flag

Three equal vertical bands of black (hoist side), red, and green, with the national emblem in white centered on the red band and slightly overlapping the other two bands; the center of the emblem features a mosque with pulpit and flags on either side, below the mosque are numerals for the solar year 1298 (1919 in the Gregorian calendar, the year of Afghan independence from the UK); this central image is circled by a border consisting of sheaves of wheat on the left and right, in the upper-center is an Arabic inscription of the Shahada (Muslim creed) below which are rays of the rising sun over the Takbir (Arabic expression meaning “God is great”), and at bottom center is a scroll bearing the name Afghanistan; black signifies the past, red is for the blood shed for independence, and green can represent either hope for the future, agricultural prosperity, or Islam Afghanistan had more changes to its national flag in the 20th century than any other country; the colors black, red, and green appeared on most of them.

Ukraine Sanctions: Who Is Poking Which Bear

Bear
The most interesting message about this morning’s U.S. sanctions to protest Russian actions came from one of those sanctioned. The travel bans and freezing of U.S. assets are aimed at a handful of Putin advisers and others complicit in the Crimean takeover, but not at the highest level (including Putin) or at any businesspeople.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who is being sanctioned, tweeted this:

“Comrade Obama, and what will you do with those who have neither accounts nor property abroad? Or didn’t you think of that?”

On this day when a prominent Russian television journalist, with an atomic mushroom cloud as background, pointed out—correctly—that Russia is the only country that can reduce the U.S. to “radioactive ash,” the tweet from Comrade Rogozin is most telling.

The U.S., even more than our allies, is being poked. Taunted. “Is that the best you’ve got? You can do better than that!” The U.S. and Europe can of course do better (meaning: more severe) than that, from big business sanctions to military intervention, all of which threaten global instability.

This is the point in every fight when power has to be harnessed in the service of strategy. Russia wants nothing more than any excuse to throw away the rulebook they don’t believe in anyway. They aren’t so much bringing guns to a knife fight as brandishing guns to bring out the other guns and look like the victim. The aggressor victim.

Let’s hope or pray for our leaders to be strong, wise, unselfish, non-partisan, and honest (with us and with themselves), who can interpret the language of pokes, and can act appropriately.