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Graeme Wood and a symmetry in Dallas

Monday, August 14th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — on writers and analysts, via Dallas, Syria, Wagner, Bayreuth, Hitler and Israel ]
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The symmetry is between two men that Graeme Wood has profiled in The AtlanticRichard Spencer and John Georgelas aka Yahya Abu Hassan, leader of the alt-right and early American proponent of ISIS, respectively:

Both men are the only sons of wealthy north-Dallas physicians. They both bloomed late, intellectually and politically, and overcompensated by immersing themselves in books and ideas with gusto uncommon among their bourgeois demographic. Both admired Ron Paul, and both saw their home country as a broken land — and themselves as its savior.

They are also both young.

You can read about them both in greater detail in Wood’s twin accounts here:

  • Wood profiles Richard Spencer, His Kampf
  • Wood profiles John Georgelas, The American Climbing the Ranks of ISIS
  • **

    When I worked at John L Petersen‘s think tank The Arlington Institute, the boss often used to ask me for a “leading indicator” — and I’d reply that one data point seldom meant anything to me, whereas two in parallel or opposition might indicate a trend. My motto became “two is the first number” — a mantram I’ve repeated here from time to time [1, 2, 3], finding notable backup in Aristotle, Carl Jung, and the Ismaili Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa’, as reported in my post It is always good to find oneself in good company.

    Graeme Wood must feel some satisfaction in having written profiles of two such opposite yet well-matched men as Georgelas and Spencer — I certainly take delight in the pairing — and the parallelism is truly quite striking. Yet to deduce a trend from the observation that both are “only sons of wealthy north-Dallas physicians” isn’t grounds for alerting the FBI to profile — let alone surveil — all other such only sons.

    Sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence.

    And yet, and yet.

    Graeme Wood is a writer, not an analyst, and while the specifics here — “only son”, “north-Dallas physician” — do not in themselves provide “actionable intelligence” for intel purposes, the two stories as Wood spells them out enrich our analytic understanding of the drivers that may be in play in the recruitment of extremists and terrorists.

    **

    I have a small and tattered pamphlet in my desk, 1876 – 1896, Die ersten zwanzig Jahre der Bayreuther Bühnenfestspiele by Houston Stewart Chamberlain, who later married Richard Wagner‘s daughter Eva von Bülow.

    Chamberlain’s pamphlet about Wagner’s operas and the theater he built for them in Bayreuth, published there in Bayreuth in 1896, is not his best-known work, however. That would be his two-volume work, Die Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts, or The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century — published in the same year, 1899, as Freud‘s Die Traumdeutung — which was to provide Nazism with some of its anti-Semitic ideology. Of similar interest, his 1905 Aryan Worldview.

    Chamberlain’s letter to Hitler in 1923 has to my ear some resonance with discussions of Donald Trump today:

    Now I believe I understand that it is precisely this that characterizes and defines your being: the true awakener is at the same time the bestower of peace.

    You are not at all, as you have been described to me, a fanatic. In fact, I would call you the complete opposite of a fanatic. The fanatic inflames the mind, you warm the heart. The fanatic wants to overwhelm people with words, you wish to convince, only to convince them-and that is why you are successful. Indeed, I would also describe you as the opposite of a politician, in the commonly accepted sense of the word, for the essence of all politics is membership of a party, whereas with you all parties disappear, consumed by the heat of your love for the fatherland. It was, I think, the misfortune of our great Bismarck that he became, as fate would have it (by no means through innate predisposition), a little too involved in politics. May you be spared this fate.

    **

    I am chasing down byways of history and culture here to be sure — and it is not my intention to make a facile comparison between Trump and Hitler. But Wagner — surely it is interesting to note that not only were Hitler and Chamberlain obsessed with Wagner’s operas, but Graeme Wood’s account of Spencer notes that at one point Richard Spencer worked as “a gofer at the Bavarian State Opera”.

    Echo? Parallelism? Kinship?

    Wagner is a cultural influence of connsiderable strength — as an Alex Ross article in the New Yorker, The Case for Wagner in Israel, notred in 2012:

    In recent decades, musicians have periodically attempted to play Wagner in Israel, setting off impassioned protests; Na’ama Sheffi’s book “The Ring of Myths: The Israelis, Wagner, and the Nazis” gives an account of them. At an Israel Philharmonic concert in 1981, Zubin Mehta, after giving audience members an opportunity to leave the hall, conducted the “Liebestod” from “Tristan und Isolde” as an encore; in response, Ben-Zion Leitner, a Holocaust survivor and a hero of the First Arab-Israeli War, walked in front of the podium, bared his scarred stomach, and shouted, “Play Wagner over my body.” Similarly charged scenes unfolded when Daniel Barenboim led the “Tristan” Prelude in Jerusalem in 2001. This past summer, an effort by the Israel Wagner Society to present a concert at Tel Aviv University created yet another media frenzy; in the end, the university withdrew its permission, and plans to move the event to a Hilton subsequently fell through. The Israeli conductor Asher Fisch, who was to have led the concert, has personal reasons for campaigning against the unwritten ban: his mother, who was forced to leave Vienna in 1939, felt that if her son could conduct Wagner in Israel it would amount to a final victory over Hitler, and he still hopes to realize her dream.

    **

    An author’s skilled meanderings in cultural associations may not make for actionable intelligence, but they do provide invaluable context for the overt tides and little known undertows of human history.

    Which in turn affect us all, and which we in turn may wish to affect or deflect..

    American Spartan Redux

    Monday, July 31st, 2017

    [Mark Safranski / “zen“]

    Charles Cameron helpfully tipped the news last week in our comment section, but I wished to give this update the prominence friends of zenpundit.com deserve. American Spartan has been re-released and you can get it  from now until July 31, American Spartan is available for $1.99 at BookHub

    For those who need a re-cap, long time readers will recall Major Jim Gant coming to wider attention with his paper, One Tribe at a Time with an assist from noted author Steven Pressfield, where he called for a campaign strategy against the Taliban from “the bottom up” using “the tribes” because the current top down strategy of killing insurgents while building a strong, centralized, state would never work – the war would just drag on indefinitely until the US grew tired and quit Afghanistan. Gant forged a tight relationship with Afghan tribal leader  Noor Azfal ,won some fans with his paper in very high places, including SECDEF Robert Gates and Generals Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus who gave him some top cover to implement his ideas but Gant also faced formidable resistance and criticism from Afghan government officials, parts of the ISAF chain of command and academics unhappy with Gant’s conceptual emphasis on tribalism.

    Here is an excellent review of American Spartan by Doyle Quiggle in The Marine Corps Gazette:

    Whether from Plutarch or Zack Snyder’s 300, we all know the command, “Come back with your shield—or on it.” Special Forces MAJ Jim Gant, USA, came back with his shield, but, like his soul, it’s as mortar-pocked as the face of the moon. The narrator of Gant’s Spartan tale is his lady, a word used with chivalric respect. Ann witnesses, validates, and, by writing this book, binds up the many wounds Gant suffered to mind, body, and soul in Iraq and Afghanistan, an act of healing she began in her home in Maryland, kicking Gant of his drug and alcohol habits to get him back into the fight. As Gen James N. Mattis recently lamented in Warriors and Civilians, true, unflinching acceptance of what warriors become through warfighting is rare. Ann’s narrative asks readers to muster a hard-nosed acceptance of Gant in the fullness of his sometimes brutal, sometimes compassionate (Afghans call this blend of virtues nangyalee) warrior soul.

    A collaboration between a warrior and his woman, American Spartan provides an exemplary model for receiving the blood-tainted warrior back into the kill-shy civilian fold. The partnership itself, a cooperative, on-going translation of combat experience into a narrative for communal sharing, is a ritual of homecoming from war, a gift of acceptance that a non-killer, Ann, gives to a killer, Gant. Together, they offer military readership an enduring lesson about how to fight—in mind and battlespace—gray-zone war. With tooth-breaking honesty, Ann records Jim’s edgy mindset after his Iraq deployment:

    He had sacrificed everything at the altar of war. War was, by then, all he really knew. He could not imagine a world where the people he had loved most had become strangers, and where—unlike in Iraq—his enemies were not trying to kill him, making them much harder to find and impossible to destroy.

    Read the rest here.

    I wrote in my own review of American Spartan:

    The substance of the book, Gant’s implementation of his “One Tribe at Time” strategy among the Pashtuns and his rise and fall with the hierarchy of the US Army is more complicated and begs for deeper examination. Readers with knowledge of Afghanistan, the Army, American policy or some combination of the three will find nearly as much to read between the lines of American Spartan as they will in the text itself. It is fascinating, really, and the moral implications are deeply disturbing.

    To summarize, American Spartan lays out a tragic paradox. My impression is that the tribal engagement strategy Gant championed would never have been permitted to succeed, even had he been a Boy Scout in his personal conduct; and secondly, even if tribal engagement had been fully resourced and enthusiastically supported, Gant himself would have self-destructed regardless.  A Greek tragedy in a khet partug.

    Gant has frequently been compared to the legendary Lawrence of Arabia and the fictional Colonel Kurtz.   Interestingly, both of those figures died early and untimely deaths, having long outlived their usefulness for their respective armies. Major Gant is, fortunately, very much alive today which may be the only good outcome associated with his fall from grace.  Given his predisposition for assuming heroic risks, taking battle to the enemy, chance hazards of war and Gant’s own struggle with PTSD, alcoholism and pills chronicled by Tyson, the bitter vendetta of Gant’s immediate superiors ironically may have kept him from also becoming Afghanistan’s John Paul Vann or Bernard Fall.  Gant is not a Colonel Kurtz. That charge would be a slander; nor is he really T.E. Lawrence either, though that is a much better comparison. Gant had more bite to Lawrence’s bark and that was at least part of the equation in Gant’s success.  The al-Saud and al-Rashid tribes and Turkish pashas did not fear Lawrence the same way Taliban commanders and rival Pashtun subtribes personally feared Jim Gant, whom one of his fiercest anthropologist critics called “very scary”.  It was not only tea and beards, nor could it be.

    Pick up American Spartan at BookHub today for $1.99!

    Human Sacrifice South of the Border?

    Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

    [Mark Safranski / “zen“]

    John P. Sullivan and Dr. Robert Bunker at Small Wars Journal analyze a narco prison riot in Mexico that had to be put down by Mexican troops that reportedly involved prisoners sacrificed in a Santa Muerte ritual.

    Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 23: Prison Riot and Massacre in Acapulco, Guerrero; Attack Allegedly During Santa Muerte Ritual

    Analysis:
    This prison riot and resulting massacre is one of the most serious disturbances in a Mexican prison since the February 2016 riot at Monterrey’s Topo Chico prison.  That incident, which involved a battle between Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, left at least 52 dead and 12 injured.[4] Mexico’s prisons are volatile, plagued by corruption, and under minimal control by state authorities.[5] This lack of control leads to inmate self-governance (autogobierno).  According to one account, 60% of Mexican correctional facilities function under self-governance.[6] 

    In this incident taking place at the Acapulco jail or Cereso (Centro de Readaptación Social),[7] rival gangs battling for control led to a massacre with several persons (up to five, depending upon reports) beheaded.[8] The guards reportedly did not intervene and may have participated in or facilitated the violence.[9] The massacre reportedly occurred during inmate rituals in veneration of Santa Muerte.[10] Prison officials have not confirmed those reports.[11] 

    Guerrero’s governor supports the ritual aspect, noting that the majority of the dead were found in front of Santa Muerte coins which is indicative of ritual participation:

    “Es difícil encontrar en los medios mexicanos más referencias concretas al aspecto ritual de la masacre. En Bajo Palabra leemos que el gobernador del estado de Guerrero, Héctor Astudillo Flores, ha descartado la riña como motivo, aunque fuera la primera línea de investigación, y ha afirmado que la mayoría de muertos fueron encontrados frente a una imagen de la Santa Muerte con monedas encima, por lo que consideran que se trataría de un ritual.”[12] 

    ….The actual role the veneration or worship of Santa Muerte played in this riot is unknown. The limited news imagery of the decapitated and slaughtered prisoners does not provide enough forensic evidence to suggest that any form of elaborate ritual took place.  If such a hasty sacrificial ritual had been conducted, it may have been undertaken simply for narcoterrorist purposes in order to terrify the opposing drug gang with the future threat of ‘human sacrifice’ being directed at their membership.  This explanation would be devoid of any form of an underlying spiritual basis and can simply be viewed as an extreme component of narco psychological operations (PSYOPS) being waged by one drug gang against another.  On the other hand, this incident may be eventually confirmed as an act of mass human sacrifice derived from the new information now emerging:

    Read the rest here.

    The juxtaposition of extreme violence and religious context is a potent combination in terms of imaginative symbolism because it harkens back to the human sacrifices of Bronze Age paganism. This action may have been secular violence meant to terrify cartel rivals but the repeated association with religious cult ritual – in this case, the Mexican folk worship of “Saint Death” – blurs the lines between criminal irregular violence and religion. This tactic is also a calling card of ISIS as well as the narc0-cartels.

    For more on irregular violence and cult practices, see this post as well as for a longer treatment,  Blood Sacrifices: Violent Non-State Actors and Dark Magico-Religious Activities edited by Robert Bunker (and featuring chapters by Charles Cameron and myself).

    Break it Down Show – Bill Mankins

    Tuesday, May 16th, 2017

    [Mark Safranski / “zen“]

    An episode that will interest those who study all things Afghanistan, COIN, irregular warfare, cultural-linguistic competency, rural environments, HUMINT, insurgency, PME and similar topics,  Jon and Pete interview Bill Mankins at the Break it Down Show:

    159 – Bill Mankins

    “One of our most compelling guests to date. You’ve never heard Bill Mankins story and that’s about to change.  Bill gets modern combat at a level that you cannot find anywhere else. Fox News, CNN, NPR have all had a chance to get Bill to sit with them and break down the most complex social, military, religious problems anyone can imagine, and they all passed. They didn’t know a great story when it was right in front of them. Nobody but the Break It Down Show has this level of depth and quality…NOBODY The show really breaks into 3 parts.  If you want, skip ahead to Minute 51:30 and get to what Bill is working on…then go back and see why he’s the man for the job…AGAIN this level of clarity, this depth, you’re in for a treat.  Bring a bucket for when your brain explodes.”

    Tune in here.

    Mankins is spot on in his commentary on the overemphasis of STEM in PME vice humanities and language that provide some understanding of others.

    Keeping it pop in natsec and politics

    Friday, April 21st, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron –0 a DoubleTweet from Foreign Affairs deputy managing editor Justin Vogt ]
    .

    Halal Dunkin’ Donuts in Karachi..

    and Ted Nugent gets a private tour of the White House from President Trump — with Kid Rock and Sarah Palin:

    “He gave us a wonderful personal tour of every room and talked about the origins of every carpet and every painting — there was a Monet — and then we had dinner,” said Mr. Nugent, who has referred to former President Barack Obama as a “mongrel” and to Hillary Clinton with an array of unflattering epithets.


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