zenpundit.com » 2017 » January

Archive for January, 2017

Thucydides Roundtable, Addendum: Steve Bannon’s interest in the Peloponnesian War

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — tying our colloquium on Thucydides to current White House events ]


Well, I’ve been majorly out of it since the Thucydides roundtable started, and am only slowly getting back into the swing of things, but I’d like to bookend my initial roundtable comment with a closing observation, this one concerning Steve Bannon and his interest in the history of warfare. The quote that follows is from the Armchair General‘s column, Steve Bannon’s Long Love Affair With War, in today’s Daily Beast:

You can also find Bannon’s affection for military and strategic ruthlessness in what he reads. According to two of Bannon’s former friends from his West Coast days, two of his favorite books are Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, the hugely influential ancient Chinese text on military strategy, and the Hindu Bhagavad Gita. The latter tells the story of a holy war to establish dharma.

Sun Tzu, check. Bhagavad Gita, double check. Dharma! Indeed!


The article continues:

Julia Jones, Bannon’s longtime Hollywood writing partner and former close friend, recalls seeing him excitedly flipping through both books, and talking about them lovingly and often. She would frequently see various “books all over [Steve’s place] about battles and things,” among his clutter of possessions and interests. (Late last year, Jones — who identifies as a “Bernie Sanders liberal” — had a falling out with Bannon due to his work on the Trump presidential campaign, a role that she said absolutely “disgusted” her.)

“Steve is a strong militarist, he’s in love with war — it’s almost poetry to him,” Jones told The Daily Beast in an interview last year, well before Trump won the election and Bannon landed his new job. “He’s studied it down through the ages, from Greece, through Rome… every battle, every war… Never back down, never apologize, never show weakness… He lives in a world where it’s always high noon at the O.K. Corral.”

Almost poetry.

And back to dharma:

Jones said that Bannon “used to talk a lot about dharma — he felt very strongly about dharma… one of the strongest principles throughout the Bhagavad Gita.”

I suppose I should write a follow-up about dharma and the battlefield of Kurukshetra, where Krishna instructed Arjuna in the dharma appropriate to a warrior.

And so to our roundtable topic — the Peloponnesian War:

She also noted his “obsession” with the military victories and epic battles of the Roman Empire’s Marcus Aurelius and Julius Caesar. But a personal favorite of Bannon’s was the subject of the Peloponnesian War fought between Athens and Sparta.

“He talked a lot about Sparta — how Sparta defeated Athens, he loved the story,” Jones said. “The password on his [desktop] computer at his office at American Vantage Media in Santa Monica was ‘Sparta,’ in fact.”

This is the mindset of Trump’s top White House aide who just earned himself a seat at the table on the National Security Council.


You’d like a more direct Bannon Thucydides connection? The topic is smaller than Bannon’s role at the NSC — the “war” between Breitbart and Fox — but Thucydides is front and center. In a Breitbart piece from August 2016, Fox Faces Its Uncertain Future: The Minor Murdochs Take Command, Steve Bannon writes:

Here at Breitbart News, we see ourselves as a small yet up-and-coming competitor to Fox. Yes, you read that right, Breitbart is on the rise, and Fox is in decline. Even the MSM has noticed the changing of the guard; here’s the Washington Post headline from January: “How Breitbart has become a dominant voice in conservative media,” reinforced by Politico just this morning. In this modern-day version of the epic Peloponnesian War, the incumbent Athenians might as well know that the Spartans are coming for them, and there’s not a damn thing they can do about it; indeed, more Spartans are joining us every day. As Thucydides would warn them, if the leaders of Fox choose to pipe Mickey Mouse aboard and give him command on the bridge, well, that will only accelerate Fox’s fall.

See also: Titus in Space (Paris Review, November 2016)

Holocaust Memorial Day, remember

Sunday, January 29th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — still recovering from heart surgery, still a couple days slow on current affairs ]

Holocaust Memorial Day might have passed me by completely had President Trump not decided to sign his executive order putting an initial ban on refugees — and green card holders — from seven Muslim-majority countries entering the US.


The parallelism speaks for itself. In a single tweet:

Read all about it: Anne Frank and her family were also denied entry as refugees to the U.S.:

“The story seems to unfold in slow motion as the painstaking exchange of letters journey across continents and from state to state, their information often outdated by the time they arrive,” the New York Times wrote … “Each page adds a layer of sorrow as the tortuous process for gaining entry to the United States — involving sponsors, large sums of money, affidavits and proof of how their entry would benefit America — is laid out. The moment the Franks and their American supporters overcame one administrative or logistical obstacle, another arose.”


See also the St. Louis Manifest Twitter feed.

The Smithsonian magazine describes it as “like a slow dirge, steadily announcing the names of the St. Louis passengers who were killed..”

A sample:


Yet despite all..


And that’s before we begin to consider the constitutionality, in a nation dedicated to having “no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”, of executive orders that ban Muslims while showing preference for Christians, nor the likelihood that such orders will blow back on us, increasing IS and AQ recruitment.

Consider, for instance, this quote from an article subheaded ISIS aims to exploit Trump’s controversial rhetoric about Muslims to reinforce its propaganda, five current and former members told BuzzFeed News. “Trump will shorten the time it takes for us to achieve our goals,” one said.

ISIS also sees Trump as an ideal enemy for propaganda purposes, the former and current members of the group said, believing that his campaign’s heated rhetoric about Muslims will help the extremist group with recruitment by reinforcing its central narrative that America and the West are at war with Islam. “Trump announced his hatred of Arabs and Muslims and did not hide it as presidents did before him,” an ISIS official based outside the city of Palmyra said, speaking via an encrypted chat service.

Boy general, boy bishop

Saturday, January 28th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — children raised to high office, not a bad idea ]

The Make-A-Wish Foundation, with the help of Camp Pendleton, recently treated a young boy suffering from retinoblastoma – “a rare cancer of the eye” — to a day of Marine exercises. Brig. Gen. Vincent A. Coglianese temporarily assigned him the rank of general.

Which reminds me..

Hereford Cathedral’s account of the ceremony of the making of a boy bishop gives us a clue to the theology behind that medieval ceremony, recently revived:

This annual ceremony is a successor to a service that developed sometime in the thirteenth century. The climax of the ceremony takes place during the singing of the canticle Magnificat. As the choir sings the words He hath put down the mighty from their seat, the Boy Bishop displaces the Bishop of Hereford from his episcopal chair. This dramatic moment is charged with spiritual meaning.

An equally dramatic moment is recorded in the Gospels, when our Lord was asked by his disciples, who is the greatest in the kingdom of God? Much to their surprise Jesus gave them a memorable lesson, which still haunts the human imagination. Jesus took a little child ‘and set him in the midst of them’ (Matthew XVIII, 2). Deep in Christianity there has always been the teaching that children are nothing less than the measure of our humanity, and that no one will enter the kingdom of God ahead of them. This child-centred teaching about membership of God’s kingdom always comes as an affront to adult pride and invites grown-ups to think new thoughts and adopt new perspectives. Very appropriately, in one of the few surviving sermons preached by a Boy Bishop during the middle ages, the choice of text was ‘Except you will be converted, and made like unto little children, you shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.’

DoubleQuotes 3, Ouroboros 1

Saturday, January 28th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — nothing terribly new here, just catching up with the last week or so ]

One quick pointer.. The most significant article I’ve seen this week is Zeynep Tufekci’s Does a Protest’s Size Matter? — which contains the line:

A large protest today is less like the March on Washington in 1963 and more like Rosa Parks’s refusal to move to the back of the bus. What used to be an endpoint is now an initial spark.

I think Zeynep’s right on this one — which, FWIW, makes double images like these a whole lot less relevant:

President Trump’s inauguration crowd was smaller than Obama’s, CBS


Catching up on other examples of “form” in recent news..

I got this one from Zen, who’d posted it on FB.

This really is a pretty definitive illustration of the stress a president incurs in the world’s most terrifying, not to mention deeply contested, job.


This one goes without saying.


And here’s my ouroboros of the week:

As the Chinese proverb goaes:

A man needs face like a tree needs bark.

Would we do well to understand President Trump in terms of an honor-shame dynamic?

Mental health and terrorism

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — turbulence (ie complexity) at the confluence of motives ]

Shaping strategy — Constant turbulence and disruption


Mental health and terrorism — a major article in today’s CTC Sentinel describes the nuances. From the conclusion:

What we see from the existing research is that lone-actor terrorism is usually the culmination of a complex mix of personal, political, and social drivers that crystalize at the same time to drive the
individual down the path of violent action. This should be no different for those inspired by the Islamic State. Whether the violence comes to fruition is usually a combination of the availability and vulnerability of suitable targets and the individual’s capability to engage in an attack from both a psychological and technical capability standpoint. Many individual cases share a mixture of personal life circumstances coupled with an intensification of beliefs that later developed into the idea to engage in violence. What difers is how these influences were sequenced. Sometimes personal problems led to a susceptibility to ideological influences. Sometimes long-held ideological influences became intensified after the experience of personal problems. This is why we should be wary of mono-causal ‘master narratives’ about how this process unfolds. Mental health problems are undoubtedly important in some cases. Intuitively, we might see how in some cases it can make carrying out violence easier. In other cases, it may make the adoption of the ideology easier because of delusional thinking or fixated behaviors. However, it will only ever be one of many drivers in an individual’s pathway to violence. In many cases, it may be present but completely unrelated. The development of radicalization and attack planning behaviors is usually far more labyrinthine and dynamic than one single factor can explain, be it mental disorders (today’s go-to silver-bullet explanation), online radicalization (another popular silver-bullet explanation), or root causes that encompass socio-demographic characteristics.

We must also bear in mind that the relationship between mental health problems and terrorist engagement is just one part of the story. Given the scale and types of violence being conducted by the Islamic State, many perpetrators will develop mental health problems as a byproduct of involvement as opposed to it being a driver of involvement.

Switch to our mobile site