Bible in Pop Culture Week 4: In El Salvador, “Jacob wrestled the angel / And the angel was overcome”

 

 

The track “Bullet the Blue Sky” by U2 was released in 1987 on the album “The Joshua Tree.” The lyrics of the song were inspired by a trip that Bono took to Central America in 1985 with Amnesty International. On the trip, he stayed in the mountains in the north of the country with a group of guerilla fighters. While he was in the hills, he witnessed Salvadorean planes firebombing villages nearby in an attempt to kill guerilla fighters. Officially, the U.S. was acting in an advisory role in El Salvadore to strengthen the military dictatorship running the country as a bulwark against Communism. What this meant in practical terms was that the U.S. government was supplying arms, munitions, tactical advice and often manpower that led directly the tens of thousands of civilian deaths.

Bono, who described himself as a person who regularly read Scripture, was upset that Christians in America were supporting a proxy war that resulted in the devastation he was witnessing, so he penned the lyrics for “Bullet the Blue Sky” using Biblical references. A section of the lyrics reads as follows:

“In the howling wind comes a stinging rain / See it driving nails / Into the souls in the tree of pain / From a firefly, a red orange glow / See the face of fear / Running scared on the valley below / Bullet the blue sky / In the locust wind comes a rattle and hum / Jacob wrestled the angel / And the angel was overcome.”

The lyrics describe strafing runs and the dropping of napalm, as well as an interpretation of Jacob’s wrestling with an angel that seems to present the good, innocent villagers as the angel being overcome by man’s evil.

Sources: http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=911 & the above video.

The Great Nanjing Massacre, Zi Jian Li, 1992

Reading Response re: The Nanjing Massacre

Image (above): The Great Nanjing Massacre, Zi Jian Li, 1992

 

Mitter, China’s War with Japan: 119-140.

Primary Source: “The Rape of Nanking: Bearing Witness, The Nanjing ‘Murder Race,’” in The Search for Modern China: A Documentary Collection (1999): 324-30.

Mark Eykholt, “Aggression, Victimization, and Chinese Historiography of the Nanjing Massacre,” in The Nanjing Massacre in History and Historiography (2000): 11-69.

Takashi Yoshida, “A Battle over History: The Nanjing Massacre in Japan,” in The Nanjing Massacre in History and Historiography (2000): 70-132.

 

The readings for this week center on the events that happened in Nanjing in 1937-1938 when the Japanese Army took control of the city. The Rape of Nanjing, or Nanjing Massacre, was an exceptional event in the war between Japan and China, not only because of the scope of death, destruction and trauma inflicted on the population, but also because of the impact the event has had on the national memories of both China and Japan. The event has become a symbol more than a real event, a tool used to express feelings of victimization and growing strength or, on the other side, a key battlefield in the definition of post-war Japanese identity.

One of the most interesting debates regarding Nanjing is why it happened in the first place, and this is unfortunately one of the debates that has received the least attention. Mitter presents some possible reasons, but they reveal an assumption that the Japanese military was out of control. This plays on the idea that there was a break down in control of the military by the civilian administration. The introduction to the primary source, on the other hand, posits the massacre as a preplanned and deliberate military policy. Eykholt somewhat supports this by stating that the idea of the military being out of control isn’t supported by the facts. The nature of the reported killings and the organized lootings speak to coordinated action. This seems like a more reasonable approach to the situation.

This, however, brings up the problem of responsibility. Who is responsible for what happened? Was blame placed where it should have been? The War Crimes trials, according to Eykholt, focused on American interests in the Pacific and some of the evidence may or may not have been accurate. It seems to have become a symbol for the entire conflict between the two nations and, like Eykholt and Takashi both argue, guilt and blame have dominated the discussion, preventing a real analysis of the events.

The Wretched of the Earth Book Cover

The Wretched of the Earth and Journal 1955~1962: Reflections on the French-Algerian War – Comparative Reaction Essay

In the selection from The Wretched of the Earth, by Franz Fanon, the author argues that violence is a necessary part of decolonization. At first glance, this seems like a difficult argument to make, but Fanon frames violence in a way that emphasizes its use as a tool and a reaction more than something to be enjoyed and promoted. According to Fanon, violence is necessary because colonialism itself is violence that will not be stopped by other means. Violence is a trigger and point of departure that creates the impetus for decolonization by making the situation untenable for the colonizer and, further, acts as a unifying factor.

Compared to Mouloud Feraoun’s Journal, which is personal and conveys a sense of what it was like to live through the Algerian revolution, Fanon’s work is much more abstract. He was not writing from within an anti-colonial environment, but was rather making observations about colonialism in general. Fanon’s work heavily emphasizes dichotomies, both between capitalism and socialism and the colonizer and the colonized, which is to be expected given the author’s context of the Cold War and how that conflict impacted national struggles around the world.

Is violence a necessary part of the decolonization process? Fanon addresses the voluntary decolonization of some areas as a reaction to violence in other areas. In other words, voluntary decolonization was really forced, because it was done to avoid further violence. When considering this, I thought of Mahatma Gandhi’s movement of non-violence, when he was attempting to free India from British colonial control. Gandhi’s movement was successful (though not entirely because of his movement alone) in pushing out the British, but how does it fit into Fanon’s theory?

Fanon makes the point that violence acts as a vehicle for driving otherwise separate peoples in one direction (73). This sounds like he is arguing that by unifying people, violence constitutes the nation through experiencing a common hardship, which serves as a unifying memory for future generations. The Revolutionary War of the United States against Britain is an example of violence creating a common enemy, but it did not result in a unified nation. The failure of the new country’s economy was the driving force behind greater unification of the former colonies under a stronger central government, which turned those former fighters into a more unified people, or American nation.

India also does not fit neatly into this rubric. Gandhi’s movement called explicitly for non-violence. There was common suffering among those who took part in the movement, but Fanon’s theory seems to suggest that this common suffering must escalate into a violent movement before independence can be attained, or a sense of nationhood can be developed. Does this only work in areas where people did not have a unified sense of culture beforehand? Modern India is composed of a multitude of groups that loosely fit into the same cultural category through religious affiliation, but which were historically multiple kingdoms and other political units. Is non-violence just as strong a unifying factor, or was the violence inflicted on India what caused them to become unified? In other words, does mutual suffering create nationhood rather than mutual violence against another group?

Fanon’s obsession with and aggrandizement of violence reads like intellectualized grand-standing to call attention to his position on socialism as the better option for people in general. He mentions that individualism is a position that must be abandoned. He places capitalist countries firmly on the ‘bad’ side of the dichotomy of good and evil, in terms of colonizers and colonists, and concludes the selection provided with a call for restitution framed in terms of reparations for war damages. It is an interesting argument. How much of what Europe has today is the result of wealth accumulated from exploited countries? How much should be returned? How should it be returned and to whom? To governments? What about regions that are still politically unstable? And is there not an argument that the technological, medical, and social developments invented or refined in the West and disseminated throughout the world are not in and of themselves a form of restitution, in that they better all of humanity?

Journal, 1955-1962: Reflections on the French-Algerian War Book Cover

Journal 1955~1962: Reflections on the French-Algerian War, by Mouloud Feraoun – Reaction Essay

Journal 1955~1962: Reflections on the French-Algerian War (2000), contains the collected and translated notes of Mouloud Feraoun, an Algerian Kabyle who lived through most of the French-Algerian war and was ultimately assassinated by the OAS, an extremist group composed of French residents of Algeria that were attempting to prevent Algerian independence. Feraoun was born during the colonial period, educated in the French system and worked as an educator himself. He was intelligent, complex, and saw the conflict in a nuanced way that he feared would make him a target as the forces arrayed against each other in the country began to view the world as wholly divided between good and evil. He was especially conflicted about the education strike, because he believed that not everything inherited from the French was inherently evil, a position that was at odds with the FLN’s idolization of Islam as the native answer to French cultural domination.

The most prominent part of Feraoun’s recollections is the constant violence that he reports. The deaths become routine and he records them in a way that becomes standardized, because the killing had become standardized. Violence gripped the entire country and became a tool used both by the French and the FLN. Some violence is to be expected, but the level of violence escalated to a point that defied logic. Feraoun accuses the FLN of creating an atmosphere that will make people long for French rule, and as his memoir nears its end, that very thing begins to happen. Summary executions, rapes, round-ups, identity checks and oppressive home searches became the norm for people on both sides of the fight. Those caught in the middle tried to live their lives as best they could, but they were forced into a position where they were bound to be killed by one side or the other because there was no ideological room left to be neutral.

The French military’s use of violent tactics is more questionable than those of the “rebel” groups, not simply because one expects a rebel group to use terrorism and guerilla tactics, but because of France’s claim that Algeria is France. If Algeria is France, why were these “French” Algerians in “France” subjected to violence that a nation normally reserved for enemy nations? Feraoun compares French tactics in the villages and outlying areas to those used by Russia against Hungary. Even in a situation of martial law, would those actions be permitted in Paris? This shows that there was a distinct disconnect between rhetoric and actual policy that made clear Algeria’s place not as an integral part of France, but rather as a colony under another name, full of dangerous locals, none of whom were above suspicion. As Feraoun mentioned when trying to return to his village on the occasion of his father’s death, without the telegram from the French military official, he was a rebel commander and his cousin was a fighter as well. There was a presumption of guilt that placed all natives outside of the French nation and, as a result, outside of the state and the state’s protection.

Comparing Antonin Brtko and Oskar Schindler: Holocaust in Film

Tono Brtko, from The Shop on Main Street*, and Oskar Schindler, from Schindler’s List, are both main characters in Holocaust films that, while similar, have very different impacts on the Jewish communities they interact with.  The Shop on Main Street takes place in a small town in Slovakia during 1942, at a time when the fascist government is cracking down on Jewish residents. Schindler’s List** takes place in the latter years of World War II in and around Kraków, Poland. Both characters are non-Jews that are placed in positions of power over Jewish people, one as a shop manager and the other as a factory owner. The roles are similar, but because of the different motivations that guide Tono and Schindler’s actions, their relationships with Jews lead to very different results.

Antonin "Tono" Brtko and Mrs. Rozalia Lautmannová

Antonin “Tono” Brtko and Mrs. Rozalia Lautmannová

The more complicated of the two characters by far is Tono Brtko. The Shop on Main Street is a highly symbolic film and endless meaning can be read into Tono’s actions, but it is fairly safe to say that Tono represents the Slovakian nation. He is “Mr. Everyman Slovakia” and his behavior in the film can be seen as a critique of how the average Slovakian citizen treated his or her Jewish neighbors. In the film, all of those Jewish neighbors are represented by Mrs. Lautmann, a widow that runs a bankrupt button shop on Main Street.

Tono’s relationship with Mrs. Lautmann is essentially predatory. Throughout the film, he acts only in his own interest. Tono’s only purpose in interacting with Mrs. Lautmann is to satisfy his greed. As part of the Aryanization process in Slovakia, Jewish people were required to turn over their businesses to Aryan managers. This is depicted in the film and, because of his brother-in-law’s position, Tono is appointed Arisator of Mrs. Lautmann’s button shop. The idea of stealing the wealth of another person and not having to work for it put Tono in good spirits, which were dashed when he realized Mrs. Lautmann’s store was bankrupt and had nothing to offer him. The only reason he continued to have anything to do with her was because the Jewish community offered him a salary to look after Mrs. Lautmann and her shop. So, Tono was only interested in Mrs. Lautmann when there was an apparent means of profiting from her situation.

Oskar Schindler and Itzhak Stern in Schindler's List

Oskar Schindler and Itzhak Stern in Schindler’s List

Oskar Schindler, in Schindler’s List, is easier to understand. He is the hero of the story and a hero of the Jewish people. His development as a character follows a path similar to Tono’s, but there is a key difference. Unlike Schindler, Tono never has a change of heart. He never wants to help Jewish people because it is the right thing to do. Instead, he is only interested in profit. Schindler is depicted as being far more altruistic. At the beginning of the movie, Schindler is a cold, calculating business man who sees an opportunity to make massive profit off of cheap Jewish slave-labor during wartime conditions. This is similar to Tono’s desire to become wealthy through the acquisition of Mrs. Lautmann’s shop. In both cases, they are stealing the labor of others and converting it into personal profit, but when Schindler comes to understand the brutality of the Nazis, he empathizes with the Jews and expends all of his wealth in an effort to save as many of them as he can.

At the end of The Shop on Main Street, Tono attempts to hide Mrs. Lautmann from fascist soldiers approaching the button shop. It is possible that he does this because, in that moment of crisis, he realizes he actually cares about Mrs. Lautmann and feels guilty about what is going on, but it is more likely that Tono acted out of self-interested fear for his own well-being and a desire to avoid being considered a “Jew-lover.” In contrast, Schindler takes much greater risks than Tono in an effort to save people.

At the end of the two movies, both Tono and Schindler are broke, but while Tono ultimately has nothing to show for his efforts except a town empty of Jews, Schindler has saved over a thousand lives. If Tono had come to the same conclusion as Schindler, he could have saved Mrs. Lautmann, but because he was only thinking of how to profit from her, he caused her death. In the end, Tono and Schindler really aren’t that alike after all. They start out in similar circumstances, profiting from the labor of others, but their motivations and desires set them widely apart.

*For more on The Shop on Main Street, see this post:

The Shop on Main Street: The Holocaust in Film

**For more on Schindler’s List, see these posts:

Schindler’s List: The Holocaust in Film

Criticism of Schindler’s List: The Holocaust in Film