Monday, April 14, 2003

Why the past two American military engagements have been unsatisfying so far: recapitulation of a biblical theme

Those of us who are in the least familiar with the history of art have come across at least one version of the Judith story as depicted by Michaelangelo, Botticelli, Carravagio, Jan Van Bijlert, or one of the many others who have depicted this scene from the apocrapha. It was a rather common theme in biblical art.

The story of Judith goes something like this: Judith's city was about to be attacked by Holofernies, the general of Nebuchadnezzer. Nebuchadnezzer (king of Assaryia (actually Babylon)) had just made a deal with all the neighboring provences that gave him the full right to repress and enslave all of them in exchange for not massacering them, and Bethulia, the Judean city was next. So Judith gets herself in to the enemy camp, gets herself seduced by Holofernies and cuts off his head as he sleeps. Afterward she takes the head and sneaks back to the Jeudean camp where the Jews are inspired by it, and Holofernies' arny is in dissarray without a general.

It seems to me that the story is really recapitulated in modern times (down to the Saadam comparing himself to Nebuchadnezzer in the past) except for one little detail - we do not have his head on a platter.

In both the Saddam Hussain and the bin Laden cases we have fought these massive battles without the satisfaction of seeing the leaders brought to justice, or without them being dead. We have had to settle for a fallen statue in Iraq, and there are no real defining moments in Afghanistan. When it came to the fall of the Berlin wall that was a symbol, but that was fine, because there was no one individual whose death would have signified the fall of communism. The wall itself was the symbol. In the case of Afghanistan, we wanted the man, same in Iraq.

We are in the end looking for something worthy of a michaellangelo painting. A statue with a flag over its head really didn't do it for me.