09.26.14

ISIS, house of cards, and storytelling

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:02 pm by Administrator

i’m opposed to U.S. involvement in military action against ISIS, for a few reasons that i’ve previously articulated. first, i don’t know what the U.S. stands to gain by vanquishing ISIS, when the main factions opposing ISIS (i.e. the Al Qaeda affiliates in Syria, as well as the Syrian government itself) are just as threatening to America’s interests in the region. second, i find it difficult to believe that ISIS is any more or less “evil” than any other enemy thus labeled by the American media. and third, i continue to think that ISIS ought to be America’s dream scenario: an oppressive caliphate that is sure to turn public opinion and the Arab street against the idea of fundamentalist shari’ah.

there’s also the small matter of the illegality of our military intervention (per Noah Feldman), but then again obama has seen fit to disregard international law, a stance befitting of the american presidency.

all things considered, we find ourselves submerged in a third regional war, even more irrelevant to the average american than the previous two, and even more difficult if not impossible to justify. never mind the rhetoric of morality surrounding ISIS, all too easily spun and weaved for occult and nefarious ends. this is not a matter of punishing human depravity; this is about the human and economic costs of war, and it is about the leadership of this country which has brazenly and illegally disregarded those costs yet again.

it all makes me so angry… i have to remind myself that during GWB’s total debacle of a presidency i made a promise to myself to not take our country’s politics so personally. but then we elected this tease of a charismatic young president who seemed smart and relevant, and i came out of my hole, and i started believing in all that crap about “change i can believe in”. now, i am a witness to change that leaves me in disbelief.

now, onto even more darkly political matters…

i love the netflix series “House of Cards” (warning: SPOILERS). i can see why a couple of my friends abandoned the show early in season 2, but the things that spoiled the show for them only made it more intriguing for me. we’re talking of course about Frank Underwood’s propensity for murder. Underwood’s two murders are jarring but not improbable moments, from my point of view. they shifted the themes of the show without disturbing its fundamental rhythms. early on, i realized that “House of Cards” was not going to be a “political procedural” per se; this was going to be a biopic of a quintessential american man, a pragmatist who, despite our natural judgments, will endeavor to convince us of his moral neutrality. i considered myself on board for the ride; i was willing to let Underwood try to convince me.

the fascinating part of the show is that i have discovered within me two selves following this show: one self an admirer of Underwood and his methods, the other subtly agitating against him. if and when Underwood faces the enemy he cannot overcome, i do not know whether i will sympathize with him or relish his fall. this for me is the unique appeal of “House of Cards”. unlike any other show i’ve seen, it does not seek to impress with its excesses (as in “Breaking Bad”) or bewail its context (as in “The Wire”). it seeks only to secure one’s loyalty, however ambivalent and complex, to its polarizing central character; and in this way, it reminds me very much of that classic among television dramas, “The Sopranos”.

and finally, the importance of good storytelling…

“House of Cards” is great storytelling. but great storytelling isn’t limited to television or books or movies. i hear great storytelling in casual conversation every week. when i’m at company events, i hear great motivational speakers telling their stories and the stories of others. most recently, i was at a company retreat where i heard an expert storyteller teach basic communication skills to a group of one hundred and twenty doctors. it’s hard enough to teach doctors anything, much less basic communication skills, but imagine how daunting of a task that is when you’re talking to them for an hour and a half without a break. this woman did it. she nailed it. and the way that she kept the group engaged for the entire time was by telling stories. for every point she made, she related three or four second-hand stories, and she related at least one personal anecdote. i estimated that about thirty minutes of her ninety minute presentation consisted of stories. she told them well; and she told them convincingly. i am certain that many of the providers will rememember at least half a dozen of her stories—and as importantly, they will remember the point that she was conveying through them.

i relay this context because i feel that storytelling is the crux of good teaching. and when one tries to teach something without telling a story, he faces a mammoth task. he is trying to make a concept relevant without describing relevant experiences. i call that boring.

there is a preacher that i occasionally listen to, and i have great sympathy for him. he preaches with conviction and his approach to God is rooted in very powerful faith experiences. but every time i hear his sermons, i struggle to follow him. it’s a number of things that trouble me. first, he launches into his sermons very loudly and passionately, and he maintains that energy evenly and consistently throughout his sermon. any good storyteller attends to rhythm and cadence; for every climactic point, there must be a build-up, and there must be a denouement. second, he uses stories rarely and unconvincingly. one never gets absorbed in his stories; one always has the sense that the story is pointing to a clear pedagogical point (which is what makes the story unconvincing). and lastly, he doesn’t appear to enjoy the experience of telling his own story. it seems laborious and difficult for him at the pulpit; one is left with the distinct impression that he would not enjoy a casual conversation about the things he preaches on.

it troubles me so much because i know that there is something special about the story he has to tell, but when he tries to tell it, it sounds like preaching. preaching is the worst kind of teaching. the fact that churchgoers are accustomed to being preached at does not mean that preaching is the best way to reach them. the best way to engage an audience and teach them something is to tell stories and to tell them well. Jesus Christ was one of the most compelling teachers of all time, and all that he did was tell stories. he told stories about himself; he told parables about real people in real situations; and he told individuals how to make their lives part of a grander, more meaningful meta-story. he told the whole story of the Old Testament and its prophecies through the personal story of his life and mission. that is why we remember Christ so well—because His story has become personal to us all.

i wish we could all be better storytellers. we would learn from one another more effectively; and i think we would have fewer misunderstandings and less war as well.

09.24.14

an alleyway, in spain

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:22 am by Administrator

The way i recall,
desire was not simply inevitable
though i was twelve.

I was convinced
by a woman in Barcelona
in an alleyway.

i still remember her
the way i recall the summer–
a terrible closeness of the air,

her lips and eyes, detailed
in colors distinctly unfamiliar,
leaving me as i passed her

with paint across my virgin mind,
already running, dissembling, out of proportion,
as in Dali, or Pollock, or Miro.

In a solitude dense with dust,
i spent the twilight hours frantically trying to draw.
i cursed myself

for my scattered memory,
for my awkward fingers, for my futile pen
tearing into the wretched paper.

I cursed myself, and desperation
bled into darkness at the turn of dusk,
but still I fought sleep and its forgetfulness to remain

in an alleyway in Spain,
in a wish, a consuming wish,
In regret unceasing, and not yet impure

09.17.14

football stuff

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:36 am by Administrator

football stuff.

first, the Eagles.

yesterday’s game was the first NFL game thus far this season that i watched from beginning to end. on the one hand, it was a fun experience because it was a comeback win. on the other hand, it was a disappointing experience for a few reasons: the Eagles should not have won the game, and the manner in which they played demonstrated that they are no better (and are possibly worse) than they were last year.

obviously, the Eagles would not have won that game if several very obvious officiating calls been properly made. granted, a win is a win, but i’ve been on the other side of bad calls that have determined the outcome. the bogus horse collar penalty and the missed pass interference call didn’t decide last night’s outcome, but they certainly put the Eagles in a position to win the game. i feel bad for the Colts fans and their team; the Eagles shouldn’t have had the ball with 5 minutes left in the game, with an opportunity to tie.

second, it was a terribly played game by the Eagles. aside from a few very remarkable and opportune plays by darren sproles and zach ertz, the execution on offense was sloppy, and the play-calling was even worse. chip kelly’s play selection in red-zone and 3rd down situations was appalling, and it led to at least two aborted drives and multiple failed opportunities at touchdowns. it strikes me that kelly’s tempo is too fast for even him to properly control the game. it’s possible that his style of play masks his intellectual limitations, particularly at critical junctures of the game.

and regarding kelly’s intellectual limitations, i continue to find it aggravating that neither his 1st nor 2nd round picks in this year’s draft are proving to have any value whatsoever. i’ve spent at least three entries reaming kelly for the marcus smith 1st round debacle of a pick, and once again smith was notably absent from the game yesterday. it’s fine to sit a 1st round linebacker when you have a deep, strong defense; but then if that were the case, why would you waste a first round pick on a raw defensive talent who isn’t a clear fit at either defensive end or linebacker? of course the fact is that the Eagles defense is neither deep nor strong, and our linebacker play (aside from situational pocket pressure at a few points in the game) was atrocious. middling talents trent richardson and ahmad bradshaw looked like they were the big boys on the playground last night as they decimated our front seven and ran through half-hearted arm tackles all game. marcus smith’s inability to contribute on this team is directly an indictment of chip kelly’s absolute disaster of a 1st round draft. and jordan matthews, drops and all, has proven to be a terrible opportunity cost, particularly given the availability of more obvious talents in cody latimer and donte moncrief as late as rounds 3 and 4. i blame chip kelly for bombing this draft. i blame him, and i won’t forget it.

the Eagles are good enough to barely win the NFC East this year, by virtue of the fact that the rest of the NFC East is awful. but we are headed for an inevitable 1st round exit yet again. the defense is BAD. the offense is INCONSISTENT. the head coach is OVERRATED. that’s all i have to say for the Eagles right now.

a little on adrian peterson. i think that the most disturbing thing about the situation is this. adrian peterson and the vikings ownership are aligned in their idea that his seemingly sensible intention to discipline his son is a mitigating factor (if not frankly a justification) for the beating that he issued. it’s the guise of morality that enables peterson and his allies to feel nothing when confronted by photos of the egregious wounds inflicted on his 4 year-old son. but this isn’t a legitimate debate over moral gray areas. if an adult son experienced those wounds at the hands of his father, that’d be an assault and battery charge against the abusive father with no questions asked. this was a 4 year-old boy who has probably been speaking in complete sentences for a year and is still putting together an understanding of how actions and consequences are linked. he was striped and bled by an angry father who intended to inflict injury. in my book, that makes adrian peterson a sociopath, if not a criminal as well. and the fact that the cruelty did not trouble his conscience demonstrates that he is a distorted man and deeply troubled, despite the face he has deceived us with all these years.

ray rice deserved to be released by the ravens, and adrian peterson deserves to sit out until he’s put in jail. sports players shouldn’t get a pass simply because they’re celebrities. if the NFL and the vikings stand by their man, then i’m done with being a fan. football is sordid and destructive enough already

09.13.14

family mission statement, part 2

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:32 am by Administrator

a funny thing happened.

we had our first “family meeting” this evening, over a barbecue dinner at one of our favorite restaurants. while we were waiting for the food, i told my son about our hopes to grow closer as a family by preserving dinner time as a time of conversation. and then i launched into the conversation about the meaning of family by asking him what “family” meant to him. he gave a brief answer and seemed somewhat reserved. i tried to make him feel more comfortable by telling him what family meant to me when i was his age. i was going to lead up to the mission statement i had conceived—the one about mutual support and empowerment, about giftings and responsibility. but strangely, it didn’t go that way.

instead, i heard myself talking about how my dad defined family for me. i told him about how my father always told me that his priority was to take care of me, no matter how old we got. my dad told me that in korea, children grow up and take care of their parents; in fact, my dad had taken on responsibility for his parents in korea. but he told me that for as long as he lived, he would not be a burden to me. he would provide for me and look after my interests for as long as he could, and all that he expected in return was that i would do the same for my children. and my dad told me that no matter how badly i did in school, or how many mistakes i made, or how many years i would need his help, he would always be there for me. he told me that he would always love me, no matter what.

my wife and my daughter were busy chatting and poring through their menus, but i’m almost certain that my son heard my voice break, just slightly. i did not cry, but i was on the cusp of losing control. and when i was done talking, i realized that i had not delivered the “family mission statement” i had intended to articulate. instead, i had told him the very words my father once told me: that the purpose of family is for parents to love their children unconditionally, and for the children to learn to love others in the very same way.

i saw something come over him. he’s only 8 years old, but i saw it in his eyes. and later, my son came to me to hug me good night. he never does that voluntarily. the rational part of me says that we are now aligned. but the child in me says that i finally said the thing i have been afraid to admit all these years: that i love my son with the love my father gave me. it is a jealous, fearsome love. it is a love that exposes me to all the weaknesses and pains that have inflicted my father. it is a love that makes me excruciatingly vulnerable. i am not my father; but now i realize that among many things he gave me, he gave me this conviction i hold dear, that a father lives to give up his life for his son.

that’s the family mission statement, i realize. and i’ve known it all along

09.12.14

the family mission statement

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:20 pm by Administrator

my wife sent me a link to bruce feiler’s TED talk on happy families. i haven’t had a chance to listen to the talk, but i read a summary of feiler’s ideas. they’re very interesting. if i can crudely summarize his general approach, bruce suggests that happy and high-functioning people often grow up in homes where familial membership is formalized and highly valued. this formalization and value are established through 1) daily family meetings (i.e. the family dinner) and 2) regular discussion around the family’s “mission statement”—a story of the family’s history, identity, and values.

two things struck me when i read this summary. firstly, this sounds a lot like what organizations have to hard-wire in the pursuit of sustainability and better results. in fact, my own company is working hard to institute regular “rounding” as well as group activities intended to highlight our mission and core values. secondly, it struck me that i’m well-versed in this sort of approach, as i grew up in a home in which these things were rigorously practiced.

my family’s mission statement was very clearly defined by both of my parents. it could be summarized as the following:

1. we are of korean descent, and koreans are exceptional people. we are almost as smart as jewish people; we are harder-working than people of any other racial background; and we are genetically less prone to disabling or degenerative conditions.

2. just as importantly, we are american by nationality and culture. americans have the best culture, the best systems, and the most powerful army. it is the best thing in the world to be american.

3. the main purpose of this family is to guarantee the health and success of its progeny (specifically myself). the most important marker of success is collegiate pedigree, with professional skills being a secondary marker. earnings are relatively unimportant.

4. the most important attribute in this family is unity. our financial, personal, and spiritual goals are intrinsically aligned and must remain that way, because in a society driven by self-interest, family is the only sure thing.

it was a very simple, straightforward mission statement, which interestingly touched on race theory, american exceptionalism, the importance of social “assimilation”, and the critical role of education in securing independence, job security, and enduring quality of life.

now, this is not quite the family mission statement that i would advocate for my wife and children, but the fact remains that i grew up in a home where our family dinners and our outings together were effective in continually reaffirming our common vision. to this day, i have a very clear sense of what it meant to be part of my family of origin. and i think i am evidence of feiler’s theory, in that i was equipped for success (as defined by my family) because i had a clear sense of what success should look like. throughout my primary and secondary schooling, i never got anything less than an A on my report cards; i won almost every violin, piano, and writing competition i entered; i got into every college i applied to; and i graduated both high school and college at the top of my class. never mind that i fell into a deep and difficult crisis of identity after i graduated from college; the fact is that i experienced success as it was defined for me during my childhood years.

for better or worse, a family mission statement is precisely what i have avoided developing for my new family, partly in reaction to the family mission statement i grew up with, and partly because i’m still rebelliously adolescent in my Gen X contrarian leanings. but my son is 8 years old now, and i do think that i need to begin contemplating the narrative of what binds us together. we don’t just coexist in the same house. there’s something more to our familial identity, and i need to begin exploring what that is, in an intentional, deliberate, and courageous way.

i’ll take my first stab at it now:

1. we are a family that was “called” into being. mom and dad did not end up together by accident; their meeting, romance, and marriage relationship were divinely scripted and purposeful.

2. we were called to marriage in part because our children are special in God’s eyes and were born from divine intent.

3. we are a very gifted family—gifted in very unique and powerful ways. that sets us apart from others; and it increases our responsibility for others. our purpose as a family is to identify, develop, and encourage these gifts, for our mutual enjoyment, for the betterment of our society, and for the glory of God, who called us into being.

4. we are committed to success, and success is defined as the fullest and most satisfying expression of our gifts.

“giftedness” or “calling” seem to me a more personally meaningful foundation for our family’s identity, as opposed to racial/ethnic ascriptions or even religious affiliation. they imply what is unique about us, while also pointing to a purpose (the development and expression of those giftings, for the service of others). i do worry a bit that this mission statement can only endure if my children end up sharing my religious beliefs—but it’s a risk that i want to take. sort of.

i’m not sure.

09.11.14

time to move on

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:26 pm by Administrator

i heard most of the president’s speech yesterday live on the radio while i was driving to dinner, and it was hard for me to control my anger. it flipped my lid to hear the words he had to say. it was a powerlessness, frustration, and rage that i have not felt for a long time.

this is my thirteenth straight blog post about 9/11. i still remember where i was and how i felt the day of the attack. when the towers were smoking but still standing, i was appalled and confused, like everyone else. but when the towers collapsed, something in me fell apart, and i went into shock. like everyone else, i wanted revenge.

today, i look back at the years and i feel futility. my rage was manipulated by my government. my rage and the rage of all my countrymen was used to fuel one misguided and terribly destructive war effort after another. the taxes i have paid have been used to finance the killing of people whose blood i have not wanted on my hands. and every year, when we come to this day of all days, i have to hear this warped message about good and evil, about how there is still purpose in war, and about how all of the killing and cruelty we inflict on others is rooted in the thing that will eternally unite us as Americans—our right to avenge the victims of 9/11.

ISIL has killed two american journalists, but over the past month, more americans have been slain at the hands of american policemen. i don’t know who ISIS is or what they believe, but i do know this: that muslims of the middle east have dreamed of a caliphate under shari’ah for thousands of years, but they have been foiled time and time again, whether by the persians or the ottoman turks or the european imperialists. under the oppression of one corrupt, western-backed autocrat after another, this people has held to an enduring dream of a just and holy pan-Arab nation, a dream that has fanned the flames of revolution and protest in that region for centuries. i say let them have their caliphate. let the young and the old of that land witness what comes of their beloved shari’ah. and should it fail, for all of its fervor and violence, let them witness it together, and let them put that fantasy to rest of their own accord, at least for a time.

among many offensive things our president said in his address last night, he presumed to speak about the truth of islam. he stated that “true islam” does not condone violence and terror against innocents. i’ve read the Qur’an, and his statements couldn’t be further from the truth. islam was born out of war; muhammad received his vision in the midst of persecution, when the polytheists of the arabian peninsula threatened to extinguish his tribe. jihad is the very essence of islam. it is the war—spiritual, material, and ideological—that the people of the prophecy are called to fight against the unbelievers who occupy their holy land, their precious inheritance. when our president makes a public address in which he intentionally misrepresents one of the largest and most compelling religious faiths in the world, he does more than simply antagonize the people of that faith; he embarrasses us—the inclusive, the self-determined, the freedom-loving—and he betrays his agenda to manipulate the american people to nefarious ends, yet again.

for fourteen years, i have grieved with the victims of 9/11, but now i must also grieve the pakistani children murdered by our drones, the iraqi newlyweds shot to death by our guns, the young american soldiers returning with PTSD and severed limbs. i feel sick to my bones at the evil things our government continues to do around the world. it sickens me; it revolts me; it makes me ashamed of our president, our nation, and our values. whatever 9/11 has come to mean to me, it will no longer be the president’s conduit to my sympathies. i will tuck it away, where all of my hurt and loss cannot be manipulated by destructive and self-righteous men any longer. today, i’m moving on. this is the last 9/11 entry i will write, and from here on, i place myself at the margin. once, this day represented something in the world that i fear; but now, this day will forever remind me of how i lost faith in our ways

09.05.14

humility, and defects

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:09 pm by Administrator

i’m embarrassed to admit it to myself, but when i was in college i used to pray for humility. i think that i believed that pride was my one main barrier to a spiritual breakthrough. back then, of course, i looked at life as a battle to be won, and i looked at my spirituality as my means of winning that battle.

it’s embarrassing to me because i know the heart that i had back then. it’s not that i was excessively arrogant in this prayer; it’s that i was naive in my understanding of humility. nevertheless, i believe that God answered this prayer. what He gave me, over the fifteen years that followed that prayer, was something fundamental to humility. God gave me the profound experience of failure. He allowed me to become unfortunate in my eyes; He permitted me anguish and even terrible, unremitting depression; God let me reject Him and walk away from the faith; and He allowed me to betray my friends and my family on multiple occasions. i was judged and disciplined by those with authority over me, and i was reprimanded, fired, and almost disowned. when God let failure work all the way through me, i wanted to die; this is how much i hated my life.

i prayed for humility, thinking that this was the one thing that i lacked. God gave me failure, and i realized that in fact i lacked everything—even a life worth living.

i am still a proud man, but i have changed a great deal, particularly over the past two years of my life. i am not confused about where i stand with God or who i am in His eyes. more specifically, i have come to understand my defectiveness—that i am a profoundly defected man, incapable even of expressing the best within me without causing harm. i have built an identity around my defectiveness. i have embraced the idea that i am not what i was meant to be, and that hope has powerful meaning for me because someday i will be that man i was intended to become.

when i think back, i recognize that my defectiveness is not something i could have properly learned in my childhood, and i’m not sure it is something that children can understand. when i was a younger man, i believed in my ability to be corrected, reformed, and aligned with God. i engaged in the sacraments and in the study of the bible because i wanted to be defined by my virtues rather than by my weaknesses. perhaps this was the only way for me to be introduced to the purposes of God. after all, in our culture we grow up with a powerfully humanist self-concept, such that the idea of brokenness has no context and is thus senseless. i had to begin my journey with God with some necessary but false assumptions: that i have will and the power to choose, that i can become what i desire to become, and that my identity is fundamentally good. i relinquished these assumptions as i descended into the emptiness of my failure, but for many years they were critical to my perspective and my search for truth.

the truth of my defectiveness can be stated simply: that i cannot live with what i am—not even the very best version of myself—and that i must be saved from myself, continuously and unremittingly, until i am made right. in this life, the cross i bear is the thing that i am. i seek rebirth, the death of self, and a newness of identity because the eternity of heaven is only tolerable and good if i am good.

to me, depravity is a far more philosophical term, and it does not get to the core of what i have come to believe. while depravity connotes “corruption” or “insurmountable separation from God”, defectiveness gets to the idea that i do not function or work properly; i cannot even properly express the good that i may feel or embrace. this was the truth about myself that i recognized over those early years of being a doctor, when i channeled the griefs and pains of others into a loathing of God and of myself. when i sought to be a healer, i instead hurt myself and others that i loved. and this hurting of others continued into my marriage. the suffering and the anguish that i experienced through my work compelled me to undermine and betray the ones that i loved. i could not fix the problems of the world. i could not even fix myself. i was defected.

while understanding my “depravity” once led me to self-loathing, understanding my “defectiveness” ironically empowers me to hold what i am, with tolerance and also with greater hope. defectiveness is not simply a moral or immoral quality; it is a senseless state of being. seeing my life through this lens enables me to understand things about death that i could not previously comprehend. death is not just the logical consequence of sin; it is an outrage, an evidence of defected life, and the most compelling evidence we have that we are not as we were meant to be. God who is eternal did not mean to commune with men who would decay. God who is all-powerful and profoundly loving meant to have eternal friendship and even union with His own. i will die because i am defective. i can understand this. i can even rejoice in this, because i will be made again, with the stuff that cannot decay, and with a heart that will not fail me, even under testing.

09.01.14

the enemy of our enemy

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:12 am by Administrator

the latest news suggests that america has a new enemy, which is actually an old enemy, though in recent years this familiar enemy has actually been traditionally one of the foremost enemies of one of our more despised recent enemies. of course, i’m speaking of Russia, our seasonal nemesis, and the irony of its shared loathing of fundamentalist islamic movements and peoples.

in any case, this odd revival of anti-Russian sentiment has done more for me than merely deepen my general cynicism of america’s “steadfast” ideals and its enduring “exceptionalism”. it has reminded me that there is an odd logic that drives our propaganda machine. take note of the curious predictability of america’s moral crusades and battles over its brief but war-obsessed national history:

1. america’s primary and most formative enemy was england. it was england’s insistence on monarchical domination and imperial designs that actually drove the united states into being. one could argue that it was america’s moral loathing of everything English that made the constitution what it was—a formal rejection of the imperial, autocratic ways of Old Europe most perfectly epitomized by England in its prime.

2. america’s second most prominent enemy was germany, against which it fought two world wars. ironically, 19th century germany, in its graduation from imperialism and its cultural embrace of rationalism, was a counterpoint to England and thus an intriguing point of reference for America for generations, up until its militarism suddenly made it more threatening than america’s more traditional nemesis. thus did the enemy of america’s primary enemy become its next great enemy. national socialism supplanted english imperialism as the “great evil” of the world; and of course the horrors of the holocaust further deepened the moral significance of america’s battles with germany.

3. true to its pattern, america was quick to label the enemy of its prior enemy the next abomination of the planet, that being the soviet union. previously america’s most important partner in the effort to rid the world of nazism, communist russia—in its designs for the global export of revolution—quickly became the evil of all evils, a truly pagan and destructive force dedicated to the eradication of all human freedoms on mother earth. thus ensued the cold war, in which we enlisted the help of our old friends britain and germany for the purposes of bloc-ing out what surely had to be world history’s most daunting specter of all time.

4. the enemy that supplanted russia as america’s enemy #1 was ironically a force that helped to collapse the soviet union—that being militant muslim elements. the irony obviously goes quite deep, when one considers that the united states funded, trained, and positioned militant arabic groups such as al qaeda to battle the russians in the afghanistan war. it wasn’t difficult for the american public to quickly demonize all of the islamic world after al qaeda’s 9/11 attack. in fact, russia and nazi germany had never mounted an attack on american soil; islamic militants quickly dwarfed all of our previous enemies as quite possibly the worst evil america had ever encountered. thus were we obliged—by nothing less than absolute moral necessity and a responsibility to all nations—to precipitate war against various muslim miscreants in iraq, afghanistan, pakistan, yemen, and sundry other nations. while the russians quickly earned american sympathies for their emerging battles with chechen terrorists, americans banded together in a universal, unprecedented loathing of muslim peoples. it has been termed “holy war”; and for america, it truly became the crusade that all history and christendom intended for this great nation to finish and to win, for all time.

5. the pattern continues of course, because radical islam’s great enemy is post-cold war Russia, and now the latest emerging events in syria and ukraine are retraining america’s eyes upon a familiar foe. it feels like fresh hatred, but really it’s just rekindled childhood fears of the well-celebrated bogeyman. for a few of us, myself included, the unearthing of old rivalries feels tired and unnecessary, but the american news machine, always happy to profit off of america’s undying penchant for new and necessary moral crusades, appears to be succeeding in converting ukraine’s civil war—a war no one in america would have cared about otherwise—into another domino/sovereignty/independence “thing” that will ultimately threaten and corrode the great “american way of life”.

the really intriguing thing about this utterly predictable pattern of conflicts is that there are two very different lessons about america that one can infer from it. the first: that america has proven itself to be remarkably proficient in turning old enemies into friends (i.e. england, once our greatest nemesis but now our best friend in virtually every war we are engaged in everywhere on this planet). the second, and perhaps the more elegant conclusion: that the enemy of our enemy is simply… our next enemy.