Fleshing it Out

Snapshots of Our Political Pathology

A Tale of Two Warriors: Part II– Press the Battle

It is wisely said that one cannot please everybody. And so I have had it confirmed for me lately when a friend of more than 40 years standing wrote to me to express his distaste for my choice of an icon to serve as the graphic for my present campaign, “Press the Battle.”

Of this image, my friend wrote that he disliked the symbol, found it a turn-off: “It strikes me as more male-chauvinist macho stuff.”

icon for press the battle

It should be said of my friend that when I met him, in 1971, he was recently retired as a major from the United States Marines, where he had pursued a military career. And it should be noted that he has since been an increasingly dedicated opponent of American militarism, a major figure in the organization, Veterans for Peace.

Of course, at some level, my friend is right. This image — derived from a piece of 18th century statuary found at a palace in Berlin– is as much emblematic of the “problem of power” as was that PREVIOUS WARRIOR IMAGE (described in Part I) in the ancient rock painting from the Algerian Sahara.

P of T warrior

But in another, I think more urgently important sense, I believe my friend’s reaction is off the mark. More “urgent” because I believe my friend is missing the tragic, but essential truth of our current predicament.

The problem of power is not just about power being bad. It is about a world whose disorder makes power necessary even for the good. That’s the whole thrust of “the parable of the tribes”:

[T]he irony is that successful defense against a power-maximizing aggressor requires a society to become more like the society that threatens it. Power can be stopped only by power…

So, yes, this warrior image (a statue with classical lines, appearing in the context of a Prussian culture that would later help bring nightmares of war to the world), like the other, reflects humanity’s problem of a world of brokenness. And yes, macho warrior stuff is one of the symptom’s of humanity’s struggle with the problem of power in social evolution.

But at the same time, the nature of the problem of power is such that sometimes this same “stuff” of macho warrior readiness to confront and defeat an enemy is a necessary part of the only available solution.

When what is sacred is being assaulted by an evil force, this is an image of what we are called upon to be.

What would have been the fate of humane and democratic values in the world had not the spirit of “Press the Battle” come to power, at practically the last moment, in Great Britain in 1940? Are we not right to consider the pugnacious Winston Churchill one of history’s great heroes?

One can certainly find in Churchill’s longstanding warrior inclinations a manifestation of some of the world’s brokenness. But in the 1930s, it was Churchill — almost alone — who saw what his nation, and decent human values, were up against.

But his was a voice in the wilderness. Meanwhile, the government of the time — under Prime Ministers Baldwin and Chamberlain — remained blind to the nature of the threat, and refused Churchill’s call to check the rising evil power in Germany.

The lack of that spirit of “Press the Battle” was very close to catastrophic for Britain and indeed the world. Historians say that had Britain come under the Nazi thumb, as so nearly happened, the outcome of World War II altogether might have been altogether different, more catastrophic for every decent human value.

What kind of icon would have suited Prime Minister Churchill as he rallied his nation to that urgently needed spirit:

We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

Though our battle is fought with different weapons, because fought in different kinds of systems, the basic structure of the situation is the sameL an evil force is assaulting all the values we hold dear, and like Baldwin and Chamberlain, Liberal America has been blind and weak in confronting it.

We need the spirit of Churchill, not Chamberlain, as we face this force: fearless, impassioned, ready for combat.

That’s what this warrior image my friend doesn’t like is intended to convey.

12 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Warriors: Part II– Press the Battle

  1. ToddR

    Re “the irony is that successful defense against a power-maximizing aggressor requires a society to become more like the society that threatens it. Power can be stopped only by power” I recommend the new TV show “Manh(a)ttan” about the famous project during WWII. It dramatizes that point better for me than any other TV show I can remember now.

    During the first few episodes I often saw a character doing something I deemed quite bad and asked myself what I would do differently given the same resources the character had and constraints he faced. In only one case have I found an alternative I thought actually better than the choice the character made, and that was a case of a sudden, intense revenge impulse which are difficult though possible to suppress enough to get by. The character gave in to it and ended up getting shot by an MP.

    Sometimes one has only bad alternatives to choose from.


  2. James

    One notes that the “Press The Battle” Image is nude. If this denotes a victorious image then one wonders why Churchill was usually fully clothed and portly, unlike the lean figure as the Icon here. Evil is quite often portrayed as uniformed, similar to Napoleon or Hitler. The third Anti-Christ will wear a dark suit. Nudity in ancient times was symbol victory, both in battle and in sport: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Greek_sculpture#mediaviewer/File:Surviving_Greek_Bronze.jpg
    Weininger failed to get much of anything right, but remarked that a Jew had no choice; it was to be a genius, or die: actually they had no right to live at all.
    Andy is a Jew and chose nudity to denote victory; but surely, he has a right to chose.


    1. Andrew Bard Schmookler

      Churchill’s role in 20th century Britain may have partaken of some of the spirit of the ancient classical world of Greece and Rome which this statuary connotes. But playing his role required operating in the time and place where he operated.

      It is the energy and spirit, not specifically the nudity, that is important to me about this image.


  3. James

    I see, the Greeks found nudity in particular important, while the freedom that nudity imparts to energy and spirit not important to you. Churchill served the purpose of his time and place until he was summarily voted out of office. For me, Marcus Auerelus would serve as my Icon; especially on his mount. I must read his “Meditations.”


  4. Richard H. RAndall

    For today’s uses, the nude figure with shield and sword do nicely for me. The Spartans were nude much of the time: all Greeks wrestled nude. Roman armor and weapons evolved practically for 600 years.
    I see this figure being chosen to reflect the illustration of someone coming to the defense of America and the world, without illusions, with little gear for war-he may have had it in the rear, but the danger is so close, he hasn’t time to put it on to protect himself, he must strike, fast and hard, else there will be little time for anything else. Thank God, h/she is there!
    The Veterans for Peace in Spokane have some good points: they argue for justice as well as peace, fairness in the economy, etc. But they don’t recognize the distinction between a militarily strong, and responsible democracy (one which is not using it’s military for the exploitation of others) and militarism. Hence they have become very pacifistic. There are some negative issues they support-in my 0pinion – but I won’t get into that.
    I understand this to be a true story: When Churchill visited the British Army near the Mediterrainian , with Montgomery I think, he took all his clothes off, save his sun hat, held on to his cigar, and waded into the Med’s beautiful blue waters, much to the delight of the Eight Army soldiers.


  5. James

    Churchill did that – wade into the Med – he also watched Laurel and Hardy movies whilst a Nazi waited to be interviewed over his defection. He was appalled over the destruction the bombing had on German cities and spent much time in his study, musing over the raging battles. Winston was a difficult case study and ended up friendless and helpless in old age while in custodial care of Aristotle Onassis. He left an amazing and comprehensive work of writing titled: “The History of the English Speaking Peoples.”


  6. Dave Pruett

    Perhaps one should look at the emblem as symbolic/archetypal, in the sense of Joseph Campbell, of the warrior within that each of us must summon, not of a glorification either of war or of male chauvinism.

    Similarly, Occupy Wall Street was criticized by some because of the negative connotations of “occupations.” In this case, there was a deliberate attempt to reclaim the language in order to appropriately reframe the message, as in occupy=to be fully present.


  7. Ken Mayers

    For the benefit of the readers of these comments, a full disclosure announement: I am Andy’s friend of more than 40 years who objects to the symbol he has chosen for pressing the battle.

    Andy, you say, “But in another, I think more urgently important sense, I believe my friend’s reaction is off the mark. More “urgent” because I believe my friend is missing the tragic, but essential truth of our current predicament.” On the contrary, Andy, I think you are “missing the essential truth of our current predicament.” Our current predicament has been produced by the nearly three millennia of patriarchal violence, well symbolized by the icon you have chosen for your battle.j

    I well remember reading and appreciating “The Parable of the Tribes” in its original manuscript, years before its publication. And I have told and retold the gist of the parable over and over again, to many friends and associates. But to me, the most important message of the parable is that we have to overcome the assumption that “Power can be stopped only by power…” means power can only be stopped by violence. Now I know that you are not advocating violence against the Republican establishment, but I strongly believe that our civilization’s reliance on violence can only be overcome by a conscious rejection of it, and that rejection must begin with the rejection of the symbolism that perpetuates it.

    There are two related aspects of my objection to the icon you have adopted. The less important of these two has to do with the label you have adopted along with the icon: “Press the battle.” I do not believe what we need is as simple as a battle. The word “battle” suggests a fight between two opposing forces. I believe that what we confront here is much more diffuse than that, with the perverted Republican party as merely a manifestation rather than the core of the difficulty. I believe “Wage the struggle” would be a more accurate statement of what is needed.

    The other aspect goes back to iconography again. I wish you had adopted a rotating series of images of non-violent leaders such as Dorothy Day, MLK, Ghandi, Cesar Chavez … Again for two reasons. First their steadfast commitment to non-violence in the face of violence. And secondly, because they each acted on the realization that their struggles demanded taking to the streets with non-violent direct actions. There has been no successful social movement in the history of the United States — and perhaps in the history of the world — which has not required the mobilization of masses of people in the streets. As much as I admire your articulate expression of the need to confront the slide of the United States into corporate fascism, I do not see in these elegant articulations any recognition that waging the struggle will require massive direct action. And if the struggle is to be successful and avoid greater disasters, the direct action must be non-violent. Thus, the icon symbolic of this struggle should itself represent non-violent direct action.


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