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The Fiery Cage and the Lynching Tree, Brutality’s Never Far Away


The Fiery Cage and the Lynching Tree, Brutality’s Never Far Away

They burned him alive in an iron cage, and as he screamed and writhed in the agony of hell they made a sport of his death.

After listening to one newscast after another rightly condemn the barbaric killing of that Jordanian air force pilot at the bloody hands of ISIS, I couldn’t sleep. My mind kept roaming the past trying to retrieve a vaguely remembered photograph that I had seen long ago in the archives of a college library in Texas.


This is a story — and an image — that will stay with me forever. It’s beyond my understanding.


The beam in both eyes


Unfortunately, every day in the United States there are instances of avid bloodthirsty brutality and glorifying viciousness. Note the popularity of the movie American Sniper. Hard not to be paranoid in such an environment.


The way the Jordanian pilot, Muath al-Kaseasbeh stood up to being burned to death by ISIL robots was the most poised, courageous, exemplary and heroic way to experience such a horror inflicted on oneself I’ve ever seen in my life.


The elephant in the room is the fact that religion – all religion – is inherently toxic and prone to fostering extremism. It’s ridiculous that endless yammering is going on about Muslims and Christians committing various barbaric acts, but nobody mentions the obvious common denominator, religion itself. Instead we get “Gee, that’s not what the real religion teaches,” which is to ignore centuries of horrors inflicted by pious" groups on each other. Simply put, once you abandon logic for superstition – and that’s all religion is – you open the door to becoming your own judge and jury. Barbaric acts happen all the time, but systematic barbarity usually is justified by one superstitious belief or another – just name a religion, or belief systems warped into religions such as North Korea’s ideology. Instead of wringing our hands and saying humans should be nicer and adhere better to their various superstitious dogmas, we should be demanding a huge United Nations effort to de-program people worldwide, to teach children to rely on reason rather than crude and silly superstitions to cope with life.


If the various conflicts that’re still happening around the globe (the Israeli-Arab debacle and the conflict in Northern Ireland, which, btw, one hears very little, if anything about, these days, as well as the Holocaust.) to name afew, are any indication, religion and nationalism are extremely dangerous when taken too far.

Unfortunately, this has been happening since the beginning of time, but the fact that stuff like that happens, even in today’s modern world, indicates that the human race, as a whole, has evolved very little, if at all.

Religious fundamentalism, which has always been a huge problem worldwide, has been getting worse, not decreasing.


strong text Religions of the world were for the most part created to provide paths for those belonging to them a way for leading a way of life for the common good of everyone. The part of religion that becomes bad in not the teachings but the interpetations of persons who use their religions to fit their own agendas for their own good. Key words here: ‘for the most part.’


Racism that includes genocide, ostracizing, or segregating is not based on religion (other than in India).

What you want is global recognition of human rights! The U.S. has fiercely objected to recognizing that all humans have rights.


I’m reminded of Mark Twain’s “War Prayer”. By narrating it through the entrance of the presence and words of an excluded “other”, through whose entry and presence alone Twain sets the scene framing a discernment between perception and dogma. Dogmatic institutionalized religion is very different from religion that holds spiritual integrity in practice as primary. Struggling with these and similar dynamics are part and parcel of the human condition. I look at the civil rights movement and how Malcolm X evolved. At the core, sacred texts the world over reflect the human struggle to be fully alive.
Also striking to me is that religious practices are easily hijacked when subjected to the machinations of what amount to ‘feudal’ systems. I tend to consider ‘globalization’ to both bear and impose the earmarks of feudalism because it builds on the institutional legacies of colonizing mentalities and financial constructs.


The record of the United States in its treatment of indigenous populations (i.e., native “Americans” which are only referred to as Indians because Christopher Columbus and other early “explorers” were trying to find a quicker way to the orient and India and, finding darker skinned people speaking a different language, figured they had been successful in their quests) and other immigrants (be they slaves or “free” men, women, and children) is deplorable. No worse than the European countries claiming vast tracts of land and resources for their monarchical leaders. We ignore our own history while claiming a moral high ground in comparison to other imperialist and dictatorial or fascist countries. We are not exceptional, merely typical and hardly any better. Longevity and “success” do not bestow legitimacy when you consider how “success” is measured. Then ends do not justify the means.


I think the purpose of such horrific violence by ISIS is to invoke a military response - the same reason the 9-11 attack included the Pentagon. What ISIS, and the neo-cons who created the environment in which they thrive, want is a clash of civilizations. Our drone attacks on wedding parties etc. have the same incendiary effect as burning a prisoner alive - creating anger against the evil bastards who would do something so horrific. The neo-cons want a regional conflagration to get rid of Israel’s enemies and increase U.S. power in the region, the military-industrial complex wants the fortunes they’d make off the conflict and ISIS wants the empire out, along with the rest of their religious enemies.

Bush called the attack on Iraq a crusade. Apparently they believed him.


That religion gives thugs and the insane raison d’etre is maddeningly true.
That religion softens the brains of those held under it’s sway; this too is indisputable.
But why, oh why do (some) humans (who shall remain nameless … but of whom can be said they should NOT be allowed to take a certain little blue pill due to already being dickish enough, thank you very much!) DESIRE so many reasons to do those things which no sane or rational or huMANE creature, large or small, would even WANT to do??? I mean, really!

How is it there are so many people who want to inflict that much pain, terror, and death? It isn’t limited to the religious. We KNOW there are those, flocking even now, who do not ACTUALLY BELIEVE whatever the scriptural excuses are, but simply want to do these awful things.

What is it that creates this dis-ease of the body, mind and emotions? Is it simply the virus of religion? capitalism? biotoxins and environmental contaminants? Or is it some hideous evolutionary misstep we took after falling from our primordial ooze nest?


I read and re-read this to make sure I had it all down in my brain - the thought of this much total cruelty in any human being is beyond belief - I remember as a child of about 8 being made “stairs monitor” at school, my job being to keep the kids all moving as they returned to the classrooms after break, and I took great pleasure in making one little girl’s life misery by pulling on her clothes and shoving her - just because I was now important and had power - this went on for around 2 days until I suddenly realized what I was doing and stopped in complete shame - then I knew just how easy it is to let yourself fall into the pit - I have never forgotten that lesson. But this much cruelty - didn’t anyone realize what they were actually doing to THEMSELVES ? I cry inside for the depth of total evil that we are capable of. May God forgive these fools who shame all of us.


The glaring irony here - and I’m almost dumbstruck that neither Moyers nor any but one of the commenters so far has caught it - is that we incinerate other humans on an almost daily basis right now. In fact it’s government policy.

Obama’s use of drones kills and maims most of its victims by burning. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism recently reported that he has murdered almost 2,500 victims in this very way - many of them women, children and elderly people - since he took office.

The human rights group Reprieve has clearly shown that US drone operators basically have no idea who they are killing. But Obama’s definition of a ‘militant’ is anyone on the receiving end of a drone attack. This is barbaric. But the American people are silent. Why?

Bush used white phosphorus very liberally in the ‘battle’ of Falujah. He also used drones.

But the people ultimately responsible for this ongoing slaughter are you and I for supporting these murderous tyrants. The next time you see the repetitive and nauseating coverage of what ISIS does to its victims, ask yourself why we don’t see the same coverage for the victims of our own psychopathic behavior.


At Richmond VA’s small museum of black history when I took my journalism students a decade ago, the curator read a horrified letter home to Vietnam about 1920 by a young idealist, overjoyed with the idea of America, who had come to Virginia and been excited to be invited to a barbecue. There he’d witnessed a lynching.

The letter writer’s name, the curator said, was Ho Chi Minh,* a man Mr. Moyers should recognize from his years in the Johnson Administration.

Why do we keep pretending that there is something called “American exceptionalism?” We are just as brutal, just as brilliant, just as ridiculous, just as funny, just as human, just as everything as every other culture and our belief that somehow we’re better or different allows us to escape hearing the bad news in a timely enough fashion to stop the slide towards the horror of things like lynchings and burnings. I hope that mr. Moyers writing here will help us look in the mirror and say, “What are we (am I) doing today which is on the slippery slope towards what they do “over there” or did in the past or…?”

That question leads to “How do I/we get off this slope NOW?”

Please read Charles Lewis’ new book, 935 Lies, about American corporate and governmental lying since WWII, for an excellent discussion of why we need an active, insightful press willing to look at the bigger picture and draw difficult connections, as Mr. Moyer’s has done here.

And which Common Dreams seems to be dedicated to.

*I have never checked the curator’s assertion myself.


Uncle Ho came to America for a couple of years in his youth. The documentation is scanty, but from what I’ve read, it was probably in the 1911 - 1913 timeframe. At the time, he was training to be a cook/chef. Attending what he thought would be an American BBQ would have been consistent with his other activities in the US. So the curator’s understanding could just be off by a few years - or I could be all wet, who knows.

The most interesting thing about Ho’s life to me was that, during WWII, he worked closely with the OSS (now called the CIA) helping locate American prisoner’s of war in Japanese internment camps. The CIA would follow up by sending rescue parties. Ho always revered the US and inserted much of the language of our Constitution and Declaration of Independence into the Vietnamese counterpart documents. He believed that his help would translate into American support for his regime, but Truman and Eisenhower rebuffed him. They were allied with the French colonial powers. Very unfortunate. They might have saved over 50,000 US lives if they had been a little smarter.

I agree that we all need to “look in the mirror.”



Never had much to say
after the flames.

We have torched whole tent cities too
miners and their families,

or ditched our massacres until they blistered in the snow.
And the whistling

that puzzles a child and that child’s mother
before their kitchen

erupts and opens
them like grisly eggs and bone?

We cannot think we are guilty
after all

don’t we want a soft end for every one?
That’s what the liberals say.

We pray for our sick neighbors
and the unborn

to go into the dimming light
with fortitude

and Jesus
and an absence of pain.

Oh, how the women
writhed in the center of town

because they were alone
and smart

and made victuals
from the glades and grasses

around them
and poor Matthew Shepherd

not a good boy by far;
but did he deserve being mangled

on that fence
for every vulture to see?

Some creatures get all the breaks
are forgiven for their plans

to rule the world by fire
a blitzkrieg of entrails

and lost stories
a river of black blood

ovens of hearts and bone
but they forgive themselves

that debt
as the years pass and they get rich again

only to feel the insistent revenge of truth
scrape against

what they would forget.


I am kind of feeling the same revulsion at the picture of this poor man being lynched as I am sure I would have at Fox’s showing of the pilot’s death. I have mixed feelings as to whether we should show such things. On the one hand it shows the truth about violence like nothing else can, on the other hand it flows into our reality too easily and lessens us. Our culture is angry and getting worse. What can heal this?


good for you!!
We need to study shame dynamics and honor systems. Islamic countries in the Middle east are honor bound, killing women even a family daughter who ‘dishonors’ the family by being raped. Shame is like a ‘hot potato’. No one wants to deal with it so they bypass it to another person or group, someone else, something else must be shamed in our place. Read the Culture of Shame by Morrison for starters. And Violence: an epidemic in which we see how having been shamed publicly is so painful that one can turn to violence.