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What Moby Dick Can Teach Us About the War on Terror


What Moby Dick Can Teach Us About the War on Terror

Rick Salutin

Vietnam is surely haunting the U.S. in Iraq, as Tony Burman wrote here last week. But something scary and vague is always haunting the U.S.: not just the sellout at Munich, the Berlin Wall, or the battle of Little Big Horn. Maybe it’s hauntedness itself. I happened to rewatch Apocalypse Now last week, Coppola’s Vietnam epic based on Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, about colonialism in Africa. “The horror, the horror,” breathes Brando hauntingly at the end. U.S.


“Ahab’s first mate is Starbuck, for whom the coffee chain is named. He takes an anti-metaphysical stance: “Vengeance on a dumb brute! That simply smote thee from blindest instinct! Madness!” Starbuck hits a Canadian note, as Harper hits an American one. Of course these things aren’t strictly geographical.”

Lets get linguistic too. Rather than just metaphysical perhaps we are actually watching something ‘mephistophical’. That is, of a demon called Mephistopheles. From German folklore and figuring in Goethe’s story Faust.

Etymology wiki:
"The word may derive from the Hebrew mephitz, meaning “destroyer”, and tophel, meaning “liar”; “tophel” is short for tophel shequer, the literal translation of which is “falsehood plasterer”.

…much closer I think. And then there is the ‘me/ego’ element…

"The name can also be a combination of three Greek words: “me” as a negation, “phos” meaning light, and “philis” meaning loving, making it mean “not-light-loving”, possibly parodying the Latin “Lucifer” or “light-bearer”.[2]

no light no loving … and that’s the way it is, good night and good luck… as one legendary newsman would end his broadcast


“This helps explain, by the way, ISIS’ “phenomenal success at recruiting young people from around the world” (Al Jazeera). Youth, due to its limited experience, tends to gravitate to absolutes. If it rejects, with cause, the absolutes of U.S. policy, it moves easily to a separate but equal absolutism.”

That’s the first frame I’ve seen that makes any sense at all about the attraction of ISIS for the young. I don’t think it’s all encompassing, but it’s a start.


Too much John Wayne,
Too little Brain.