Universal Soldier was one of those 1990s cyborg nonsense movies, built on the back of the kind of post or transhuman mythology originated by the likes of Philip K Dick and William Gibson.
Van Damme’s Luc Devereaux, the cyborg who does war – was, depending on your perspective either an optimistic or pessimistic view of the future of warfare, inhumanity meted out by unhumans.
Like many of the best sci-fi stories, there is a hint of reality in the story. War has gradually been removed from the harsh reality of hand to hand combat, armies no longer charge towards one another with axes and clubs raised – ready to stab and bludgeon one another. Unless you count football hooligans or rioters of course.
But rioters and hooligans are not deliverers of ‘legitimate violence’ – that is the prerogative of the state, and the state needs to be seen to be as humane as possible in its dispensing of death. In particular it is politically awkward for soldiers to be seen to die in foreign fields, although its less bad if those soldiers are themselves foreign.
Footage of planes ‘delivering’ their digitally targeted ‘payload’ looks much more like a computer game than something inherently ‘real’ – Baudrillard’s seminal ‘The Gulf War did not take place’ develops this theme in much more devastating analysis, pointing to the fact that the way air strikes replaced hand to hand combat effectively made the warfare unreal in terms of ‘conflict’.
What I am leading to with this is the latest iteration in this post humanised process – the removal of pilots from fighter jets. There are already a plethora of remotely operated vehicles capable of delivering bombs and sending/receiving imagery and intelligence. Now legitimate death machine merchants BAE have developed a remotely operated fighter jet which can do all that the famous 80s helicopter Airwolf could, but without the need to involve risk to a pilot. So long, Stringfellow Hawk.
Warfare is always inhumane and removing pilots from planes does not mean that fewer people will die, just that death will become less politically embarrassing to the most powerful warriors.
But without him,
how would Hitler have condemned him at Dachau?
Without him Caesar would have stood alone
He’s the one who gives his body
as a weapon of the war.
And without him all this killing can’t go on
He’s the universal soldier
And he really is the blame
His orders comes from
far away no more.
They come from him.
And you and me.
And brothers can’t you see.
This is not the way we put an end to war
Buffy Sainte Marie – Universal Soldier
Evidently its National Vegetarian week – as someone who has been a vegetarian for longer than I care to remember (about 20 years I think), I’m all for any efforts to promote vegetarian food.
It’s a peaceful, healthy, less environmentally damaging way to eat, so please, try to eat no meat this week, you may even find you like it.
I had the pleasure and privilege today of sharing a communion service at our local YMCA – the service was for staff rather than residents, but I knew before hand that I was likely to have a mixed bunch of people, from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. That’s fine with me, I prefer ‘mixed’.
So anyway, I chose as the focus of the half hour session, the idea of the sacrament as ‘a visible sign of an invisible reality’ – and took time to relate this not just to the ‘last supper’ but also other meals Jesus shared, and looking more widely, to the earth itself.
Obviously we didnt have lots of time for talking, and I wanted to keep the atmosphere quite reflective and calm, but the focus of the time really became the idea that in the earth, God has given us a moment to moment reminder of sacrifice and provision. And in our response to the earth, we provide ourselves with a moment to moment reminder of our callous disregard of anything good which comes our way. A betrayal of all the good we have been provided with.
We took a moment or two to consider our reactions to the sharing of the body and blood of Christ, and our reaction to the sharing of the body and blood of the earth, which the bread and wine, two extremely earthy substances, remind us of very neatly.
Sometimes I find it a little disheartening to share communion and find that the ‘bread’ on offer is some kind of fluffy white substance which has no flavour, no texture, nothing to remind the eater of its earthy origins. In taking time to reflect on the relationship between us and the earth, and in sharing bread that actually tastes of something, we can help to restore that balance. For a decent and easy communion bread, I tend to mix some self raising flour, about 4oz perhaps, a little bit of strong wholemeal flour, some olive oil, some water and a few pinches of herbs or spice. I mix them till the dough is smooth and pliable, and then I roll it out and cook it in a pan. Try it, its quick and its good.
We finished with the lovely prayer that is often attributed to St Francis, although I dont know anyone who has ever managed to show it was truly his. I find the Franciscan way to be one which most clearly demonstrates our corporate commitment to waging peace on the earth, rather than carrying on destructive behaviour patterns, and often use them as an illustration when talking to non-Christians about a Christian response to environmentalism.
However, until we all begin to remember more actively, our personal responsibilities to the world in which we live, its all just talk. Taking time to pray and reflect on the sacramental nature of the earth may just help, I hope it does.
The Prayer of St Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen
A bit of a long winded title perhaps, but a prophetic irritant seems to describe pretty well the person of Fr Martin Newell, a Catholic priest, and member of the Catholic worker movement.
Uncontent to sit idly by as weapons of mass destruction are developed and built here in the UK, Martin Newell and his friends have – time and time again – demonstrated another way through direct action.
Always non violent, always prophetic, and always at some cost to himself, Fr Martin has a history of direct action demonstrations at military installations. The latest is reported here – he was arrested at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston, where he and two fellow peace campaigners ‘opened the base for disarmament’.
I am full of respect for the commitment shown by this peaceful man, after all, imagine the threat he faces each time gets sent to jail: ‘so you’re a priest eh, I wonder what you’ve been put away for…’
But because it is part of his vocation, he continues to campaign in this way.
I interviewed Martin for my book, excerpts of which I have been publishing here on the blog, and he proved to be an insightful and wise man. But more than anything he stands in a long line of prophetic irritants, one of whom was Dorothy Day and another of whom was Peter Maurin, the founders of the Catholic Worker movement. They, and the movement they founded demonstrate an aspect of new monasticism first modelled by the fore runners of classical monasticism, political dissidents like John The Baptiser and other old school prophets.
We know where politics got John, fortunately for all of us, Martin is unlikely to end up decapitated, but we could all do with heeding his warnings, and ultimately following his lead.