Mars and Venus Are in Love

Ich bin ein siegreicher Unterwasserkommandant.

The July issue of the popular military history magazine Armchair Generalhas my name in it. Two other readers and I were named winners of the “You Command” contest in the March issue, involving a U-boat attack on an Atlantic convoy in 1943.

It’s a sort of essay question: You are given a scenario with three tactical options, and you must pick one and justify it in writing. They print excerpts from the winning entries.

So I decided to try, and I won. Everything I know about commanding submarines I learned by reading and by playing Gato and Harpoon — computer games.

Ensign William Thomas BaileyIt felt odd to write my entry. The man in the photo popped into my head, which was a bit creepy. His name was Ensign William Thomas Bailey. In March 1942 he married the woman who would become my stepmother, and in September 1942 his ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat and sunk with all hands. She waited in New Orleans for three more months until it was obvious no miracle was going to bring him back, then eventually went to work for the Army in Honolulu where she led an active social life involving beaches, restaurants, high-ranking officers, and drinks with umbrellas in them.

Mars and Venus are in love.

Armchair General’s publisher, Eric Weider, tries to make that point in his July editorial, answering critics who claim that study of military history is “odd or even morbid.” The trappings of war are beautiful (airplanes, uniforms, music, etc.), and war is an activity that brings out not just the worst but the best in its participants.

The psychologist James Hillman, whose “polytheistic psychology” has changed my thinking quite a bit, threw himself against the same problem in his recent book A Terrible Love of War. He takes the combat-as-ecstasy (literally being outside your everyday self) line, but also refuses to think that war can be wished away with perfect social engineering.

Notes from a 2002 conference about the book, by someone wrestling with Hillman’s message:

What if Aphrodite were akin to Pan? What if she valued, not war, but Ares himself, a man-god, a relationship, a lover, yes, a lover, not a warrior?

• A reviewer at contemplates Hillman’s connection between ideological wars and monotheism:

Being reveals itself as “War” in the West not because of Homer’s glorification of it, but because it is nourished by the extreme monotheism of Christianity, an “Old Testamament’warrior’ God of Jaweh, tacked onto a New Testament without War (“Turn the other cheek, and give your enemy your cloak). . . . Now war has become “Apollonic” because “It was Apollo who chases, but fails to consummate his relations in closeness.” Here Hillman does not hesitate to draw the inevitable conclusions from the fact that Ares always lies down with Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love. From ancient Sumner to present day Iraq the story is the same: the thrill, the glory, and the ‘erotics” of war pass every other experience in intensity and delight. The hold of war is as powerful as Eros, indeed, IS Eros: “There is no beauty like it, because its beauty is evil” said one soldier, echoing Baudelaire. Can anyone be so foolish as to blieve that this violence is only incidental, only or purely contextual? The much touted “Sex AND violence” of the so called “conservatives”? Do we think that television generates it?

• It has even made it to YouTube.

It’s a book that I will need to re-read one day, trying to understand how the energies of the gods show themselves in our lives and our culture.

And I am waiting for a stronger connection to be made between polytheistic psychology and religious polytheism. Too many people who espouse the latter still conduct their mental lives within a more agnostic psychology (think of behaviorism, for instance). The gods, as the poets tell us, have their own agendas, which sometimes rip our lives apart. How do you give them enough, but not too much? Is Ares satiated with computer-game slaughters?