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My Reply to Peter Bergen's Op-Ed about Terrorists

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) June 15, 2016: In a previous op-ed at OEN, I characterized the white male supporters of Donald Trump as rage-aholics. I now also suspect that the American born and raised terrorist gun-man in the recent massacre in Orlando, Florida, was also a rage-aholic. But he was not a white male, and he may not have been a Trump supporter.

The Homeric epic the Iliad begins with the words, "Rage -- Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus' son Achilles,/ murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,/ hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,/ great fighters' souls, but made their bodies carrion, feasts for dogs and birds,/ and the will of Zeus was moving toward its end" (Book I, lines 1-6, translated by Robert Fagles, Viking/Penguin Group, 1990, page 77).

In addition, to all countless Achaean losses that resulted from King Achilles' rage at King Agamemnon's publicly dishonoring him, we should note all the Trojan losses the raging Achilles inflicts during the wild killing rampage the mourning Achilles goes on after the death of his friend Patroclus -- a massacre similar in spirit to the massacre in Orlando early Sunday morning.

In the introduction to Fagles' translation (pages 3-64), the classicist Bernard Knox argues that "the stern lesson of Homer's presentation of the [Trojan] war [is] that no civilization, no matter how rich, no matter how refined [as Troy is portrayed to be by the standards of the day], can long survive once it loses the power to meet force with equal or superior force" (page 17).

At first blush, Knox may seem to be articulating a principle about national defense. But the massacre in Orlando involved an American-born-and-raised non-state actor. So can American culture today muster the power to meet the enemy within American culture?

In an informed op-ed titled "Why Do Terrorists Commit Terrorism" in the New York Times (dated June 14, 2016), Peter Bergen raises two important questions: (1) "Why would someone take the lives of innocent civilians who are total strangers?" (2) "Is an answer even possible?"

Bergen reports that he has "reviewed court records in more than 300 cases of people charged with jihadist terrorism in the United States since Sept. 11, 2001."

However, he does not explicitly include the case of Achilles in his discussion in his op-ed.

Arguably Achilles is portrayed as being incapable of mourning in a healthy way his loss of face publicly. With that backlog of unresolved mourning, Achilles then experiences the loss of his friend Patroclus to death.

Surprise, surprise, Bergen says, "I found that the perpetrators were generally motivated by a mix of factors, including . . . a need to attach themselves to an ideology or organization that gave them a sense of purpose; and a 'cognitive opening' to militant Islam that often was precipitated by personal disappointment [like Achilles' personal disappointment at being publicly dishonored by Agamemnon], like the death of a parent [or the death of a comrade-in-arms like Patroclus]. For many, joining a jihadist group or carrying out an attack allowed them to become the heroes of their own story."

Now, I am reasonably sure that Peter Bergen has read the Iliad, which is an accessible work in literature -- and one of the most famous works in Western literature.

Next, I want to turn to the work of Vamik D. Volkan, M.D. (born in 1932), a psychiatrist and Freudian psychoanalyst at the University of Virginia Medical School in Charlottesville, which is not a long drive from Washington, D.C.

Joseph V. Montville, then research director of the Center for the Study of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Service Institute, U.S. Department of State, supplies the foreword to Volkan's book The Need to Have Enemies and Allies: From Clinical Practice to International Relationships (Jason Aronson, 1988, pages ix-xiv).

In that book, Volkan says that the inability to form more adaptive relationships may be due to the hatred involved as the basis of a particular interpersonal relationship with intrapsychic connections (page 102).

In the case of Achilles, Volkan's analysis of hatred here suggests that Achilles may have a deep interpersonal relationship with intrapsychic connections that is compounding his public loss of face to Agamemnon.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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