Bush-whacked

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Bush-whacked

Erin Bagus

Call me Ahab. Forty years afloat, I am lost in a sea of my own loneliness. The great, powerful ocean has been my one constant companion, calming and threatening, ever changing and ever consistent. Its beauty is the only thing that has the power to overwhelm me and move me to tears. Lurking within this beloved sea of mine though is a creature that embodies all that I hate, all that is evil in this world. The great White Whale. Moby Dick. I am vowed to "chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition's flames before I give him up" (Melville 139). My men will join with me in the hunt; they too will "chase that white whale on both sides of land, and over all sides of earth, till he spouts black blood and rolls fin out" (139). They don't know it yet, but they will.

Call me George. Five years President, I am lost in a conflict-ridden world of my own making. The great, powerful Middle East has been my one constant companion, calming and threatening, ever changing and ever consistent. Its oil is the only thing that has the power to overwhelm me and move me to tears. Lurking within this beloved oil field of mine though is a creature that embodies all that I hate, all that is evil in this world. The great terrorist network. Al-Qaeda. I am vowed to "chase him round [Afghanistan], and round [Iraq], and round [Iran], and round perdition's flames before I give him up" (Melville 139). My men will join with me in the hunt; they too will "chase that [terrorist] on both sides of land, and over all sides of earth, till he [spits] black blood and [falls arms limp]" (139). They don't know it yet, but they will.

Call me Queequeg. I am strong but illiterate. The perfect whaler, I live for the hunt and trusting my captain don't question its purpose or morality. Captain Ahab calls me his 'head harpooner'. He has so mesmerized me with his singularity of purpose and with his passion for achieving his objective that I remain loyal to his mission no matter what, even when, returning from the chase, my great captain's cohorts try to trick and further weaken me when I am already vulnerable, with "blue lips and bloodshot eyes [...] exhausted [...] and involuntarily trembling" (256). I am mysterious and dangerously powerful in my simplicity.

Call me John. I am strong but illiterate. The perfect soldier, I live for the battle and trusting my President don't question its purpose or morality. President Bush calls me an "army of one." He has so mesmerized me with his singularity of purpose and with his passion for achieving his objective that I remain loyal to his mission no matter what, even when, returning from the field, my great leader's cohorts try to trick and further weaken me when I am already vulnerable, with "blue lips and bloodshot eyes [...] exhausted [...] and involuntarily trembling" (256). I am mysterious and dangerously powerful in my simplicity.

Call me Ishmael. I am the weaver of stories, the advocate of whaling and of whalers. Because I believe in the honor and greatness of my profession, I am telling a tale of a personal whaling expedition that also knits together the history of the vocation, its great accomplishments, and all the knowledge of whales and of geography that could not exist without it. Though the mission of the particular whale hunt that I recount has been cursed by a monomaniacal Captain, and is thus doomed to end badly, I still believe in the profession of whaling. I think. I write to convince, maybe even to convince myself. Do you believe?

Call me Kate. I am the weaver of stories, the advocate of soldiering and of soldiers. Because I believe in the honor and greatness of my profession, I am telling a tale of a personal wartime expedition that also knits together the history of the vocation, its great accomplishments, and all the knowledge of the enemy and of geography that could not exist without it. Though the mission of the particular war that I recount has been cursed by a monomaniacal Captain, and is thus doomed to end badly, I still believe in the profession of soldiering. I think. I write to convince, maybe even to convince myself. Do you believe?

Call me Stubb. I, too, fell for the rhetoric, though not that of the Captain himself, but of a dream. I believed it when ol' Queen Mab whispered to me, "wise Stubb, what have you to complain of? [...] you were kicked by a great man [...] It's an honor; I consider it an honor. In old England the greatest lords think it great glory to be slapped by a queen, and made garter-knights of; but, be your boast, Stubb, that ye were kicked by old Ahab, and made a wise man of. Remember what I say; be kicked by him; account his kicks honors" (114). I took these enchanting words to heart and from then on "let the old man alone [and] never [spoke] quick to him, whatever he [said]" (114). I let myself believe the fairy, never more questioning the sweet lies she whispered in my ear.

Call me Matt. I, too, fell for the rhetoric, though not that of the President himself, but of his conservative media. I believed it when ol' Fox News whispered to me, "wise [soldier], what have you to complain of? [...] you were [sent to war] by a great man [...] It's an honor; I consider it an honor. In old England the greatest lords think it great glory to be slapped by a queen, and made garter-knights of; but, be your boast, [soldier], that ye were [sent] by old [Bush], and made a [heroic] man of. Remember what I say; be [commanded] by him; account his [commands] honors" (114). I took these enchanting words to heart and from then on "let the old man alone [and] never [spoke] quick to him, whatever he [said]" (114). I let myself believe the media, never more questioning the sweet lies they whispered in my ear.

Call me Starbuck. I signed onto this voyage to make an honest living. To protect my boat and my shipmates, I am vowed, but not "to hunt [...] my commander's vengeance" (139). Now, however, I am trapped, bound to join my captain in his death-wish search for an unforgiving whale. I didn't sign on for this, and I let Ahab know it. I asked him, "How many barrels will they vengeance yield thee," and though he tried to make me believe that the amount of oil harvested was not the most important judge of the worth of the hunt, he assured me that his "vengeance will fetch a great premium" (139). However much I want to protest, though, the others have all vowed themselves to Ahab's mad chase. I am "more than matched; [I'm] overmanned. [...] Oh! I plainly see my miserable office, - to obey, rebelling; and worse yet, to hate with a touch of pity!" (144) Thus, I, too, the only one who would dare resist acquiesce and join the pursuit.

Call me Kristin. I signed onto this army to make an honest living. To protect my country and my fellow soldiers, I am vowed, but not "to hunt [...] my commander's vengeance" (139). Now, however, I am trapped, bound to join my President in his death-wish search for an unforgiving terrorist group. I didn't sign on for this, and I let Bush know it. I asked him, "How many barrels will thy vengeance yield thee," and though he tried to make me believe that the amount of oil harvested was not the most important judge of the worth of the war, he assured me that his "vengeance will fetch a great premium" (139). However much I want to protest, though, the others have all vowed themselves to Bush's mad chase. I am "more than matched; [I'm] overmanned. [...] Oh! I plainly see my miserable office, - to obey, rebelling; and worse yet, to hate with a touch of pity!" (144) Thus, I, too, the only one who would dare resist acquiesce and join the pursuit.


Immersed in our own sea in our own social-political-cultural world it is hard to examine the water the network of relationships and motivations that surrounds us. Sometimes it is helpful to look at a community separate from our own, but which mirrors it, in order really to be able to see and understand our own society. As evidenced above, Herman Melville's Moby Dick serves this mirroring function for the situation in the twentieth-century United States quite well. Captain Ahab reflects President Bush, both avowed to a hunt for evil as he believes it personified. Each of the other shipmates can be seen to represent some faction of the American public, from the media who makes us believe in its heroic tales to the blind believer, who trusts without question, and the honest soldier, who signed up "to protect his country" not to fight his leader's personal battles. If we understand the book in this way, what lessons and warnings might it offer us?

One, perhaps, is the danger in making the world so cut and dry, starkly good and evil, here and there. In the novel, "all evil, to crazy Ahab, [is] visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick" (156). Ishmael, in narrating the story, describes the captain innumerable times as "monomaniacal:" he has one mission and all else in the world has faded from his consciousness. In contrast to Ahab's singularity of purpose, though, Ishmael's narration constantly points to the duality that naturally exists all around. The 'evil' whale lives within the great, beautiful ocean. The savage who is nobler than the Christian. The practical joke that always seems to exist in the midst of earnestness. The paradisiacal island in the middle of the "appalling ocean" (225). Ishmael tells us that even within Ahab's own face, one can see that "two different things [are] warring. While his one live leg ma[kes] lively echoes along the deck, every stroke of the dead limb sound[s] like a coffin-tap. On life and death this old man walk[s]" (192). It seems that Ishmael is trying to show that everything naturally contains within itself complementary aspects, but Ahab's monomaniacal hunt does not. Instead, it is singular, which is against natural law, and thus doomed.

President Bush's own descriptions of the purpose of the War in Iraq are startlingly similar to Ahab's monomania. He has declared, "the United States has been called to a new worldwide mission to 'rid the world of evil'" (Loy 1). In his State of the Union Address in 2002, Bush talked almost the entire time about the war on 'terror', at one point sounding confusingly similar to ol' Ahab as quoted above, "[We] have delivered a message now clear to every enemy of the United States: Even 7,000 miles away, across oceans and continents, on mountaintops and in caves you will not escape the justice of this nation" (Bush, 1). In this war, not only have we, like Ahab, lost sight of the good and evil that naturally exists in everything/one so both us and them but we, too, have gotten so wrapped up in our mission that we have willingly given up most other concerns. The State of the Union, which might speak of so many diverse aspects of American society, from healthcare to taxes, social security to the economy, was packed full of almost nothing but "homeland security" and our own Captain Bush's rhetoric of the heroic and moral hunt. Our course so set, this modern-day American Pequod, too, seems headed for a fateful confrontation with its own dreaded White Whale.

WORKS CITED:

Bush, George W. "State of the Union Address." Online. 9 February 2006.

Loy, David. "On the Nonduality of Good and Evil: Buddhist Reflections on the New Holy War." Bunkyo: University of Japan, 2004. Online. 9 February 2006.

Melville, Herman. Moby Dick. Eds. Hershel Parker and Harrison Hayford. New York: Norton & Co., 2002.


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