Desert Storms



Winds in the Iraqi desert sandstorm have been blowing fifty miles an hour, bending date palms so their branches scrape the ground, reducing visibility to a few meters, rendering many weapons inoperable until the sand can be unpacked from barrels, chambers and sighting mechanisms. “It was biblical,” a U.S. army colonel from Texas told a reporter. Were it not for digital cameras we’d have hardly any images at all because sand like this destroys film cameras. Rain fell yesterday, but it was mud falling from the sky, making everything worse rather than better. The temperature in the desert approached 100 degrees. If there is a battlefield from hell that is it.

And an ancient one. The invasion force in the Coalition of the Killing is driving its tanks across the motherland of Western culture. This is the Tigris-Euphrates Valley you learned about in high school: the Cradle of Civilization.

It is the location of Sumer, home of the hero Gilgamesh who in the 23rd century before Christ (or so) went to the cedar forest with his companion Enkidu and killed the giant Humbaba, and who then, after the miserable death of Enkidu, traveled to the island of Ut-Napishtim,the Faraway, who told him the story of the Great Flood and convinced him of the irreversibility of death. Gilgamesh came home, gave up his dream of immortality and conquest, and instead built a great wall around his city and told the story of what he’d learned.

It is also the site of ancient Babylon, seat of the empire of the 18th century ruler Hammurabi, whose great code foreshadowed the code of Moses the Lawgiver half a millennium later. Hammurabi’s Code is nowadays trivialized to “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” It is, in modern parlance, a code of swift and severe and uncompromising revenge. It is, in fact, none of those things. The Code of Hammurabi is a code that limits violence rather than licences it. What the rest of the prose around eye for eye and tooth for tooth says is, That’s it, that’s as far as you go, revenge for an eye or tooth shall not be slaughter. It’s a code about perspective, not blood.

There is another text that was central to Hammurabi’s world, less known but no less important. It is usually referred to as the “Enuma elish,” which is simply the first two words: “When on high.”

The Enuma Elish, it seems, was recited every year at the Babylonian New Year’s festival. It is one of the world’s great creation myths. It is also a story of how the gods gave power to mankind. The purpose of the recitation, if the archaeologists are to be believed, was to remind mankind of its place in the order of the universe.

The central battle in Enuma Elish is between the great mother Tiamat and the young god Marduk. Tiamat’s children have assigned Marduk the task of carrying out the war against Tiamat. He accepts the assignment but demands in exchange the power to remake the world when it is over. Tiamat’s children, gods all, drunk, agree.

Tiamat and Marduk meet on a field of battle, each with huge and fearsome armies and weapons. But the armies never engage because one of Marduk’s weapons is Imhullu, the wind, and he causes it to rage into the face of Tiamat. She is immobilized, her body swells, Marduk kills her with a spear thrust to the belly and rips her open and, in one of the most bizarre parodies of parturition in mythology, creates the universe as we know it from her destroyed body. Afterwards, the gods celebrate his victory and they assign him fifty names, in effect giving him the power previously held fifty separate cities and kingdoms and coalitions. Marduk becomes supreme ruler, master of the universe.

Humans are created to serve the gods and Marduk appoints one to be master of all, the ruler of the Babylonian empire. But every year in the New Year’s festival that emperor would be stripped naked and slapped in the face by the priests until he wept, to remind him that the power he had was not his but was only his to administer, and that Marduk, who controlled Imhullu, the wind, was and would remain sole master of the universe. Marduk gave power to the priests, the priests gave power to the ruler, and only Marduk was eternal.

More or less. The remnants of Marduk and the emperors who submitted to humiliation in order for the priests to certify them as administrators of his earthly power are now pieces of stone tourists can look at in the museums of Iraq, Berlin, Paris, London and Rome. Time and the driven sand turned their palaces and empires to dust.

Sandstorms, windstorms—these are nothing new to the deserts of Iraq, and neither are death and destruction and raging empire and the rage for power. Empires come and go, conquerors come and are in turn themselves conquered, they bring death and they in turn die or are killed. The myth lives longer than they and the sand lives longer than either.

BRUCE JACKSON is SUNY Distinguished Professor and Samuel P. Capen Professor of American Culture at University of Buffalo. He edits Buffalo Report.

His email address is bjackson@buffalo.edu

Today’s Features

March 26, 2003

Pablo Mukherjee
Watch Their Lips

David Krieger
Shock But Not Awe

Linda Heard
Winning Hearts and Minds Bush-Style

Imad Jadaa
The Beautiful Face of America

Adam Engel
Buckets of Blood

Patrick Cockburn
Kurds Unimpressed

David Lindorff
POWs, Torture and Hypocrisy

Robert Fisk
The Coup That Didn’t Happen

April Hurley, MD
A Doctor’s Outrage in Baghdad

Gloria Bergen
Chretien’s Shame

Reema Abu Hamdieh
The Smell of Death Surrounds Me

Website of the War
Iraq Body Count

Keep CounterPunch Alive:
Make a Tax-Deductible Donation Today Online!

home / subscribe / about us / books / archives / search / links /

Bruce Jackson’s most recent books are Inside the Wire: Photographs from Texas and Arkansas Prison (University of Texas Press, 2013) and In This Timeless Time Living and Dying on Death Row in America (with Diane Christian, University of North Carolina Press, 2012). He is SUNY Distinguished Professor and James Agee Professor of American Culture at University at Buffalo

Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation
Sheldon Richman
Let the Refugees In
Ron Jacobs
Rosa Luxembourg–From Street Organizer to Street Name
James A Haught
The Values of Jesus
Binoy Kampmark
British Austerity: Cutting One’s Own Backyard
Ed Rampell
45 Years: A Rumination on Aging
November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving
Joseph Grosso
The Enduring Tragedy: Guatemala’s Bloody Farce
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Imperial Myths: the Enduring Lie of the US’s Origin
Ralph Nader
The Joys of Solitude: a Thanksgiving!

Joseph G. Ramsey
Something to be Thankful For: Struggles, Seeds…and Surprises
Dan Glazebrook
Turkey Shoot: the Rage of the Impotent in Syria
Andrew Stewart
The Odious President Wilson
Colin Todhunter
Corporate Parasites And Economic Plunder: We Need A Genuine Green Revolution
Rajesh Makwana
Ten Billion Reasons to Demand System Change
Joyce Nelson
Turkey Moved the Border!
Richard Baum
Hillary Clinton’s Meager Proposal to Help Holders of Student Debt
Sam Husseini
A Thanksgiving Day Prayer
November 25, 2015
Jeff Taylor
Bob Dylan and Christian Zionism
Dana E. Abizaid
Provoking Russia
Oliver Tickell
Syria’s Cauldron of Fire: a Downed Russian Jet and the Battle of Two Pipelines
Patrick Cockburn
Trigger Happy: Will Turkey’s Downing of Russian Jet Backfire on NATO?
Robert Fisk
The Soothsayers of Eternal War
Russell Mokhiber
The Coming Boycott of Nike
Ted Rall
Like Father Like Son: George W. Bush Was Bad, His Father May Have Been Worse
Matt Peppe
Bad Policy, Bad Ethics: U.S. Military Bases Abroad
Martha Rosenberg
Pfizer Too Big (and Slippery) to Fail
Yorgos Mitralias
Bernie Sanders, Mr. Voutsis and the Truth Commission on Greek Public Debt
Jorge Vilches
Too Big for Fed: Have Central Banks Lost Control?
Sam Husseini
Why Trump is Wrong About Waterboarding — It’s Probably Not What You Think
Binoy Kampmark
The Perils of Certainty: Obama and the Assad Regime
Roger Annis
State of Emergency in Crimea
Soud Sharabani
ISIS in Lebanon: An Interview with Andre Vltchek
Thomas Knapp
NATO: This Deal is a Turkey