FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Aboard the Modern Day Pequod

by MICHAEL KIMAID

Call us all Ishmael.

At least those of us who have been unwittingly conscripted on what we thought was a voyage with purpose only to learn out of the sight of land that we were on a monomaniacal expedition of bloodlust revenge. Those who our Captain Ahab stowed below deck as his chosen harpooners: Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld, George Tenet, Condoleeza Rice, Fedallahs all, knew what they signed on for. We did not, yet our fates are locked together aboard this modern-day Pequod that is the American war on terror. As such, we do well to reflect on the story as it was told one hundred and fifty four years ago.

In Herman Melville’s epic compendium Moby Dick, Ahab nailed a golden doubloon to the main mast; a prize for whomever harpooned the white whale. Is that not in part what motivates our crew today, as well as the Pequod’s owners, Bildad, Peleg, Halliburton, and their likes? While “they were bent on profitable cruises,” our Ahab is “intent on an audacious, immitigable and supernatural revenge.” Are these together not how they exhort us, as Flasks in the pursuit boat, to break our backs and crack our oars, hearts alive with the prospect of bringing our mad captain his vainglorious trophy? And who does the tumultuous work among the sharks and the very deep itself? Certainly not those who urge such ferocity. The many who drop into the water are the hapless conscripts, Queequegs, Tashtegos and Dagoos, those who obey, tolerate and question not the direction or logic behind the decisions made from inside the secluded Captain’s quarters. Blinded by the invented honor of the blood oath that christened the freshly forged harpoon, they think not to reason why, but only to do or die. Meanwhile those aforementioned Flasks, free of the moral obligations that would make a rational person think twice of the entire project, merely view the blood-stained brine their boat floats in as a sign of success.

Yet there are Starbucks among the crew. Those who question the motivation, the reason and morality behind the decision to chase the white whale of terror, at any, nay, at all costs. Ever more, they come to resent the oath they took to pursue Moby Dick, but questioning the directives of a Captain on a ship is a dangerous prospect. While they increasingly consider the integrity of the enterprise (or lack thereof), their responsibility to the hierarchy of the ship renders their dissent ineffective. “He waxes brave, but nevertheless obeys,” and Ahab knows this. Then there are as many Stubbs aboard the ship, but their dissent is mute. Their refrain is hushed when they hear the ivory leg on the planks: “Ahab has that that’s bloody on his mind. But, mum; he comes this way.” Reason gives way to the perceived need for order, and they stifle their dissent in deference to command. Mutiny is never a serious prospect, but their consciences trouble them to consider it as they lay in the bulk of the vessel at night, frustrated that the “terrible old man” manages to sleep in the gale, steadfastly eyeing the purpose at hand, while they toss and turn with the ship. Those 5,500 Steelkilts in uniform who have acted out, who quit their pumps and harpoons in realization that it is not their business, know too well the consequences. Discipline aboard the ship is harsh, and rebellions are always met with the harshest discipline.

Where does this leave us, Ishmael? Though we cringe at the prospect of Ahab’s directive, we are on this “cannibal of a craft,” bound by the enforced hierarchy that governs it. Or are we? Will our relief come as Ishmael’s did, when the white whale destroys our ship and crew while we are left floating on the waves, clinging to a coffin meant for someone else? Or will it come from elsewhere? Will our Ahab listen to the many Gabriels of as many Jereboam’s warnings that the attempt to destroy the white whale will be his own as well as his entire ship’s and crew’s undoing? Or will a Starbuck or a Stubbs yet unheard rise up from within the ranks of the morbid chain of command to challenge the undertaking at hand? Melville’s outcome is a disastrous one, forewarned by the albatross “in tormented chase of that demon-phantom such over this round globe, they either lead us on in barren mazes or midway leave us whelmed.” It is a warning well worth considering so that our fate is not a similar one aboard this modern-day Peqoud.

MICHAEL KIMAID teaches History and Geography at The Firelands College in Huron, Ohio. He can be reached at mkimaid@bgnet.bgsu.edu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 20, 2017
Bruce E. Levine
Humiliation Porn: Trump’s Gift to His Faithful…and Now the Blowback
Melvin Goodman
“Wag the Dog,” Revisited
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima: a Lurking Global Catastrophe?
David Smith-Ferri
Resistance and Resolve in Russia: Memorial HRC
Kenneth Surin
Global India?
Norman Pollack
Fascistization Crashing Down: Driving the Cleaver into Social Welfare
Patrick Cockburn
Trump v. the Media: a Fight to the Death
Susan Babbitt
Shooting Arrows at Heaven: Why is There Debate About Battle Imagery in Health?
Matt Peppe
New York Times Openly Promotes Formal Apartheid Regime By Israel
David Swanson
Understanding Robert E. Lee Supporters
Michael Brenner
The Narcissism of Donald Trump
Martin Billheimer
Capital of Pain
Thomas Knapp
Florida’s Shenanigans Make a Great Case for (Re-)Separation of Ballot and State
Jordan Flaherty
Best Films of 2016: Black Excellence Versus White Mediocrity
Weekend Edition
February 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
David Price
Rogue Elephant Rising: The CIA as Kingslayer
Matthew Stevenson
Is Trump the Worst President Ever?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Flynn?
John Wight
Brexit and Trump: Why Right is Not the New Left
Diana Johnstone
France: Another Ghastly Presidential Election Campaign; the Deep State Rises to the Surface
Neve Gordon
Trump’s One-State Option
Roger Harris
Emperor Trump Has No Clothes: Time to Organize!
Joan Roelofs
What Else is Wrong with Globalization
Andrew Levine
Why Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban?
Mike Whitney
Blood in the Water: the Trump Revolution Ends in a Whimper
Vijay Prashad
Trump, Turmoil and Resistance
Ron Jacobs
U.S. Imperial War Personified
David Swanson
Can the Climate Survive Adherence to War and Partisanship?
Andre Vltchek
Governor of Jakarta: Get Re-elected or Die!
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Destruction of Mosul
Norman Pollack
Self-Devouring Reaction: Governmental Impasse
Steve Horn
What Do a Louisiana Pipeline Explosion and Dakota Access Pipeline Have in Common? Phillips 66
Brian Saady
Why Corporations are Too Big to Jail in the Drug War
Graham Peebles
Ethiopia: Peaceful Protest to Armed Uprising
Luke Meyer
The Case of Tony: Inside a Lifer Hearing
Binoy Kampmark
Adolf, The Donald and History
Robert Koehler
The Great American Awakening
Murray Dobbin
Canadians at Odds With Their Government on Israel
Fariborz Saremi
A Whole New World?
Joyce Nelson
Japan’s Abe, Trump & Illegal Leaks
Christopher Brauchli
Trump 1, Tillerson 0
Yves Engler
Is This Hate Speech?
Dan Bacher
Trump Administration Exempts Three CA Oil Fields From Water Protection Rule at Jerry Brown’s Request
Richard Klin
Solid Gold
Melissa Garriga
Anti-Abortion and Anti-Fascist Movements: More in Common Than Meets the Eye
Thomas Knapp
The Absurd Consequences of a “Right to Privacy”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail