Media's Take on the News: 10-10-03 to 10-31-03Media's Take on the News
James Pinkerton, writing in Newsday (Oct. 30, 2003):
Our word of the day is ecpyrosis. To the ancient Greeks, it meant destruction by fire. The "pyr" root gives us the modern word "pyromaniac."
But the Greeks also used ecpyrosis as a word for extreme combat, as in to be so consumed with fighting that one disappears, as it were, in a ball of flame. There's some of that now, and there's more coming.
President George W. Bush had a point on Monday when he said of Iraqi suicide bombers and rocket-attackers, "They don't care who they kill. They just want to kill." At one level, the terrorist resistance has the clear goal of driving out all foreigners, regardless of their nationality or purpose for being there. But at another level the killing has no goal whatsoever, since it's spread far and wide across the whole of lawless Iraq, where street crime and vengeance killings aren't even reported, let alone investigated. That's ecpyrosis, the fire that's consuming Iraq.
Men have been consumed by their violent passions since the beginning of time. This is from Homer's Iliad: "Achilles then sprang upon the Trojans with a terrible cry ... as a fire raging in some mountain glen after long drought ... even so furiously did Achilles rage, wielding his spear as though he were a god, and giving chase to those whom he would slay, till the dark earth ran with blood ... and his hands were bedrabbled with gore." Sometimes, ecpyrosis has a terrible poetic beauty to it.
And there are other reasons for some to love ecpyrosis, too. Sigmund Freud was no warmonger, but he observed pessimistically that combat "lays bare the primal man" in each of us. And in that raw mental state, "We are, like primitive man, simply a gang of murderers." The military historian Martin Van Creveld put it even more simply: "However unpalatable the fact, the real reason why we have wars is that men like fighting."
It would be nice to believe that Americans are im