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Ground Zero

“Peace is rare in Israel,” professor Eric Cline reminds us in The Battles of Armageddon (University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 2000). “Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Jezreel Valley.”

It is there that Armageddon exists—the plain of Megiddo, the proverbial scene of decisive battles. At least 34 bloody conflicts have been fought at the ancient site. The names of those who led the charges are pillars of history: Thutmose III, Gideon, Jezebel, Josiah, Ptolemy, and Napoleon, just to name a few.

In the Bible, Armageddon is mentioned as the place where three demonic spirits will assemble the world’s kings “at the place which is called in Hebrew ‘Armageddon.’ ” Some scholars say the word Armageddon is a corruption of the words “Har Megiddo,” meaning the hill or mound of Megiddo. It is considered the place where the final confrontation between good and evil will transpire.

Cline’s book, which Ben Kaufman of the Cincinnati Enquirer described as “a crash course in history, geography, politics and archaeology,” serves as quite a history lesson, with detailed explanations of these bloody battles that took place in a 25-acre area just southeast of Haifa.

An assistant professor of ancient history and archaeology, Cline came up with the book idea while on one of his bi-annual digs in Megiddo. As a senior staff archeologist on the Megiddo excavation project, he brings groups of students with him to join other international participants.

Cline reminds us that those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.

He suggests that we will continue to see more battles at Megiddo, and that people will continue to speculate on the final battle of Armageddon.

Moderate Counterculture?

Provocative questions abound in professor Amitai Etzioni’s latest book, Next, subtitled “the road to the good society.” So do proposals for solutions—for alternative ways of coming together to resolve the nation’s most vital political, societal, and moral confusions.

Next begins at the center of American politics—a space where, Etzioni believes, both major political parties now reside. But, he argues, both parties have abdicated responsibility for clearly charting a course for the decade ahead. The author raises key questions that he considers compass points for such a course. Among them: How do we determine which moral values should guide us? How can we decriminalize and clean up politics and campaign financing? Is our national unity threatened by increased diversity and inequality; and how can we respect our different heritages but still advance as one nation? Should we undertake a further curtailing of government expenditures, regulations, and labor force; or has the time come for a liberal course correction? How can we continue invigorating the market without letting it overwhelm all other considerations, pushing us toward a 24/7 society? And finally, beyond affluence, what?

Covering topics ranging from “soft morals” to the economy, Next is really a concise handbook of communitarian thought about America’s future. As Marvin Olasky (Senior Fellow, Acton Institute) has written, “[F]or those of us bored by ponderous and predictable liberal treatises, Next is a succinct and creative pleasure. All those debating America’s political future should think through its proposals.”

Etzioni began his book with a thought from Montesquieu, that “no wind will do for a ship that has no designated port.” In Next, Etzioni sets out to define such a “port,” which he envisions as a society both civil and moral, and “endowed with a rich fabric of voluntary associations that protect the citizens from the state.” Reaching port, Etzioni admits, will be a strenuous voyage. And one he believes to be infinitely worthwhile.

American Art

The hardback version of Professor David Bjelajac’s new book resembles a coffee table book more than a textbook, while the subject matter serves for both. In American Art: A Cultural History (Abrams, New York, 2000), Bjelajac describes a uniquely American way of seeing and representing the world. He sifts painting, sculpture, architecture, and photography within a broader material culture.

Bjelajac has taken an interdisciplinary perspective that relates American art to political, religious, cultural, and socio-economic history. He discusses traditional art works of painting, sculpture, architecture, photography and other media within a broader, popular visual culture.

For instance, John Singleton Copley’s famous portrait of Paul Revere is freshly interpreted in relation to one of Revere’s engravings announcing a Masonic lodge. And in Bjelajac’s discussion of Postmodernist artists Tony Oursler and Jeff Koons, he discusses Disneyland and the popularity of themed environments.

One point he notes is that American art cannot be defined by one single vision. The “Americanness” of American art and architecture, he says, “has been arbitrarily constructed and reconstructed from differing aesthetic and ideological perspectives for assorted social and cultural purposes.”

Subsquently, the book winds viewers through a variety of periods, art subjects, and artists—from Native Americans, to colonial times and interpretations of religion, to the revolutionary era, to modernist times, to World War II and the end of the 20th century.

A quick sift through the book provides a glimpse of the variety: soldier-strewn photographs of Gettysburg and Antietam Civil War battlefields, Grant Wood’s American Gothic, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, the development of New York City, architect Frank Lloyd Wright and “Falling Water,” and Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks.

Bjelajac also has published two monographs on the painter Washington Allston and has contributed a chapter to The Visual Culture of American Religions (University of California Press, 2000).

—Sandy Holland and Heather O. Milke