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AUSTIN EDITION COL Author posits that humans love war

I thought psychologist James Hillman had died. Or at the very least, that he'd grown old and weary of writing books.

Wrong on both counts, I discovered recently while browsing online. This spring, Penguin Press of New York published his 30th book, "A Terrible Love of War."

I first read Hillman's work several years ago, when our small book study group here chose his "Soul's Code" to read and discuss.

He doesn't read easy. We were at it a number of months. But some of our book club members keep referring, even today, to that tome, which documented the author's belief that something beyond heredity and environment gives each person identity.

Hillman says that innate something is each person's "daimon," or his "acorn" that's been around since birth (and maybe before) and will keep surfacing, leading each person to be what he or she is meant to be.

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Some time following that reading, my hermit-philosopher brother Will Hollnagel introduced me to "Blue Fire," Hillman's selected writings edited by Thomas Moore, a book that the Minneapolis Star-Tribune called "rewarding, maddening and beguiling."

I didn't stop there. After "Blue Fire" came "Force of Character and the Lasting Life," which helped make a little sense of what is fast approaching (lo, may be already here): old age.

And now this, his latest book, "A Terrible Love of War."

The first paragraph quotes Gen. George Patton, in a field after battle: "I love it. God help me, I do love it so. I love it more than my life."

War is an especially compelling subject right now, with our present situation in Iraq looming large. Hillman examines facts, backed up by a 13-page bibliography.

He begins with the observation that war has dominated human history since the earliest records and seems always ready to break out somewhere on the globe. During the 5,600 years of written history, 14,600 wars have been recorded. War is alluring, Hillman states; it has come to be normal, acceptable and ubiquitous.

Hillman plumbs that allure in four chapters: "War Is Normal," although that's not a justification for it, he says; "War Is Inhuman;" "War Is Sublime;" and "Religion Is War." His purpose in writing, he states, is to "expose the archetypal psychology in the myths, philosophy and theology of war's deepest mind. If we want war's horror to be abated so that life may go on, it is necessary to understand and imagine -- it may even be a moral obligation -- to try to comprehend war."

Hillman treats war as a mythical happening, turning to the relationship of love and war, Aphrodite and Ares. He is hard on the military, nation-states, politics and religion.

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"There is no practical solution to war. War belongs to our souls as an archetypal truth of the cosmos. It is a human accomplishment and an inhuman horror, and a love that no other love has been able to overcome.

"In awakening to this truth (we must) give all our passionate intensity to subverting war's re-enactment, encouraged by the courage of culture, to withstand war and yet sing."

Hillman imagines a nation whose first line of defense is each citizen's investment in some cultural form. And there we are, back to the theme of "Soul's Code."

Betty Benner has lived in Austin since the early 1950s. She writes occasional columns for the Post-Bulletin.

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