I remember the first time I heard Metallica’s “Fight Fire with Fire.” The track, which opens the band’s second album Ride the Lightning (1984), was singular as a prime example of how metal was evolving from the traditional forms of early masters like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. The heavier thrash/black/death sound was also nothing like new wave of British and American hair metal popularized in the early ’80s.
Three recent events, a political witch hunt, and a piece by PJ Media columnist Andrew Klavan inspired fresh ruminations about the concept of fighting fire with fire, when it may be overkill, and when it may be not only warranted, but a necessary response to ensure survival. The events were a reprehensible production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in Central Park, the attempted assassination of Republican congressmen on a baseball field, and the so-called “revenge attack” on Muslim worshipers in London.
Unfortunately for our times and for the human race, they all tie together.
In Mr. Klavan’s column about the play, which depicts the assassination of an obvious ringer for President Donald Trump (a performance of which was recently interrupted by two conservative activists, and followed by subsequent interruptions), the writer condemns the production, but also assails the interruptions, making thought-worthy points about First Amendment freedoms and the danger of sinking to the level of a debased cultural opposition.
Legitimate points, as one commenter pointed out, in the abstract. But there is something going on in the “resistance” that jarringly throws reasoned arguments about free speech into the realm of cognitive dissonance. Trump-assassinating Shakespeare in the park—and its ancillary outrage, the odious Kathy Griffin and her beheading shtick—are peddling in-your-face depictions of the death of a specific person.
Until the shootings by a left-wing extremist at the congressional baseball practice, the context of both Griffin’s outrage and the play was in the abstract; they were examples of conceptualized stagecraft. The shooting that left Congressman Steve Scalise seriously injured and others wounded changed that. No sane person would blame the play or the harridan Griffin for the unhinged GOP hater, but at some point, when death-dealing as a presentation continually targets a societal group and is staring that group down across the culture, it seems an acceptable civilly disobedient act to not only call out such a production, but to interrupt it, the way Laura Loomer rushed the stage where unsubtle hate was being presented.
Specifically, if the definition of fighting fire with fire is to meet your adversary with similar tactics and weapons, Klavan is right to the extent that conservatives should not lower themselves to mimic the opposition. They should not stage a play featuring the mock assassination of Elizabeth Warren. But neither can they continue to turn their backs when conceptualized death turns real. The response of Loomer and her fellow activist, rushing the stage and interrupting this despicable performance, is defensible on those grounds.
Interestingly, and you can’t make this stuff up, the rudiments of the phrase under consideration — fighting fire with fire — was first coined by none other than the Bard himself, William Shakespeare.
In terms of art imitating life, another incident that recalled Metallica’s song to mind was the “revenge attack” on Muslim worshipers outside a mosque in London. No sane person would justify vindication by terror, but how we got to this point is not exactly inexplicable. With British daughters blown apart in Manchester and innocent women hacked to death in the Borough Market, it’s understandable, if terrible to consider, that some homeland individuals, feeling targeted, their backs against the wall, might lash out against what they perceive to be a growing threat to their loved ones and their countrymen.
In the immortal words of Kurt Vonnegut, so it goes.
But credible experts agree: random attacks on Muslims by nationalists play right into the hands of the jihadists. As righteous as fighting fire with fire may intrinsically feel after the horrendous carnage wrought upon the British Isles and continental Europe by violent Islamic extremists, responding in kind will only lead to more violence and more death.
There’s an important codicil to expert opinion on this, however. Existence perpetually staring down the blade of a knife, the barrel of a gun, or the front bumper of box truck may change over time the fire-with-fire calculation for Western civilization.
Finally, in the matter of the witch hunt being waged against President Trump, we can say that fighting fire with fire is wholly warranted. The Deep State, the Marxist/anarchist far-left, and a mainstream media unable to absorb a crushing practical and ideological renunciation surely have it coming.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions should be compiling lists of Obama-era operatives and embedded functionaries, looking to submit names for entry into Trump’s “You’re Fired” Hall of Infamy. The diligent work being done by Sean Hannity and his recently featured guests, including presidential counsel Jay Sekulow, should be supported by every conservative who holds basic fairness as a positive virtue. Unending investigations? If that’s the game, leave no stone unturned. Look at everybody, Loretta Lynch, Hillary Clinton, James Comey…
Further, I urge all conservatives to check out Media Equalizer, an organization committed to leveling the playing field against the biased anti-Trump media. Nobody likes boycotts, but again, fire with fire. Let’s see how CNN anchor Don Lemon and MSNBC host Rachel Maddow like having their advertiser lists targeted, and their networks put on notice by fair-minded Americans with substantial purchasing power.
Metallica’s “Fight Fire with Fire” is an aural assault that was different in 1984 than the metal that had come before. Singer-guitarist James Hetfield verily barks the vocals, distinguishing himself from predecessors Ozzy, Priest’s Rob Halford, and Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson. The virtuoso double-bass legwork by drummer Lars Ulrich sounded the evolution of a genre.
Over thirty years ago now, and the song holds up, no question. In fact, it sounds quite contemporary and explores what it may take to survive the future.
To review the discussion regarding fighting fire with fire: revenge terror, no; measured response by proper authorities must be the first line of defense; the Shakespeare production, conditionally; the Trump witch hunt, bring it.