Presidential Evangelist for War
America, Land of the Evil Ones
“America, Land of the Evil Ones.” Sounds like a bin Laden rant. Yet, it should be a common phrase on the tongue of all Americans. That it is not is a prophetic charge laid against America’s President. “America, Land of the Good Ones” marks his bully-pulpit evangelism. It is a homiletic theme oft orated by American Presidents when drumming for War, civil and foreign.
The striking spiritual characteristic of Americans is that we claim that we have no Shadow side, no demonic traits, that evil is something which non-Americans do. This characteristic is not trivial. It is not superficial. Indeed, we Americans truly believe that we are not and can never be Evil Ones. As The Appointee presently claims, we Americans are the Light to the world. Take his homily seriously; deadly serious.
During the Vietnam War the image of Good Ones was tarnished. However, broad cultural acceptance of America’s Evilness has been kept in check by the recall of the World War II generation who still remain convinced that their Good War is morally unsullied. This has become a Dogma of Cold War theology. Such is held notwithstanding The Bomb which vaporized humans. An act, event as never so done before or since … but Yet To Come?
The current President from the Vietnam Generation represents those in that generation who aggressively proclaimed the rightness and goodness of the Vietnam War – for them, an extension of The Good War, fought against godless Communism. Yet, few Americans, then or now, grasp why this President must go to war. Why it is his commanding spiritual as well as political Call. Why War is the bedrock American ritual.
For this and all predecessor Presidents, “America, Land of the Good Ones,” is a self-conscious prophetic charge. Prophetic in that the President believes he is authoritatively foretelling - and must - the future of his People. Calling them to a way of living which he continually reasserts is “Good.” More, that as Good Ones we Americans are moral models for every other human being, and ours, the framework for every other culture’s development.
Civil Religion – the mightiest, most evangelical, conquering creed of all times
The President is a prophet of a religion, one about which most Americans are not formally educated. It is a “Civil Religion” – and it is the mightiest, most evangelical, conquering creed of all times.
Most Americans would be hard pressed to define or describe this Civil Religion. Its lack of clerical ceremony and classical religious imagery leads most to the conclusion that it is more a loose collection of patriotic, nationalistic and holiday hoopla than a religion. Yet,
it is a religion because it defines and determines how individuals and the group understands and values bloodshed.
Ritual and liturgized bloodshed is a core Biblical belief and practice. Animals for the Hebrews. Jesus for the Christians. Bloodshedding is also core to the Civil Religion, though its ceremonial garb is solely militaristic and no longer clerical. This continuity of transference between Biblical religion and the Civil Religion is a central interpretive key throughout this essay.
The fundament of this Civil Religion is that America is a Chosen People – a Covenanted People - journeying through a Land of Promise. It is a land with a Frontier horizon both physical and spiritual, where Good meets, slays and conquers Evil. This is a Story of Origin revealing that it is a People constantly purified and purifying. One set upon a Manifest Destiny. A People set apart from “the Old World.” A world deemed Old in parallel to St. Paul’s Old Man/New Man imagery. Europe, and all other cultures, were judged Old, which meant Fallen, Lost, Depraved.
Denial of Biblical Fundamentals
It is readily apparent that this Civil Religion has Biblical roots. Yet,
it is the denial of
Of great note is the fact that it is this denial – with the concomitant transfer of power from the clerical, sacral realm into the institutions and Rights of Democratic Society - which defines the Civil Religion as a splinter sect of the broader Protestant movement. A splinter sect for whom constant and continual war is Revelation, Truth and its initiatory and daily ritual. A splinter which is speciating, becoming root to a new faith.
America, Land of the Evil Ones is a radical image. Radical in terms of root. The primary historical and cultural root being America’s Puritan vision. Though this was the “New” World with its numerous News: York, Haven, Jersey, Hampshire ~ all England! … though it was new, it was understand as such more in respect to the Biblical Tradition than to a matter of political definition. In its time, it was a newness as unsettling, weird and numinous as cyberspace is today. The old algebraic equations could not define it. America was in no way a measure of Europe. (Such is still Doctrine!)
It was a Newness like that effected by holy Baptism through which a new person, a purified soul, emerges. It was a Newness purified – sanctified and saved – yet it was simultaneously a human “Sinner in the Hands of an Angry God.” True to the Biblical Tradition, the redeemed Puritan soul had to be wary of his/her own darker side, that part of his/her self which could still fall to demonic temptation. Indeed, Salvation was Assured, but nothing grasped as if a treasure about which the purified soul could gloat! God was still a Righteous Judge.
When this Puritan root was spliced with the Revolutionary root of Enlightenment Christianity, God, while still a Judge, became, in character and practice, Benevolent (encompassing “compassionate”). This Benevolent God of Love removed Himself from direct involvement in the political sphere, which was handed over to mankind, and He withdrew to a realm of inspiration and unrelenting faithfulness. This is the theological movement termed Deism. Whereas laws in the Puritan theocratic society were seen as direct expressions of Biblical verses and commandments, in the New Democratic Society laws were direct expressions of the Will of the People as inspired by the Divine Commandments. In time, “In God We Trust” has come to stand to define – in largess and restriction – this relationship.
What happened during this rise of Democracy in religious terms? The Founders and Framers -- though many were church-going Christians -- when they acted in the political sphere felt that the institutions they were establishing were divinely inspired. They did not surrender the belief which, for millennia, anointed the King with Divine Right. Rather, they transferred that anointment to We, the People – and to themselves as the practical instruments of God’s Will. These deistic Enlightenment Christians – whose values ruled the day even for those of Evangelical sway – did not believe in the supernatural, and consequently they had a very practical concept of Revelation.
Supernatural Revelation posited a great divide between God the Father and His Errant Children. In rejecting this, these founders asserted a veritable closeness to Divinity; a closeness in direction proportion to His distance from every day matters. The Creator had left the world like a tightly wound timepiece on the fireplace mantle. He was away since his Children were of the Light, and directly revealed His Will and Intentions through their practical, everyday, mundane actions. The “natural” was, itself, all that was claimed by the supernatural. For example, a sunset: Rapturous and Transcendental. The intricate accuracy of a multi-cog mechanical clock: Unity so Harmonious. The stark beauty of the Declaration of Independence: Revealed Word. The orderliness of the Constitution: Fair and Just. The purity, exacting and proportional measure of punishment and justice in the newly conceived penitentiary system: Perfect Balance. Each and all were sensate, visual, kick-the-wheels proofs of the intimate harmony between the Father and His Children of the Light.
At every level of society, culture, politics and religion, the founders saw themselves as engaged in great “experiments.” This is most clearly evident in the formation of America’s strikingly original prison system ~ the Penitentiary. Here, a characteristic of a religious institution is that it deals with the Enemy Within - as War deals with the Enemy Without. War and the Penitentiary are the anchor institutions (rightly called, sacraments) of the Civil Religion.
Those who formed this foundational Democratic system of justice and punishment were, in the main, clerics and active Christians. When they acted politically – wrote Memorials to the Legislature - they dropped their clerical titles. Insignificant? Or, indicative that the sacral power of Divine Right was being preserved, but now expressed through Democratic institutions crafted by Citizens? Though without clerical garb or Episcopal ring, these were still clerics, now, each a cleric-Citizen.
It is evident from the records (continual from Revolutionary to present times through the voluntary organization they formed, The Pennsylvania Prison Society) that these cleric-Citizens were comfortable with presenting themselves as the proper vehicle for this tremendous effort of designing the correctional structure of the Democratic Society. Comfortable, so it appears, because they were doing exactly the same thing, exercising the same sacral power, as they had previously done in pre-Revolutionary times as ministers and active Christians. For them, the moral, spiritual - and as it can be judged - mythic task they undertook, they did so with ultimate confidence that they were so Chosen to do.
Characteristic of the easy transfer of both acts and terms from the religious to the secular was evidence in that the punishment system was called a penitentiary, and that personal, moral and spiritual reformation was intentionally plotted and held to be inexorably effected by the terrorizing action of the offender’s confessing conscience. Indeed, the foremost visionary of the system, Benjamin Rush, referred to this confessionary institution as a “House of Terror.” (See, “The Religious Dimension of the Rise of the Penitentiary, 1787-1828” at ww.earthfolk.net/all_titles.htm) This is, possibly, the most difficult fact which historians and other scholars have overlooked. That the Enlightenment activists had an unshakable faith in their own abilities to rationally analyze and then fashion an institution which by the simple act central to its form, here, the mere act of incarceration inside the architectural form they built – “separate confinement” – that the effect they sought – reformation – would be achieved. The penitentiary thinkers were scions of the medieval sacramental theologians. They were builders as inspired and awed as were the medieval cathedral architects. They were certain that they were creating a “sacred space” with its special “sacred time” (a theme of Mircea Eliade. But since the word “sacred” was not currency, it is best to say “sacral” space and time).
Sin and Crime
In this period, Sin was now not so much a crime – indeed, not the Original Crime of Edenic Sin – which everyone committed, as it was that crime was a personal sin. It was the criminals, the outlaws who became the secular scapegoats. They carried the weight of collective sin in their personal acts. It was not Society which needed to be reformed and punished as it was the individual. It would become tradition and culture in America to not call the Nation to a day of penance, as had the Puritans. Rather, in every situation of criminal crises the call is to individual penance, confession, reformation. Americans, as a corporate person – “We, the People” – know not how to confess or repent. The Evils Ones are outside of America or “Inside” as prison is termed and known, especially to the inmates, themselves. (See, “Prison and The Mother.”)
In a perverse way, the criminal becomes the High Priest whose personal sacrifice redeems the group, here, Democratic Society. It is the criminal who goes on the spiritual and mythic journey into the House of Terror – the bowels of Hell – and testifies in his person as to the saving grace of the Benevolent Father. A grace which is now mediated through the democratic institution of the Penitentiary. Curiously, this word “penitentiary” is all that remains in the Civil Religion of the sacramental tradition – a fact not trivial nor baroque, rather of prime interpretive significance for grasping the what and how of the Civil Religion.
In the Civil Religion the individual is not subservient to Society as traditionally known. The pride of Americans is their individuality, independence, Rights, and, today, privacy. Yet we are subservient to Democracy as Process. It is a process of several ontologically grounding sacramental institutions, much like the Roman Catholics’ historical “seven sacraments.” This is a Process which has evolved over time. The Bill of Rights, in the main, is the source for these process institutions. For example, there was no Standing Army as in the corrupt Old World. However, over time, this individual right, which was cited as a major Right which made America “America” and each citizen a free-man, has concretized into its opposite, namely, the fact that every eighteen year old American male must register with the Selective Service. This regardless of physical state or mental condition, and despite the fact of the volunteer military. This is the only act which binds all males, all Y chromosomes – it is truly a mythifying act! Of mythic whack in that those males who resist the military – even in “peace time” – are subject to prosecution and imprisonment. An interesting bridge to the battlefield of the penitentiary!
The linkage here between the military and the penitentiary is the notion of bloodshed. If a young man decides not to shed blood, then he is put through the institution which automatically & inevitably (re: sacramentally) sheds his blood.
This penitentiary was where the blood shed in punishment was enacted, though a telling characteristic of this system is its initial rejection of the lash. For several decades, there was no physical blood shed (except for hangings, which were inside the prison courtyard). This fact has mislead most to miss – many more to deny - the psychological blood shed and horror of this system to this day. (Of note, Charles Dickens visited and wrote passionately about the cruelty of this “bloodless” system of punishment, for which he was roundly and widely derided and denounced.)
The denial of blood-shedding is a consistent historical claim of American penologists. The penitentiary is not, for them, a viper’s pit or an area for gladiatorial blood sport. When there have been abuses, they have been claimed as such, that is, as abuses, not as defining flaws of the System. Those who, through the centuries, defend the penitentiary argue that – in stark contrast – it is religious history which is penned in blood-shed, e.g., the rack and other demonic devices of the Inquisition. In counterpoint, they argue that the main criticism leveled at the prison system is that it is “soft” on the criminals. This is a claim laid at the founders, themselves. Which has become a Civil Religion mythic cry, that American prisons are “too soft on criminals,” that they are “country clubs” … yes, short of total eradication of the criminal sub-class and sub-humans, how shall America’s Civil Religious bloodlust be quenched?
What is of note is the shift in the visual character of punishment. The penitentiary is private - “behind locked gates.” It is invisible. Formerly, in most societies, punishment was part public spectacle. Nevertheless, what is not-seen still exists. Here, bloodshed.
We, the People
We, the People is not, as the Roman Catholics defined in their documents of Vatican Council Two, the People of God. In like manner, Democratic Americans are no longer a Biblical People which listens and seeks prophetic insight from God’s acts and judgments (from outside their collective experience – historical or otherwise). They are not Fallen. They are not Evil.
Rather, Americans have become, self-consciously, the We of the collective of humans who are acting based upon inalienable rights – yes, bestowed upon them by their Creator, but once so bestowed as such so “self-evident” that they look to their own experiences (personal & collective) for justification and insight; they do not look externally to the Almighty Father’s Judgments and Benedictions. Indeed, We Americans are a People of a Revolution, of a profoundly new vision, a vision most visibly political though as such it is simultaneously less-visibly though equally practical, spiritual and theological. Theological quite strongly though now expressed in secular images and words, if images at all. It is a robust vision set into practice and as such preserved and assured through the operating Democratic wholing mechanism of a Balance of Powers. Again, this Balance of Powers is self-contained, self-regulating, and self-empowered – in practice, self-transcending. It makes no direct appeal – nor is it judged in such need - to other Powers than those of its visible trinity: Executive, Legislative and Judicial. There is and can never be an appeal to a higher law within the Democratic system.
Since there is no claim to Kingly lineage (sourced in Christ the King), the institutions and Democratic process hold the sacral. The temptation for each head of such institutions, however, is Kingly. Here, the Executive becomes not just Commander-in-Chief but an Imperial President. The Legislature becomes not just a political elite but a Presbytery of Elders or Cabal of Nobles articulating not just constitutional laws but moral codes. The Supreme Court is as its name approximates, not just judges but “Supremes.” The temptations retain a Biblical flavor, in that the struggle is not to become King David, the Pauline Disciples, or the Apostles.
While a Revolutionary War is cited as the midwife of the rise of Democracy, it was in character more a civil war or a variant on the coup d’etat than a war against a foreign power. There is a relentless continuity in secular and sacral transfer of power from England and Europe into the Democratic manifestations. There was more of the Old World in the New than Americans admit, to this day. In this light, the Democratic society was to proceed without a Standing Army, and the military was to be under civilian authority. Yet, as with former Kings, so the President assumes the warrior mantle of Commander-in-Chief. The Cold War exposed the Civil Religion characteristics of several of these underlying institutions and processes, for example, as it set in process the co-existence of a Peace-Time Draft with (as has currently appeared) a Volunteer Standing Army. WE quest for Imperial crown as manifest in the Faustian and apocalyptic Bomb. The Evil which possesses America, henceforth quite clearly, is our recognition that we are indeed Ugly Americans and our instantly concurrent denial of such a fact. (!)
Stories of Origin
Every society needs a Story of Origin. We Americans tends to tell our Story from Revolution to the present as one of the actions of a Good People. The founding documents which eschewed a standing army are cited by many as proof that America had cut itself off from the endless wars which marked European and Old World history. Yet, others can tell the same Story, from then to now, as one of constant warfare. In fact, our Story of Origin is one of a self-inflicted blindness. As manifest through our first Total War - against Native Americans – expelling them into internal Exile. Also, the holy war against peoples of color: defining them as children of Ham or as with Cain’s mark, so as to render them sub-human, with animal souls.
This self-inflicted blindness is self-consciously recorded in documents of the period. Thomas Jefferson penetrated Sally Henning – knowing in lust and love the full mythic impact of his personal action. George Washington declined to be named King, though he was without doubt that his Presidential actions were as regal. When he freed his slaves upon his death, it was a personal act of conscience which, however, simultaneously bowed to the Evil which he and so many other Revolutionaries served and preserved.
The Benevolent God’s inspiration has manifested itself in secular terms such as Manifest Destiny – a scion of Divine Providence. “The Frontier,” as noted by scholars, has served as the Promised Land – a spiritual promise towards which the People struggle, and which enables them to justify whatever they do on their journey towards this Promised Land. For both the Biblical Tradition and the American Tradition the common characteristic of this journey to the Promised Land is the waging of endless war. It is an Endless War which is endlessly denied. We claim ourselves as Chosen and Holy, never as Warriors. Only the current predatory “pre-emptive war” being prepared by The Appointee has shown us what we see in the dark, lightly.
As Americans faced the Frontier, they geared for War. A war both physical and spiritual. Before them lay ungodly tribes of red-skinned heathens. These were barriers to be overcome. They represented as much a spiritual as a physical challenge. Spiritually, these heathen were to feel the Wrath of this Benevolent God, for they were obstacles to the commercial and cultural development of the Frontier. Only on the Frontier could America be purified and so perceive itself as spiritually faithful to its God. It was for the savages to bear the Wrath of God, and not for the People to be so chastised. The People saw God’s Benevolent Love magnificently manifested through the sufferings of these heathens. Because He Loved His People, so these Red Devils must suffer – and perish! It was a perspective drawn and girded by the warrior vision of Joshua. As at Ai, so every tribe which stood in the way was massacred – Take No Prisoners! Total warfare. (Of note, is that Saddam Hussein can find comfort and historical precedent for biological warfare by citing the facts about the smallpox infested blankets knowingly handed out by the Army to Native Americans.)
The Puritans had waged spiritual war against their fellow colonists. Quakers and other dissidents had their ears cropped and bodies branded. However, in the Revolutionary Society, so it was held as insight, dissent could be tolerated from every quarter since the mechanism which balanced the powers was itself a manifestation of God’s grace bestowed upon the Framers of American society. It was a mechanism which, in its fundamental definition, balanced the dissents of religious sects by declaring Freedom of Religion. All were free to say what they wanted – not because God had directly spoken through a prophet, but because God had prophetically inspired a governing mechanism to which all religious dissents must bow. The shift is from The Good Book to the Democratic Process. This is one reason why Christian Fundamentalist are so confused and confounded as they listen and read the Biblical words of the founders, yet fail to grasp the meaning of their acts.
The Revolutionists merged into the Frontiersmen who waged war against their fellow “Native Americans” by defining them as not-American (the prophetically original un-American Red Menace). This is the secular twist on the Biblical Tradition of acclaiming oneself Chosen, namely, that for someone to be Chosen, someone else must be not-Chosen. Fortunately, as many scholars have noted, the not-Chosen not only could not say “shibboleth” properly but they were red (and black) of skin. Red Devils. Black as Satan.
The Puritans were in constant warfare against Satan. The Frontiersmen were in constant warfare against the Red Savage. Each was inspired by God, one directly by their Judge, the other indirectly by their Benevolent deity. From this perspective, the Story of the Puritans merges via the Democratic Revolution into the Story of the Frontiersmen.
The burden of exposing the theological secularism of America, the rites and rituals of the Democratic Society’s institutions and processes, is that the spiritual and theological language of the documents of the Revolution are scant to bare. But the assumption of the Age that the Benevolent God blessed their every act and would deliver upon every promise was as scarlet and public as Hester Prime’s sin. The American Story, as it begins to unfold in the 19th century, is undoubtedly not Christian in terms of sectarian cant, but it is also undoubtedly Biblical in its Call and governmental intent. The Land is to be cleansed of the heathen, worked by field hands of the Sons of Ham, and delivered to the World as Light and Savior to society and civilizations everywhere.
As true to the Biblical Tradition, America is faithful and faithless to its God. Wars are both external and internal. Civil and against the Foreign Devils who dwell within – from Red Menace Commies to Eye-talians of the Palmer Raids to the Border Wars presently ranging from San Diego to Texas. As birthed by War – as only a Biblical Nation can be – so is War the ongoing ritual: social, economic, political and religious. The Powers may be Balanced, but it is a balancing of warrior’s bloodlust.
This warrior’s bloodlust is America’s spiritual hunger. Warrior language is theological language covered with secular sauce. The War to End All Wars is its finest moment of self-revelation and self-deception. For the Biblical Warrior cannot cease warring – not until the Final Day when the end to earthly wars is accomplished as the Benevolent God returns, once again, as Warrior King. In the broader Christian Tradition this is “Christus victor” and Christ the King. Biblically, it is the Son of Man returned to earth during the Apocalypse. The Warrior’s Bloodlust, then, reveals itself as that which drives the Benevolent God’s return.
When America dropped The Bomb, it proclaimed itself ready and prepared for the Lord’s Return. For The Bomb indicated that the Warrior now possessed an instrument of destruction which was – indeed often proclaimed with careless Pride – to be wielded only by He Who Judges.
America as the fulfillment of the Biblical Warrior Promise should have ended with the truly Joshuan devastation of The Bomb. After all, the Enemy was vaporized! An act of impressive spiritual prestidigitation – “And on the 8th Day ….!”
Current Times – Truly Webbed, World-Wide?
What then has followed – in what is also “current history”? President Kennedy faithfully re-directed the Vision and Promise outwardly – to the Moon! Yes, at the same time teetering on the Apocalyptic Edge, once again, dropping The Bomb on Cuba. LBJ would wait, patiently, confidently as he relentlessly “wasted” a Gook Enemy while balancing the world with a MAD pact of not using, the now proven, Weapon of the Warrior God. Nixon could find no new Frontiers, so he turned inward, and destroyed his own soul. Ah, a Faustian conundrum of a secular Joshua – not a Job! Not a Job because as President he wrestled not with “God” or a Deity but solely with himself because he was, or so he believed he was, Imperial. Thereafter, a repulsion of the Moon (symbolic Goddess that She be!) and the focus inward upon the bloodless bloodlust of The Market. Enter Reagan’s “Greed is Good” era.
Now comes the internetted generation. X and D and all that. What do they hear on the World Wide Web? A global voice? A single Call to be Family – of which there is only one, an earth family? An Earthfolk?
At this moment of impending war it appears that this is not a new generation, at least in spiritual terms. Rather, they are re-asserting the fundamentalistic Civil Religion tenets of our own culture: in which there is only America, the Good Ones.
The Volunteer Army is robust. There is a broad public commitment to fight the alleged Axis of Evil. There is scant public self-reflection when other nations and peoples indict us as Evil, claim that Kissinger and Bush are War Criminals. In some ways, despite all the available critical information, Americans cannot stop warring. This generation – composed of gen-xers and all such tabloid drivel – is compulsively marching off to war … based, at the moment, upon the flimsiest of information, the shadiest of reports, the known corruption among our leaders (“I am not a thief!”)
True, it must be clearly stated that we all exist at a queer moment – a strange intersection – when the myth which binds us all unto life and death is graphically manifest through very visual and definitive actions. That is, a War which is being proclaimed after The War to End All Wars, and the Final Solution, and The Bomb, and The Moon Visit, and We Are The World have been proclaimed. Didn’t this generation virtually fight all those wars? Videogame reality. Ah, they fought and won! – Won every war-game! - It is the videogames which became the catechism of the Warrior Culture, ever alive.
So, America the Good Ones is alive and well. The Appointee every evening ascends the media pulpit and preaches the Sermon of Bloodshed. He has no other way of imagining. No other Way of Life is there for him or We.
Ah, the Dark Night of the Soul. And in daylight a world drenched in blood. On every lip the Call: Kill!
Analysis leading to Paralysis! … That is where the Warrior wants any thinking person and any heart-lead person to end: in paralytic inaction.
But so many of us have been touched by an unsettling Imagining. That of Peace-Making. Sometimes it does feel as if it comes from Outside or somewhere so deeply Inside that we wonder about the mythic, spiritual and historic source from which or whom or where the thought and feeling came. The instinct to peace-making.
It is there. Has always been. And with the Web, ironically, more connections can be drawn, and so a new picture is emerging.
Yes, some of all this is attributable to the imagining which is truly Webbed. That of the rise of the goddess, of earth-centered spiritualities, of robust erotic descriptions of what is male and female. (See, “Towards a Sacred Sexuality” on www.earthfolk.net)
There is for so many of us the presence of this unsettling imagining. Not just the photo of the Blue Earth, a drop of cosmic water and dirt, as seen from outer space. Not just the access to forgotten and suppressed histories and alternative reportage which the Web offers. (See, “Links” and then “Imagining Links” on www.earthfolk.net) Not just all the earth-centered spirituality groups and their rousing rituals. Not just the echo of John Lennon’s “Imagine!” No it is the presence of you. Yes, simply you. Imagining yourself as global, as internetted, as one family: as Earthfolk.
What to do? … Listen! Peer! Practice peace-making, which is a Sacred Sexuality ritual! Come to know the Origin Stories of America: the penitentiary and Civil Religion’s ritual of Total War. Come to know where the power truly resides: in the Democratic institutions and processes. Come to know the imagination of The Appointee. … Then, imagine. Yes, you, imagine! With yourself and so the other and so the world – as dealing with violence by making the peace.
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