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Archive for the ‘War’ Category

Heard on the radio

Wow. Last night listened to crotchety old man Harold Bloom on npr about the decline of the humanities. Translation: people study books and poetry that he doesn’t like. However, if like me you like literary criticism and you have the stomach for listening to him (he is quite amusing actually) then here is the link.

On to this morning where on npr they featured a story about moving the Guantanamo Bay prisoners to an Illinois prison. How do they begin this interesting feature? By interviewing a woman whose son fought in the Iraq war. After she tells us about the sacrifices her family has made, she says that bringing terrorists to America is like a direct slap in the face to soldiers like her son.

Excuse me? Did someone at npr think that interviewing an intellectually challenged woman about completely unrelated topics would have anything to add to the discussion? In what real world is harboring prisoners a direct slap in the face to soldiers. How is it that this would a slap in the face merely because it’s in America? I just don’t get npr anymore. None of it makes any sense.

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In the Loop

I saw In the Loop last night and I can’t recommend it enough. The film is an offshoot of the British television series “The Thick of It” which I have only seen a couple of episodes of. The series and film have a sort of docu-drama feel although the actors don’t confront the camera at any time and you don’t get the idea that what they are saying is made for public consumption, but it has the shaky camera the quick cuts that are normal in such films.

The premise is to take the events that led up to the UN Resolution to attack Iraq and to show them through lower level cabinet officials of both the British and the American governments. What’s fascinating about this film is that each major point is fact. We know that the British supported America in their endeavor to declare war on Iraq. We know that the reasons were inexplicable to a large percentage of the British and American public. Tony Blair’s inexplicable unconditional support of the Bush Administration led many to characterize Blair as being the lap dog of the Americans. We know that British intelligence was used by the Bush Administration as justification to the war. We know that opposition was squashed despite very serious reservations about the quality of such intelligence.

So in this film, we see a fictionalized account of how all of the above came to be. The characters are fictional, but again I think the major points of the film are accurate. The film is funny. Depressing. How can so many people put their careers above the common good in such a callous way? It’s hard to swallow. The dialogue is great though I think the dialogue of the American characters is somewhat off. I think Americans are more likely to smile to your face and tell you what you want to hear than stab you in the back, so I guess what I’m saying is the Americans talk a little bit too much like the Brits. The Brits swear with such foul relish. It’s poetry really and very clever. And very funny. But not so American which is why it sounds odd when the American characters do it. I suppose we’ve heard of politicians like Cheney throwing fuck yous out there, but that’s not really so clever and funny. Just foul.

I loved Peter Capaldi’s performance. Just like on the television series he is fantastic. I wasn’t so taken with James Gandolfini but again I think that’s because the words coming out of his mouth just didn’t quite sound right. A little too British and not so American. It’s certainly an uncomfortable film to watch at times because the humor is so incredibly dark. This is an incredibly dark subject and very smartly done. The next day I’m still thinking of what a tragic clusterfuck this all was.

Update: I’ve just been looking on google for what other clips they show of this film. Ignore all the trailer clips. The film’s charm is the swearing which sadly is not included in any trailer.
I enjoyed the crossest man in Scotland: “http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wa3eoMnMC80”

And the Steve Coogan clip: “http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b5kdOvsyv98”

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There’s the popular adage that those who never learn from history are destined to repeat it. But that’s really all it is. An adage. Something to put on a t-shirt, but certainly not something to practice apparantly.

I was listening to NPR yesterday and I heard Bob Edwards Robert Siegel interview Errol Morris the filmmaker of The Fog of War featuring Robert McNamara. As you may know McNamara, considered the architect of the Vietnam War, died yesterday. At two points in this interview Morris brings up what an interesting time it was making a film about learning lessons from war with Robert McNamara and have the Iraq War happen simultaneously. Twice, Bob Edwards Robert Siegel ignored Morris’ comments and moved on to perhaps more comfortable topics safely residing in far away history. Like the Cuban Missile Crisis. God forbid we compare what happened in Vietnam to a current event. Here’s the transcript:

Morris: To him it was an ongoing investigation trying to figure out what had gone wrong, what he had been thinking and moreover how we could learn lessons from history and perhaps prevent the same things from happening all over again. Very very sad because the same things were happening all over again.

Siegel: In Iraq, your saying?

Errol Morris: Yes.

Siegel: I want to play something that McNamara told you in the documentary about working in World War II…

Opportunity lost. Then at the end of the interview, this bombshell happens.

Morris: Another fantastically interesting story that I heard from this man. Why didn’t he speak out? Here’s another question for you, why didn’t he speak out against the Iraq war when he expressed to me on so many occasions his opposition to what was happening.

Siegel: Errol Morris, filmmaker. Thank you very much for talking to us.

I don’t know about you, but I too find that extremely fascinating. What, you say? Robert McNamara was making a film about learning lessons from his experience in the Vietnam War, found correlation with the Iraq war and never said anything either while making the film or elsewhere on record about his opinion. What, you say Errol? Tell me more about that! I want to hear more about his opinion on that.

Sadly we get nothing from Siegel. Like I said, learning from history is something you put on a t-shirt. Something you tell a classroom full of children. Just like those signs outside the holocaust museum: “Never again.” But genocide does happen again and again and again and we do nothing. And we willfully ignore history. I swear I heard a chuckle from Morris at the end of the interview at the ridiculousness of it all.

Update: I may have confused Bob Edwards with Robert Siegel. While I listened to the interview last night on the radio, the segment posted online did not have an introduction of the interviewer. After looking at the hosts for All Things Considered, I’m willing to make the change to my post without confirmation of the speaker to Robert Siegel because I’m thinking that the interviewer is most likely Robert Siegel.

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It’s interesting how photographs create history. We’ve all seen the Ken Burns’ affect in countless documentaries, but what if the photographs are deliberately misleading? Will anyone remember and revise the historical record?

My sister brought this story to my attention. A Japanese-American battalion liberated the concentration camp of Dachau during World War II but no photographic evidence exists. How do you explain to the American people that the liberators of a concentration camp look just like the enemy you are fighting in the East? You don’t. You instead pretend it never happened.

A new book entitled “Dachau, Holocaust and US Samurais – Nisei Soldiers first in Dachau” by Pierre Moulin tells the story of “the role played by very special liberators coming from 10 Concentration camps in USA: The US Samurais of the 522nd Field Artillery BN who were the first to reach the camp of Dachau.” However, the U.S. Army does not recognize any Japanese-American soldiers as the liberators of Dachau.

The photo above, which purportedly shows the liberation of Dachau by the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, 100th Division, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, is from this web site: http://www.hirasaki.home.att.net. This photo was obviously not taken at the main Dachau camp, and it was not taken on April 29, 1945 when Dachau was liberated, judging by the amount of snow on the ground. The photo appears to have been taken after May 1, 1945 when it snowed in the Dachau area. One prisoner is holding a bed roll which indicates that these prisoners were on a march out of the main camp when they were discovered by Japanese troops, probably on May 2, 1945.

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I have to say I’m really enjoying watching Jean Gabin movies. Thus far, we haven’t seen a bad film. Sure there are some we like more than others but they’re all pretty good. The exception might be Golgotha which we found out was dubbed and promptly ejected it.

Here he is in La Bandera. You know, movies were so much more topically varied back then (1935.) I mean can you imagine a writer pitching this story to a studio executive today: “This is going to be a great movie. It’s about this guy who has to leave France because of a dark secret and he ends up in Spain and he joins the Spanish Foreign Legion. He later goes to a bar called ‘Flat Chests.’ The people will love it.”

I nonetheless enjoyed this film.

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Oh, it will make you angry.

There are several dimensions to the debate over the U.S. prison facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba that the media have largely missed and, thus, of which the American people are almost completely unaware. For that matter, few within the government who were not directly involved are aware either.

The first of these is the utter incompetence of the battlefield vetting in Afghanistan during the early stages of the U.S. operations there. Simply stated, no meaningful attempt at discrimination was made in-country by competent officials, civilian or military, as to who we were transporting to Cuba for detention and interrogation.

This was a factor of having too few troops in the combat zone, of the troops and civilians who were there having too few people trained and skilled in such vetting, and of the incredible pressure coming down from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and others to “just get the bastards to the interrogators”.

It did not help that poor U.S. policies such as bounty-hunting, a weak understanding of cultural tendencies, and an utter disregard for the fundamentals of jurisprudence prevailed as well (no blame in the latter realm should accrue to combat soldiers as this it not their bailiwick anyway).

The second dimension that is largely unreported is that several in the U.S. leadership became aware of this lack of proper vetting very early on and, thus, of the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released.

But to have admitted this reality would have been a black mark on their leadership from virtually day one of the so-called Global War on Terror and these leaders already had black marks enough: the dead in a field in Pennsylvania, in the ashes of the Pentagon, and in the ruins of the World Trade Towers. They were not about to admit to their further errors at Guantanamo Bay. Better to claim that everyone there was a hardcore terrorist, was of enduring intelligence value, and would return to jihad if released. I am very sorry to say that I believe there were uniformed military who aided and abetted these falsehoods, even at the highest levels of our armed forces.

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Regarding the “personal triumphs” of Kate Winslet’s character in the Oscar nominated The Reader:

What, exactly, was the Kate Winslet character’s “personal triumph”? While in prison for participation in an act of mass murder that was particularly gruesome and personal, given the generally impersonal extermination process—as a death camp guard, she helped ensure 300 Jewish women locked in a burning church would die in the fire—she taught herself to read! What a heartwarming fable about the wonders of literacy and its ability to improve the life of an Auschwitz mass murderer!

I have to admit I’m a big fan of Ron Rosenbaum’s Slate columns — especially when the subtitle includes “The worst [fill in the blank] ever.” This is an engaging analysis about the Hollywood trend to make implausible happy-end Holocaus stories. I recommend it highly.

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