CAT | War
Note: My weekly op-ed.
The late great science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein once told a crowd at a convention, “Some of you will see a nuclear war within your lifetime.”
The crowd, to say the least, did not want to hear this.
A few years ago when I was the world’s oldest journalism intern in Washington, D.C., I coined the term “no-name nukes,” in the context of the sentence, “We’re living at Ground Zero for the no-name nuke.”
During my three months residence in D.C. I repeated that statement many times on many occasions.
Not once did anybody ever call me crazy. Heck, not once did anybody ever disagree with me!
Well once actually. A gentleman at the National Press Club thought I was way too optimistic when I said sometime in the next generation a rogue nuke was going to take out D.C.
“Oh I’d say within the next five to ten years,” he said.
I actually got to pose the question to former Secretary of State John Bolton at a small gathering.
Bolton was as forthcoming as it was possible for him to be. He didn’t actually address the question of what we could do if a nuke of unknown origin detonated on our soil, but he did point out where terrorists would get them.
Iran for one of course. Currently run by bona-fide religious crazies who are actually looking forward to Armageddon. How close they are to getting nukes is a matter of some controversy. Some say soon, some say long time to never.
The latter is the more comforting belief, which is why we should consider very carefully whether this is a realistic assessment, or wishful thinking.
Then there’s North Korea. They’re a bandit state with nukes, and Bolton pointed out, they’ll cheerfully sell them to anyone for hard cash.
Now they’re rattling their sabers and threatening to nuke American bases in the Pacific, or even a West Coast city.
It’s hard to tell how seriously to take the Norks. On the one hand, they do a lot of saber rattling. On the other hand, sometimes they do more than just rattle their sabers.
For decade they raided the coast of Japan, kidnapping Japanese citizens. They’ve landed commandos in South Korea for obscure purposes, though we can assume they’re up to no good as they tend to commit suicide to escape capture. They’ve torpedoed South Korean ships and murdered American military personnel at the Demilitarized Zone.
Worse, they’ve done it without consequences.
And that’s nothing compared to what they’ve done to their own people. Estimates of famine-related deaths range between 240,000 and 3,500,000. As many as 200,000 political prisoners are held in North Korean concentration camps under conditions at least as bad as anything in Soviet gulags during Stalin’s reign.
What’s worrisome about this kind of thing is not that it’s evil, but that it makes no sense. What do they gain by this? Evil we can deal with. Crazy is another matter.
If the Norks were merely evil we could appeal to their self-interest, mainly their desire not to be nuked down to bedrock. Same thing that kept the Cold War cold.
Now it could be the Kim family’s kingdom is acting for perfectly sensible reasons. North Korean saber rattling has traditionally prompted massive donations of food from abroad. This could be of no more significance than an infant throwing a tantrum because it’s hungry.
Or maybe they’re just crazy. The scary thing is, we can guess but we just don’t know.
At the end of World War II in the Pacific, after the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the U.S. government heard nothing from the Japanese for three days. So they dropped another one. Five days later as a third bomb was being assembled, the emperor broadcast his decision to surrender – and there was an attempted military coup by diehards who dreamed of a glorious death for their entire nation!
And the Japanese weren’t crazy, just alien to our ways of thinking.
It didn’t make a big splash, but we’ve been threatened with nukes before. During the Clinton administration the Chinese were saying openly but without bluster that they figured we weren’t as attached to Taiwan as much as we were to Los Angeles or San Francisco.
That was scary enough, but made sense. The Chinese stated what they wanted, and their judgment of the risks involved. They might be wrong, but their reasoning was perfectly straightforward.
About the North Koreans we mostly just don’t know. A history of oriental despotism, plus two generations of Japanese occupation, plus three generations of communism equals… what?
Note: I see “Argo” won an academy award, and I see I neglected to post my review which first appeared in the print-only TV Guide of The Marshall Independent. So here it is.
After a slow beginning the reputation of “Argo” as a taut psychological thriller and intelligent action flick is getting around.
“Argo” achieves the most difficult feat for a thriller, keeping you on edge even when you know the outcome walking in. As action flick it hearkens back to an earlier time before the “non-stop action” genre, when films paid attention to set up and character development. And for once, the CIA are shown as the good guys.
And if you’re paying careful attention there are some interesting questions about realpolitik and ethics versus practicalities raised therein.
“Argo” tells the story of the “Canadian caper,” a joint CIA-Canadian operation that spirited six American diplomatic personnel out of Iran during the Iranian hostage crisis in January, 1980.
Since a generation has passed since those days, the film begins with a narrator relating the background. In 1979 the Shah of Iran was forced into exile and the Ayatollah Khomeni returned from his own exile to assume spiritual leadership of the new Islamic Republic of Iran.
Enraged that the U.S. admitted the Shah into the country for medical treatment, militants stormed and seized the American embassy, taking the staff hostage for what was to become a 444 day ordeal.
Six diplomats escaped out a back door and ultimately found refuge in the residence of the Canadian ambassador, Ken Taylor (Victor Garber.)
CIA officials brainstorm various plans to extract the six, discarding all of them as impractical, until agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck, who also directs) comes up with an audacious plan to extract the six disguised as a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a science fiction movie to be called Argo.
The plan is green-lighted as the “least bad” option.
Mendez contacts makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) who did contract work for the CIA with disguises.
“Let me get this straight, you want to come to Hollywood, make a fake movie, and do nothing?” Chambers asked. “You’ll fit right in.”
Chambers helps Mendez recruit producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to establish a thorough cover for the operation.
“If I’m going to make a fake movie, I’m going to make a fake hit,” Siegel said.
The cover involved a real script that justified an exotic location shoot (an adaptation of Roger Zelazny’s novel, “Lord of Light” by the way,) full-page ads in Variety, press conferences, casting calls, and an office that existed to answer precisely one phone call from Iran to verify that Mendez’s cover character was “out of the country on location.”
The understated tension is marvelously done, Afleck has a great future as a director. The living conditions of the six, in comfortable but cramped conditions, living in fear, getting on each others nerves, is shown in images with few words. A glimpse of a man shot by firing squad through a window, a man hanged from a crane, the growing suspicion that the Iranian housekeeper knows who the ambassador’s guests are. This could be a textbook illustration of the novelist’s dictum, “Show – don’t tell.”
“Argo” doesn’t shy away from the moral ambiguity of the U.S.- Iranian conflict. Yes the U.S. sponsored a coup against Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh in 1953, and supported a despot who ruled with the brutal CIA-trained secret police SAVAK.
But with the Shah gone, what replaced him? Even more brutal religious fanatics who threw a rich and modernizing country into poverty and chaos.
And who were the militant leaders? Mendez tells the six while briefing them. Not semi-literate goat-herders but American and European-educated English speakers who had seen the west close up, and hated it. Hated the west enough to throw away ancient laws on the treatment of diplomats and stage sadistic mock-execution with their captives.
There’s food for thought here, now more than ever.
There’s also some choices Afleck made he should have thought twice about. “Argo” has it the six were refused refuge at the British and New Zealand embassies. In fact both embassies aided the six in important ways, as did the Swedish embassy which briefly sheltered one of them.
Afleck calls this dramatic license to heighten the sense the six had no place else to go.
No, having the Swissair plane chased down the runway by gunmen in trucks as it’s taking off is dramatic license. This is slander.
After the preview at the Toronto Film Festival in September, critics charged “Argo” unfairly minimized Canadian participation in the operation. Well perhaps, but then again the Canadians got all the credit until 1997 when the operation was declassified and Mendez got to claim his Intelligence Star medal, and Chambers his Intelligence medal.
Note: This appeared in the print-only TV Guide of The Marshall Independent.
“The Americans” on FX network may be the series that blows open the secret history of the Cold War – the secret that’s been out in the open for some time now, except nobody is looking. If the network suits don’t chicken out.
Created by Joe Weisberg, a former CIA officer, “The Americans” is the story of Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings (Mathew Rhys and Keri Russell) an American couple living in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. in the 1980s.
A devoted couple with two children Paige (Holly Taylor) and Henry (Keidrich Sellati) they are living the American Dream.
Except they’re not American, they’re Russian. They know nothing about each other’s real pasts before they were introduced by their KGB superiors and told they were to be husband and wife. They only know their “legends,” the false pasts of their cover identities. Their children were born in America and have no idea what their parents really are.
After the end of the Cold War, the declassified Venona Transcripts and the testimony of high-level defectors such as KGB Major Vassili Mitrokhin and Polish Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski, revealed the received wisdom of the Cold War as a lie.
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were guilty, not even their children deny that anymore. Alger Hiss was guilty. The State Department was riddled with traitors in the 1940s and early ‘50s. Franklin Roosevelt’s closest advisor was a Soviet agent. The Communist Party U.S.A. was not a home-grown movement, but a puppet of the Comintern supported by Soviet funds.
The Soviet Union never intended to coexist peacefully with us; their long-range goal was always to conquer us. In the nearer term future they planned to invade and occupy Western Europe using Warsaw Pact forces from Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia driven ahead of the Red Army to remind them which side they were on.
The scheduled date of the invasion was originally the early 1980s, the period “The Americans” is set in. This is not a paranoid fantasy, my children’s grandfather was a Polish officer in the Secret Chancellery and knew very well the order was going to come, someday. As did my son’s godmother, the widow of a KGB defector.
The story of the Jennings life in America mirrors a stark reality. Deep cover agents were taught everything necessary to function in America and trained to speak perfect unaccented English from an early age. Once in America they were ordered to keep language discipline, never to speak their native language under any circumstances.
This is not a fantasy either. In 1996 I worked with a young Russian in Bulgaria who spoke perfect English with a Midwestern American accent.
“Special schools since I was 10,” he explained.
Elizabeth believes in the mission, believes Reagan is a dangerous madman out to destroy the Rodina (Motherland). When a comrade on a mission to kidnap a KGB defector is mortally wounded, Phillip takes the time to drop him off within walking distance of an ER.
“The mission comes first!” Elizabeth says angrily.
Phillip is conflicted. In the very first episode he openly suggests defecting.
“We could be millionaires!” he says. “And the children are American anyway.”
Their situation is complex. Phillip wants to release the defector – until Elizabeth reveals he was a training officer in the KGB academy who raped her, with official sanction.
“Sorry,” he says. “We were told to do anything we wanted with the cadets.”
Phillip kills him.
Elizabeth and Phillip are developing feelings for each other, after 15 years of “marriage” and two children. Complicated by the fact Elizabeth sometimes has to seduce potential sources.
Phillip also seduces a source by posing as a Swedish diplomat. But his source is flighty and threatens to expose him if he doesn’t leave his “wife.” Phillip may have to kill her.
An FBI agent (Noah Emmerich) moves into their neighborhood. He’s quite open about his work, but is this a ruse to rattle them?
Elizabeth shows signs of softening. She forces a maid in Secretary of Defense “Cap” Weinberger’s house to install a covert recording device by injecting her son with poison via an umbrella gun. But she gives the boy the antidote even when the mission is only a partial success.
Not a James Bond fantasy either. My first coup as an amateur journalist was interviewing the widow of a Belarusian dissident murdered this way.
The tradecraft portrayed in “The Americans” is utterly convincing. The tension is almost unbearable, though we know how the Cold War ended.
Will the series show how WWIII was avoided? Will the suits have to guts to tell it like it was? Will the Jennings come in from the cold?
When Elizabeth softens towards Phillip, she tells him, “My name was Nadezhda.”
In Russian that means, “Hope.”
Note: This is my weekly syndicated column.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has announced that women are necessary to our military’s success, that they are willing to fight and die alongside men, and “The time has come for our policies to recognize that reality.”
And of course, the sky is falling.
Opponents have pointed out, quite correctly, that the function of the military is not social engineering, but the defense of the nation.
“While their focus must remain on winning the battles and protecting their troops, they will now have the distraction of having to provide some separation of the genders during fast-moving and deadly situations,” said Jerry Boykin, executive vice president of the Family Research Council and a retired Army lieutenant general.
The move seems to be supported mostly by men who are not veterans and women who don’t personally intend to make a career of the infantry.
I have to ask, is this going to make any difference at all?
I notice that Panetta has left himself an out. He said physical standards will not be lowered, and admitted few women can meet them, but “everyone is entitled to a chance.”
That sounds like, “Hey, you’re welcome to try, so don’t blame me if you can’t pass the test.”
In my younger days I worked as a garbage man in a town which had yard service. Meaning we went into the yards, emptied the cans into our containers, and toted them to the truck on our backs – an average of 65 pounds and often much more. Not distributed as well as a backpack either. We worked in all weathers, including Oklahoma summers when the temperature regularly got above 100.
There was nothing to prevent women from applying for the job, but in six years total I remember two woman who actually tried it on for size and stuck with it for a few months. Nobody complained about their ability to do the work, there just weren’t many like them.
Oh yes, and one was fired along with a male colleague for hanky-panky on the job.
The argument from some female officers is there are women at the high end of that bell curve of strength and stamina who can outperform men at the low end.
This is not news. The question is, is it worthwhile for the military to make some fairly expensive and troublesome accommodations for a statistically tiny minority of women who can meet the physical standards required of an infantryman?
Panneta said standards won’t be lowered, but in fact they have been in a number of cases. There are also reports of serious problems of unit cohesion in Army units and on Navy ships.
My father, a retired Naval officer, put it bluntly that women at sea doesn’t work unless everybody gets one. Anything else is asking for trouble.
The gender equality crowd usually responds with, “Men have to change.”
OK, so what if the changes, if possible at all, result in men who don’t make good soldiers and sailors anymore?
On the other hand… there are plenty of women in combat positions that aren’t infantry. There are helicopter pilots, I believe at least one door gunner, and women qualified to be fighter pilots.
On average women have physical characteristics such as smaller average size, resistance to G-forces, quick reflexes, etc that might make them as good or better than men in the cockpit of a fighter jet.
Lots of women drive trucks and operate heavy equipment and do all the 20-odd support tasks that enable the military to put one combat soldier in the field.
Russian woman served as snipers in WWII and racked up impressive kill records.
Army and Navy nurses have been near enough to the front lines to be killed or captured since World War II.
Israeli women serve in the IDF, making it one of the most attractive as well as most kick-butt armies in the world.
The role of female Israeli soldiers has been overstated though. Israel does not by choice put women into combat. They receive thorough training in arms because in Israel there are no rear areas, and their enemies do not recognize non-combatant status.
I suspect this is going to sort itself out eventually, after a lot of trouble, expense, and scandal no doubt. But that’s the way we do things these days.
Note: This appeared in the print-only TV Guide of The Marshall Independent.
Yes it’s pretty good. But if you can’t handle moral ambiguity and the often nasty way the world really works, you’ve got no business seeing it.
“Zero Dark 30” is about the hunt for Osama bin Ladin culminating in his execution by Seal Team Six.
I’d better say something here. I have some strong feelings about this, because I’d heard of Osama bin Ladin before 99.999 percent of my fellow Americans had.
My students in Saudi Arabia used to ask me if I’d heard of him when I worked in the Kingdom before 9/11. I had but I told them I hadn’t. They assured me I would someday.
Did killing Osama seriously hamper Al Queda?
No. Don’t care. It’s personal.
It was personal for “Maya” (Jessica Chastain) the CIA operative recruited just out of high school whose only significant work for The Company was tracking bin Ladin. “Zero Dark 30” is Maya’s story.
It begins on 9/11, but director Kathryn Bieglow (a pretty driven woman herself by all accounts) doesn’t show you the smoking towers, or the agonizing scenes of the victims who held hands as they jumped to their deaths.
You see a blank screen, and hear a woman trapped on a burning floor talk to a 9-11 operator.
“I’m going to die, aren’t I?” you hear as the connection is lost.
Maya is introduced as a young analyst witnessing the brutal interrogation of an Al-Queda member by CIA operative Dan (Jason Clarke).
She elects to come in without a mask. Dan asks if she wants one.
“You don’t wear one. Is he ever getting out?” Maya asks.
“He’s never getting out,” Dan says.
Maya is visibly upset. She gets over it. She witnesses beating, humiliation, and water boarding, then supervises a beating herself.
When her best friend, a mother of three (Jennifer Ehle), and six colleagues are killed in the 2009 Camp Chapman attack she goes from driven – to obsessed.
The film has upset some people.
Some Republicans claimed its release was intended to highlight President Obama’s role in authorizing an operation already in the pipeline before his administration, and help insure his re-election.
Others call it pro-torture.
But if anything the person who gets the credit for deciding to trust Maya’s certainty in spite of everybody else’s doubts, is CIA Director Leon Panetta (James Gandolfini).
Obama’s sole appearance on-screen is assuring Steve Kroft on “60 Minutes” that “America does not torture.”
A lie of course, but to be fair what else could he have said without revealing too much to our enemies?
Not exactly pro-torture, the film recognizes it happens. It’s shown having an effect on Dan. He burns out and goes home, after warning Maya that when it becomes a public issue again the last person holding the bag is going down.
The fact is, our enemies torture and brutally murder captives. Civilized people have agreed to follow certain rules, even when conducting a business as uncivilized as war. Our enemies never signed those accords. Rules are for people who play by rules.
Tell anyone that someone they love more than life is in the hands of Al-Queda and watch them join the “waterboarding is for sissies” club.
If you think this is intolerable, then you need to tell your immediate family, “I’m so sorry, I love you all, but I’d rather you died horrible deaths than cause a loathesome human being a moment’s discomfort.”
It’s also been alleged Bigelow obtained improper access to classified information.
Does it give away useful intelligence?
I don’t know. If Maya is ever outed, I wouldn’t want to be her insurance underwriter.
A CIA spokesperson said the movie is, “an accurate portrayal of the men and women of the CIA, their vital mission and the commitment to public service that defines them.”
If that’s true, it’s rather alarming. But there have been reports Maya has fired off at least one email to all the CIA people who were commended for the operation, telling them in no uncertain terms they didn’t deserve it because all they ever did was obstruct her. And that’s pretty much what the movie shows,
Maya dragging the Agency kicking and screaming into seeing it her way.
In the end, Maya sees off Seal Team Six and is waiting to identify Osama’s body on their return.
There’s a lot of ambiguity here too. They got Osama, his top henchmen, and a lot of information on hard drives, tapes, and documents.
They also killed the father of a roomful of kids, and his wife when she jumped on his body. They did by all accounts attempt to confine the killing to adult males in the compound.
But those kids are going to grow up some day. You might want to see this movie before they do.
Note: This is an op-ed from my syndicated column. New revelations are coming to light so rapidly, it may be outdated by this evening.
The Kissinger Lesson, “That which will be revealed eventually, must be revealed immediately.”
This past week, two weeks before the election, may be remembered as the week it ceased to matter whether a sitting president was re-elected or not.
That was the week the hastily thrown together official story of the attack on the American consulate and CIA annex at Benghazi on the historically significant date of Sept. 11, totally fell apart.
Here’s what we know to a reasonable degree of certainty. On Sept. 11, men armed with automatic rifles and RPGs, supported by mortars, began to take positions around the American consulate. They apparently recruited locals off the street and directed them to “demonstrate,” possibly using an obscure YouTube video allegedly insulting Islam to inflame them.
The video was not the motive of the attack. As of several days after the attack the video still had hits in the low hundreds.
During the attack on the consulate, Ambassador Chris Stevens and Sean Smith, Foreign Service Information Management Officer, were killed.
Consulate personnel were rescued and Smith’s body recovered by security officers Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, both former Navy SEALS, who allegedly disobeyed instructions not to leave the CIA annex. They were both killed by mortar fire when the annex came under attack.
Stevens’ body somehow wound up at a local hospital, after being dragged through the streets, allegedly desecrated, and photographed by members of the mob.
The administration’s public statements have been confused, contradictory, and sometimes outright bizarre.
Though Obama claimed in debate that he did in fact call the attack a “terrorist incident” (backstopped by moderator Candy Crowley) the video shows he made a vague statement that about not being intimidated by “acts of terrorism” not clearly connected to the attack. Five days later UN Ambassador Susan Rice was still trying to connect the act to the anti-Mohammed video.
Then on Friday, Fox News reported that it “learned from sources who were on the ground in Benghazi that an urgent request from the CIA annex for military back-up during the attack on the U.S. consulate and subsequent attack several hours later on the annex itself was denied by the CIA chain of command…”
FOX said it’s sources claimed CIA operators were told twice to “stand down.”
The attack was observed and videoed by a Predator drone in real time, and possibly by an AC-130 gunship as well, if reports the former SEALs were lighting up the mortar that killed them with a GLD (Ground Laser Designator) are accurate. At all times help was never more than two hours away, likely much sooner.
The administration, though Vice-President Biden, attempted to throw the intelligence community under the bus, claiming they acted (or failed to) according to the information they had at the time.
Intelligence refused to go gently into that good night, and is very possibly the source of subsequent leaks.
A CIA spokesman said, ”No one at any level in the CIA told anybody not to help those in need; claims to the contrary are simply inaccurate. ”
And does anyone believe that CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus would give a “stand down” order with the lives of men holding an untenable position at stake?
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton fell on her sword the American way, “OK, it’s my fault, now can we stop talking about it?” (As opposed to the Japanese way of accepting responsibility, which involves resigning in disgrace and possibly hara-kiri.)
Obama was caught off-guard in friendly territory by KUSA-TV reporter Kyle Clark, a Denver affiliate of NBC. He refused to answer a direct question about personally denying the requests for help, and responded with boilerplate about “bringing those responsible to justice.”
OK, so what everybody is wondering is, is this going to affect the election? Is this the October surprise that destroys Obama’s chance of a second term?
Doesn’t matter. If Obama is re-elected, like Nixon was after Watergate, Benghazi-gate is not going away. He will preside over a crippled administration propped up by a totally discredited media.
(Note: This is one of my syndicated columns. I usually wait a while before posting them, but for reasons of timeliness I am posting this the day it was sent out to my subscriber and submission lists.)
“Say ye unto the Khwarezmians that I am the soveign of the sunrise, and [the emperor is] the sovereign of the sunset. Let there be between us a firm treaty of friendship, amity, and peace, and let traders and caravans on both sides come and go.”
- Ghengis Khan, to an ambassador from the Khwarezmian empire, before the Khwarezmian (Persian) Emperor had the Mongol ambassadors murdered, provoking a war that led to his defeat and death.
After the murder of U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other diplomatic personnel in Benghazi, Libya, I received an email that drew my attention to a letter to the editor posted in the U.K. Daily Telegraph.
“Would Americans reading this at last grasp that free speech does not extend beyond the jurisdiction of the Constitution which grants the Right. Those who imagine otherwise do the USA a grave disservice if not criminal damage to American interests.
We in UK enjoy similar freedom but Americans must not take this for granted elsewhere. Like it or not politics and religion are sides of the same coin in the Muslim world. Does the US invite another 9/11 ?”
The cluelessness of this is staggering. This WAS another 9/11. Not the same in scope and casualties, but carrying the same message.
Unfortunately this cluelessness is matched by our Diplomatic Service. U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice earnestly announces that the riots in Libya are apparently spontaneous a and not part of any coherent plan, even as more embassies in Muslim countries come under siege and AL Queda urges more attacks on U.S. diplomats.
“What happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo, almost a copycat of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, prompted by the video,” Rice said.
Oh puh-lease! These events are deliberate, planned, and come with a message, “We are at war with you and will not allow you to forget it.”
The ostensible excuse was an amateurish 14 minute trailer for a movie depicting the prophet Mohammed in an unfavorable light, that now appears never to have been made. The trailer is probably all there is of the film. It seems to be the production of an Egyptian Coptic Christian who is on probation/parole for some kind of fraud. It is not even certain the trailer was originally intended to be about Mohammed at all, since it seems to be clumsily overdubbed.
Nevertheless, it is being touted as an intolerable insult to Islam, for which apologies, abasement, and restitution is required. Apologies which the administration seems only to willing to provide.
Those mobs claim they are offended at all of America, for the work of one man, or at most a handful of men, and want to hold all of us accountable for it.
There is something Americans fail to understand about Arab Islamic culture and their point of view. For them, rights and obligations are not reciprocal. They don’t see anything contradictory about insulting our faith, our culture, our way of life, while demanding the most meticulous respect for theirs.
It’s not the movie, it’s us! Get it? They don’t like us and will seize on any excuse to be offended.
From ancient times, both civilized people and barbarians have agreed upon one crucial principle, that the person of an ambassador is sacred. Ambassadors may come and go between warring sides bearing messages and return unharmed.
Christopher Stevens was not the victim of a random riot. He was sought out in his secret safe house and murdered. His body was dishonored and dragged through the streets as the rioters took pictures of him with their cell phone cameras, from inches away from his corpse.
This is also a message, “We are not interested in what you have to say. We will not listen. We will humiliate you as we choose, and you are impotent to do anything about it.”
Bio: Steve Browne is an award-winning reporter and columnist who entered journalism by accident while living and working in Eastern Europe from 1991 to 2004. He is the author of two books for English students: “Word Pictures: English as it is REALLY Used,” published in Belgrade, Yugoslavia and Novosibirsk, Russia, and “English Linguistic Humor: Puns, Play on Words, Spoonerisms, and Shaggy Dog Stories.” In 1997 he was elected an Honorary Member of the Yugoslav Movement for the Protection of Human Rights. He is currently living in his native Midwest, which he considers “the most interesting foreign country I have ever lived in.”
Note: Publications receiving this may use at most 3-4 columns free of charge to test reader reaction. Contact author for single-issue and subscription rates. It’s not very expensive.
Note: This is my weekly review for The Marshall Independent TV Guide.
“The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards.”
Lt. Gen. Sir William Francis Butler (1838-1910)
Act of Valor is going to make movie history and is already generating a huge amount of critical controversy.
The film about Navy SEALs on a mission to stop a terrorist threat was made with the full cooperation of the Navy, and featured actual SEALs and Special Warfare Combatant Crewmen in the major roles, and a lot of really cool gear. This of course raises questions of how beholden the directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh were to the Navy for the content.
The Navy did in fact exercise a right of final cut over the film for security purposes, and kept some footage for training purposes. Though that itself speaks to the realism of the film.
For another, it was an Indy film with a production budget estimated at $15 to $18 million. Though this begs the question of whether the use of the Navy’s expensive equipment on training exercises should be counted as a subsidy.
Compare that to $250 million for “The Dark Knight Rises,” and $270 million for each of the two parts of “The Hobbit,” to cite two guaranteed blockbusters.
Many action scenes were filmed with Cannon Eos 5d mark 2 digital cameras mounted on helmets, motorcycles, etc. That’s a $2,299 camera! Not cheap but well within reach of anyone serious about making Indies.
Can you feel the major studios starting to get nervous?
Professional reviewers have generally not been kind to the movie. Of 90-odd reviews on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of writing, there was a 29 percent approval rating.
But a lot of people like it. “Act” opened at $24.7 million the first weekend.
It is no secret that among the intellectual and artistic community, a significant faction openly despises the profession of arms. Hollywood continues to invest considerable capital in movies that portray the military and intelligence community in an unfavorable light, despite the fact they tend to do poorly at the box office compared to patriotic-themed movies.
Critics of “Act of Valor” have called it “recruitment propaganda.”
So what does that have to do with the artistic merits of the film? Many classics made during the Second World War as war propaganda have stood the test of time. “Destination Tokyo” with Cary Grant is a rollicking good adventure story, as well as a deeply idealistic and thoughtful movie.
There has also been criticism of the “wooden” acting.
I grew up around sailors and marines and have interviewed a fair number of active-duty soldiers. What I saw was the demeanor common among professional military men, far more “realistic” than Cary Grant.
But don’t take my word for it.
“I respectfully disagree with those reviews. Considering they were not professional actors, I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the acting and almost all of the movie was very realistic,” said Anthony T. O’Brien Sr., Lieut. Cdr., U.S. Navy Seals (Ret.)
Obviously what is going on here is an argument about world view.
One of the severest critics, Chuck Koplinski, Illinois Times, entitled his review, “Simplistic Valor lacks the courage to face reality.”
Yet Koplinski’s sneering criticism is just flat wrong on a number of points.
“They have gathered 16 Filipino Jihadists (yes, you read that right) and outfitted them with explosive vests that contain 500 ceramic ball bearings.”
Has Koplinski never heard of Abu Sayaf, the Filipino chapter of Al-Qaeda? Does he deny that jihadists do in fact support R&D to develop better means of killing us? Or the existence of working alliances between terrorist groups and smugglers?
Koplinski echos a number of critics in calling the drug smuggler Christo who hires out to terrorists, “one dimensional.”
“Christo has no problem giving the order to have her (CIA Agent Morales) tortured until she talks…” but, “when captured and given a “veiled threat towards the smuggler, promising him he’ll be locked away for the rest of his life and miss the key moments in his daughter’s life. Wouldn’t you know it, the guy folds like a house of cards.”
Hmmm, a ruthless gangster, who is by the way a Russian Jew allied with Chechen jihadists, capable of unspeakable cruelty yet genuinely loves his wife and daughter. Sounds pretty complex to me, and unfortunately all too realistic.
So with such pronounced disagreement among reviewers, and between reviewers and moviegoers, there is only one thing for me to tell you.
Go see it for yourself and make up your own mind. What you think will say a lot about yourself.
Footnote: One of the events in the movie that Koplinski and others have poured scorn upon is a scene (minor spoiler) where a SEAL is shot not quite point blank with an RPG, which fails to detonate. Wow, what luck ( pouring scorn.)
To be fair, the movie doesn’t explain, they just pass it off as a dud. The fact is, an RPG is designed to detonate only when it hits something HARD. As in concrete or steel hard. Some Swedish biker gangs discovered this when they acquired some RPGs to use on each other a few years back. (See how well gun control works in Europe?) A stray RPG went through the window of a grade school class – and just lay on the floor thank God, because the window didn’t offer enough of a barrier to detonate it.
I’ve been busy, so I haven’t commented on the death of Osama bin Ladin, and it’s not like there was a dearth of comment anyway.
And frankly, it’s been much more interesting to wait and see what the reaction has been. Osama himself really wasn’t a very interesting person.
Think about it, if he hadn’t done what he’d done, do you think he’d have attracted any attention as a fiery Islamist preacher? Other than as a figure of fun for late-night comics that is.
There’s been the usual soft-headed logic of those who think Osama should have been given “due process.”
Yes of course, just like when the Greatest Generation hit the beaches of Normandy armed with writs, summons, and legal injunctions telling the Nazis to suspend all concentration camp operations and executions of hostages pending further investigation.
Boy that showed them!
Then there was Heinz Uthmann, the judge in at the Labor Court in Hamburg, who filed criminal charges against German Chancellor Angela Merkel for “rewarding and approving an intentional homicide,” after she expressed pleasure at the death of bin Ladin.
You know, I believe some day it’s going to be impossible for even the most cowardly and muddle-headed to deny that our civilization is at war. Against that day, shouldn’t somebody be keeping a list? I suggest the categories on that list might include: useful idiots, appeasers, and collaborators.
Then there are those who approve of bin Ladin’s killing on principle, but think the boisterous American rejoicing was somehow vulgar and unseemly.
Lately I have meditated a lot on one of those one-line gems of wisdom Thomas Sowell tosses off with such apparent ease.
“If the battle for civilization comes down to the wimps versus the barbarians, the barbarians are going to win.”
Mark Steyn pointed out when General Gorden’s death at Khartoum was avenged by Lord Kitchener at Omdurman, he had the corpse of the Mahdi dug up and took his skull for a paperweight.
At first, I thought the disposal of bin Ladin’s body was seemly and civilized. After hearing the outpouring of wimpishness from American and Europe – I say he should have been treated more like Danny Pearl’s body was.
Cut it in pieces, take his skull for the Smithsonian, and for good measure bury the rest of him in a pig yard.
Oh, and I see Omar bin Ladin is actually making noises about suing over his father’s death.
Let him show up in court. Then shoot him.
No wait, that’s an honorable death. Lynch him.
If you go here, you’ll find a column on Col. Ryszard Kuklinski by an author who attended a seminar on him and his role in preventing WWIII at Langley (CIA HQ.)
I have the book on the stack of “must reads” that only seems to get taller. I think I’ll move it up in the queue.
As some of you know, my father-in-law was an officer in the Polish military at the time of the events described, which lends the affair a certain interest for me. The impression I get from him is that a fair number of Polish officers thought Kuklinski was a patriot and hero, who did what a lot of them would have liked to have done.
It says something disturbing about our political and academic culture that this story is so little-known. This man, more than any other single individual, may have literally saved the world.
All evidence from the unimpeachable source, the former Soviets themselves, now shows that the invasion of Western Europe and the initiation of World War III by the Soviet Union was a “when,” not an “if.”
What saved the world, or at least Europe, was American military readiness, espionage, and the crucial information supplied by this man.
Gestures of good will, the philosophy of peaceful coexistence, all the enlightened attitudes of western intellectuals counted for precisely nothing.
Is this why this story is being, can we say, “militantly ignored”?
Have they forgotten the lesson of Archimedes?
“But nothing afflicted Marcellus so much as the death of Archimedes, who was then, as fate would have it, intent upon working out some problem by a diagram, and having fixed his mind alike and his eyes upon the subject of his speculation, he never noticed the incursion of the Romans, nor that the city was taken. In this transport of study and contemplation, a soldier, unexpectedly coming up to him, commanded him to follow to Marcellus; which he declining to do before he had worked out his problem to a demonstration, the soldier, enraged, drew his sword and ran him through.”
Plutarch, Parallel Lives: Marcellus. Translated by John Dryden