Posted by Chris at 12/16/2007 5:02 PM ...
With Heather out of town, I've been watching (and re-watching) movies that don't have much draw for her, and catching up on some casual reading (I'm also preparing for the French Language exam I have to take in a couple of months). So far I've re-watched Saving Private Ryan, Platoon, The Battle of Algiers (subtitled), and We Were Soldiers.... I've read The Quiet American, Scarlet, and Shooting War, and am re-reading Mr. Midshipman Hornblower this afternoon.
Platoon and The Battle of Algiers deal with fighting insurgencies, even though they are radically different environments - jungle vs. urban. The both portray the problems regular forces deal with when in facing a people's war - difficulty identifying the enemy, desire to use torture as an intelligence gathering tool, the frustration of dealing with a ghostly enemy that won't stand and fight. Both movies illustrate the amorality, or the justification of brutal methods against an unorthodox enemy. In The Battle of Algiers, Col, Matthieu justifies the use of torture as no less moral than terrorist bombings against civilians, while in Platoon, Sgt. Barnes argues that his atrocities against civilians are justified because he believes that it keeps his men alive. Barnes is the exemplar of the idea that Captain Medina ingrained in his company before My Lai - all Vietnamese are the enemy.
One thing I noticed that may only interest me, is that Platoon shows the ad hoc method the 25th Infantry Division used in dealing with tunnel complexes - Sgt. Elias goes in with his flashlight and pistol and looks around. He obviously knows what he is doing, but unlike the tunnel rats of the 1st Infantry Division, the 25th Infantry didn't dedicate soldiers to tunnel exploration.
We Were Soldiers illustrates many truths about Vietnam, but one thing stood out to me. Joe Galloway basically sneaks his way to LZ X-Ray as a photojournalist. Although he picks up a rifle in order to defend himself, he ultimately returns to his camera. Galloway's still images of the battle stand out as horrific illustrations of the battle, as well as the heroism of individual GIs. The reason this stood out for me was not just the film's deliberate focus on his camera's images, but that we don't often see powerful images, positive or negative, from Iraq or Afghanistan, just as we saw relatively few of Desert Storm. I think that the lack of visual representation of both modern conflicts is an issue, and a key reason that the American public may not be as engaged as they should be in what is happening.
Scarlet and Shooting War are very different types of reading. Scarlet is Stephen Lawhead's reimagining of the traditional Robin Hood myth. Lawhead places the events of Robin Hood in Wales just after William the Conqueror's death. This is the second book in a trilogy, with Will Scarlet as the protagonist, and tells the tale of Rhi Bran y Hud's struggle against the Normans. Lawhead interprets the Robin Hood myth as a Welsh insurgency against the Norman usurpers who have killed off the rightful lord of Elfael, and driven his son, Bran into the forest. In the Welsh context, Robin Hood becomes Rhi Bran y Hood, or King Raven the Enchanter, thus named for a subterfuge used to scare Norman soldiers, and the ability of Bran's forest dwelling allies to disappear at will.
For some strange reason, despite the long series of Robin Hood tales in our culture, I never picked up on the message that it was an insurgency - the "robbed from the rich and gave to the poor" window dressing obscured the underlying reality of free men fighting against an oppressor. Although this is fairly clear in the movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the conflict there is internal to English society. Lawhead nearly slaps you in the face with it by having an outside army serve as the antagonist and playing up Bran's desire to free his home and people from the Norman oppressor.
Shooting War, a graphic novel, is the darkest and strangest of all the war stories here. Focusing on the situation in Iraq several years into the future during the Presidency of John McCain, Shooting War follows a video blogger to Iraq, where American forces are down to only 10,000 soldiers, terrorists and militias fight the Iraqi National Army, and the Middle East is ablaze. A new pan-Islamic group manipulates American politicians and military leaders into believing that his forces are Iranians invading the country.
While Shooting War clearly denounces George W. Bush's policies in Iraq, it seems to focus on the dangers of too fast a withdrawal, the hypocrisy in media coverage that aiding neo-cons in perpetuating a climate of fear for their own purposes, and the danger of crusading Christian Dominionists who are hoping that we are witnessing the beginning of the Armageddon. The violence and language of the book mean that it is definitely not for everyone. It is guaranteed to offend just about everyone in some way, as well, so read it at your own risk.