Posts Tagged 'iraq'

No Regrets for Our Youth (1946)

Akira Kurosawa’s first post-war film, No Regrets for Our Youth, is a strange uneasy movie. The story, which is loosely based on real life events, details the transformation of Yukie, the daughter of a leftist college professor — played by Japanese film icon Setsuko Hara — from a spoiled brat, to dedicated wife of an anti-war dissident (based on Hotsumi Ozaki who worked with Richard Sorge — of Spy Sorge fame — and was the only Japanese to be hung during the war) to a dutiful hardworking farmer girl.

Though Regrets is not of the same caliber as Kurosawa’s later masterpieces it’s always interesting. The rhythm and pacing of the first half of the movie is restless like youthful energy unsure where to channel itself. The student demonstration montage sequences seem lifted straight from Eisenstein. By the end of the film, the pacing slows to match that of rural life and to match Yukie’s new found maturity.

But what’s really interesting about the film is Kurosawa’s struggle to understand what happened to his country. How could left-thinking intellectuals allow Japan to be hijacked by the military? Of course, the US occupying forces, terrified of a return of the crazed nationalism that pushed Japan into war, was very much encouraging this sort of cultural introspection. (For more on this, I really recommend Embracing Defeat by John Dower) And you argue that this movie is as much a propaganda film as his wartime films Sugata Sanshiro or Most Beautiful. Given Kurosawa’s trademark humanism, as seen in Ikiru and Rashomon, I think that part of this film is a real heartfelt working through of guilt and pain of the past decade.

Perhaps because I have this sort of thing one the brain, Regret reminded me of some of these Iraq war movies that have been coming out (and bombing). They also seem to be working through many of the same issues. Both Regret and movies like Redacted or Stop Loss, seem raw and uneasy. The tone brittle and lacerating, asking how the hell did we get here?

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Standard Operating Procedure (2008)

One of the perks of working at my current job is that I get to watch free advanced movie screenings. The other day I watched Erroll MorrisStandard Operating Procedure. While his last film Fog of War, which I think is a masterpiece, examines a failed American war from the point of view of its architect, Robert McNamara, this film looks at one of the most embarrassing moments of this current failed American war — Abu Ghraib. Morris essentially allows the US Servicemen and women involved to give the context (and often rationalization) for each of the famed pictures. In his typical modernist way, Morris gives the viewer few objective handles to judge the interviewees stories.

What worked brilliantly in Fog of War falters here. The music (Danny Elfman channeling Philip Glass) is too bombastic, the graphics (done by my former employer Kyle Cooper) are too slick, and Morris’ trademark reenactments are too beautiful for the subject matter. The pictures are horrific and the servicemen and women are too raw and conflicted to justify such an overblown approach.

That being said, Standard Operating Procedure raises some very uncomfortable questions. Primarily, there’s one of guilt. Sure, most of the interviewees are guilty of mistreating prisoners. And their defense is something along the lines of “I was just following orders.” Nuremberg declared that such an argument doesn’t hold water. And while I agree with that in principle, I came away from the film feeling sorry for the poor schmucks, most straight out high school, who were put into a morally gray if not contradictory situation with intentionally vague instructions. (I wonder how my opinion would have changed if the movie interviewed the Iraqi prisoners in those pictures.

All of them draw a line between abuse and standard operating procedure. Making some guy jerk off or piling prisoners in a human pyramid is abuse, while stripping some guy naked, putting panties on his head and handcuffing him in an uncomfortable position is standard operating procedure. It strikes me, as a civilian, that that’s a very subtle and easily crossed distinction.

The film argues that Lynndie England and the others were punished more because they embarrassed the Pentagon that for an crime. One poor guy was sentenced to a year in the brig. Why? Because he appeared in an Abu Ghraib video cutting of the flex cuffs of a prisoner whose hands were turning purple. Though this torture strategy originated at the highest levels of government , no one above Staff Sargent was criminally punished. Guilt, according to the government, is not based on what you do, but whether or not you’re caught. That sort of mindset, that like an amoral seven-year old, has been the standard operating procedure for this administration. And as the years pass, Abu Ghraib might seem quaint compared to the horrors that Bush Co. have for now managed to hide away. That’s the thing about guilt, and nationhood. Just like the German people bare responsibility for Hitler and the Japanese bare (still officially unacknowledged) responsibility for Hirohito’s crimes in China, so does the American people share guilt about Bush’s crimes. And it drives me crazy.

The Garfield Factor: James A. Garfield, 20th president of the US, would have been largely baffled by the modernist sensibilities, finding it too disjointed and morally fuzzy. He would have undoubtedly found the Abu Ghraib pictures unsettling, not for their brutality, Pres. Garfield was a general in the Union army, but for their near pornographic unseemliness. Most likely, we would have poured himself a glass of whiskey and tried to blot the whole thing out of his mind by studying his beloved ancient Greek texts.

Burma, Bush, and Baby Heads

Yesterday, when I was driving on the 405, traffic started to mysterious slow down. An accident? No. Someone dumped a box full of doll heads onto the road, giving the highway a sort of surreal apocalypse-in-kiddyland sort of feel.

Though not widely reported in the US though widely documented by Amnesty, real life apocalypse is going on in Burma where death camp thugs are enslaving villagers and forcing then to build an oil pipeline on behalf of Unocal. When a few of the villagers managed to sue Unocal in US courts under the Alien Tort Claims Act, the Justice department not-surprisingly sides with the corporate as you can read
here. The crimes these corporate nazis are accused of are truly horrific:

“Jane Doe I, one of the plaintiffs in the case, testified that when her husband tried to escape the forced labor program, he was shot at by soldiers, and that, in retaliation for his attempted escape, she and her baby were thrown into a fire. Her child died and she was badly injured….Other villagers described the summary execution of people who refused to work, or who became too weak to work effectively.”

In somewhat more hopeful news, the stink of Bush’s lies (it’s not “hype”, it’s not “over-exaggeration” as most US media outlets are describing it as, they are lies) is becoming to great to cover over with Ari Fleischer’s usual misinformation or bald-faced stonewalling. World opinion and even Republican senators are starting to question the veracity of the Bush administrations cocksure statements that Saddam was an imminent threat. Paul Krugman, as usual, has a interesting taking on this whole thing which can be read here. If the accusations of falsehood, bare out to be true this means that justification for the war is almost nil. They wanted a war and they bullied the world into letting them have their war. The meaning of this is staggering and much as it is frightening. George W. Bush killed thousands of Iraqi and dozens of American and British troops to bolster his political standing. I sincerely hope that this gets exposed and reported as the war crime it is.

And in other news, a representative of the Nebraska state legislator threatened to declare war (dead link, sadly) on Iowa for lost gambling revenue.

News Rant

Here’s a few news stories/columns that once again illustrates the flagrant wickedness of, as Mike Malloy would say, the Bush crime family. Last year, a German politician got into hot water over comparing Hitler with Bush (to which my response was “Yeah, Hitler is the epitome of earthly evil, but at least he got elected.”) This past week, an article in the Canadian Courier Mail reports that the US is considering turning its bases in Guantanamo Bay into a death camp (link dead) complete with a kangaroo court and an execution chamber.

Meanwhile, Paul Krugman argues that Chimpie McCokespoon and his thugs are radicals bent on destroying the New Deal and social safety net (Social Security, Medicare, etc.) along with it with that obscenely large tax cut that the congress just passed. He writes, “But the people now running America aren’t conservatives: they’re radicals who want to do away with the social and economic system we have, and the fiscal crisis they are concocting may give them the excuse they need.” Yes, that’s right. The country is being sold out from underneath us and the democrats are once again asleep at the switch.

And finally (at least for now), Ted Rall in his weekly (another dead link) writes:

“We warned the Bush Administration that invading Iraq would destabilize the Middle East and spread radical anti-American Islamism. We told the American people that taking out Saddam Hussein without a viable government to replace him would open a vacuum for anarchy, civil war and a power grab by radical Iranian-backed Shiite clerics. Now the antiwar movement’s doomsday scenarios have been fulfilled so completely that military history scarcely mentions a more thoroughly botched endeavor–and we’ll be living with the fallout for years. ”

He then proceeds to paint a very grim picture of the state of the Middle East, where an all but name independent Kurdistan is run by guys that make the Taliban look moderate and who will certainly plunge Turkey (a NATO member, y’know) into a long and bloody civil war. Am I the only one who is waxing poetic for the days when the biggest news stories in the world concerned the president’s genitals?

Spring Break Part ’03 Part 2: Chimpy

Hello all. I’m back in my computer geek mini-resort of a cyber-bar. I just realized that this place features free lattes, free razors in the bathroom and for an additional fee massage chairs. I’m half expecting to find a sauna and a hot tub combo somewhere around here.

First a few observations…

1) The Japanese really hate our beloved president, Chimpy McCokespoon. This is subtlely evident in the pictures the media selects to represent him. One pic, which served as a backdrop for a round table of talking heads, featured Bush with his mouth wide open, his beady eyes pushed together under a furroughed brow and his ape-like finger waggling at the camera, making him look both dim and bullying. Another pic for a similar talk show, featured a picture of Bush looking like a colicky baby just after a bowel movement.

2) Daihatsu has released a box shaped car inexplicably named “Naked.”

And now for the travel log…

The day for yesterday, R’s dad took me and R to his favorite sushi joint and proceeded to fill me with more raw fish than Shamu consumes in a week. We seemed to hit it off. He embarrassed R to no end by peppering his conversation with English like “I’m sorry,” “This is sushi” and the like. Yesterday, we went to Mount Aso which is not only the highest peak in Kyushu but also the largest volcanic crater in the world (or so I’m told). It belched up green fumes of sulphur which I heard usually smells much worse than it did. Then we went to Kumamoto’s castle, which was featured in Kurosawa’s Kagemusha. The outside was quite impressive though the inside was remodeled to look something like a Stalinist era library. Later that night, we were met by R’s mom — who was suffering from an ugly cold — and we went to the famed Iron Chief loser’s restaurant located in the basement of the Kumamoto Castle Hotel. The dinner was a bit uneven I did have some of the best squid I ever had there. Light, fluffy and not in the slightest chewy.

Anyway for the rest of today, I’m going to forget about the Oscars and the War and maybe veggie out in front of the computer while being kneaded by a massage chair…

Bush’s stupid war and my trip

Herr Bush has launched an illegal, immoral war…the blood of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Iraqis is on your hands. As I read scrawled on a bathroom wall, we are going to pay for ‘$100 Billion worth of corpses,’ while Bush and his cronies will make a killing on oil and reconstruction.

Meanwhile, I’m psyching myself out to go to Japan in 12 hours. This is extreme air travel, I suppose. Hopefully, I’ll only have to put up with a cavity search at the airport and a Pauly Shore flick on the plane. Line up the Bloody Marys….


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