About Schmidt (2002)
2018-08-20 (Review Source)
The American Conservative Staff
(”About Schmidt” is briefly mentioned in this.)
2013-12-13 (Review Source)
I’m a big fan of Alexander Payne’s work – loved “Election,” loved “Sideways,” really liked “Citizen Ruth,” and felt warmly about “The Descendants.”
You’ll notice I left out “About Schmidt,” and that’s because, notwithstanding that Payne got a wholly unexpected performance out of Jack Nicholson (an achievement which the Academy should honor with a special award of its own), I found the experience of watching the movie to be really unpleasant. Schmidt is so thoroughly unhappy a man, and so thoroughly unaware of the nature of his unhappiness, and he seems so comprehensively trapped by his own nature and the nature of things – that it was almost too painful to sit through. (Nonetheless, my favorite moment in the movie was one of the most cringe-inducing – the moment when Schmidt comes on to a lady in a trailer park who has invited him in to dinner; he’s confused kindness with attraction, and behaves so wildly inappropriately that the evening is completely irrecoverable. It’s a brilliant and true moment.)
Payne’s new movie, “Nebraska,” has a lot in common with “About Schmidt.” Both are set primarily in Nebraska; both deal with elderly men who feel they have missed life somehow (and associate that missing out with having married June Squibb), and who go on a quixotic road trip in a roundabout way of trying to resolve their existential dilemmas. The largest difference is that “Nebraska” centers not on the old man, Woody Grant (played by Bruce Dern), but on his son, David (played by Will Forte), who agrees to take his father on the trip (from Billings, Montana, to Lincoln, Nebraska, to claim supposed sweepstakes prize money that everybody but Woody knows doesn’t exist), mostly to get him to shut up (and to keep him from setting out to walk the 850 miles).
Objectively, “Nebraska” would appear to be even more depressing than “Schmidt.” Nearly everybody in the film, with an important exception (a one-time girlfriend of Woody’s, Peg, played by Angela McEwan, who lost out to Kate in the marital contest because she wouldn’t sleep with him before they married), is thoroughly unhappy. Woody is losing his mind, but by all reports when he had all his marbles he spent most of his time trying to lose them, passed out drunk and ignoring his kids. His shrewish wife (named Kate, appropriately enough) has not only lost patience with him but with everybody else in the universe. David has a boring job that he isn’t especially good at (selling stereo equipment), and a girlfriend who has moved out because she’s finally tired of waiting for him to propose. Even his brother, who may finally have gotten a good break at work (on local television), only got it because someone in his way got a “really bad infection.” Nobody is exactly making it. And Billings is, economically speaking, in much better shape than their old home town of Hawthorne, Nebraska, where Woody and David stop on their way to Lincoln, and where they spend most of the movie, a town where everyone who hasn’t left is old or truly hopeless, or both. (At least one of Woody’s brothers still lives in town, with his wife and two dim-witted middle-aged sons, one of whom is doing community service after a conviction for rape.)
If it weren’t for the exceptional performances, the first hour would be pretty tough to sit through. But the movie softens in its last act. We slowly see another side to Woody – that, at heart, he’s a generous person, just not a particularly communicative or responsible person. He wants to do what people ask of him, and they take advantage of him. And that dynamic made him bitter over time, leaving him a man who had no time for his sons, or for much of anything but the solace of the bottle. And that, in turn, embittered his wife – but by the end, we’ve seen another side of her, too, not a softer side but a tenderer one – a fundamental loyalty, and below that, something like love.
Those revelations come so stealthily, and Dern’s performance adjusts so subtly that you might almost miss the change. Which is wonderful; this isn’t the kind of film, or the kind of performance, that tells you outright what you need to see. You’ll most-likely notice it because Forte shows us that he sees it, which lets us know to pay attention.
I have the vague sense that the commentary on the movie has emphasized the bleakness of the economic situation out there on the high plains, and it does seem bleak. But I think there’s a connection implied between Woody’s character and that circumstance. Payne seems to me to be saying something about where those character qualities of Woody’s – a fundamental generosity combined with a kind of dim-witted incapacity or stubborn unwillingness to communicate – and the character of the region, and with both of their trajectories. He doesn’t have any kind of answer for it – this isn’t the kind of film that has answers to any of the questions it poses. But he does seem to love both Woody and Nebraska (his home state), in spite of their ultimate hopelessness. As do we, by the end.
The American Conservative Staff
2014-02-28 (Review Source)
Culture media Art Film
It’s that time of year again: the glitz, the glamor, the gowns. Who will go home with a coveted statue, and who will go home empty-handed? This year’s Oscar-nominated films were particularly heartfelt and inspiring (or about as close as Hollywood can manage), and TAC’s culture critic Noah Millman has seen most of them. He can tell you which ones are worth watching—or rewatching:
American HustleLoosely based on the Abscam scandal, David O. Russell takes a crack at screwball dramedy, with mixed results. Millman writes: “Russell wants it both ways – he wants you to enjoy the Scorcesean roller-coaster even as at every turn he’s showing you that his real pleasure tilt-a-whirl. And it turns out you can’t quite have it both ways.”
12 Years a SlaveThe film’s undiluted portrait of slavery that had audiences sobbing in the theater is nominated for Best Picture—and the two leads, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender, are nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, respectively. Lupita Nyongo is also nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Millman criticized director Steve McQueen for failing to end the film on a positive note: “McQueen doesn’t give us that uplifting twist… McQueen could have shown us a determined Northrup engaged in t[he] pursuit [of his captors], vowing never to rest, and ended his movie on an ‘up’ note. He chose not to.”
HerThe genre-bending romantic drama of a man who falls in love with his operating system is a thought-provoking tale of humans’ dependency on their machines. Millman describes the film as “…a particularly clever Pygmalion story, one that is more attuned to what a modern man might actually want in a fantasy companion, as opposed to a mere sexual fantasy.”
NebraskaMillman compares Alexander Payne’s newest film to his 2002 work “About Schmidt”, a rambling, dour film about an unhappy old man: “Payne’s new movie, ‘Nebraska,’ has a lot in common with ‘About Schmidt.’ Both are set primarily in Nebraska; both deal with elderly men who feel they have missed life somehow (and associate that missing out with having married June Squibb), and who go on a quixotic road trip in a roundabout way of trying to resolve their existential dilemmas.”
GravityCritics have raved about the gorgeous cinematography and complained about the nail-biting twists and turns this film makes. Millman offers praise for the visual component of the film. “Enormous effort has been put into getting the physics right, and that effort pays off magnificently. The film is stunningly beautiful – more than that, it is sublime (to use the Burkean distinction).”
Captain PhillipsBased on a true story of a commercial ship hijacked by Somali pirates, Millman praises director Paul Greengrass’s ability to depart from the classic thriller structure to weave a more complex narrative: “The structure he’s chosen, which takes real risks in terms of pacing, allows him to draw that straight line between Captain Phillips’s resourcefulness and the might of the U.S. Navy, while also showing what, and who, lies on the other side of that line.”
Philomena and The Wolf of Wall Street
Rod Dreher doesn’t comprehensively review these two films, but sheds very important light on the religious and moral undertones of both films, bringing their messages into stark relief. Noah Millman in his Oscar post calls Philomena “a sweet little film, well-written and well-structured.” He gives faint praise to “The Wolf of Wall Street” but claims too much time is given to the protagonist, who, in Millman’s estimation, “just isn’t a very interesting person.”
The Dallas Buyers Club
While TAC did not review this film, the New Yorker’s review is more than apt, and appropriately highlights Matthew McConaughey’s transformation from romantic comedy beach bum to a serious dramatic actor.
Ad Astra (2019)
The Unz Review Staff
Ad Astra (2019), starring Brad Pitt and directed by James Gray, is the best science fiction movie since Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (2014). Like Interstellar, Ad Astra is visually striking and emotionally powerful, stimulating to both thought and imagination, and unfolds at a leisurely pace—all traits inviting comparisons to Kubrick and Tarkovsky, although I hasten to...2020-01-24 (Review Source)
Advise & Consent (1962)
The American Conservative Staff
(”Advise & Consent” is briefly mentioned in this.)
2013-06-10 (Review Source)
Like many, I can’t help but be mesmerized by Edward Snowden’s whistle blowing—even if my conclusions are mixed. To begin, I’ve always assumed the government could read my email. Back in the ’90s, well before 9/11 and the Patriot Act, I was working with a friend on various paleoconservative projects, and he told me that he had been told once by a close mutual friend—who had worked recently at the highest levels of an allied government—that they (the top officials of the allied government) were instructed always to assume the Americans could and did read their email. And listen to their phone conversations. I wasn’t shocked or even particularly surprised, but I have always assumed since that time—near to when I began using email—that if the FBI or someone wanted to read it, they could. Maybe my friend or the friend of a friend was wrong, but I very much doubt it. The distinction between spying on Americans or foreigners has become increasingly meaningless in a world of high immigration, dual citizenships, and multiple allegiances.
Secondly, we internet users are accustomed, or resigned, to the intrusions of privacy that Internet use brings. Lots of private companies know my buying and browsing habits, and let me know with their targeted ads practically every time I visit a website. Does anyone really imagine that the CIA/NSA/FBI would know less about my browsing habits (if they were remotely interested) than the companies that sell products to those worried about distance off the tee or whatever? Of course, this knowledge could be potentially used for blackmail—say of a key senator before a vote. And I can’t quite imagine how the world would be if it were understood that no one had any personal secrets. Certainly movies like “Advise and Consent” and “Seven Days in May” would need different plotlines.
Third, I think the Obama administration will have a very difficult time prosecuting Edward Snowden. They can go after Bradley Manning because they have him, in uniform and in prison, and thus shut off from normal communication. Americans are unable to perceive how normal, probably likeable, and how similar to most of us he probably is. But Snowden comes across like everyone’s ideal of a really smart, techie, individualist kid. No high school degree, yet speaks as eloquently as an assistant Harvard professor. Smart enough to rise rapidly in the world without credentials, reminding us vividly computers really are a new frontier, the one field outside of sports and music where classic American Horatio Alger tropes have any continued relevance. If Obama wanted to do something smart, he should thank Snowden and offer him a job as a White House technology advisor.
And then perhaps not take his advice—for I am pretty much persuaded by the argument (made here by Andrew Sullivan) that data mining is the least noxious thing the government can do in the War on Terror. We do face something of a threat from Sunni fundamentalists. We don’t need to occupy their countries, kill and dispossess hundreds of thousands of innocents; indeed, those tactics are almost certainly self-defeating. But we do need to find out as much as we can.
As a footnote, I was interested to see, in Snowden’s interview, that he enlisted in the Army after 9/11, persuaded by the core neoconservative talking point: that we were going to “liberate” the Iraqis. He was later turned off when he discovered most of his military trainers were more interested in killing Arabs than helping them. But the detail enhances respect for the political sensibilities of the neocons: they understood that the war they wanted (for their own strategic reasons, laid out years before) needed to be sold to Americans as an idealistic, freedom-enhancing project. Playing on motives of revenge or racism or Israeli strategic needs wouldn’t attract smart kids like Snowden or millions of others.
Africa, Goodbye (1966)
The Unz Review Staff
Africa Addio (Goodbye Africa) (1966), co-directed, co-edited, and co-authored by Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi of Mondo Cane fame, is a must-see red-pill documentary for race-realists. Filmed between 1963 and 1965 in Kenya, Tanganyika, Zanzibar, Rwanda, Angola, the Belgian Congo, and South Africa, Africa Addio chronicles the exit of the British and Belgian colonial powers...2020-08-19 (Review Source)
2018-08-20 (Review Source)
The Unz Review Staff
(”Aliens” is briefly mentioned in this.)2018-08-20 (Review Source)
The American Conservative Staff
(”Aliens” is briefly mentioned in this.)
2014-10-14 (Review Source)
In June, tens of thousands of Iraqi Security Forces in Nineveh province north of Baghdad collapsed in the face of attacks from the militants of the Islamic State (IS or ISIS), abandoning four major cities to that extremist movement. The collapse drew much notice in our media, but not much in the way of sustained analysis of the American role in it. To put it bluntly, when confronting IS and its band of lightly armed irregulars, a reputedly professional military, American-trained and -armed, discarded its weapons and equipment, cast its uniforms aside, and melted back into the populace. What this behavior couldn’t have made clearer was that U.S. efforts to create a new Iraqi army, much-touted and funded to the tune of $25 billion over the 10 years of the American occupation ($60 billion if you include other reconstruction costs), had failed miserably.
Though reasonable analyses of the factors behind that collapse exist, an investigation of why U.S. efforts to create a viable Iraqi army (and, by extension, viable security forces in Afghanistan) cratered so badly are lacking. To understand what really happened, a little history lesson is in order. You’d need to start in May 2003 with the decision of L. Paul Bremer III, America’s proconsul in occupied Iraq and head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), to disband the battle-hardened Iraqi military. The Bush administration considered it far too tainted by Saddam Hussein and his Baathist Party to be a trustworthy force.
Instead, Bremer and his team vowed to create a new Iraqi military from scratch. According to Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks in his bestselling book Fiasco, that force was initially conceived as a small constabulary of 30,000-40,000 men (with no air force at all, or rather with the U.S. Air Force for backing in a country U.S. officials expected to garrison for decades). Its main job would be to secure the country’s borders without posing a threat to Iraq’s neighbors or, it should be added, to U.S. interests.
Bremer’s decision essentially threw 400,000 Iraqis with military training, including a full officer corps, out onto the streets of its cities, jobless. It was a formula for creating an insurgency. Humiliated and embittered, some of those men would later join various resistance groups operating against the American military. More than a few of them later found their way into the ranks of ISIS, including at the highest levels of leadership. (The most notorious of these is Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a former general in Saddam’s army who was featured as the King of Clubs in the Bush administration’s deck of cards of Iraq’s most wanted figures. Al-Douri is now reportedly helping to coordinate IS attacks.)
IS has fought with considerable effectiveness, quickly turning captured American and Syrian weaponry, including artillery pieces, Humvees, and even a helicopter, on their enemies. Despite years of work by U.S. military advisers and all those billions of dollars invested in training and equipment, the Iraqi army has not fought well, or often at all. Nor, it seems, will it be ready to do so in the immediate future. Retired Marine Corps General John R. Allen, who played a key role in organizing, arming, and paying off Sunni tribal groups in Iraq the last time around during the “Anbar Awakening,” and who has been charged by President Obama with “coordinating” the latest American-led coalition to save Iraq, has already gone on record on the subject. By his calculations, even with extensive U.S. air support and fresh infusions of American advisers and equipment, it will take up to a year before that army is capable of launching a campaign to retake Mosul, the country’s second largest city.
What went wrong? The U.S. Army believes in putting the “bottom line up front,” so much so that they have even turned the phrase into an acronym: BLUF. The bottom line here is that, when it comes to military effectiveness, what ultimately matters is whether an army—any army—possesses spirit. Call it fire in the belly, a willingness to take the fight to the enemy. The Islamic State’s militants, at least for the moment, clearly have that will; Iraqi security forces, painstakingly trained and lavishly underwritten by the U.S. government, do not.
This represents a failure of the first order. So here’s the $60 billion question: Why did such sustained U.S. efforts bear such bitter fruit? The simple answer: for a foreign occupying force to create a unified and effective army from a disunified and disaffected populace was (and remains) a fool’s errand. In reality, U.S. intervention, now as then, will serve only to aggravate that disunity, no matter what new Anbar Awakenings are attempted.
Upon Saddam’s overthrow in 2003 and the predictable power vacuum that followed, score-settling ethno-religious factions clashed in what, in the end, was little short of civil war. In the meantime, both Sunni and Shia insurgencies arose to fight the American occupiers. Misguided decisions by Bremer’s CPA only made matters worse. Deep political divisions in Iraq fed those insurgencies, which targeted American troops as a foreign presence. In response, the U.S. military sought to pacify the insurgents, while simultaneously expanding the Iraqi constabulary. In military parlance, it began to “stand up” what would become massive security forces. These were expected to restore a semblance of calm, even as they provided cover for U.S. troops to withdraw ever so gradually from combat roles.
It all sounded so reasonable and achievable that the near-impossibility of the task eluded the Americans involved. To understand why the situation was so hopeless, try this thought experiment. Imagine that it is March 1861 in the United States. Elected by a minority of Americans, Abraham Lincoln is deeply distrusted by Southern secessionists who seek a separatist set of confederated states to protect their interests. Imagine at that moment that a foreign empire intervened, replacing Lincoln with a more tractable leader while disbanding the federal army along with state militias due to their supposed untrustworthiness and standing up its own forces, ones intended to pacify a people headed toward violent civil war. Imagine the odds of “success”; imagine the unending chaos that would have followed.
If this scenario seems farfetched, so, too, was the American military mission in Iraq. Not surprisingly, in such a speculative and risky enterprise, the resulting security forces came to be the equivalent of so many junk bonds. And when the margin call came, the only thing left was hollow legions.
A Kleptocratic State Produces a Kleptocratic Military
In the military, it’s called an “after action report” or a “hotwash”—a review, that is, of what went wrong and what can be learned, so the same mistakes are not repeated. When it comes to America’s Iraq training mission, four lessons should top any “hotwash” list:
1. Military training, no matter how intensive, and weaponry, no matter how sophisticated and powerful, is no substitute for belief in a cause. Such belief nurtures cohesion and feeds fighting spirit. ISIS has fought with conviction. The expensively trained and equipped Iraqi army hasn’t. The latter lacks a compelling cause held in common. This is not to suggest that ISIS has a cause that’s pure or just. Indeed, it appears to be a complex mélange of religious fundamentalism, sectarian revenge, political ambition, and old-fashioned opportunism (including loot, plain and simple). But so far the combination has proven compelling to its fighters, while Iraq’s security forces appear centered on little more than self-preservation.
2. Military training alone cannot produce loyalty to a dysfunctional and disunified government incapable of running the country effectively, which is a reasonable description of Iraq’s sectarian Shia government. So it should be no surprise that, as Andrew Bacevich has noted, its security forces won’t obey orders. Unlike Tennyson’s six hundred, the Iraqi army is unready to ride into any valley of death on orders from Baghdad. Of course, this problem might be solved through the formation of an Iraqi government that fairly represented all major parties in Iraqi society, not just the Shia majority. But that seems an unlikely possibility at this point. In the meantime, one solution the situation doesn’t call for is more U.S. airpower, weapons, advisers, and training. That’s already been tried—and it failed.
3. A corrupt and kleptocratic government produces a corrupt and kleptocratic army. On Transparency International’s 2013 corruption perceptions index, Iraq came in 171 among the 177 countries surveyed. And that rot can’t be overcome by American “can-do” military training, then or now. In fact, Iraqi security forces mirror the kleptocracy they serve, often existing largely on paper. For example, prior to the June ISIS offensive, as Patrick Cockburn has noted, the security forces in and around Mosul had a paper strength of 60,000, but only an estimated 20,000 of them were actually available for battle. As Cockburn writes, “A common source of additional income for officers is for soldiers to kickback half their salaries to their officers in return for staying at home or doing another job.”
When he asked a recently retired general why the country’s military pancaked in June, Cockburn got this answer:
‘Corruption! Corruption! Corruption!’ [the general] replied: pervasive corruption had turned the [Iraqi] army into a racket and an investment opportunity in which every officer had to pay for his post. He said the opportunity to make big money in the Iraqi army goes back to the U.S. advisers who set it up ten years ago. The Americans insisted that food and other supplies should be outsourced to private businesses: this meant immense opportunities for graft. A battalion might have a nominal strength of six hundred men and its commanding officer would receive money from the budget to pay for their food, but in fact there were only two hundred men in the barracks so he could pocket the difference. In some cases there were ‘ghost battalions’ that didn’t exist at all but were being paid for just the same.
Only in fantasies like J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings do ghost battalions make a difference on the battlefield. Systemic graft and rampant corruption can be papered over in parliament, but not when bullets fly and blood flows, as events in June proved.
Such corruption is hardly new (or news). Back in 2005, in his article “Why Iraq Has No Army,” James Fallows noted that Iraqi weapons contracts valued at $1.3 billion shed $500 million for “payoffs, kickbacks, and fraud.” In the same year, Eliot Weinberger, writing in the London Review of Books, cited Sabah Hadum, spokesman for the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior, as admitting, “We are paying about 135,000 [troop salaries], but that does not necessarily mean that 135,000 are actually working.” Already Weinberger saw evidence of up to 50,000 “ghost soldiers” or “invented names whose pay is collected by [Iraqi] officers or bureaucrats.” U.S. government hype to the contrary, little changed between initial training efforts in 2005 and the present day, as Kelley Vlahos noted recently in her article “The Iraqi Army Never Was.”
4. American ignorance of Iraqi culture and a widespread contempt for Iraqis compromised training results. Such ignorance was reflected in the commonplace use by U.S. troops of the term “hajji,” an honorific reserved for those who have made the journey (or hajj) to Mecca, for any Iraqi male; contempt in the use of terms such as “raghead,” in indiscriminate firing and overly aggressive behavior, and most notoriously in the events at Abu Ghraib prison. As Douglas Macgregor, a retired Army colonel, noted in December 2004, American generals and politicians “did not think through the consequences of compelling American soldiers with no knowledge of Arabic or Arab culture to implement intrusive measures inside an Islamic society. We arrested people in front of their families, dragging them away in handcuffs with bags over their heads, and then provided no information to the families of those we incarcerated. In the end, our soldiers killed, maimed, and incarcerated thousands of Arabs, 90 percent of whom were not the enemy. But they are now.”
Sharing that contempt was Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who chose a metaphor of parent and child, teacher and neophyte, to describe the “progress” of the occupation. He spoke condescendingly of the need to take the “training wheels” off the Iraqi bike of state and let Iraqis pedal for themselves. A decade later, General Allen exhibited a similarly paternalistic attitude in an article he wrote calling for the destruction of the Islamic State. For him, the people of Iraq are “poor benighted” souls, who can nonetheless serve American power adequately as “boots on the ground.” In translation that means they can soak up bullets and become casualties, while the U.S. provides advice and air support. In the general’s vision—which had déjà vu all over again scrawled across it—U.S. advisers were to “orchestrate” future attacks on IS, while Iraq’s security forces learned how to obediently follow their American conductors.
The commonplace mixture of smugness and paternalism Allen revealed hardly bodes well for future operations against the Islamic State.
The grim wisdom of Private Hudson in the movie “Aliens” comes to mind: “Let’s just bug out and call it ‘even,’ OK? What are we talking about this for?”
Unfortunately, no one in the Obama administration is entertaining such sentiments at the moment, despite the fact that ISIS does not actually represent a clear and present danger to the “homeland.” The bugging-out option has, in fact, been tested and proven in Vietnam. After 1973, the U.S. finally walked away from its disastrous war there and, in 1975, South Vietnam fell to the enemy. It was messy and represented a genuine defeat—but no less so than if the U.S. military had intervened yet again in 1975 to “save” its South Vietnamese allies with more weaponry, money, troops, and carpet bombing. Since then, the Vietnamese have somehow managed to chart their own course without any of the above and almost 40 years later, the U.S. and Vietnam find themselves informally allied against China.
To many Americans, IS appears to be the latest Islamic version of the old communist threat—a bad crew who must be hunted down and destroyed. This, of course, is something the U.S. tried in the region first against Saddam Hussein in 1991 and again in 2003, then against various Sunni and Shiite insurgencies, and now against the Islamic State. Given the paradigm—a threat to our way of life—pulling out is never an option, even though it would remove the “American Satan” card from the IS propaganda deck. To pull out means to leave behind much bloodshed and many grim acts. Harsh, I know, but is it any harsher than incessant American-led bombing, the commitment of more American “advisers” and money and weapons, and yet more American generals posturing as the conductors of Iraqi affairs? With, of course, the usual results.
One thing is clear: the foreign armies that the U.S. invests so much money, time, and effort in training and equipping don’t act as if America’s enemies are their enemies. Contrary to the behavior predicted by Donald Rumsfeld, when the U.S. removes those “training wheels” from its client militaries, they pedal furiously (when they pedal at all) in directions wholly unexpected by, and often undesirable to, their American paymasters.
And if that’s not a clear sign of the failure of U.S. foreign policy, I don’t know what is.
A retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel and history professor, William Astore is a TomDispatch regular. He edits the blog The Contrary Perspective.
Copyright 2014 William J. Astore
All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989)
The Unz Review Staff
(”All Quiet on the Western Front” is briefly mentioned in this.)
The American Conservative Staff
(”All Quiet on the Western Front” is briefly mentioned in this.)
2014-01-10 (Review Source)
foreign policy politics film
Calum Marsh makes a ridiculous generalization:
But it’s important to remember that despite their moralizing, war films are still essentially action films—blockbuster spectacles embellished by the verve and vigor of cutting-edge special effects. They may not strictly glorify. But they almost never discourage.
This is a somewhat strange argument, since it is quite easy to come up with a fairly long list of movies that are explicitly and in some cases deliberately antiwar or at least have the effect of discouraging its audience from supporting most wars. There are the obvious examples, such as Grand Illusion, All Quiet on the Western Front, Apocalypse Now, Gallipoli, and Breaker Morant, and there are also less famous films such as Cold Mountain, Bang Rajan or even the recent propaganda film Five Days of War. Those are just the few that came to mind, and I’m sure that a more complete survey would find many more. Not all of them are good movies, but there are quite a few of them out there. One frequently hears complaints from hawks in the U.S. that filmmakers no longer make enough straightforward pro-war movies as they did in the years following WWII, because there really are relatively fewer war movies that are unabashedly trying to celebrate war than there used to be.
It’s also worth noting that there are two very different kinds of antiwar movies. One kind tries to demonstrate the futility or injustice of a particular war or war in general, while the other engages in an almost cartoonish oversimplification of a conflict in order to portray war as something forced on the good side by an implacable, evil foe. Both want to reject war and condemn it for its horrible effects, but in some of them the responsibility for the conflict is identified (sometimes accurately, sometimes not) as being entirely on one side. I haven’t seen Lone Survivor, but based on what Marsh tells us about the plot it could easily be an antiwar movie that falls into this second category.
The American Conservative Staff
(”All Quiet on the Western Front” is briefly mentioned in this.)
2017-05-05 (Review Source)
In December 1964, a Silver Age of American liberalism, to rival the Golden Age of FDR and the New Deal, seemed to be upon us.
Barry Goldwater had been crushed in a 44-state landslide and the GOP reduced to half the size of the Democratic Party, with but 140 seats in the House and 32 in the Senate.
The Supreme Court of Chief Justice Earl Warren, the most liberal in history, was on a roll, and LBJ was virtually unopposed as he went about ramming his Great Society through Congress.
The left had it all. But then they blew it, beginning at Berkeley.
Protests, sit-ins, the holding of cops hostage in patrol cars—went on for weeks to force the University of California, Berkeley, to grant “free speech,” and then “filthy speech” rights everywhere on campus.
Students postured as revolutionaries at the barricades, and the Academic Senate, consisting of all tenured faculty, voted 824–115 to support all Free Speech Movement demands, while cravenly declining to vote to condemn the tactics used.
Middle America saw the students differently—as overprivileged children engaged in a tantrum at the most prestigious school in the finest university system in the freest nation on earth.
Here is how their leader Mario Savio described the prison-like conditions his fellow students had to endure on the Berkeley campus in 1964:
There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!
To borrow from Oscar Wilde, it takes a heart of stone to read Mario’s wailing—without laughing.
As I wondered in an editorial in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat that week, “If there is so much restriction of speech on the campus, how it is that a few yards from Sproul Hall there is a Young Socialist League poster complaining of ‘American Aggression in the Congo’ and calling on students to support ‘the Congolese rebels.'”
Yet Berkeley proved a godsend to a dispirited right.
In 1966, Ronald Reagan would beat Berkeley like a drum in his run for governor, calling the campus “a haven for communist sympathizers, protesters and sex deviants.”
Reagan relished entertaining his populist following by mocking San Francisco Democrats. “A hippie,” said the Gipper, “looks like Tarzan, walks like Jane and smells like Cheetah.”
More seriously, the radicalism, intolerance, arrogance and fanaticism of the far left in the ’60s and ’70s helped to revive the Republican Party and bring it victories in five of the next six presidential elections.
In 1964, neither Nixon nor Reagan appeared to have a bright future. But after Berkeley, both captured the presidency twice. And both benefited mightily from denouncing rioting students, even as liberalism suffered from its perceived association with them.
Which brings us to Berkeley today.
Last week, columnist and best-selling author Ann Coulter was forced to cancel her speech at Berkeley. Her security could not be guaranteed by the university.
In February, a speech of Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos also was canceled out of safety concerns after campus protesters hurled smoke bombs, broke windows, and started a bonfire. The decision was made two hours before the event, as a crowd of 1,500 had gathered outside the venue.
The recent attacks on Charles Murray at Middlebury College and Heather Mac Donald at Claremont McKenna call to mind an event from three decades before Berkeley ’64.
On Dec. 5, 1930, German moviegoers flocked to Berlin’s Mozart Hall to see the Hollywood film All Quiet on the Western Front. Some 150 Brownshirts, led by Joseph Goebbels, entered the theater, tossed stink bombs from the balcony, threw sneezing powder in the air, and released mice. Theaters pulled that classic anti-war movie.
That same sense of moral certitude that cannot abide dissent to its dogmatic truths is on display in America today, as it was in Germany in the early 1930s. We are on a familiar slippery slope.
First come the marches and demonstrations. Then the assertion of the right to civil disobedience, to break the law for a higher cause by blocking streets and highways. Then comes the confronting of cops, the smashing of windows, the fistfights, the throwing of stones—as in Portland on May Day.
And, now, the shouting down of campus speakers.
The rage and resentment of the left at its rejection in 2016 are palpable. Sometimes this fever passes peacefully, as in the “Cooling of America” in the 1970s. And sometimes it doesn’t.
But to have crowds of left and right coming out to confront one another violently, in a country whose citizens possess 300 million guns, is probably not a good idea.
Patrick J. Buchanan is a founding editor of The American Conservative and the author of Nixon’s White House Wars: The Battles That Made and Broke a President and Divided America Forever.