Friday, August 31, 2007


[posted by Callimachus]

Brian De Palma, propagandist for jihad.

VENICE (Reuters) - A new film about the real-life rape and killing of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl by U.S. soldiers who also murdered her family stunned the Venice festival, with shocking images that left some viewers in tears.

"Redacted", by U.S. director Brian De Palma, is one of at least eight American films on the war in Iraq due for release in the next few months and the first of two movies on the conflict screening in Venice's main competition.

Inspired by one of the most serious crimes committed by American soldiers in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, it is a harrowing indictment of the conflict and spares the audience no brutality to get its message across.

De Palma, 66, whose "Casualties of War" in 1989 told a similar tale of abuse by American soldiers in Vietnam, makes no secret of the goal he is hoping to achieve with the film's images, all based on real material he found on the Internet.

"The movie is an attempt to bring the reality of what is happening in Iraq to the American people," he told reporters after a press screening.

"The pictures are what will stop the war. One only hopes that these images will get the public incensed enough to motivate their Congressmen to vote against this war," he said.

"Stop the war." Meaning remove the Americans from the immediate experience of the battlefield. Is there a more infantile formation in modern discourse? The firefighter walks away from the burning building to stop the fire. The coach walks out at halftime to stop the game.

It's almost as oxymoronic as "real material ... found on the Internet." As commenter srlucado puts it at Roger L. Simon's site, "If DePalma really wants to stop the war, why not create a film that might help America *win* it?"

Could Frank Capra have made a movie about the rape of civilians by American GIs in occupied Europe and the Pacific after the fall of the Axis? Sure, he could; you could make such a movie for every day of the year for a decade. Why would you? Whose purpose would it have served? What good would it have done?

Capra's propaganda films were meant to rally Americans to uphold the torch of freedom and overcome latent isolationism in the name of civilization. At Roosevelt's urging, they were released in public theaters. Capra's bright idea was to damn the enemy with his own work. Instead of shooting new film, he picked out snippets of existing footage and pasted them together in a way that presented a grotesque vision of the peoples of the Axis nations. De Palma is doing the same thing, in photo-negative.

Capra didn't want to be a propagandist at first. When Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall approached him with the idea, he demurred, saying he'd never made a documentary before. Marshall told him, "Capra, I have never been Chief of Staff before. Thousands of young Americans have never had their legs shot off before. Boys are commanding ships today who a year ago had never seen the ocean before." Capra apologized and signed on to make "the best damned documentary films ever made."

De Palma needs no convincing.

[Venice, by the way, is one of the most America-hostile cities in Europe; due to its status and limited real estate it is largely occupied nowadays by wealthy and privileged citizens from many European nations, especially Germany. When I was there in 2003, a major thoroughfare sported a huge graffiti slogan: "Americans are murderers."]

Confederate Yankee is excoriating:

De Palma and like-minded souls in Venice, Cannes, and Santa Barbara, of course, feel brave for making a film that portrays the young Midwestern privates and southern specialists and street-smart second lieutenants from Jersey on the frontlines as savages, capable and yearning to unleash unbearable cruelty.

As sweat drips in the eyes of soldiers and Marines as they attempt to bring peace to a land that has rarely known it, their enemies will be watching pirated and crudely-dubbed bootlegs of Redacted in training camps in Syria, in mosques in Saudi Arabia, and in homes throughout the Arab world, who already take a suspicious view of the American soldier in Iraq.

We will not see the pictures that would actually win the war, of an Iraqi father wrapping his arms around a suicide bomber to keep him from entering a mosque, or of the Iraqi interpreter who proudly dreams of becoming an American Marine. We won't see Americans saving Iraqi lives, or Iraqis saving American lives, or the brutality of those we fight.

Those, you see, are the pictures that Brian de Palma has redacted.

How ironic is it that the most significant piece of Hollywood propaganda this year will be lauded by the people who would burn Hollywood to ash and sow its soil with salt if they had the chance? CY certainly is right about showings in Syria -- and Tehran. The religious authorities in Iran scrapped the scheduled program at the Farabi Cinema complex in Tehran to put Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" on display. "This film unmasks the Great Satan America," a spokesman said. "It tells Muslim people why they are right in hating America. It is the duty of every believer to see [this film] and learn the truth."

I watched the "no nukes" peace movement of the 1970s and '80s in Europe and America from close range, from the Berrigan brothers' protests at GE in King of Prussia to the crude anti-cruise missile protests in West Berlin.

These were well-meaning, passionate, idealistic people who followed the dictum, "think globally, act locally." Which unfortunately has a dark undercurrent of "think globally, act stupidly." Yes, of course they were as concerned about Soviet nukes as American ones. Or so they said. But the Western ones were closer to home, so they felt more responsible for stopping them, by any means necessary.

Does it surprise anyone today to learn that the Soviets welcomed (and funneled support to) the nuclear freeze movement in the West? They rhetorically co-opted most of the simple-minded pacifist idealists within their own boundaries through strict control of the media, making America appear the imperialist aggressor and the U.S.S.R. the peace-loving reluctant defender of innocents. At the same time, they exploited the open media of the West to plant articles and information undermining the West's opposition to Soviet hegemony.

Does it mean idealism is fatally flawed? Or free societies? Or contrarian media? No, but it means these faults are built into these systems, and people with bad intentions are willing to exploit them when people with good intentions use them stupidly. You ought to have some mental maturity and some global street smarts before you try propaganda at home. De Palma evidently lacks both.

Jeff Goldstein made a rational statement several days ago that will enflame a lot of people:

I’ve been excoriated on a number of occasions by anti-war types for pointing out what, to me, at least, is simply an empirical truism: that oftentimes the rhetorical aims of the anti-war camp reveal themselves in such a way that they overlap, intentionally or not, with the rhetorical strategies used by al Qaeda in its propaganda war against western hawks.

... But the fact remains that there have been overlaps, and that the phenomenon has become so pronounced that it has actually, at times, become a meta-phenomenon — with al Qaeda parroting back new formulations of their own propaganda as it has emerged, independently or not, from the anti-war west (leaving us with the surreal experience of al Qaeda leaders prattling on about “My Pet Goat,” or the failure of President Bush to sign on to Kyoto).

All of which I bring up by way of introduction to a rather long piece on tribal revolt in Iraq — one that I’ll quote from generously before leaving you with the following question to consider: at what point, precisely, does it become appropriate to call professional incompetence on the part of our press something a bit more than damning than mere ideological confirmation bias?

You can resent that, but it seems to me hard to argue that it is the case. Heck, even Michael Moore has bragged about it:

There he was, OBL, all tan and rested and on videotape (hey, did you get the feeling that he had a bootleg of my movie? Are there DVD players in those caves in Afghanistan?)

It doesn't imply motivation on the part of the "anti-war camp," but instead points out an unintended (giving the benefit of the doubt) consequence.

George Orwell pointed out the same thing about British pacifists as World War II loomed. The retort "George W. Bush is no Churchill" misses the point entirely.