Monday, December 11, 2006
Our Heroes, Ourselves - Reality and PR
Selling of Wars and Creation of Myths * End of an Evil Man
Soldiers in battle risk their lives and perform acts of bravery. That is fact. On the flip side there are the exploiters who take part in exaggerating or creating myths about actions that didn't take place or, if they did, they were not what was made out to be. Recently, we had accounts in the media about Jessica Lynch's capture and rescue hyped up beyond any semblance of reality. Then there was the tragic case of Pat Tillman who was mistakenly shot by American soldiers in a so called friendly fire incident. Until the details trickled out, he was reported to have died bravely fighting enemy attackers in Afghanistan.
Neal Ascherson in The Guardian, UK
Flags of our Fathers, the new film directed by Clint Eastwood and produced by Steven Spielberg, is about how a human deed can become an artefact, shrinking its actors into irrelevance. Over the next 20 years, the flag raising on Iwo Jima morphed into a stream of representations, each vaster and more alienating than the last.
The first repeat happened on the same day. Some officer down below wanted the flag for himself, so a new, bigger one was sent up. Six other Marines wrestled it into position, and as they did so, AP photographer Joe Rosenthal snapped them in a photograph that - marvellously composed by pure luck - went round the world and became, for Americans, the iconic picture of the Second World War.
Three of Rosenthal's flag raisers were killed in the next few days. The other three were brought home, to be used as hero figures leading a gigantic, States-wide campaign for war bonds. Soon they were putting on their helmets and carbines to scale papier-mache models of Mount Suribachi, planting Old Glory on the summit for the enjoyment of 50,000 ecstatic patriots.
By now the photograph had been on every front page. It hung on the office walls of senators and in the living rooms of millions of Americans. It generated paintings, models, postage stamps. It was no longer about six men but about collective heroism, patriotism, the cult of sacrifice. Details of the original moment began to peel away. It was written that the Marines had climbed the mountain under fire, fighting every inch of the way. One of the dead Marines was confused with another, who had not been at the flag raising, and when the three survivors protested, they were told to shut up. (The photograph shows only their backs, not their faces.) The image began to matter more than the individuals. An epic war movie, Sands of Iwo Jima, was made with John Wayne in 1949. Finally, in 1954, a colossal statuary group - 100 tons of bronze, each figure 30 feet high - was raised in Washington as the memorial of the United States Marine Corps. The three survivors were invited to the unveiling but the names of the flag raisers are not on the plinth. This was a monument to the power and triumph of a nation, not to them.
Flags of our Fathers belongs to the tradition of great American war movies. But in striking ways it turns away from that tradition and marks its limits. Clint Eastwood has used all the technical genius of Spielberg, his producer. And yet, as an old man, he looks down on war with a sovereign anger and pity. That feeling has always been lurking. 'I guess we all died a little in that damned war,' he says in The Outlaw Josie Wales. He sees that the genre of Vietnam movies - all concerned with what happens to Americans, but not to their adversaries - has run out of time. And so, astonishingly, his companion film - Letters from Iwo Jima - is about the Japanese experience in that fight, which cost nearly 7,000 American lives but killed almost all the 22,000 Japanese defenders. The film, which opens on 20 December in America, has already been named Best Picture of 2006 by the critics at the National Board of Review. (It will be released in the UK on 23 February.) Another departure is Eastwood's rebellion against the notion of heroes. In a time when any soldier in action is termed a 'hero' this was a sturdy line to take.
Yes, there are heroes. Then there are callous, boorish soldiers. A felllow blogger (www.minor-ripper.blogspot.com) referred me to an item on YouTube. The video clip made me think of apes, not soldiers.
Augusto Pinochet (1915-2006)
US war versus terrorism, how many?
Consider facts within context, please.