We watched Zero Dark Thirty the other evening, and it struck me that as a big screen country we've reached the cinematic region located roughly halfway between The Green Berets and Platoon in terms of how America copes on film with disastrous, ethics-destroying wars of adventure.
Of course, Zero Dark Thirty isn't about Iraq. It's barely about Afghanistan. But it's most certainly about an era in U.S. military and geopolitical history, an era of crazed intervention and reactionary excuses from both major political parties, an era whose closing credits we're just beginning to glimpse. Perhaps the flick is best understood as The Deer Hunter of the post 9/11 war era - gritty and judgemental of extended American arms in the showing, not the telling, defined at least in part by the gimmick of Russian roulette just as Zero Dark Thirty has concentrated discussion around CIA dark sites and torture.
Frankly, I found Zero Dark Thirty brilliant and honest - not jingoistic at all. From the ghostly voices in lower Manhattan, recorded and doomed to die on that horrible day to the zipping of bin Laden into a U.S. Navy body bag, the film never really cheers, and Kathryn Bigelow doesn't so much create a gleaming American hero from the obsessive Jessica Chastain character as she molds a lasting anti-hero.
I'm embarassed for hit-and-run progressives who believe the film somehow "justifies" water boarding and "enhanced interrogation." It does not. It presents them as facts. As Lance Mannion correctly argued, those lefty critics were all "too distracted listening for speeches that were never delivered." The movie is also long and uncomfortable, like this long dark epoch itself. And the torture is as troubling as the bin Laden killing is matter of fact and mundane.
Indeed, Zero Dark Thirty is an antidote to the entertaining but anodyne Argo, which won Best Picture and is something of a paean to the days when we could all root for the hard-working men and women of the underdog CIA, represented by the handsome, bearded humanist Ben Affleck. In other words, the days of the late 70s - the Deer Hunter era itself, when the U.S. was the weakened world power limping home from Vietnam, and the echoes of the Church hearings still rang in our collective ears like the last chord of a Ramones set.
I was thinking about all of this when Blue Girl's instinctively bilious reaction to Andrew Sullivan's Iraq mea culpa crossed my feed reader.
How is he (and others) trying to wash off that blood? By writing blog posts? How courageous of them. How meaningful for that little dead boy in the photo he included in his post.
Rumsfeld and Cheney were great at projecting confidence, competence and management skills. And we were all still traumatized by 9/11 and grappling with how to respond to it. But we know now they were as terrified as we were, and their fear drove them to abandon restraint or skepticism or competent military and intelligence advice.
This feels like an academic debate. But it isn’t. I have blood on my hands. However many times I try to wash them, the blood will not come off.
BG is right, of course. The tenth anniversary of the war brought out the worst in those who'd supported it, and now regret their public words. Sullivan's was the just the most egregious example: as if his personal wrangling matters at all. Sully's post-Iraq angst has all the relative value of the post-sleep crud you flick from your eyes in the morning shower. As Blue Girl stingingly wrote:
You are embarrassing yourself. I am embarrassed for you. Please stop. Stick to writing about product placement in digital media. As far as I know, no one's kids are going to die hawking Coca Cola.
As James Wolcott coldly noted this week, those whooping "war whore" voices of 2003 have quieted, even if some emerged from intellectual hidey holes to squeak, "sorry!"
How the chickenhawks loved to castigate their opponents as chicken-hearted. I'll never forget the sick feeling I had watching the live coverage of the first US "shock and awe" bombing runs on Baghdad, with so much of the media in vainglorious hoopla mode, as if it were Super Bowl halftime entertainment.
It was quite the week for liberals who went along with the obvious lies and frabrications and bullying on Iraq in 2003 to pen boring and overly familiar apologia for - you know - assisting in the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people and ruining the national reputation internationally for a generation. Charles Pierce was particularly tough on Ezra Klein (who, it must be noted, was in college at the time), but his critique can stand in for the whole sordid genre:
The members of the liberal political elite in this country were piss-down-their-legs scared of two things in 2002. First, that the next attack would land on their heads, since most of them live and work in or near what were presumed to be the primary target zones, both of which actually had been already. And second, that they would get called fifth-columnists (or worse) by the triumphalism of the incipient American imperial adventure in southwest Asia. Nobody wants to be George McGovern, after all.