Thursday, January 06, 2011

People in glass empires shouldn't fly drones

The cold-blooded killing of Pakistani civilians in a push-button, PlayStation-style drone war is not just immoral and perhaps illegal, it is futile and self-defeating from a security point of view. Take Faisal Shahzad, the so-called Times Square bomber. One of the first things the Pakistani-born US citizen said upon his arrest was: "How would you feel if people attacked the United States? You are attacking a sovereign Pakistan." Asked by the judge at his trial as to how he could justify planting a bomb near innocent women and children, Shahzad responded by saying that US drone strikes "don't see children, they don't see anybody. They kill women, children, they kill everybody." [X]

(Sadly I cannot take credit for the title of this post; I snatched it from the comments section of an article on Bradley Manning.)

I had planned on posting part 2 of my WikiLeaks post yesterday but I got caught up in a whirlwind of related articles and videos. After many hours of reading nearly every link I came across, I ended up with little but a giant mess of quotes. I'm burnt out at the moment, but I'll polish it up soon. In the meantime, here are a few interesting numbers to interpret however you see fit.

* * *

By looking up "list of terrorist incidents" in Wikipedia (selecting each year individually) I was able to count up the number of attacks on America during the period 01/01/93 - 12/31/10. Atop the article for each specific year Wikipedia notes the incompleteness of the corresponding list, so take the numbers I've compiled below with however many grains of salt you wish, though keep in mind that nearly every attack on U.S. soil is likely accounted for (save for possibly the tail end of 2010). Included are thwarted attempts - such as the shoe bomber - as well as the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi.

(See the comments section for a few more details.)

* * *

Terrorist attacks in/on the United States before (and including) 9/11 (9 year span):

By Islamic fundamentalists: 10
By Americans: 8
Total: 18

Terrorist attacks in/on the United States after 9/11 (9 year span):

By Islamic fundamentalists: 11
By Americans: 10
Total: 21


Hectocotylus said...

A note on the categorization: "Islamic fundamentalists" doesn't mean that the attacker was not also an American citizen (a few were); it's a title meant to denote a group of people with shared motives who are specifically the kind of individuals most Americans are referring to when they say "terrorist."

Regarding the few unsolved cases:

I attributed the anthrax envelope attacks to Islamic fundamentalists.

I attributed the 2008 New York bomb explosion outside an empty military recruiting station in Times Square to Islamic fundamentalists.

I attributed the San Diego pipe bomb explosion inside a Federal Express facility to Americans mostly for balance, but also due to the target and choice of explosive (pipe bomb).

I attributed the small explosion in front of a Starbucks in New York City in 2009 to Americans due to the target.

Attributed to Islamic fundamentalists: 2007: "A pair of improvised explosive devices are thrown at the Mexican Consulate in New York City. The fake grenades were filled with black powder and detonated by fuses, causing very minor damage."

Pretty much everything else was easy to categorize without any problem.

Hectocotylus said...

Also, Ted Kaczynski, who bombed in 1993, '94, and '95, is counted once. Likewise the multiple attacks of the DC snipers.

Columbine and various school shootings were not counted at all since they fall under a different category ("massacre", I think). However, an Iranian who drives his SUV into a crowd at UNC-Chapel Hill and kills no one, does.

Andrew said...

Concerning the drones: the cinematic image that is immediately recalled in my mind by the drone reports is the future war sequences from Terminator 2. It's interesting (read horrifying) how the masturbatory modern updates of the American struggle for freedom are beginning to be mirrored in American occupations throughout the world.

I wonder if Jonathan Rosebaum is right: that the sci-fi war blockbusters (since the late seventies) have indirectly trained the American mind to process these reports as cold matters of aesthetic.

circumboreal said...

And while we are at it, let's just start using them domestically..

Hectocotylus said...

circumboreal: look on the bright side -- at least those drones aren't equipt with weapons! (yet)

Andrew: I tend to agree with Rosenbaum's general take on war and science fiction films. It's interesting, and I think he noted this himself somewhere in one of his reviews, that Reagan's defense missile project came to be better known as "Star Wars."

After writing out a lengthier response I remembered that Quentin Tarantino already accidentally commented on all of this much better than I ever could. (Hopefully you've not already seen it.)

ROLLING STONE: Has 9/11 or the war on terror had any impact on you personally or creatively?

QUENTIN TARANTINO: 9/11 didn't affect me, because there's, like, a Hong Kong movie that came out called Purple Storm and it's fantastic, a great action movie. And they work in a whole big thing in the plot that they blow up a giant skyscraper. It was done before 9/11, but the shot almost is a semiduplicate shot of 9/11. I actually enjoyed inviting people over to watch the movie and not telling them about it. I shocked the shit out of them... I was almost thrilled by that naughty aspect of it. It made it all the more exciting.

ROLLING STONE: But on some level you must have been caught up in the reality of 9/11.

QT: I was scared, like everybody else. 'OK, what is this new world we're going to be living in? Is it going to be fucking Belfast here?' And I didn't want to fucking fly nowhere. I remember thinking at the time - this was when they were shooting the Matrix sequels in Australia - 'What if everything, all this shit, breaks out, man?' And all that's left in Hollywood are the Matrix people? That would be a fuckin' drag' (Laughs).

* * *

Andy Warhol: "Before I was shot, I always thought that I was more half-there than all-there -- I always suspected that I was watching TV instead of living life. People sometimes say that the way things happen in the movies is unreal, but actually it's the way things happen to you in life that's unreal. The movies make emotions look so strong and real, whereas when things really do happen to you, it's like watching television -- you don't feel anything. Right when I was being shot and ever since, I knew that I was watching television. The channels switch, but it's all television."

Andrew said...

Your correct, that Rosenbaum article is on the theatrical re-release of Star Wars. His piece on Saving Pvt Ryan and Small Soldiers is equally appropriate.

I had not seen that Tarantino interview. Its curious because I passionately believe his Inglorious Basterds to be one of the most underhanded condemnation of American foreign policy and revisionist history.

Hectocotylus said...

After going back to read your BASTERDS review a few days ago I caught up on a few other posts I hadn't read... I'm curious, how were you able to see Saura's Peppermint Frappé?

I was reluctant to respond to your comment because I convinced myself you would find my remarks to be unsatisfying at best, frustrating and annoying at worst. (That's how I would probably feel about a similar response to a film I liked. It annoys me, for instance, when people spend most of their time discussing a film's director instead of the film.) But here it is.

(It's in two parts due to length.)

re: "one of the most underhanded condemnation of American foreign policy and revisionist history"

I disagree, though you do make a good case for that in your Inglourious Basterds write up. I have little to counter with except for my view that Tarantino -- in his past films, in his interviews etc.-- makes a much stronger case against giving the film anywhere near that much credit. He's simply not smart or savvy enough (or sufficiently interested in history or politics) to have set out for that kind of criticism. In general I think many people (this excludes you; I know from your writing that you aren't one to fall into this trap) take Tarantino far too seriously solely due to the fact that his films are more formally interesting (and entertaining) than typical Hollywood fare.

No mature person could possibly respond to a question about 9/11 the way Tarantino does in the Rolling Stone interview. He treats the event exactly like a piece of cinema, and in that regard he wasn't all that impressed with the spectacle since someone else "did it first" (and "better"). This is the type of thing that leads me to conclude that nearly everything that might be interesting in BASTERDS (regarding history or politics) must be accidental (I don't know if his intent matters to you in the least). Take the sniper shot during Nation's Pride, for example (one of your most insightful observations). It seems much more likely that Tarantino intended it simply as an homage to SAVING PRIVATE RYAN without realizing or thinking about any of the implications it might have if the sniper was German instead of American... Or he simply plucked it from his memory with (or without) realizing it. In either case, he's not criticizing or mocking SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, its maker, its mythology, or its audience. He's a big fan of that film.

“I liked Saving Private Ryan a lot, in particular the Omaha Beach scene. I think the whole movie holds up, but that sequence is amazing. Apart from the fact that you get a real sense of what it was like, you’re constantly thinking to yourself, Could anything be worth this? Ultimately, I guess the answer is yes. But when you’re watching it, it seems unfathomable.” (Quentin Tarantino talking about his favorite war films.)

Again he blurs the line between a film and reality, though, in this case, in a much more common way. Anyway, if it is true that Tarantino recognizes that SAVING PRIVATE RYAN is similar in many ways to the propaganda films of the Third Reich, then why is he such a fan of the film?

Hectocotylus said...

Any film that rewrites history will automatically leave itself ripe for countless interpretations, and in the case of Inglourious Basterds my own interpretation is very simple: the reason the film is framed around movies instead of history is because movies (and their history) are all Tarantino knows. He's not trying to do anything subversive or critical.

Tarantino, for the most part, makes revenge films, so it seems prudent to view BASTERDS as another installment in that tradition. This time around he simply wanted to make a revenge film that could be enjoyed without guilt, hence making Nazi's face the majority of the violence. It isn't the Nazi's who torture the Jews (not "entertainment)", but the Jews who torture the Nazis ("entertainment"). (This particular inversion of history can just as easily come across as being perverse.) The close up of Hitler's face being blown to bits -- or the scene with the Nazi and the baseball bat -- are nothing more than pure revenge porn, equivalent to the mother in LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (another favorite of his) biting the rapist's penis off during fellatio. They all had it coming to them cause, ya know, they were evil. Tarantino is just another director who views violence as great entertainment.

Here is a quote that shows how much Tarantino's favorite exploitation films have come to define his way of seeing the world, as well as his moral code. It's from a 1996 interview with J. Hoberman.

"If I had a gun and a 12-year-old kid broke into this house, I would kill him. You have no right to come into my house... I would empty the gun until you were dead."

In terms of where BASTERDS is coming from, that tells me everything I need to know.

Hectocotylus said...

"This time around he simply wanted to make a revenge film that could be enjoyed without guilt"

This isn't exactly right. He doesn't feel guilty about violence in cinema, nor does he think people should. By picking the subject of Jews vs. Nazi's there was already a revenge story built into it, one with immediate catharsis for his audience.

INTERVIEWER: On behalf of Jewish people, I want to thank you for dispatching Hitler before his time in Inglourious Basterds.

QT: You're welcome.

INTERVIEWER: Before I saw it, I thought, Uh-oh. What's he going to do to the Jews? I don't know if you were aware of it, but you touched on an incredibly sensitive issue for Jews, which is the fantasy of the tough Jew, when, in fact, there was little Jewish resistance to the Holocaust.

QT: Over the years, when I was coming up with the idea of the American Jews taking vengeance, I would mention it to male Jewish friends of mine, and they were like, "That's the movie I want to see. Fuck that other story, I wanna see this story." Even I get revved up, and I'm not Jewish. When I bought the title of Enzo Castellari's Inglorious Bastards, which has a good story line, I thought I might take something from his story line, but it just never worked out.

Andrew said...

I came by Peppermint Frappé through a bootleg of an out of print British PAL DVD that a friend gave me.

I have to say that I'm quite taken and impressed by your criticism of my criticism. You've illuminated several things that I did not take into consideration.

If I could defend my original piece for a moment: I had no interest in seeing Basterds as I dislike Tarantino as a peddler of revenge porn. That piece was written out of shock that I felt some substance was present that I was not anticipating. I found myself reading reviews that passed it off as insensitive to the plight of the holocaust- mainly that the subject ought to be revered a la Primo Levi or Schindler's List. That is the environment I was responding to.

To my own detriment, I have never paid much attention to Tarantino the person. Perhaps I held out for a naive belief that he was a sabatour working within the confines of a studio system. But faced with the quotes you've presented my mind recalls maverick filmmakers who tirelessly spoke out agaisnt the injustices they saought to depict in their work. I am thinking of Nicholas Ray, Samuel Fuller, even Orson Welles- all to the detriment of their careers and credibility. I feel foolish to have drawn the comparison to Tarantino.

Ultimately this brings up an issue in film that I am constantly at loggerheads with: do images overpower meaning? I feel your case against Basterds mirrors similar cases against Full Metal Jacket and Gangs of New York, two films criticized for getting so lost in objectivity that they come full circle and advertise seductive genocide and masculine violence.

Tyler said...

PULP FICTION came out when I was in middle school. I hadn't seen anything like it. Instant favorite. Tracked down RESERVOIR DOGS, enjoyed it a great deal, declared Tarantino my first ever "favorite director." I even read a biography about him that my sister's boyfriend got me for Christmas in '95 or '96 (Quentin Tarantino: The Man and His Movies). I remember reading the Hoberman interview at some point -- or an excerpt from it somewhere -- and thinking to myself: "What an asshole!" Anyway... Long story short, I know a great deal more about Tarantino than I probably should. I no longer regard him very highly, but I do have a nostalgic connection to his first two features.

Regarding images overpowering meaning, I'm not exactly sure what you mean. Are you saying that Kubrick meant to make an anti-war film but his images betrayed him, and Tarantino tried to make an entertaining genre film and was betrayed by his images because the film turned out to be something more?

Andrew said...

By 'images overpowering meaning' I am referring to a dilemma I have regarding the power, intention, or ability of film as a medium to truly challenge its audience. These thoughts stemmed from me feeling guilty that I was so caught up in my own little world of cinema that I became ignorant to what other (non-cinema types?) found in the same movies as I saw.

Full Metal Jacket is a prime example. By creating such narrative distance from the filmmaker Kubrick essentially depicts dystopian societies without any mention of that being the setting. His characters aren't 'oppressed' in the typical sense because their world is all they know. I liken it to a human ant farm.

I've always found the film to be deeply disturbing in its account of social conditioning, and like the most horrifying of Kafka stories, any hope lies in experiencing the work, not in the work itself.

But I've come across way too many critics who view the film as simply brutal, cynical, and fatalistic: an apathetic celebration of the meaninglessness of everything. Which my criticism of the Coen brothers films.

I've encountered more people who admit they enjoy such a film. They find it hilarious and the carnage gets folded into their conception of pleasure-dome-esq violent entertainment. The killing, the misogyny does not register as critique, rather as reaffirmation of previously held positions.

I have to ask myself is it I who "does not get it"? Am I providing my own meaning to justify enjoying the same things as the others? I am afraid of erecting some intellectual hierarchy where I as an intellectual get it, and everyone else is left to their own devises. This feeling also makes me wonder if perhaps art is allowed to work this way (were everyone can supply their own meaning) in order to provide something for everybody.

In regards to Basterds, I wonder if I was duped into celebration a formal achievement, meanwhile it simply advertises violence and destruction as a way of life.