Aug 3, 2007

Required Viewing: No End In Sight

We're back to reality, with a major itch for the movies. First thing out of the bat is let's get totally outraged, homicidal and depressed. No, it's not the Transformers we chose for this task (though we know they'd have done the trick). It's a documentary called No End In Sight, written and directed by Charles Ferguson, now showing at Film Forum. This film should be shown on TV every night. I already told my senator Hillary Clinton to watch it. Every Congressman should.
It is a lucid recap of the absolute disaster of the Iraq War that continues raging four years after our unspeakably moronic fratboy of a President declared that the mission was accomplished.
Remember that scene in Clockwork Orange where to deprogram Malcolm McDowell they make him watch hours and hours of horrible scenes of violence to the accompaniment of Beethoven's 9th Symphony? Well, this is what should happen to Bushie, Cheney, Rummy, Wolfie and Condi with this film. None of them would deign be interviewed for the film, but to start with their collective punishment, they should be made to watch this film till the end of eternity. They should watch it in the company, not of Beethoven's music, but of the soldiers and the families of the soldiers who didn't come back or who were maimed and injured because their Humvees were not armored, for instance. A bridge falls in Minnesota and yes it is a terrible tragedy. But I don't hear anyone raising the same kind of outrage for the destruction we've unleashed in the Middle East, and by corollary here at home. We have created millions of savage enemies, who will gloat at the spilling of American blood, if they don't actually take it upon themselves to orchestrate it personally. We have ravaged and destroyed an entire country. To be able to say that Iraq was better off with Saddam, who was as evil as they come, is proof of the debacle we have provoked for no good reason. Words like arrogance, debacle, quagmire, cynicism, corruption, incompetence, disaster, IMPUNITY, don't begin to encompass the enormity of the damage. And yet, those responsible are still in office, our congress is not forceful enough in its condemnation or its actions, and life goes on.
This film will make you physically ill. It will make you gasp in disbelief. And it's not saying anything we don't know already and that hasn't been documented in countless books and journalistic articles. It just makes sense of it. With the benefit of hindsight, it clearly spells out the list of disastrous decisions and lack of preparedness that resulted in the murderous chaos we see today. It starts badly and just keeps piling on the mistakes, the cynicism, the ignorance and the arrogance until you want to cry uncle. It is devastating. What is tragic is that there were scores of intelligent, capable people in the military, and other government agencies who worked and planned and researched and thought, to the best of their ability, a plan to make this folly happen in a less destructive way. They spoke out their concerns. Nobody listened to them.
You see in this film the two fascinating polarities of the American enterprising spirit: the thorough, conscientious people who solve problems with great heart, ingenuity and alacrity, and the spineless, lazy vermin who are just out to profit: ignorant, cynical macho bullies who cannot face or accept criticism, deeply corrupt power freaks on a bender. To this last group belongs the entire Bush administration. To the first group belong heroic individuals in the Army and other organizations. These people have a conscience and a core of human decency. They break your heart in the film. Their righteous indignation is quiet and contained, and they even feel guilty that they didn't do enough. They feel personally responsible. They can face the camera unwaveringly. The fury is contained in their eyes. You know they are telling the truth because their gaze does not shift nor their voice wavers. Why don't we have people like that in office?

I will quote from a fascinating book called Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes, by Irving L. Janis of Yale University. It is chilling in its accuracy to describe how decisions go wrong in groups. He cites as case studies The Bay of Pigs, The Korean War, Pearl Harbor and Vietnam. The book was written in 1982. (Thanks to brainy Bea for the reference):
In a concurrence-seeking group, there is relatively little healthy skepticism of the glib ideological formulas on which rational policy makers... generally rely... One of the symptoms of groupthink is the members' persistence in conveying to each other the cliché and oversimplified images of political enemies embodied in long-standing stereotypes. Overoptimistic expectations about the power of their side and the weakness of the opponents probably enable members of a group to enjoy a sense of low vulnerability to the effects of any decision that entails risky action against an enemy. In order to maintain this complacent outlook, each member must think that everyone else in the group agrees that the risks can be safely ignored.

...The most prominent symptoms were excessive risk-taking based on a shared illusion of invulnerability, stereotypes of the enemy, collective reliance on ideological rationalizations that supported the belligerent escalation to which the group became committed, and mindguarding to exclude the dissident views of experts who questioned the group's unwarranted assumptions.
In the first paragraph he is talking about Bay of Pigs; in the second about the Korean War.

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