The Watch

The Watch is concerned about the increasing pressure towards feudalism in the United States from corporations, social regressives, warmongers, and the media. We also are concerned with future history concerning our current times, as non-truths which are “widely reported” become the basis for completely false narratives.

Monday, February 07, 2005

The Good vs. Evil Movie Mentality

Shoot ‘em up Watch

I love escapist movies. Stories in which valiant, righteous heroes vanquish unambiguously evil foes have been a staple of human storytelling since before stories were written down. What makes escapist fantasies so powerful, seductive, and satisfying is rooting for the good guys as they deal justice and death to irredeemable bad guys who clearly deserve it.

Americans have been served that storyline in movies for decades, to the point where protagonists can be easily identified as the characters that are killing bad guys. It is easy to dismiss critics of violence in Hollywood movies by arguing that watching fictional villains get what they have coming to them is therapeutic for the frustrations of everyday living, and that people can separate fiction from reality. However, recent events suggest that our exposure to these storylines has more pernicious effects.

Very few people respond to problems in their personal lives with murderous violence. There are numerous clever and effective ways of dealing with troublesome bosses, intimidating rivals, even people who stalk or threaten us, that do not involve taking up weapons against them. We would never advise a friend who was having a property dispute with his neighbor to murder him. The ridiculousness of that idea is evidence that we can still separate the black and white world of the movies from the grayscale reality of living peaceably in a complex society. Yet, on a national and international level, we have fallen into a bad movie storyline, told to us by our leaders.

The Bush administration, having failed to protect our country from a deadly, criminal attack despite months of forewarning, immediately began casting itself in the role of movie hero. America, they said, would respond to this attack by killing Bad Guys: shadowy, nefarious, shifty, Bad Guys. In the language of the movies, killing Bad Guys makes us the Good Guys. Because we are the Good Guys, we never have to question our actions, motives, or strategies. We can kill innocent people, even children. We can torture prisoners. We can preemptively invade countries that have no connection to the attack. We can establish a system of international gulags that completely abolish our previously cherished notions of due process and the humane treatment of prisoners. We can threaten, bully, bribe, and cajole the rest of the world to go along our program of aggressive violence. Good Guys would never do anything wrong. To suggest otherwise implies that one is paying insufficient attention to the script. In our movie, anyone who we do not like is one of the Bad Guys, and they deserve what they get.

Facing a real physical threat, but not an existential threat, to our country, the Bush administration turned away from numerous intelligent, real world solutions. They could have craftily starved the terrorists of funding, shored up international police cooperation, strengthened ties to moderate Islam, and frustrated, marginalized, and outwitted Bin Laden’s organization at every turn. Not having the wit or wisdom to execute an actual effective strategy, the Bush administration chose the worst possible alternative, pandering to our primitive bloodlust, and painting us into this fantasy version of St. George and the Dragon. As we squander billions of dollars that could be used to improve our domestic situation, as thousands of American servicepeople are killed and maimed in mind and body, as our inhumane actions provide an endless list of recruiting points for our radical enemies, and as the bodies of thousands and thousands of our demonstrably innocent victims pile up, it is clear that our steady diet of “good guys are people who kill bad guys” movies has left us unprotected against politicians who sell us that storyline.

Enlightened philosophies and religions like Christianity advance the idea that people should not be engaged in the business of killing others, because we are too flawed and foolish to be able to determine who the “bad guys” are accurately. If we cast ourselves in the role of protagonists who kill bad people, we risk becoming the bad guys who kill innocent people ourselves. Our country has willfully and directly fallen into that very trap, in just a few short years. Maybe it is time for us all to lay off the simplistic, violent, escapist fantasy movies for a while. It is clear that they leave us poorly equipped for dealing intelligently with life in the real world.

Iran Watch

As if one or two horrible, amoral conflicts aren’t bad enough, we now are getting quite clear signals from our government that they would like to start a third. It is with fascinating horror that we watch our leaders' plans unfold right before our eyes, and nothing seems capable of stopping them. We learned a few weeks ago that Cheney is now making noise in public about nuclear weapons in Iran. Will the American people follow them down THIS rabbit hole? A quote from this article is quite chilling:

"You look around the world at potential trouble spots, (and) Iran is right at the top of the list," the vice president intoned, noting that Washington's chief concern with Tehran had less to do with democracy or even terrorism but rather with its "fairly robust new nuclear program."

And while Cheney stressed that Washington still hoped Europe's efforts to persuade Tehran to abandon any ambitions to obtain a nuclear weapon would succeed, he grimly observed that Israel might well decide to attack Iran's nuclear facilities, presumably before the Bush administration, "and let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterwards."

"We don't want a war in the Middle East, if we can avoid it," he concluded as cheerfully as he could – at least until he was caught up short by the cowboy-hatted Imus, who reminded him that the U.S. already has a war there.

To former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, Cheney's remarks sounded "like a justification or even an encouragement for the Israelis" to carry out an attack.

I don’t even know what to think of this. Is this group evil enough to do this? Yes, I think we know that they are. Are they stupid enough to start something with Iran? That really is the only question remaining.

Today’s LiberalOasis reviews Rumsfeld’s appearance on a Sunday talk show, which implies that the neocons in the administration think that all it would take would be one big airstrike on Iran to “topple the regime” there.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But do you believe that a limited strike could cause a regime to topple?

RUMSFELD: Who knows?...

...I’ve been amazed in many times in my life. I was amazed at how rapidly the Shah of Iran fell, and the Ayatollahs took over that country. It happened, just seemingly, like that...

...And you look at Romania, when that fell, it was fast.

Read the rest of the article on why this tip o’ the Rumscap to Romania is so chilling. That issue of LiberalOasis also points us to the website No War on Iran, another of these international photo meeting places. See this picture for an example of the messages people are already sending about this madness.

The last time I checked, attacking a foreign country was declaring war on it. Are we going to have a vote in Congress on starting a war with Iran? (Sociological note: Iranians are not ethnic Arabs, which I didn’t know. They are Persians, and Bush’s unspoken “war against A-rabs” will widen considerably if we attack them).

The whole idea is so tiring and ludicrous that it doesn’t even seem worth detailing the objections to it. I don’t even feel like I have the energy. Others will try, of course. Here is David Kay, our intrepid WMD hunter from Iraq, trying to reason with our increasingly insane leaders in the Washington Post:

There is an eerie similarity to the events preceding the Iraq war. The International Atomic Energy Agency has announced that while Iran now admits having concealed for 18 years nuclear activities that should have been reported to the IAEA, it is has found no evidence of a nuclear weapons program. Iran says it is now cooperating fully with international inspections, and it denies having anything but a peaceful nuclear energy program.

Vice President Cheney is giving interviews and speeches that paint a stark picture of a soon-to-be-nuclear-armed Iran and declaring that this is something the Bush administration will not tolerate. Iranian exiles are providing the press and governments with a steady stream of new "evidence" concerning Iran's nuclear weapons activities. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has warned that Iran will not be allowed to use the cover of civilian nuclear power to acquire nuclear weapons, but says an attack on Iran is "not on the agenda at this point." U.S. allies, while saying they share the concern over Iran's nuclear ambitions, remain determined to pursue diplomacy and say they cannot conceive of any circumstance that would lead them to use military force. And the press is beginning to uncover U.S. moves that seem designed to lay the basis for military action against Iran.

Now is the time to pause and recall what went wrong with the assessment of Iraq's WMD program and try to avoid repeating those mistakes in Iran. Five steps are essential.

Whatever, David Kay. Save your breath until we can round you up with the other long-haired peaceniks.


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