Friday, November 04, 2005


I just won a bet with a friend over what David Denby's review of Jarhead would look like. I suspected Denby wouldn't like it much because it isn't antimilitary or anti-Bush. Here's his thoroughly predictable conclusion:
“Jarhead” has an oddly amorphous and inconclusive feeling to it. We never do find out who Tony is, and his best friend, Troy (Peter Sarsgaard), who shifts back and forth between sanity and hysteria, is a mystery, too. The old war-story narrative may have run aground in the Gulf War, but since questions of courage and character are left up in the air, you wonder why the material wasn’t played differently—with a greater sense of irony, say, or as absurdist comedy, in something like the style of David O. Russell’s Gulf War movie, “Three Kings.” What’s left instead of laughter is a rather sour implication. Underneath all the roughhousing, there’s a persistent sexual menace—towel-snapping in the shower and mock rapes and insults that depend on feminizing the victim of the joke. Broyles and Mendes are saying, I think, that men who are this casually abusive of one another’s bodies could slip, without much provocation, into sexually humiliating detained prisoners. “Jarhead” is an inglorious portrait of military life which points to the next Gulf War and the degrading japes of Abu Ghraib and other prisons.

If you see Jarhead this weekend, you'll understand how silly this is.


kwAwk said...

I haven't yet seen the movie Jarhed yet, but having read the book, I would say that the book did portray the first gulf war with a sense irony. The main character spends five months in the desert terrified of the war to come, only to have it be over in a matter of days, with little resistance.

As for the sexual aspects of the book, I found the same type of things to be true in my experience in the Marines. You are conditioned to be bad ass tough guys, with the most humiliating and insulting things is being called faggot and bitch.
I don't think this is what results in the abuse in Abu Ghraib but it plays a part.

Abu Ghraib more stems from the constant dehumanizing of the enemy without real purpose. When we were fighting this war as a war to save America against WMDs it had a distinct noble purpose. Once that was lost it left us scrabling with a way to justify this war in our minds, to make our service in Iraq make sense. It does have to be something more noble than just killng camel jockeys and sand niggers (two terms you will hear in the military when the officers are not around).

The justification I came up with in my mind is that even though I didn't agree with the Iraq war to start with, was now that we are there it is best to comlete the mission and do right by the Iraqi people. It is hard to keep that mental track sometimes when your friends are being maimed and killed by those same Iraqis you have committed yourself to protect. It is also undermined by a culture that says while we are there to protect these people we put our own lives and safety first. The logic being that it is better for 10 iraqi civilians to die than for one Marine to die. It doesn't make you feel so noble. After all Marines are supposed to risk their lives to save others, not the other way around.

Another important factor that adds to the Abu Ghraib problem is the constant rationalization from the Right wing in this country about the war. It would have been much better to admit the mistakes made immediately and apologize than to constantly twist yourself into a logical pretzel about this war. 95% of the people in the world understand that there is no Iraq/Al Qaida link and that Iraq had no chemical weapons program. So when our leaders come on TV and say that this war was still justified, I think the rest of the world sees this as us saying that it is better to kill tens of thousands of Iraqis than to take the remotest chance of any Americans getting killed. Again this leaves us looking less than noble.

Even Abu Ghraib had is rationalizers. Rush Limbaugh upon looking at the pictures said, hey I don't see anything here that doesn't go on at frat parties or on cheerleading squads. Am I to take from this that Rush wouldn't have a problem if I were to go my local high school with my M-16 gather all the cheerleaders in a room, strip them naked and have them do a human pyramid? Somehow I bet there would be a public outcry about that.

Then there was the dehumanization of the detainees. They don't have to be charged as criminals, but yet they don't get the basic rights of POWs. Well then what are they? The declaration of Independance has this to say: "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with these inalienable rights: life, liberty and the persuity of happiness". Notice in there that it doesn't say only American men.

I guess we have inalienable rights only when we don't cross the Bush administration or America.

What this boils down to is that we will turn the corner on the war on terror when we get back to following our own beliefs. When America truely believes in the values of the DOI and Constitution and Geneva Convention, then we will be forced to deal with the problems that actually create terrorists rather than just reacting to them and morphing into them.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your service to your country.

Anonymous said...

kwawk says,"then we will be forced to deal with the problems that actually create terrorists.." The main "problem" in the world creating terrorism is Islam.

Anonymous said...

Abu Ghraib more stems from the constant dehumanizing of the enemy without real purpose.

Please. It stemmed from two factors: lax oversight (which one can rightly be critical of the Pentagon/Army for) and a handful of irresponsible soldiers. The main guy (whose name I've forgotten) abused prisoners in the States when he worked as a prison guard. You cannot extrapolate from the actions of a handful of people to the entire Armed Forces, or the Administration, or the American people.

When you talk about Limbaugh's comments, you have to put them in the context of the hysteria that was provoked by the pictures. He was countering the claim that the prisoners were being "tortured". If you're going to take him hyper-literally, you need to take the media squawking hyper-literally, too. In which case the media was completely bonkers and Rush was a little bit over-the-top. (Rush Limbaugh, over-the-top? Really? Who could imagine such a thing?)

Mike S.

Anonymous said...

You dehumanize your enemy to make it easier to kill your enemy. In all wars there has been a dehumanization of the enemy (both sides do it). In certain situation, dehumanizing your enemy is easy, the Nazis really were a nasty lot of people. Islamic militants/terrorists are another nasty lot of people so it is easy to dehumanize them.

Anonymous said...

I never got the sense Last looked favorably on the Abu Graib torture - the opposite actually. Also true that what fuels terrorism is Islam perverted, not America or Britain or Indonesia or Israel or Morocco. But anyway, I agree on the Denby point and I really enjoyed your own review of Jarhead on Your reviews are always so much better than that dude in the Washington Post.

Anonymous said...


first, as stated above, thank you for your service.

but this makes no sense:

"What this boils down to is that we will turn the corner on the war on terror when we get back to following our own beliefs. When America truely believes in the values of the DOI and Constitution and Geneva Convention, then we will be forced to deal with the problems that actually create terrorists rather than just reacting to them and morphing into them."

Can it realy be seriously argued that the motivation for Islamofacism is that America is not following our own beliefs? That we need to be a better example, and all will right itself, terrorism will lose it's purpose? The saying that comes to mind is "you're not even wrong".

Anonymous said...

re the movie...I thought of seeing it, but when I saw and heard the trailer on TV - with the [c]rap "music" - I thought, "nope".

Bizarro Jack said...

Saying rap is crap is so 1986. Broaden your horizons.

kwAwk said...

Islam is no more perveted than Christianity or Judaiism. People have always and will always use religion to justify acts of great cruelty and inhumanity.

It really boils down to what the war on terrorism is all about. Why does Osama Bin Laden hate us? It has been portrayed that Osama Bin Laden hates our way of life and thus he wants to defeat us, take us over and impose an Islamic state here. At best that is a secondary objective of Bin Ladin's, I would even go so far as to say that it really isn't even on his radar screen.

What Bin Laden really wants is to take over Saudi Arabia, his home, and establish his islamic state there. We are just in the way of that because we have such a close relationship with the Saudi Royal Family.

What the war on terror really boils down to is war for the hearts and minds of the average muslim. When the average muslim decideds that then don't want what Bin Laden is selling, that is when he is finished. What we are trying to sell on our side are the notions of liberty and freedom. If we don't present ourselves as really being serious about our values of liberty, then we won't convince anybody that we are the better option.

I understand that dehumanizing the enemy has always been used as a tactic to make it easier for men to go into battle, but our values and honor have evolved to state that once the battle is over, it is over. We don't torture people for information and we don't continue to beat people for punishment. This is what sets us apart from tyrants and evil empires. Our President however seems to have other ideas. He is continuing to push to make it legal for the type of abuse that took place at Abu Graib legal.

That is why I have a very hard time believing that the actions of those Guardsman at Abu Graib were the actions of a group of poorly supervised troops. We know that CIA was in that cell block. All of those charged at Abu Graib said that they doing what they were told to do. Think about it, if the CIA was at Abu Graib, and it has become obvious that the President wishes to make the type of behavior displayed at Abu Graib legal for the CIA, it is a much greater stretch of the imagination to think that the CIA wasn't involved in what happened there than to think they were.

It gets back to the idea of liberty. Do we realy believe that all men are entititled to liberty? Do people have the right not to be tortured? Do people accused of crimes have the right to defend themselves and hear the evidence against them? Or do we only reserve those rights for ourselves?

Our almost blanket support for Israel says to Muslims that we do have separate standards for jews than we have for palitinians. Israel is allowed by our actions to keep the palistians as second class citizens in their own land. They have no real rights to citizenship, they can not vote and they can not serve in the government. This is wrong. When we move to solve this issue, either with a Palitinian free state or by getting Israel to extend the rights of citizenship to Palistinians, then we will take away one of the excuses for people to hate us and one rationales for terrorism.

I know that the first thing that someone will come back with about that last paragraph is that the arabs want Israel wiped off the map. I understand that to be true, but if you eliminate the Palistinian issue you lose the main focal point of the anger. I lived in Iraq for seven months, and I can tell you that most Iraqis want the same things we do. Prosperity and security. It will be a lot harder to sell to them hatred of Israel based upon a philosophical notion of Israel's right to exist than it is based upon real and perceived racist policies of Israel.

I'm tired of typing now, maybe I'll revisit this topic later.

Anonymous said...

iIslam is no more perveted than Christianity or Judaiism. People have always and will always use religion to justify acts of great cruelty and humanity.

If you look throughout all of history, you are correct; however, currently, the Islamists are unrivaled in perverting their own religion.

Anonymous said...

kwawk said, "Islam is ono more perverted than Judiasm or Christianity.....people have always used religion to justify cruelty..." Did I miss the recent spate of Baptist suicide bombers? How about the Mormon car-bombing campaign? Jewish decapitators? Islam is a backwards, fascistic religion/worldview that is uniquely incapable of coping with modernity.

As to your point about winning hearts and minds, would those be the same hearts that were brimming with joy the day 3000 of my countrymen were slaughtered on 9/11? The same minds that thought the Jews did it? You remember, the happy folk who were dancing in the streets of Cairo and Ramallah eating cake and ice cream while the Towers burned? The collective Muslim mind, such as it is, has been poisoned by decades of anti-western scpapegoating and Jew hatred. Do you think it's a mistake that copies of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion sell better than falafel in the streets Amman? Which brings me to my next point, the Palestinian issue. Why should a muslim in Iraq or Pakistan give a hoot in hell about the Palestinians any more than I should care about folks in Northern Ireland? It's a crutch; a way for the currupt of a backwards culture to explain away failure. Are we forgetting the Oslo accords? Are we forgetting Wye River and Camp David where the Palestinians were offered their own state and chose instead the Second Intifadah? Who has been more solicitous of muslim sensibilities than the French and we are approaching day Ten of JihadaPalooza in the suburbs of Paris. Open your eyes.

P.S. Even though we disagree, I also want to thank you for your service.