September 5, 2007
When the Left Cares, and When It Doesn'tBy Denis Keohane
Left wing artists love to portray themselves as avatars of compassion, and are often praised by the media and cultural establishment for the humanity their political work supposedly demonstrates. But theirs is a highly selective compassion, often ignoring the victims of the groups they supported.
Director Brian DePalma's new film Redacted reportedly stunned the Venice Film Festival and presented "shocking images that left some viewers in tears". The movie Redacted is "about ‘the real-life rape and killing of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl by U.S. soldiers who also murdered her family....
DePalma makes it plain that there is a political purpose to Redacted above and beyond merely telling a horrific and tragic story. According to Reuters:
DePalma himself is quoted as saying:
DePalma went on to equate what he was attempting to accomplish with Redacted with the Vietnam War experience:
How genuine is DePalma's compassion for these "suffering people"? By the time he made Casualties of War in 1989, the world was well aware of the Vietnamese Boat People, as many as a million or more, who fled after South Vietnam fell to the communists. No one knows how many perished at sea or were killed by pirates, but estimates are as high as a hundred thousand or more. As many as 165,000 Vietnamese died in the brutal re-education camps. Neither DePalma nor any other big Hollywood director, and I use the term "Hollywood" generically for the motion picture industry, made a movie about them.
The Real Victims of the Vietnam War
In 1979 William Shawcross' book Sideshow was published, subtitled "Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia," esentially blaming the U.S. intervention in Southeast Asia for Pol Pot's and the Khmer Rouge's "killing fields" slaughter in Cambodia, which claimed the lives of between one and three million Cambodians after the U.S. withdrawal. Shawcross had been an outspoken critic of the U.S. war effort in Vietnam. Shawcross, however, is an intellectually honest man, and wrote "Remember: for Cambodia, read Iraq" last March for The UK Times:
Fourteen years after 1975 and the Boat People and killing fields, De Palma made a fictional movie about American atrocities against the Vietnamese, and thirty two years later still invokes the anti-war mantras of the seventies, as though many millions had not suffered and died, brutally, because we didn't prevail in Southeast Asia. Where was and is his concern for those people; where is his movie about that, those graphic images?
The Left Changes Its Tune
It is not just DePalma. There has been a not too subtle change developing over the last few months on the anti-war Democratic left, perhaps best exemplified by Barack Obama's statement that preventing genocide is not a sufficient criteria for military commitment in Iraq . Some of the liberal and far left as well as members of the media have adapted a seemingly fatalistic outlook that a bloodbath is inevitable whether we stay one more year or twenty, and so withdraw, and let the chips fall where they may.
This comes after years of charges by that anti-war side that our intervention in Iraq is misguided and worse - because of the misery, suffering and death it has brought to the Iraqis population!
What has changed?
In the last few months, some things have become more and more obvious, even to the left.
It takes years to build an army from scratch, especially when there is already a fight underway. That was so during our Revolutionary War. In later wars, when the size of our military necessarily grew, there was an established and professional cadre of experienced officers and senior enlisted men in place to oversee and guide the expansion. Iraq did not have any of that except for the Baathist troops we had just defeated.
But the evidence of the last several months has been that the new Iraqi Army is standing up, is in the fight, and is growing more professional and capable.
It has also become obvious in place after place, beginning perhaps with Tal Afar and repeating in Al Anbar and Diyala Provinces, that when the insurgents are forcefully engaged, the local populace, the Iraqi military and the Coalition forces all appear to be something like one team with shared goals. More and more Iraqis themselves seem to be behaving as allies of the Coalition.
And that's the problem for the left, and why they no longer care about them. They only ‘seemed' to care for the Iraqis when they could be made out to be our victims. As our allies, they have betrayed the left and forfeited the left's concern.
A Choice of Images
DePalma speaks of using graphic images found on the internet in his film. How many other such graphic images could he have found from Iraq, ones that did not relate to an isolated brutal crime committed by Americans but were of those committed by the Saddam Hussein regime? Might that have offered context? The mass graves, the amputees, the pictures of some of the thousands of dead Kurds in the villages attacked with nerve gas. How many graphic images might DePalma have found of mass executions, beheadings and atrocities committed routinely by Al Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgencies?
Last June the intrepid embedded blogger and former Special Forces soldier Michael Yon posted on his blogsite "Bless the Beasts and Children," about his experience with American and Iraqi troops coming across a lifeless village where the people and even the livestock had been slaughtered by Al Qaeda. Children had been beheaded. The big media has not picked up the story, though Yon even provides photographs. I doubt that DePalma will ever make a movie from those graphic images.
Downplaying the Risks of a Pullout
In his 1971 appearance before Senator Fulbright's Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the young John Kerry was asked about Vietnamese who were our allies and might be in danger from the communists if we withdrew and South Vietnam fell, and Kerry answered:
Kerry has never expressed any remorse for that gross underestimation of how many of our former allies would suffer. Once we had left, they were evidently immaterial. In a sense, by being our allies, they had brought it on themselves. Only victims of America count as genuine victims. Our allies don't. The more the Iraqis appear to be our allies, the less they matter.
In 1965, journalist and war correspondent Marguerite Higgins wrote the book Our Vietnam Nightmare, a prescient work that gloomily predicted ultimate disaster for America in the war that had just begun to heat up. Among the reasons Higgins, who had covered the French defeat in Vietnam in 1953, saw that things would turn out badly for America were two that bear directly on our current experience in Iraq:
America was not getting the real story. While she spent months traveling the South Vietnam countryside, she said that most of the journalists in Vietnam spent all of their time in the hotel lounges and bars of Saigon, getting their information from local informants. Higgins saw that the communists understood this, and that many of those informants were agents working for the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese, and were feeding propaganda to the reporters. That sounds eerily like the Green Zone reporters in Iraq and their ‘stringers'.
The nature of the Viet Cong insurgency was not understood by Americans. Again and again as she traveled the rural areas of South Vietnam where the Viet Cong were gaining strength, she came upon atrocity after atrocity. Village leaders, teachers, entire families, even entire villages killed. Family members murdered while the rest of the family was forced to watch. She asked an editor why these things were not being reported, and the answer she received is illustrative. He told her that Viet Cong atrocities were routine, as they gained territorial control and held it through terror. As such, Viet Cong atrocities were the dog biting the man, not really news. Everybody somehow just knew they did things like that! What would be news, though, would be an atrocity committed by Americans, because that would be the man biting the dog, the news that is news because it is an exception.
Three years later, at My Lai, the man bit the dog, and the press dutifully and correctly reported it, but it was reported in a vacuum, one that did not place that dismal and horrific occurrence in the context of an aberration.
Horrific crimes are always with us, because there will always be in the population that tiny minority who are capable of such, willing to act and will sometimes take the opportunity to do so. That even happens with soldiers, in war or while at peace. It is why, for instance, the military has prisons.
When such atrocious crimes are committed in war, it is reasonable and even necessary to ask whether they were the isolated actions of one or a few that will and do happen among any large body of people, even college and high school students, or systematic of widespread behavior, or at worst case, a policy or regular practice condoned or even encouraged by some authority.
For all the talk of Abu Ghraib or Haditha being evidence of systematic of abuse by American soldiers in Iraq, that has never been shown by anyone to be the case. The reported execution style murders or sytematic executions widely charged at Haditha have now been shown, in the text of the presiding judge's opinion dismissing charges against LCpl Sharratt and the investigating officer's recommendation to dismiss charges against LCpl Tatum, to have been fabrications. No matter what the outcome of the hearings and trials of the remaining two Marines (Tatum and Wuterich), it has clearly been established that there was no rampage and no execution style killings, as was widely charged and reported!
Yet many of the anti-war left and such as DePalma very much want to make us and others believe that our soldiers and Marines are regularly committing atrocities, and that this is somehow sytematic or even policy.
Ralph Peters, writing in the New York Post, compares crimes statistics of American cities to those of soldiers serving in Iraq and finds that our military personnel, even under the pressures of combat, when it comes to serious crimes, are behaving as a group better than the citizens of many of our cities.
DePalma is going for emotions, pure and simple, and as an accomplished director, knows how that is done. But it is cynical, and it is not based on a genuine compassion for the Iraqi victims and people. DePalma is using those dead as props.
We understand that our troops in Iraq are seeking to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. What we don't seem to understand as well, though Yon and other milbloggers embedded in Iraq do and have reported on it, is that the Iraqi people have also been winning the hearts and minds of our soldiers. The feigned and opportunistic faux compassion of the anti-war left stands in stark contrast to the genuine compassion of the soldiers in Iraq.
Our soldiers in Iraq, men and women, are many of them hard, as they are trained to be hard. They are armed, and many and probably most will, should the need arise, kill without hesitation or perhaps minimal hesitation. They will aim a weapon at other human beings and pull a trigger.
Yet they will also put their own lives on the line by standing between terrorist killers and their intended Iraqi victims. They will smile at Iraqi children and receive smiles in return. They will see, in Iraqi families, children, mothers, father, and even young Iraqi soldiers, representations of those they have compassion for, and that compassion will and does grow to include those Iraqis, real people. When South Vietnam fell, there was no group of Americans more disheartened and crushed than the Vietnam Vets who clearly understood the horror that had befallen people whom they had come to know, and cared about.
There is more genuine compassion in the average American warrior than in a dozen Hollywood anti-war activists patting each other on the back for their "bravery" in dissenting from a war fought by truly brave men and women enduring hardship and separation from loved ones to protect our freedoms and our civilization, whose fruits are bestowed so lavishly on the likes of Brian DePalma.