Thanksgiving Is Ruined

The Personal is Political. The Political is Personal.

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September 15, 2005
The cinema of revenge

The ACLU tells us today in a press release of Army documents it obtained through a FOIA request, pertaining to the quality of the training of our troops in Iraq who oversee "detainees." The documents give tragic, chilling confirmation of what we somehow knew was true when the first Abu Ghraib photos came out:

To fill this void [in their training], officers and NCOs at point of capture engaged in interrogations using techniques they literally remembered from movies.

see "Memorandum for Chief, Inspections Division" at DOD-015973 (.pdf)

Every day the line gets blurrier between illusion and reality, between Hollywood and D.C. (not to mention Sacramento, Austin and Baton Rouge). What scares me is not the fallback onto Hollywood scripts of a scared, sleep-deprived, poorly trained, underpaid 18-year old in Iraq, but the same fallback of "the man who gave that boy a gun."

Our troops may be poorly trained but they're not stupid. Given no guidance, I'd not be surprised that in unclear situations they ask themselves, "What Would Don Rumsfeld Do?" The answer would come back in the form of this administration's Prime Directive, which the troops could not help but have observed and absorbed since the early stages of the war: "Do what you think will look   good on television." Thus, it's no surprise (again, given no guidance or movie producers standing at their elbows, directing the shots) that they'd draw upon what they have seen on television that looked good or seemed to work.

To understand one aspect of the hawkish mentality I increasingly think I need to hole myself up for the weekend and adminsister to myself a crash course in the history of American "revenge" movies (the "interrogation" movies follow secondarily in the emotional sequence, I think). "High Noon" (1952), "Billy Jack" (1971), "Walking Tall" (1973 and 2004, with The Rock), "Death Wish" (1974), "Fatal Attraction" (1987), "Payback" with Mel Gibson (1999) and "Kill Bill" (2003) for starters, perhaps?

[update 1/29/08:

"It would seem to be a situation where people picked up things on the fly, where one might perhaps impolitely say there was an emphasis on John Wayne movies," said an intelligence consultant who is trying to overhaul the interrogation program and who would not speak for attribution.