One movie, two views

Dennis Prager likes to say (and I’m paraphrasing here) that liberals and conservatives have entirely incompatible world views. They understand facts in such a different way that there are few points of intersection. I had a reminder of that truism the other day when I watched Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center with a liberal friend.

As you may recall, WTC, which came out last year, tells the true story of two Port Authority police officers (John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno) who got trapped in an elevator shaft when the Trade Center buildings collapsed. The movie traces their day from its ordinary beginnings, to their bewildering mission into the building, to their entombment, survival in the wreckage and ultimate rescue. It also looks at how their families cope with both the news and the complete absence of news, and how they are discovered and extricated. I found it a very moving experience to watch. My friend did not. He thought it was sentimental and pedestrian, despite learning at the end that much of the dialog was lifted right out of newspaper stories and quotations from the people actually involved in the events.

My friend’s perception in that regard could just be an artistic, movie-making quibble. What was more interesting was his emotional response to the movie. As I watched events unfold, especially when the planes hit the buildings and people began to realize that America had been attacked, I became furious all over again at those who had attacked us, and at those who masterminded and funded the attack. I was sorry that the Saudis in the plane died, and that they died fulfilling their hearts’ desires, because it would have been so much more emotionally satisfying to subject to them to some horrible medieval style torture. (And, in that way, it’s probably good for America’s soul that we didn’t get the opportunity to flay them alive, and remove their intestines and burn them before their eyes, which is what they richly deserved.) That was my response.

My friend’s response was this: “Bush is going to go down in history as the worst president ever. He squandered the opportunity to go after the terrorists.” I didn’t want to talk politics during the movie, so I let it drop, but I had a few thoughts: As to the source of this attack, which was Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Bush didn’t squander the opportunity. Instead, he went in and destroyed the Taliban. And as to the fact that it was Saudi Arabia that provided the manpower, the money and the ideology, I doubt my friend seriously believes anyone could attack Saudi Arabia without destroying the West in a single, oil-dripping stroke. In other words, once Bush went after the Taliban, which was a low level player in world Islamism, although a high level players in this single attack, what should he have done vis a vis the Twin Towers?

There will be, for a long time, debate about the wisdom of Bush’s next responsive choice — invading Iraq. I’d like to avoid the justification given for the war — violating UN sanctions, creating a Potemkin nuclear village (although some of the village’s real components seem to have drifted into Syria), funding terrorism, etc. — and focus on the strategic benefit of going into Iraq.

George Friedman, who is the founder of Stratfor, a company that produces intelligence analysis, wrote a book in which he opined, based on information available to the public, that Iraq was a proxy attack on Saudi Arabia. That is, Bush used information available at the time built up a credible and honest case that Iraq was a threat (and I say honest because most of the information was, in fact, true and, as for that which was untrue, there was no way to know at the time that it was false). Neutralizing Iraq, though, was only one goal and, perhaps, even a secondary one. What he really wanted to do was to create a strong American military presence, both short and long term, that was breathing over Saudi Arabia’s shoulder. Saudi Arabia got the message, by the way, and after the War began, Saudi Arabia instantly stepped up its own attacks against Al Qaeda within Saudi borders.

Bush also hoped to create– and, in fact, may have created — a stable pro-American bulwark in the heart of the Middle East. He almost incidentally created a honey pot that attracted Al Qaeda fighters from all over the Muslim world (especially Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia), men who rendered themselves useless by becoming dead. While there may be other fervent anti-American Muslims around the world, not all are willing to die for their beliefs, so the fact that they hate America (as they have done for decades) may be less important than the fact that they’re suddenly not so willing to throw themselves in front of American bullets to demonstrate their hatred.

That’s my view, but I willingly concede that there is room for intelligent disagreement, both about the War’s origins, its conduct, and its eventual results. Nevertheless, I still found peculiar that my friend, watching in almost real time a Muslim/Saudi attack on America that killed 3,000 people, rather than venting at the attackers, used the opportunity to vent against George Bush.

My friend also had one other interesting take on the movie. I’m not giving anything away here, since it was well publicized when the movie came out, but the two police officers were discovered because an ex-Marine, living in Connecticut, recognized that the US was at war, pulled on his old uniform, and went down to the ruins to hunt for survivors. And because he was not affiliated with any official organization, he wasn’t constrained by orders from headquarters calling the search off for the night. He just went in. Once there, he found another ex-Marine, exactly like himself: someone who pulled on his uniform and did his duty. It was these men who, in the dark, dusty, dangerous smoke, went around yelling for survivors to call out or tap. And it was these men who, when they found McLoughlin and Jimeno, assured them that, as Marines, these survivors had become their mission, and the Marines would not abandon them. Since you know how I feel about the Marines, I was really moved by that moment.

Interestingly, when my friend was talking to my son, and telling him about the movie, he described these two rescuers thusly: “These ordinary guys decided to go looking for survivors.” I interrupted to say, “They weren’t ordinary guys, they were Marines.” My friend insisted that I was wrong. They were ordinary guys, he said, because they weren’t fire fighters or police officers or FBI agents or anyone else working with an organization. They just went in on their own. My friend is technically correct — both men were ex-Marines who showed up without orders — but I think he missed something profound, which is that it was their Marine identity and training that drove them there. Strikingly, both of them showed up in their uniforms, which I think was more than just a way to avoid police cordons. I think it was a statement about their identity and their goals: they were Marines, and they were on a mission.

So, one movie, two very different responses.

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5 Responses

  1. I thought I would comment and expand on Friedman’s thesis. In warfare the successful side gets inside and disrupts the enemy’s decision cycle. This is as true in small unit tactics as it is in national strategies. When you are static and responding the enemy is usually inside your decision cycle. Now consider what was happening in Afghanistan. We were pretty much static with bin Laden and many of his followers holed up in Pakistan. How do you root them out? Get in his decision cycle.

    Since regime change in Iraq was our stated national policy we do two things; finally get rid of Hussein, and draw al Qaeda to us. We simultaneously are now inside the decision cycles of Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Syria. They now have to respond to our moves. The war in Iraq has far greater consequences than many people might imagine. It’s about terrorism, and the whole region.

    I would note that Gen. Patreus’ strategy also effectively got inside the insurgents decision cycle.

    BTW Dick Cheney knows everything there is to know about this.

  2. The NYT Magazine piece “Where Boys Grow up to Be Jihadis” is worth a read. You can see how well AQ propaganda has worked and how the reality of its brutality is the only thing that will really defeat them in the minds of Muslims. Of course, it will take a while if one judges the unrepentant commies still pursuing equality and social justice.

  3. I was sorry that the Saudis in the plane died, and that they died fulfilling their hearts’ desires, because it would have been so much more emotionally satisfying to subject to them to some horrible medieval style torture.

    Careful, you don’t want to start sounding like me, now do you.

    Besides, the best techniques didn’t even come from Europe.

    As a side note, emotional tinged desires for revenge and pain infliction are always ephemeral. It is not based upon a cold calculated decision, so it will dissipate when the emotion is no longer there. Hate, however, tends to fuel itself because it is always around and is never dissipated. Since the user won’t allow it to dissipate and neither will hate itself allow itself to be dissipated without a supreme effort of will on the part of the individual in question. Terrorists, for example, will always balk from the actual deed if they are in enough terror. Some may be dumb enough to actually push the trigger and blow themselves up, but most of them you have to send in and then push the button for them, via remote. The stories of Al Qaeda grabbing foreign fighters from Saudi Arabia, telling them to drive a car over to some location for recon, and then pressing a button to blow up the VBIED, is pretty amusing. One individual even survived this “cannon fodder bombing technique”.

    “Bush is going to go down in history as the worst president ever. He squandered the opportunity to go after the terrorists.”

    That translates as “going after poverty, crime, and rich folks”. You need to “go after them”. Which simply means, do what the Left tells you to do. Same as when Europe complained that we didn’t listen to their advice. No, what pissed them off was that we listened and we still didn’t do what they told us to do.

    The nerve of those Americans to think that just because they pay the treasure and blood, that they get to decide where their military goes and does.

    There will be, for a long time, debate about the wisdom of Bush’s next responsive choice — invading Iraq. I’d like to avoid the justification given for the war — violating UN sanctions, creating a Potemkin nuclear village (although some of the village’s real components seem to have drifted into Syria), funding terrorism, etc. — and focus on the strategic benefit of going into Iraq.

    Always a good idea when up against Leftist philosophy. Go around the problem, instead of crashing head to head. Inefficient as well as painful.

    Bush also hoped to — and, in fact, may have — created a stable pro-American bulwark in the heart of the Middle East. He also created a honey pot that attracted Al Qaeda fighters from all over the Muslim world (especially Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia), men who rendered themselves useless by becoming dead.

    Terrorism is no good if all you do is fight the American military. Which is where the media comes in. They can terrorize you with the media’s help, but only with the media’s help. How terrorism ever went from killing American citizens and holding Americans hostages, to getting killed by US Marines and blowing up/torturing Iraqi citizens, is something the top echelon of Al Qaeda will never know how to resolve.

    So, one movie, two very different responses.

    War necessitates discipline and only elite small forces are able to create the necessary esprit de corps to create that discipline for use in war. There is no such thing as “ordinary” people rising beyond the call of duty. They, by their actions, are already extraordinary.

    All elite forces in armies were formed from very limited numbers. The Eastern and Roman kataphraktoi (cataphracts or armored horse) is one example. The elite Spartan hoplites is another. That is why the Marines take pride in their saying “The Few, the Proud, the” you get the rest.

    Those that are in good standing in the Left, which requires believing in the philosophical principles and assumptions that constitutes the Left, believe that war does not create greater cohesion amongst men and women. They believe war creates nothing but a cycle of violence, that fighting in war produces nothing so much as degraded men that harbor PTSD and are repressing their inner urge to hate, kill, rape, and loot their enemies. War, thus, brings out the worst nature in man while social cooperation brings out the best. At least, that is their assumption.

    Such is the anti-glorification of warfare, based upon the premise that war causes destruction and therefore there is no glory in it. However, the author of “On Killing” stated his take this way. While there may be no true glory in warfare, it is necessary to speak as if there is in order to prepare people fighting in a war. Without a sense of glory, people would not fight at all and thus they would become slaves automatically. Glory is a person’s natural ability to resist the horrors of war by replacing what would otherwise be suicidal depression and nihilism, with hope and optimism for a better future and outcome. Sure, the young soldier will learn better as he gains experience, but he will at least have a chance to gain that experience. He will at least have tried. Where those that saw no glory in war would never have tried at all.

    This is one of the fundamental differences separating socialists, whether Leftist or just Democratic, from conservatives, whether Jacksonian or not.

    The Left sees the Civil Rights legislation, in a pen stroke, as ending slavery and segregation (but not institutional racism). Others see war as being the only reason why slavery, and thus segregation, ever ended in the US.

    The pen is mightier than the sword, is the motto of the Left. The real tactical analogy is “which is mightier, the sniper rifle or the shotgun”. Depends upon how close you are. The pen is only mightier because George Washington used the sword on America’s enemies. The Left is only able to use the pen to overcome the sword, because the Marines and Army allow it.

    They now have to respond to our moves.

    Except for the fact that Bush lost the momentum in 2005, I would agree with your analysis, Allen.

    The war in Iraq has far greater consequences than many people might imagine. It’s about terrorism, and the whole region.

    I think it is about knowing the difference between an OODA cycle and what Jon Stewart reports. Some people place a higher priority on Jon Stewart’s analysis, for example. Those folks will not see the consequences for what they are, for they cannot imagine what they never thought about.

  4. Y, The doctrine is difficult to uphold given a fickle public, being that the President as CiC must alsobe responsive to that sme public. So you are familiar with Boyd I see.

  5. The explanation for the OODA cycle I actually picked up from Dave Grossman.

    Even strategic concepts in chess requires that you maintain the momentum and initiatve or risk losing game time and moves. It isn’t hard to piece together, at least for those that try.

    By using this OODA Loop theory in it’s entirety, we are being manipulated into only choosing certain chess board moves by the enemy (the face-less cowards of international terrorism) and we are not using the whole track, which I might add is the first thing they teach you in motorcycle street racing class. It is as if limited war and diplomacy is being used against this strategy. Yet, at the same time we appear to be allowing these methodologies to the utmost and are failing to act decisively in many instances.

    Without such threats of all out war where you annihilate your enemy into oblivion, it is becoming harder and harder to negotiate to fulfill our political will, since the enemy real or perceived does not believe that we will ever use such options. Yet we have an arsenal more than capable of doing so and a quick intense history-making event of the ultimate in destructive power to show strength has yet been seen in the last 5 decades. We are seeing un-negotiable thoughts of our foes, middle fingers high in the air and treaties that these folks have no intention on fulfilling as a matter of fact they are laughing at us and some of the larger more potentially deadly foes in our future are being trained by us and are already finding ways to counter our Future War Strategies of net-centric, blue force tracking and combat scenarios.

    Thought that was interesting, googled it just now.

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