Re: Guest Post - Zero Dark Thirty

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Craziest thing about the movie: torture scenes were filmed inside an actual, working Jordanian prison. Jessica Chastain said "the energy wasn't the best in that place". http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/zero-dark-thirty-jessica-chastain-399233


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 1:49 PM
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The Hurt Locker sucked balls so I'm not surprised that this movie does too. I was really surprised by the way that THL was received as this great movie about the gritty realities of war while it depicted people behaving in ways that are simply not possible within the confines of the military as it's currently structured. That 0D30 seems to be similarly full of shit does not surprise me in the least. I predict that it will win many awards.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 2:10 PM
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If Bigelow wants to retain any artistic credibility, her next Iraq/Afghanistan war movie had better have vampires.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 2:15 PM
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And surfers.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 2:16 PM
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derp


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 2:19 PM
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derp derp


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 2:35 PM
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Immoral, incorrect, incoherent, & incomprehensible. Just like real life.


Posted by: Biohazard | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 2:35 PM
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derp derp derp


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 2:39 PM
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derp derp derp derp


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 2:42 PM
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derp derp derp derp derp


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 2:45 PM
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Great post.


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 2:45 PM
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derp derp derp derp derp derp


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 2:54 PM
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derp derp derp derp derp derp derp


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 2:55 PM
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derp derp derp derp derp derp derp derp


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 2:57 PM
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derp derp derp derp derp derp derp derp derp


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 2:59 PM
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derp derp derp derp derp derp derp derp derp derp


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 3:01 PM
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"Detainees".... I fucking hate that word.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 3:02 PM
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I thought the movie was better than ajay did, and better on torture, but I can totally see where the critics are coming from. (As I mentioned in the other thread, I walked out of it thinking that there was no way anyone could see it and think that it argued that torture was effective; my girlfriend immediately responded that she thought it totally did.) In the first sequence, the only time the interrogators get information from Ammar is when they're eating a meal with him; when they put him in the box, by contrast, all he can do is shout out the days of the week at random. (I'd also argue that that sequence, at the very least, destroys the argument that waterboarding and all the other things we did to detainees were anything other than torture.) I utterly disagree that the film doesn't have any sympathy for the detainees.

One nitpick:
"Characters appear and disappear. A Pakistani man has something attached to his leg by (presumably) the police, gets released, and is then arrested by burqa-clad troops. Why? Who is he? What did this achieve? No idea."

He wasn't arrested, he was being used as bait to get to Faraj (IIRC). The bomb on his leg was insurance to make sure he didn't tip Faraj off.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 3:02 PM
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I haven't seen it. But I would think that any movie that has characters that are intimately involved in the process of torture and are treated by the movie as acting in good faith who believe in the necessity and practical value of torture (which it sounds like this does) is very likely to be more pro-torture than I'm happy with. "Man, it's a really hard question, and decent people can disagree" is not a stance that I'm happy with on torture.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 3:09 PM
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19: The problem then becomes, how do you portray people who did, in fact, believe in good faith in the necessity and practical value of torture? (Jacques Massu, for example.)

And just to be clear: I don't think "Man, it's a really hard question, and decent people can disagree". I wish the film had been clearer on that than it was, and I'm not happy with the ways in which the filmmakers twisted the reality of what happened. But I don't think, even given that, that the film's as reprehensible as ajay does.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 3:15 PM
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To bring over another point from the other thread: one of the things I found most striking about the film is just how empty and meaningless killing bin Laden ultimately seems. There's no sense of vindication or release at the end, at least not for me.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 3:17 PM
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20.1: As not decent people? As not competent in their field (that is, not that I'm anything like an expert, but as the post says, my understanding is that people who do interrogations are very dubious about the practical value of torture)? I can't see how you make a movie showing decent, competent, well-informed people disagreeing on that point without implicitly endorsing the idea that decent, competent, well-informed people can disagree on that point.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 3:21 PM
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The problem then becomes, how do you portray people who did, in fact, believe in good faith in the necessity and practical value of torture? (Jacques Massu, for example.)

Are you arguing that the Battle of Algiers is a flattering neutral ambiguous depiction of Jacques Massu? That is not how I read it.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 3:25 PM
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I'm declining to see this movie.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 3:25 PM
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The film starts with (real?) phone calls from the World Trade Center towers played over a black screen.

Real, from what I've read. It grosses me out. For the record, I do not want any visual or audio representations of me used post-mortem, unless it is in some way in the service of Unfogged.


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 3:27 PM
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ajay, is it ok with you if I send your post to a friend? She vaguely knows about Unfogged, but I don't really want to give her the link.


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 3:30 PM
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25: Is that because you like us or because you know we will abide by the rule?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 3:31 PM
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Poor moral/aesthetic reasoning on my part no doubt, but as a connoisseur of vampire movies I thought Near Dark was weedy, and hence have not bothered seeing anything else by this director.

My dad liked that bit in that one where they wear US president masks to rob a bank, if that was by her.


Posted by: tierce de lollardie | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 3:32 PM
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She's just acknowledging our terms of service. Any commenter dies while still active, we have the right to use audio and visual representations of that commenter in our extensive publicity campaigns. Dead commenters, and Heebie's ass.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 3:33 PM
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22: Well, I don't think Zero Dark Thirty *does* depict Dan and Maya as decent people. Dan's loathsome, Maya's crazy (and part of what the film shows is just how crazy she becomes). That's kind of the crux of the disagreement.

23: Shamefully, even though I've owned the DVD since it came out, I've never actually seen The Battle of Algiers. I'm talking about the historical Massu, who I think did in fact believe (at the time) in torture in good faith.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 3:56 PM
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Wish I had time to engage on this more today, but so far am agreeing with Josh. Re: 22, I don't think you can come out of the movie thinking the people in question were portrayed as the slightest bit "decent", or even particularly competent, but obviously people have come out of the movie thinking just that (and more), and I guess I'm not really equipped (or inclined) to try to prove that reaction wrong. On the whole I thought the movie (presumably deliberately) avoided any remotely conspicuous moral grandstanding, and that has left the movie something of an inkblot. (That's not to say that I don't think the movie has a moral perspective, only that it doesn't at any point have, e.g., characters enact a debate on the merits/morality of torture.)


Posted by: potchkeh | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 4:02 PM
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Real, from what I've read. It grosses me out.

Wow, I hadn't read this. Reason enough for me not to see the thing.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 4:04 PM
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Again, I haven't seen it. But if the torturers are the protagonists, and there's no countervailing force in the movie showing that they're in fact wrong (morally, and as a matter of practical efficacy) to be torturing prisoners, it's hard not to think that it's not at least ambiguously endorsing the torture as something that, while it may damage the torturers, just has to be done.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 4:06 PM
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You reprobates better watch yourselves and not utter anything remotely disparaging about the luminous and saintly Jessica Chastain, or you'll answer to me and Terry "T-Dawg" Malick, and you all know the Dawg's rep in the MMA game.

Less self-parodically, I entertain doubts about the good faith of the government types assuring us, sincerely, that torture played no part in the Bin Laden hunt. I'm sure they want us to believe that, of course.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 4:08 PM
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25, 32: FWIW, while I was totally prepared to find the recordings exploitative and revolting going in, I actually found that they didn't particularly bother me. (I still would have preferred that they not have been used.)

33: Well, again, I think there *is* a countervailing force. What there isn't is an explicit moment where someone says "this is morally and practically wrong!", which is why I say that I can understand where the critics are coming from.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 4:11 PM
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The Hurt Locker really wasn't very good either....

I'm also declining to see it but from the descriptions the detainee whose interrogation they show most graphically is pretty clearly a composite character. I can see how that heightens the drama but it also has the effect of exaggerating how useful torture was, and then to go around publicly congratulating yourself on your unbiased, journalistic work is uncool.

What makes me angriest, though, is not the depiction of torture or even the filming inside a Jordanian prison where there may be actual torture going on, but the access that they got to the CIA. Not because I think it's a grave threat to national security--I assume the agents who spoke to the filmmakers can evaluate the risk--but because it is fucking appalling the extent to which the Obama administration has chosen to let the CIA apply double standards to what may be disclosed about the interrogation program.

Jose Rodriguez can publish details about interrogations--Ali Soufan cannot. Not to mention the classification of individual detainee's memories, thoughts, experiences, and medical conditions, even when it is directly relevant mitigation evidence in a capital case). Zero Dark Thirty filmmakers get details about the bin Laden raid--but we can't read one word from the CIA OIG reports about deaths in custody in Iraq and Afghanistan. And maybe not the Senate Intelligence Committee report either.

Obama can declassify whatever he wants to--letting the CIA whitewash the historical record is unconscionable. (Exit soapbox)


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 4:40 PM
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36 was me (surprising no one, I am sure).


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 4:40 PM
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||

NMM to Oshima Nagisa

Of what I've seen Diary of a Shinjuku Thief and Night and Fog in Japan impressed me most. Sun's Burial is great fun.

Night and Fog of course refers to the Resnais. Oshima used a very slow panning technique with medium long shots to build tension and give the collapse of the young Left in Japan after ANPO an unbearable weight of emotional tragedy.

|>


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 4:55 PM
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Thanks much - excellent post.


Posted by: freight train | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 6:03 PM
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37 -- Gross abuse of the classification system is another of the features of our time that historians will find baffling and shocking.

17 -- I try not to use the word detainee, and usually succeed.


Posted by: CCarp | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 6:11 PM
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Jessica Chastain said "the energy wasn't the best in that place"

"I mean, for the whole week after filming those scenes my yoga instructor kept telling me how effed up my chakras were. I ended up doing a juice cleanse for THREE DAYS to work it out."


Posted by: Bave | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 6:31 PM
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"I finally realized it was because there were too many bookshelves with the spines facing the prisoners. As soon as we got the feng shui fixed up everyone felt much better about it, but by that time the toxins had already really built up in my aura."


Posted by: E. Messily | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 6:38 PM
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The most surprising thing, by far, contained in this review is the praise for Act of Valor. I want to hear more about how that wasn't the worst movie/most offensive example of cross-platform-synergy (US military/Hollywood) in the history of ever, please.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 6:51 PM
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41: JUICEBOARDING


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 6:56 PM
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Don't know about Act of Valor but agree with most of the rest of Ajay's review. I came out of the theater after ZD30 ( a l-o-n-g movie) wanting someone to make a Dr. Strangelove or Network about the CIA's role in the War on Terror.


Posted by: bill | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 7:46 PM
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41, 42, 44: T-Dawg! We gotta rumble! Yes, the overinterpretative is the genre of a dying culture, which we can discuss further after a meditative 360 shot through windy trees!


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 7:47 PM
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If I ran a fraternity I'd introduce Iceboarding. BROS BOARDING BROS.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 8:13 PM
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from everything I've heard, the movie sucked on all torture fronts. and the amount of actually self-proclaimed libertarian-ish americans who will up and "torture'em!" the second a dude is muslim continues to freak me out. living abroad from june 1, 2000 until now has been, ah, estranging. I have to say that my IRL reaction to the killing of bin laden was to play the "america, fuck yeah!" theme song about 70 billion times. I was siced! with the benefit of hindsight, meh, it doesn't loom large except insofar as it's nice to be able to taunt republicans with it forever, until the end of time. no, I take that back. "FUCK YEAH!"


Posted by: alameida | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 8:24 PM
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Apologies for my unseriousness, but:

34: not utter anything remotely disparaging about the luminous and saintly Jessica Chastain

She plays Maya, as I understand it. Having heard various clips from the film, I've deduced that she is probably the character who keeps pronouncing "bin Laden" as "bin Lah-dden."

I'm not sure how to render that last pronunciation phonetically, but the clips have driven me nuts. Lah-ddenn? A hard "d". It's similar to the way some people pronounce "student" as "stew-dent".


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 8:38 PM
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Oh, it's an accent problem: the accent is on the second syllable. I just can't take that seriously.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 8:40 PM
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I was siced! [sic]?


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 10:44 PM
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I was confused for a minute about who Jessica Chastain is but then I looked her up and, wouldn't you know, she was in the season one episode where... am I descending into self-parody?


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 10:47 PM
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Descending?


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 11:22 PM
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I work with a woman who could be Jessica Chastain's doppelgänger.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 11:29 PM
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The comments make me think even more poorly of this film. They used real recordings from the World Trade Center? Ugh. And filmed torture scenes in a prison where... people probably get tortured? Uuuurrgh.

I want to hear more about how that wasn't the worst movie/most offensive example of cross-platform-synergy (US military/Hollywood) in the history of ever, please.

OK then - I admit that Act of Valor was not a great movie. It was popcorn stuff. Essentially it was a lot of action sequences held together with the minimum connective tissue. But it was good for what it was. The action scenes were competently shot. The storyline was clear enough that one followed on naturally from another. OK, it was manifestly made with the approval of the US military in order to convey the message that SEALs are really good at what they do. But, then again, they are really good at what they do. That's not a message I have a problem with spreading. It wasn't setting itself up as the True Account of what happened on such-and-such a raid - there was only one sequence that was actually based on a specific real operation, as far as I know, and AFAIK it wasn't grossly misleading.
And, just to reiterate, it got the interrogation bit right, and this is not a small point in its favour. If the US military wants to back more films that convey the message "careful, humane, non-violent interrogation by experts can produce real, actionable intelligence" then they have my approval.

if the torturers are the protagonists, and there's no countervailing force in the movie showing that they're in fact wrong (morally, and as a matter of practical efficacy) to be torturing prisoners, it's hard not to think that it's not at least ambiguously endorsing the torture as something that, while it may damage the torturers, just has to be done.

Yes, this is exactly what I was trying to get at but expressed rather more clearly.

26: go ahead.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 2:40 AM
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I have to say that my IRL reaction to the killing of bin laden was to play the "america, fuck yeah!" theme song about 70 billion times.

I learned about the killing because a friend changed his Facebook status to "OK, he's dead. Does that mean I can go home now?"
A good question and one that ZD30 didn't answer.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 2:43 AM
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The problem then becomes, how do you portray people who did, in fact, believe in good faith in the necessity and practical value of torture? (Jacques Massu, for example.)

Jacques Massu does not appear in "The Battle of Algiers". The French para commander is "Colonel Mathieu", a fictional character, who IIRC was mostly based on Marcel Bigeard.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 2:48 AM
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I approve of ajay's review. May I subscribe to the newsletter?


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 3:42 AM
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Another book that is better on torture, and on the War on Terror in general, (as I have remarked here before) is, of all things, Tom Clancy's Clear and Present Danger.

http://www.unfogged.com/archives/comments_11865.html#1400240


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 3:54 AM
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49: T-Dawg! Get in here!

55: The guys at the Bad Movie Fiends podcast (most highly recommended) called Act of Valor a "patriotism boner."


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 4:37 AM
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51: "sice" or "siced is DC slang for "psych" or "psyched", except that while you can "sice someone up" (get him all ready to go and get his thing on) you can't "sice him out" in the sense on fooling someone. check out this rare essence track to learn more (classic go-go; the cry of "sice'em on up" starts at 3.53.)


Posted by: alameida | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 6:00 AM
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I guess this is ontopic:

Unemployed Negativity reviews two books about superheroes

Hassler-Forest also argues for the neoliberal dimension of the superhero narrative. In some sense this is less of a departure from the comics, the idea of individual and private solutions to social ills, or their symptoms, is inscribed in the formative moment of the comics themselves.

Which goes to one of my takes on the latest from Ian Welsh about the American Justice Stasi (his word) system.

"Otherwise, everyone who supports the current system, is part of a system which is unjust."

"never use the word reform, it means making things better for the rich and worse for everyone else"

I just can't get it. I can't seem to get behind any level, any at all, of incremental meliorism within a system so unspeakably evil and unjust that just keeps getting worse. It gives and promotes false hope, provides cheap and unearned relief from guilt, and in the last analysis perpetuates and entrenches the existing structures and hegemony.
I have and do many small acts of kindness, including literally giving the shirt off my back in a snowstorm, but they always feel unspeakably selfish.

Break it down, blow it up. There is the real sacrifice.

|>


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 6:57 AM
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However, I do note that withdrawal (Buddhist, Trappist, Sufi), depriving oneself of both the illusory benefits of sociality as well as the delusional responsibilities, has always been considered a moral option. Perhaps the only moral option. That's tough, but I'm much closer than most.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 7:07 AM
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No one tell bob that syncretism is become a wholly bourgeois category in the 21st century post-industrial West.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 7:24 AM
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22

... As not competent in their field (that is, not that I'm anything like an expert, but as the post says, my understanding is that people who do interrogations are very dubious about the practical value of torture)? ...

If all the experts agreed that torture was of no value then it seems to me it wouldn't be used as much as it is.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 7:26 AM
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Unfortunately the people in charge were not experts, and didn't listen to them.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 7:29 AM
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23

Are you arguing that the Battle of Algiers is a flattering neutral ambiguous depiction of Jacques Massu? That is not how I read it.

The French commander in the Battle of Algiers and his use of torture is depicted as effective (at least in the short run).


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 7:29 AM
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Overall it is depicted as counter-productive, immoral and self-destructive. The real-life Jacques Massu hated the film because it was anti-torture.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 7:41 AM
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68

Overall it is depicted as counter-productive, immoral and self-destructive. ...

I don't agree. I think you have strong views on the subject and they are affecting how you perceive this sort of movie.

How do you think Battle of Algiers depicts terrorism?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 8:24 AM
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Amazingly, I managed to answer 69.2 by posting 68. Behold the foundations of causality crumbling.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 8:28 AM
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70

I don't think Battle of Algiers depicts terrorism as "counter-productive immoral and self-destructive". Which is not surprising since (as I understand it) it was sponsored by people who came to power through a successful terrorism campaign.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 8:34 AM
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"The problem then becomes, how do you portray people who did, in fact, believe in good faith in the necessity and practical value of torture?"

That is just a bizarre thing to write. Somehow, it's possible to portray sincere Nazis without acting like the whole Nazism thing is just outside the filmmaker's place to get all judgmental about. Torturers, Nazis ... not materially different.

I'm with CharleyCarp on this one. Not getting my $9. I'd just as soon send John Yoo a thank-you note.


Posted by: Anderson | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 8:37 AM
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71: the cafe attacks trigger the ratonnades and ultimately the Battle of the Casbah, which is immensely harmful to the FLN cause and the Arab population as a whole. Ultimately, the FLN victory (in the film) is the result of their massive popular support out in the bled (itself the result of extremely cruel French tactics which predate the cafe bombings), not the result of blowing up a few milk bars in Algiers.
The film makes it quite clear that the cafe bombings deliberately caused large amounts of harm to innocents. It's very interesting that, to you, this isn't necessarily the same as depicting them as immoral.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 8:49 AM
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And let's not forget that the film also depicts the terrorist attacks by the pied-noir ultras, which are also immoral and counterproductive.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 8:58 AM
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I think you have strong views on the subject and they are affecting how you perceive this sort of movie.

Ya think?


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 8:59 AM
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Also relevant: this Steve Coll piece on the film.

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/feb/07/disturbing-misleading-zero-dark-thirty/

There can be no mistaking what Zero Dark Thirty shows: torture plays an outsized part in Maya's success...
Some viewers might regard Ammar's final confession in the midst of warm hospitality as an example of torture that did not work, or worked only partially. In fact, this sequence of the film depicts precisely how the CIA's coercive interrogation regime was constructed to break prisoners...
We later see Maya review videotaped interrogations of half a dozen other prisoners who provide information about al-Kuwaiti. It is not clear in the film whether these detainees are in CIA custody or in the custody of friendly Arab or other governments. We see the videotapes over Maya's shoulder. The images are dark and menacing. Many of the prisoners appear to be in the process of being tortured or to have recently been tortured.
Later, Maya conducts two additional interviews directly. In the first, her subject agrees to cooperate with her only after declaring, "I have no desire to be tortured again."...
In virtually every instance in the film where Maya extracts important clues from prisoners, then, torture is a factor. Arguably, the film's degree of emphasis on torture's significance goes beyond what even the most die-hard defenders of the CIA interrogation regime, such as Rodriguez, have argued. Rodriguez's position in his memoir is that "enhanced interrogation" was indispensible to the search for bin Laden--not that it was the predominant means of gathering important clues.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 9:12 AM
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That is just a bizarre thing to write. Somehow, it's possible to portray sincere Nazis without acting like the whole Nazism thing is just outside the filmmaker's place to get all judgmental about. Torturers, Nazis ... not materially different.

Not what I meant at all! I was unclear. What I was getting at was that there are, in fact, or have been in history, people who believed in torture in good faith. I took LB to be saying that any attempt to portray them at all was ipso facto supportive of torture; I was trying to figure out how you represent them without falling into that trap. Maybe it's like the argument that even anti-war films that attempt to show the reality of combat end up glorifying it, and the answer is that you can't.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 11:32 AM
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In virtually every instance in the film where Maya extracts important clues from prisoners, then, torture is a factor.

The other way to look at it is, the film doesn't gloss over the fact that we tortured people. Some of them may have given us information later, but you can't take away or minimize the fact that we tortured them.

I was thinking about this in the context of Maya's visit to the black site in Poland; the government still, SFAIK, refuses to acknowledge that black sites exist. But the film makes it clear that they *do* exist, and makes it clear just what horrible things are going on in them. (My ultimate takeaway from the film was that it made clear just how badly the country went off the rails after 9/11. But I can't tell if that's something that the filmmakers intended, or if that's something that I'm reading into the film.)


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 11:43 AM
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Here's a link to Kathryn Bigelow's defense.

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/moviesnow/la-et-mn-0116-bigelow-zero-dark-thirty-20130116,0,5937785.story

She appears to agree with Josh's take on the movie.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 12:17 PM
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I am an absolutist against torture. But I think there is one strong argument that it does sometimes work reliably, and that is the practice of spies, or similar clandestine operatives, when one of their number is captured. They assume that within 48 hours (from memory that was the British Army's assumption) the enemy will know what they want or need to know, and hence everyone else needs to get the hell to cover immediately.

If it were really true that torture did not work, then they could be confident that the captives would tell the enemy nothing.

I'm still an absolutist against torture.


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 1:12 PM
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If it were really true that torture did not work, then they could be confident that the captives would tell the enemy nothing.

That only works if it's really true that no kind of interrogation works, ever. If some captives talk, with or without torture, then a cautious person would have to assume that any given captive would talk. And we know that some captives do talk without torture.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 1:17 PM
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Yes, but I am talking about highly motivated professional captives.


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 1:39 PM
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Still, that's begging the question. Your reasoning is that torture must work, because clandestine operatives are afraid captives will talk, and they can't be afraid that captives will talk for reasons other than being tortured, because we know torture works better than other forms of interrogation. If we don't go into the argument knowing that torture is the most effective form of interrogation as a premise, we can't derive the conclusion you derive.

(Also, even if the reasoning worked, all it would get you is evidence that clandestine operatives fear that torture works, which is some but not great evidence that it does.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 1:45 PM
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highly motivated professional captives

I'm guessing that if there's a graduate program, the student loan default rate is huge.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 1:50 PM
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Some people break under torture, some don't, and no spy agency really knows which kind of person any given agent's going to turn out to be, if he's captured. It makes sense to assume the worst.

... Josh, sorry if I was short with you. I'm one of those with "strong personal feelings" on the subject.


Posted by: Anderson | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 1:58 PM
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85: No worries! Your reaction was completely understandable; I was less clear than I'd have liked.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 2:08 PM
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The film makes it quite clear that the cafe bombings deliberately caused large amounts of harm to innocents. It's very interesting that, to you, this isn't necessarily the same as depicting them as immoral.

Because it isn't. Here is an interview with Saadi Yacef, the Algerian terrorist leader who backed the film and plays a character based on himself.

I killed. (silence) Well, I killed. (silence) Then I started making bombs. I felt I was forced into this because there were 400,000 Europeans who lived in Algiers as well as 400,000 soldiers. We were forced to use guerrilla tactics because we didn't have the same weapons as the enemy. Some of the more extremist French people who lived in Algeria planted a bomb in the Kasbah that killed 75 people and injured many more. And the population was just starting to believe in us so we had to show that we too had weapons that were as cruel as those of the French. That's how I started making bombs and planting them. It was in order to tell people, we'll avenge you, you'll see, we're fighting for you, so please help us and support us. That's how we started using bombs. It was efficient. As soon as the French did something, we retaliated with a bomb. It was a question of blood calls for blood.

The film was made in large part by a terrorist leader and reflects the mentality of a terrorist leader.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 8:06 PM
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81

That only works if it's really true that no kind of interrogation works, ever. If some captives talk, with or without torture, then a cautious person would have to assume that any given captive would talk. And we know that some captives do talk without torture.

Are these other forms of interrogation likely to work as quickly?

Actually there is an alternative which the British used in WWII. When they captured a German spy they would point out he had no protection under the Geneva accords and could therefore be immediately executed but that they would spare his life if he cooperated. This was reasonably successful but I have a feeling you won't approve of it either.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 9:02 PM
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one of the few things we know about my grandfather's otherwise mysterious experience in helping work to found the OSS is that he shot a german spy in london, in a basement, and made off with (al holds up ruger) "this ruger".* I'd be sort of "er, thanks g-dad? ish?," but, he was the liason between the ENIGMA project and eisenhower, and that's just badass, so. plus he spent a lot of time behind enemy lines knocking up french and belgian chicks utilizing the french he learned being raised in a series of loveless mansions at cap ferrat while his mother gambled recklessly at the casino. I guess, there being a lot of rich assholes in france, sounding like a random rich asshole was no barrier, spywise.

anyway, if in london, why not call the cops? the umpty billion soldiers? the dudes walking around criticizing you about the efficacy of your blackout curtains? he knew the guy was a spy but wouldn't be able to prove it fast enough, was what he implied vaguely if pressed on it, and honestly he really didn't want to talk about it at all and had to be hassled when drunk. because he did once suggest to me that he'd had to bury the body too, and all by himself. er, hide. but not very well, only enough till other OSS guys could deal with it? none of this bathtubs of acid shit, nor massive dismemberment. hiding in the vacants, maybe. I also was, I confess, drunk.

the simplest thing one can imagine is his having just seen the guy before. he was able to mount a successful run for congress in his post-wartime life, which required prodigious skills of remembering who the fuck people were in those days (still now, I think). in the book "ike's spies" he declines to talk on the humorous grounds that the brits made him sign a blood oath of silence that they perfectly well promised to enforce forever, but for real (I can't imagine the brits running around assassinating US d-day veterans for spillin the beans about their plot to kill the kaiser.)

*I cannot technically do this thing, for my cousin jay inherited this ruger, which is a painful for my brother/all my male cousins not jay to contemplate. was jay his favorite grandson? look at the fucking gun, people.


Posted by: alameida | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 11:18 PM
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["but what about all his amazing shotguns, al, huh, hunh?" "they were inherited by jay's father, his favorite son, foolish interlocutor. who, to be perfectly fair, shoots all the time, and took the foresightful step of constructing a shotgun room worthy of receiving them."] ermahgerd you guys, it is really the berst...shotgern rerm...erver.

it's painted this sort of...hmmm...how am I at a loss for a color name, I'm the human pantone chart? dark pea green sounds insalubrious. no, why should it? what is healthier than a pea shoot? and if one took such a color, and changed its hue by the addition of grey, and made of it a creamy oil emulsion, and painted all the baseboards and the gun cabinets with it, and the benches where you sit down and put your boots on, which run under the windows, mmm, well, that would be well done. and no curtains on the windows, very bare and unusual, I can hardly imagine my aunt's interior decorator signing off on this, anyway. because it's pitch fucking black, what do they care? the hunters, I mean. the shells I almost think...one doesn't see them. a drawer. loose shot, and powder? there are things, ok lead-lined drawers. and keys for all the lovely glazed cases. for these cases have what over them, glass!!? and they are painted cream inside, all the better to see you with, my dear. would it be too calculating to work continuously on a lifelong hobby of hunting just to inherit these guns and cement one's position as favorite son? partly so because my uncle's evil banker clients take him shooting in scotland and in--banff? is that a place in canada? some fucking club he joined in banff. but then one can't help but note that they are shewn to advantage.


Posted by: alameida | Link to this comment | 01-17-13 12:11 AM
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I thought one of the things that makes the Battle of Algiers such an effective movie is that it really is not as sympathetic to the FLN as FLN leaders appear to think it is, or as the filmmakers appear to have intended. It could easily have glorified and whitewashed the violence but it doesn't. There are also the scenes where the police are portrayed sympathetically for trying to hold back mobs trying to attack individuals the mob assumes to be rebels. Torture is presented as effective within the narrow confines of the operational battle but also as an immoral practice that was wholly ineffective as far as the larger war.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 01-17-13 12:20 AM
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80: if torture sometimes works, it doesn't work reliably. (It works 60% of the time...every time.) Other than that, what LB said. It makes sense to plan for the worst in terms of a security breach; doesn't mean that you can rely on it happening every time if you are on the other side. Army counterinterrogation training focusses on being the grey man; the other side only has a limited number of interrogators, and if you can convince them that you are just an ordinary soldier without much between the ears, they will leave you alone and spend their time on a more promising candidate.

I'd agree with 91 absolutely. Maybe I should do that as number two in a series of Gloomy Film Reviews About Torture.

When they captured a German spy they would point out he had no protection under the Geneva accords and could therefore be immediately executed but that they would spare his life if he cooperated. This was reasonably successful but I have a feeling you won't approve of it either.

Only because I don't approve of the death penalty. You are wrong about "immediately executed", by the way; spies in Britain in wartime were tried in civilian court and sentenced to death by a civilian judge. Offering a stay of prosecution in exchange for co-operation is perfectly normal law-enforcement behaviour as well as perfectly normal counter-intelligence behaviour.

It was more than reasonably successful - with only one exception, the Double Cross team managed to find and arrest every spy the Germans had in Britain. Some of them were hanged, most were turned. (And one, apparently, was murdered by alameida's grandfather... though I am doubtful that a German spy in Britain in, say, 1944 would have been carrying a pistol made in Connecticut by a company that wasn't set up until 1949).


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-17-13 3:12 AM
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though I am doubtful that a German spy in Britain in, say, 1944 would have been carrying a pistol made in Connecticut by a company that wasn't set up until 1949

I'm assuming she meant Luger.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 01-17-13 3:28 AM
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Fair point. Rather more likely in that case.

Peter Fleming, in "Operation Sea Lion", is rather good and entertaining (naturally) about the variously inept German agents inserted in 1940; normally these operations took the form of dropping a middle-aged bloke in a fur coat with a smoked sausage and £20 in coppers and a badly-copied tourist map of the Yorkshire Dales, and giving him vague instructions about prodding likely landing beaches with a pointy stick to see if they were firm enough. (I paraphrase slightly.)


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-17-13 3:33 AM
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dropping a middle-aged bloke in a fur coat with a smoked sausage and £20 in coppers and a badly-copied tourist map of the Yorkshire Dales

This series captured that reality brilliantly.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 01-17-13 3:53 AM
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he was the liason between the ENIGMA project and eisenhower, and that's just badass, so. plus he spent a lot of time behind enemy lines

It would be completely, criminally insane to take someone with Ultra clearance and drop them into occupied France on a high-risk-of-capture mission. That could have gone amazingly badly wrong.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-17-13 4:39 AM
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It would be completely, criminally insane to take someone with Ultra clearance and drop them into occupied France on a high-risk-of-capture mission. That could have gone amazingly badly wrong.

True, but if Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemakers Story 1941-1945 is to be believed that sort of thing did happen. I don't remember if he had Ultra clearance but in the book a relatively senior person (with all sorts of knowledge you wouldn't want the enemy to learn but who apparently felt some sort of moral obligation to personally assume some of the same risks as his men) manages to browbeat everyone into allowing him to go on a mission into occupied Europe despite this being clearly insane.

That is an interesting book by the way (although incredibly sexist by today's standards). In another story a German POW volunteers for a British deception mission which involved parachuting him into Germany. The British decided it would be safer if his parachute didn't open. So I have some doubts about the assertion that captured Germans always received due legal process.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 01-17-13 7:48 AM
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91

I thought one of the things that makes the Battle of Algiers such an effective movie is that it really is not as sympathetic to the FLN as FLN leaders appear to think it is, or as the filmmakers appear to have intended. It could easily have glorified and whitewashed the violence but it doesn't. ...

An honest argument can be more effective than a dishonest argument. In any case this shows that people can react to the same movie in different ways (and in ways the maker did not intend). So arguing about whether Zero Dark Thirty actually advocates or justifies torture is sort of pointless clearly some people feel that it does.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 01-17-13 7:55 AM
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ja, luger, sorry. now that you mention it, the behind enemy lines thing does sound completely stupid, but he definitely did do it, because he took loads of photos. (then he went back to britain and invaded on d-day. but not at a horribly bloody patch or anything. well, I don't know that it was a picnic exactly but everyone on the boat lived. it sort of looked like a giant rubber dinghy, carried across the channel on a larger boat. he took color photos of that, it's sort of weird.) and he was...exploring french sentiment towards possible liberation? what, just going around asking people? I don't know. he told the ike's spies writer mostly more than he told us, except that if we all gather for a meal we can piece together some other things since, as I say, he was sometimes forthcoming when drunk (he was a lifelong drinker but always moderate, his family being littered with alcoholic corpses). but I make an excellent "morosco," which is mount gay rum with lemon juice, lots of ice and sugar muddled with mint.


Posted by: alameida | Link to this comment | 01-18-13 5:07 AM
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... because he took loads of photos. ...

Another insane thing that people actually did was take group photos of resistance members.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 01-18-13 7:06 AM
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How else would you decorate the room at the ten-year reunions? People have to plan ahead for these things.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-18-13 7:08 AM
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A lot of anti-gang work by the Met takes the form of going on Facebook and looking at profile pictures. Often gang members post pictures of themselves holding a handgun.

"We'd like a warrant to search this person's house for illegal firearms."
"On what grounds?"
"Here's a photo he posted publicly of himself holding an illegal firearm."
"OK then."

Then you look at his Facebook friends...

Technically it's intelligence-led policing, but very little actual intelligence is involved.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-18-13 7:12 AM
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When matters of WWII resistance movements and the SOE in Occupied Europe come up, I feel compelled to recommend John Keegan's book on intelligence in warfare, which contains many pages of restrained British eye-rolling about the military effectiveness of anything but steel and explosives in immense, heavy quantities. (I am oversimplifying, but Sir John is as cutting as a teenaged girl about Churchill's "Set Europe ablaze" daydreams.)


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 01-18-13 7:12 AM
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Edgerton makes the point - which needs emphasising - that Britain's whole approach to strategy was dictated by two things: 1) we didn't have very many people and 2) we had a shitload of money and scientists and engineers. That's how you get things like the Heavy Bomber Force and the commando units and support for resistance movements on the continent and the reluctance to invade northern France; it's also where you get Britain's amazingly tank-heavy army (far more tanks and far less infantry, proportionately, than the US, let alone the Germans and the Russians) and all those elaborate and extremely expensive projects that didn't work, like trench-digging tanks and anti-aircraft rockets and iceberg aircraft carriers. Someone or other called the raiding strategy in the Napoleonic Wars "breaking windows with guineas" - but that's not a terrible idea as long as you have a very large number of guineas. Britain was willing to spend money and resources on pretty much anything if it looked like an alternative to infantry.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-18-13 7:23 AM
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The birds or the coins?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-18-13 7:25 AM
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Italians.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-18-13 7:32 AM
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I thought they were on the other side for most of the time.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-18-13 7:35 AM
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That's why you defenestrate them.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 01-18-13 7:42 AM
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How do you get an Italian to break a window?

Don't pay the protection money.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-18-13 7:42 AM
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I thought they were on the other side for most of the time.

Up to a point. The commandant of the POW camp my dad was in at Bari was apparently very apologetic about inadvertently ending up on the wrong side. I know they had a reputation for being terrible troops, but for many of them their heart was not in it.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 01-18-13 7:46 AM
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There is a great bit in Eastern Approaches about a Yugoslav officer who, throughout the various twists and turns of the previous 30 years of Balkan history, has maintained one guiding principle: "he very much disliked the Italians. He had fought them on the Isonzo in 1917. He would like to have fought them over Fiume in 1921. They had come yapping and snapping into Jugoslavia on the heels of the Germans in 1941. They had even, from the point of view of the Domobran, been unsatisfactory to collaborate with. For an all too short period, after he joined the Partisans, he had had the pleasure of fighting them again. Now they had capitulated and to his disgust they were once again his allies."


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-18-13 7:52 AM
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My great uncle was born in America to a family that spoke Italian (or some Sicilian variant thereof) at home. He was being trained for island hopping when the army decided they needed Italian speaking troops in Italy. He says they questioned him extensively over several days to make sure he wasn't going to go all Fascist on them. Possibly, they picked him because Sicily was already taken and they figured local loyalties were stronger than national.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-18-13 7:56 AM
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A friend's grandfather was Austrian, and came over as a teenager after the Anschluss.* Apparently the British spent quite a while trying to persuade him to go back as a spy.

'Fuck that', was his answer, and he spent WWII driving tanks in North Africa.

* Jewish, at least as far as the race laws were concerned.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 01-18-13 8:06 AM
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113: A friend's grandfather was Austrian, and came over as a teenager after the Anschluss.*

My wife's uncle similarly came to the US from Austria. When he went in to the Army, he hoped to be, if not a spy, at least posted somewhere where his Native German could conceivably be of some benefit. Instead he ended up carrying a rifle in the infantry in the Philippines where he was sadly shot dead.

Per the Italian subthread, his father was a POW in Italy during WWI after being captured while serving in the Austrian Army.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-18-13 6:15 PM
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I guess I've been some miserable places, but the Austrian/Italian front in the Dolomites -- Falzarego Pass for example -- seem about as miserable as anywhere one might be with inadequate gear in winter with a bunch of people trying to kill you.


Posted by: CCarp | Link to this comment | 01-18-13 7:44 PM
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115: Don't know if he was specifically there; we have some relatively mundane letters from his time in the POW camp (where he was well into 1919)--although apparently 1/3 of the Austrian deaths in the war occurred in POW camps. He had been an officer and apparently that served him in good stead for at least a period of time after the Anschluss and helped enable all of his immediate family to get out.

My wife's grandfather on the other side was according to family legend blinded in one eye on purpose to avoid conscription into the Russian Army. I was always a bit skeptical that the army would be so picky, and this piece would suggest that it is a common trope in Jewish family history and likely not true (although it is written about a slightly earlier time period).


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-19-13 7:53 AM
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