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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Review of Movie Zero Dark Thirty

For John, BLUFTorture is both wrong and also ineffective at revealing the truth.

Playwright Carla Seaquist here writes on the movie Zero Dark Thirty.  Ms Seaquist goes on at some length about the film, and for good reason.  She feels that the film represents the fact that Hollywood has lost its moral way and has betrayed what it means to be America.  The title is "Society Instructs Hollywood on 'Moral Ambiguity' of Torture: Or, What the Zero Dark Thirty Controversy Means".  Quoting the Author:

"Moral ambiguity" has become a standard artistic choice today, for filmmakers as well as playwrights and novelists, meaning:  Rather than put the thumb on the scales for or against an action depicted, the artist professes to leave the moral judging to the audience.  Moral questions being by definition about right and wrong, the artist presuming to treat such questions in an ambiguous manner must then show at least two sides (or more) of the question under review.
But, Ms Seaquist asserts, there is not, in this movie, the presentation of two or more sides.  There is just the one side—torture works and is acceptable because it works.

Here is the Author's condemnation that should hurt all in Hollywood:

It can also be argued that today's Hollywood has lost the moral voice that, once upon a time, it had, when it produced thought-provoking movies like The Lost Weekend, Gentleman's Agreement, High Noon, 12 Angry Men, Paths of Glory, Judgment at Nuremberg, To Kill of Mockingbird, In the Heat of the Night, and recent anti-war films like Platoon.  But today, Hollywood goes for buff bodies and "edgy" premises and visceral experience, not so much for dramas of conscience.  It's good to remember that, once upon a time, in Casablanca, every refugee biding time in Rick's café wanted to get to America—because America was a moral beacon.
It was a moral beacon.  It needs to be that moral beacon again.  I am more ambiguous than Ms Seaquist regarding the Iraq War, ten years on, but I agree the decision to invade was a bad decision and I believe that our early post-invasion actions left things to be desired.  The actions of our Soldiers at Abu Ghraib Prison was objectively wrong and it showed a lack of leadership before the event and a lack of justice after.  Torture elsewhere was also wrong.

But, my take-away is that we have to be prepared to make moral choices, as individuals and as institutions.  Torture is wrong.  Taking bribes is wrong.  Carelessly having a child out of wedlock is wrong.  On the other hand, we need to leave room for remorse, restitution and forgiveness.

Regards  —  Cliff

  In the interest of full disclosure, I have previously met Ms Seaquist and her husband and I worked together on the Joint Staff.
  It is sort of like the former Commonwealth State Senator Dianne Wilkerson declaration after a Constitutional Convention, "The Ends justify the Means".  Unacceptable.

1 comment:

Neal said...

The whole purpose for ambiguity and for its almost geometric growth in the US is that it involves less pain. One need not confront uneasy truths.

I continue to be amazed at the number of people...Americans....who seem to feel that it is possible...even view war and warfare as moral and ethical....clean. In fact, the act of war and the process of warfare is perhaps the most amoral and unethical activity humans can conduct. There is nothing "fair" or "nice" about war. What works in war is what works...and it may only work a few times...but it works those few times and that may move one side toward winning...which...BTW...OUGHT to be the whole reason for GOING to war. Why else would you get into a fight with someone in order to BOTH win? What is the point? You fight someone to win over force. You are engaged in MAKING them do your bidding. It is why we firebombed Germany and A-bombed Japan in WWII.

To be sure, we should always work toward peaceful resolution of human differences, but we are a long, long way from getting there in spite of liberal beliefs. It is a very, very ugly, mean world. Putin is NOT nicer than Stalin. China's president du jour is NOT nicer than Mao. Islam has NOT decided that peaceful coexistence with Jews and Christians is not only possible but necessary.

Yes torture is wrong and yes, torture may not provide any immediate or truthful intelligence......but it does do other things the context of fighting an enemy...have value. LeMay turned Dresden and Tokyo into infernos that make Dante's look like a campfire. Couldn't that be worse than torture? And yet, it sure saved a lot of lives....American lives especially....and we have not had to revisit imperialism in either country ever since.

O'Dark Thirty is about some very brutal things done by our folks countering some very brutal folks who had already amply provided us with convincing evidence of their hatred. If taken ONLY in that context....then it simply is what it is. That is NOT to underwrite the need or justification for an ongoing institutional program for torture.

I think the movie presents ONE side...and does so forcefully. As such, if the intelligentsia will cool their will give folks an opportunity to confront some real truths....and perhaps think (for once) about the things we do to be America...why...and if we want to continue.

One thing is certain, in foreign policy with folks who hate us, you cannot pick up excrement by the clean part.