Providence (short film about Bradley Manning leaks)


The military (and many outside the military) consider Bradley Manning a traitor for leaking classified documents. Let’s imagine we’re in the latter days of World War II and a German soldier leaks thousands of documents related to concentration camps and the atrocities committed there. Is he a traitor? Probably. Did he do the right thing? Depends on who you ask? If the only difference between my hypothetical and the Manning case is whose ox was gored, that’s morally thin ice.

But the Manning leaks could have endangered American lives, goes one argument. No doubt, although I’ve not seen anything to suggest any lives have actaully been lost. Would it matter if some of the leaked documents revealed American actions were costing innocent lives?

I thought the Viet Nam war was a bad idea, primarilly because it could have gotten me killed. Turns out there were plenty of other reasons. Like the the mass murder of between 347 and 504 unarmed civilians near the village of My Lai on March 16, 1968, by United States Army soldiers. Most of the victims were women, children, infants, and elderly people. Some of the women were gang-raped and their bodies were later found to be mutilated and many women were allegedly raped prior to the killings.

Would it be treason to tell the world about My Lai?

“My country, right or wrong!” was a popular slogan for those supporting that war. That did work for me then and it doesn’t work for me now.

“You Know Nothing of My Work”

I knew of Marshall McLuhan as the cultural icon of the 60s. Was familiar with a few of the more popular quotes. But like the subtitle says, I knew nothing of his work. And I probably wouldn’t have read this biography had it been written by anyone else. I’ve read several of Douglas Coupland’s novels and enjoy his style.

Some insight into what we are experiencing now can be found in this slightly depressing story of a brilliant man, waaay ahead of his time.

“The total absence of humor from the Bible is one of the most singular things in all of literature.” – Alfred North Whitehead

“A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted of insight and understanding.” – M.M.

“Art is anything you can get away with.” – M. M.

“I don’t necessarily agree with everything I say.” – M.M.

When Marshall McLuhan picked up a new book he turned to page 69, and if the page didn’t impress him, he wouldn’t read the book.

“Mass transportation is doomed to failure in North America because a person’s car is the only place where he can be alone and think.” – M.M.

Marshall began to create what he called probes, a conversational format in which ideas were thrown out into a collective arena without moral judgement and allowed to battle it out, with the goal of generating new ideas. pg 126

Morality often impedes free thinking. Moral indignation is a salve for people unable or unwilling to try to understand. Understand your world and detach from it, or be drowned by it. The world is understandable; too much information makes it feel like it isn’t. pg 126

It was the era of the frontal lobotomy, and in that pre-MRI world, the brain was still an enigmatic beige pudding. pg 131

The narcotic stasis of the Cold War era was beginning to wear off. It was the final few hours of time when men still wore hats. Women celebrated pregnancies with cocktails. Everyone smoked. Legally sanctioned apartheid existed in the United States. Television was only a decade old, only then shifty to the novelty of color — with peacocks and rainbows as network symbols — and had yet to mould society by widening access to information and overcoming the divide between literate and non-literate, high culture and low. Soon to be on the menu: hippies, lunar missions, the Chinese People’s Revolution, Vietnam, African decolonization, Black Panthers, LSD, the Summer of ’68, the pill… and Marshall. pg 133

The printing press was ultimately responsible for the Industrial Revolution, the middle classes, nationalism, and capitalism, ultimately creating a “mechanical culture.” pg 140

The “global village” (is) the world of today created by electrically linked media, a place where humans retribalize through their freedom to bypass time and space. pg 148

“Television brought the brutality of war into the comfort of the living room. Vietnam as lost in the living rooms of America — not on the battlefields of Vietnam.” – M.M.

“The literate man is a sucker for propaganda … you can’t propagandize a native. You can sell him trinkets, but you can’t sell him ideas.” M.M.

“I think of art, at its most basic, as a DEW Line, a Distant Early Warning system that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it.” M.M.

The early 1970s arrived almost as a miniature dark age, pointedly heralded by the 1973 collapse of the Western world’s economy. pg 174

Discarnate man is an electronic human disconnected from his body (a process also called angelism) who is used to speaking to others on the phone continents away while the TV set colonizes his central nervous system. Discarnate man is happy to be asynchronous, as well as everywhere and nowhere — he is a pattern of information, inhabiting a cyberspace world of images and information patterns. pg 176

What war actually feels like

Sebastian Junger was recently a guest on The Daily Show but you really don’t get much of a feel for a book (or the author) from those segments. Not sure why I picked up War but it’s hard to put down.

The war in Afghanistan seems very… abstract to me. I know it’s going on and people are dying (although we see almost no images of that) but it doesn’t seem real. Junger’s book (and the documentary, I assume) makes it seem very real.

I can’t tell if Junger has any views about whether the war is right or wrong or if that’s even a relevant question from the perspective the people fighting it. But his account makes it difficult to imagine anything like “winning.”

“The fact that networks of highly mobile amateurs can confound –even defeat– a professional army is the only thing that has prevented empires from completely determining the course of history. You can’t predict the outcome of a war simply by looking at the numbers.” – page 83

“The moral basis of the war doesn’t seem to interest soldiers much, and its long-term success or failure has a relevance of almost zero. Soldiers worry about those things about as much as farmhands worry about the global economy, which is to say, they recognize stupidity when it’s right in front of them but they generally leave the big picture to others.” – page 25

“…at one mile out (an) aircraft carrier is the size of a pencil eraser held at arm’s length. The plane covers that distance in thirty-six seconds and must land on a section of flight deck measuring seven yards wide and forty-five yards long.” – page 34

“…he joined the Army because he was tired of partying and living at this mother’s house, and now he’s behind sandbags on a hilltop in Afghanistan getting absolutely rocked.” – page 67

“Once while leaning against some sandbags I was surprised to feel some dirt fly in my face. It didn’t make any sense until I heard the gunshots a second later. How close was that round? Six inches? A foot?” – page 71

“It certainly isn’t beautiful up there, but the fact that it might be the last place you’ll ever see does give it a kind of glow.” – page 71

“The problem with fear, though, is that it isn’t any one thing. Fear has a whole taxonomy — anxiety, dread, panic, foreboding — and you could be braced for one form and completely fall apart facing another.” – page 73

“If I had any illusions about personal courage, they dissolved in the days or hours before something big, dread accumulating in my blood like some kind of toxin until I felt too apathetic to even tie my boots properly.” – page 74

“There are different kinds of strength, and containing fear may be the most profound, the one without which armies couldn’t function and wars couldn’t be fought (God forbid).” – page 74

“…an enormous amount of war-fighting simply consists of carrying heavy loads uphill.” – page 75

“If you’re not prepared to walk for someone you’re certainly not prepared to die for them, and that goes to the heart of whether you should even be in the platoon.” – page 77

“(He) had some kind of crazy redneck strength that was more like hydraulics than musculature.” – page 75

“The fact that networks of highly mobile amateurs can confound –even defeat– a professional army is the only thing that has prevented empires from completely determining the course of history. You can’t predict the outcome of a war simply by looking at the numbers.” – page 83

A “Vietnam moment” was one in which you weren’t so much getting misled as getting asked to participate in a kind of collective wishful thinking.” – page 132

“…much of modern military tactics is geared toward maneuvering the enemy into a position where they can essentially be massacred from safety. It sounds dishonorable only if you imagine that modern war is about honor; it’s not. It’s about winning, which means killing the enemy on the most unequal terms possible. Anything less simply results in the loss of more of your own men.” – page 140

“The enemy now had a weapon that unnerved the Americans more than small-arms fire ever could: random luck. Every time you drove down the road you were engaged in a twisted existential exercise where each moment was the only proof you’d ever have that you hadn’t been blown up the moment before.” – page 142

“War is a lot of things and it’s useless to pretend exciting isn’t one of them. It’s insanely exciting. The machinery of war and the sound it makes and the urgency of its use and the consequences of almost everything about it are the most exciting things anyone engaged in war will ever know.”

“War is supposed to feel bad because undeniably bad things happen in it, but for a nineteen-year-old at the working end of a .50 cal during a firefight that everyone comes out of okay, war is life multiplied by some number that no one has ever heard of.” – page 144

“The moral basis of the war doesn’t seem to interest soldiers much, and its long-term success or failure has a relevance of almost zero. Soldiers worry about those things about as much as farmhands worry about the global economy, which is to say, they recognize stupidity when it’s right in front of them but they generally leave the big picture to others.” – page 25

“…at one mile out (an) aircraft carrier is the size of a pencil eraser held at arm’s length. The plane covers that distance in thirty-six seconds and must land on a section of flight deck measuring seven yards wide and forty-five yards long.” – page 34

“…he joined the Army because he was tired of partying and living at this mother’s house, and now he’s behind sandbags on a hilltop in Afghanistan getting absolutely rocked.” – page 67

“Once while leaning against some sandbags I was surprised to feel some dirt fly in my face. It didn’t make any sense until I heard the gunshots a second later. How close was that round? Six inches? A foot?” – page 71

“It certainly isn’t beautiful up there, but the fact that it might be the last place you’ll ever see does give it a kind of glow.” – page 71

“The problem with fear, though, is that it isn’t any one thing. Fear has a whole taxonomy — anxiety, dread, panic, foreboding — and you could be braced for one form and completely fall apart facing another.” – page 73

“If I had any illusions about personal courage, they dissolved in the days or hours before something big, dread accumulating in my blood like some kind of toxin until I felt too apathetic to even tie my boots properly.” – page 74

“There are different kinds of strength, and containing fear may be the most profound, the one without which armies couldn’t function and wars couldn’t be fought (God forbid).” – page 74

“…an enormous amount of war-fighting simply consists of carrying heavy loads uphill.” – page 75

“If you’re not prepared to walk for someone you’re certainly not prepared to die for them, and that goes to the heart of whether you should even be in the platoon.” – page 77

“(He) had some kind of crazy redneck strength that was more like hydraulics than musculature.” – page 75

“The fact that networks of highly mobile amateurs can confound –even defeat– a professional army is the only thing that has prevented empires from completely determining the course of history. You can’t predict the outcome of a war simply by looking at the numbers.” – page 83

A “Vietnam moment” was one in which you weren’t so much getting misled as getting asked to participate in a kind of collective wishful thinking.” – page 132

“…much of modern military tactics is geared toward maneuvering the enemy into a position where they can essentially be massacred from safety. It sounds dishonorable only if you imagine that modern war is about honor; it’s not. It’s about winning, which means killing the enemy on the most unequal terms possible. Anything less simply results in the loss of more of your own men.” – page 140

“The enemy now had a weapon that unnerved the Americans more than small-arms fire ever could: random luck. Every time you drove down the road you were engaged in a twisted existential exercise where each moment was the only proof you’d ever have that you hadn’t been blown up the moment before.” – page 142

“War is a lot of things and it’s useless to pretend exciting isn’t one of them. It’s insanely exciting. The machinery of war and the sound it makes and the urgency of its use and the consequences of almost everything about it are the most exciting things anyone engaged in war will ever know.”

“War is supposed to feel bad because undeniably bad things happen in it, but for a nineteen-year-old at the working end of a .50 cal during a firefight that everyone comes out of okay, war is life multiplied by some number that no one has ever heard of.” – page 144

Laptop Etiquette

Dear Ms Manners:

Picture 2I was chillin’ at the local oxygen bar today when I needed to show my girlfriend something on my MySpace page. One of the regulars had gone to make wee wee so we just scooted over and used his laptop. When he came back he got all pissy about it and took the laptop away from us. I think this was the rudest behavior EVER! You got my back on this one, girl?

Bruised Feelings

Sorry, BF, but it’s the yellow flag for you and your BFF. You don’t go into someone’s home just because the door is unlocked. Even if you know them. You don’t use their car to run down to the Vietnamese Nail Salon, just because the keys are in it. And you don’t use someone’s computer, without asking their permission.

Would you have been upset if you discovered this gentleman going through your lingerie drawer? I mean, you are friends, right?

Ms. Manners

Biography

Mom was a farm girl. Dad was a city boy. The war was over and they met in St. Louis. I was born in 1948 in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, and grew up in Kennett (about an hour to the south). Dad was a “radio announcer” and mom worked for the “welfare department.” Job titles that –like my youth–vanished years ago.

A little piece of shrapnel from the Baby Boom, I watched a lot of TV. In the early 50’s I sat two feet from the Motorola, staring at the Indian-head test pattern until the afternoon programming got underway. The spirit of Norman Rockwell hovered over me through a near-perfect childhood.

The Beatles released I WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND in the US just after Christmas in 1963 and it a very big deal by February of ’64. Hard to imagine a better time to be a high school sophomore. We weren’t paying much attention to Viet Nam, yet.

By the time I started college in the fall of 1966, getting and keeping a draft deferment was top of mind. I quickly switched my major from Business to Theater. Guys were coming back from Viet Nam and bringing good drugs and great music and protesting was catching on, even in the Midwest.

I was part of the first draft lottery and drew number 210, just low enough to be dangerous. Following graduation in 1970, I goofed off all summer before –at my father’s suggestion– entering law school at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. I attended classes and kept my deferment until Nixon froze the draft (in December of 1970) at lottery number 195. I quit law school the following week, just before finals.

In the spring of 1971, I went to work for the U.S. Postal Service as a Postal Inspector. After three months of training in D.C. I was sent to Pendleton, Oregon, where I audited small post offices in Oregon and Washington. I counted stamps and money orders for almost a year and investigated exploded rural mail boxes (a federal crime). Like law school, not what I had in mind.

In early ’72 I returned to the Midwest and hung around Memphis for a few months before returning to Kennett in early summer. In July, I started working at KBOA on the overnight shift and found my true calling. For the next dozen years I spun records and MC’d the Little Miss Christmas Belle Pageant.

In March, 1973, I met Barb at Tommy’s North-End Cafe and fell in love. We dated for six years and married in 1978.

In June, 1984, we moved to Jefferson City, Missouri, to work for Learfield Communications. For the next 15 years or so, I handled affiliate relations for the company’s various radio networks. When the Internet came along, I got the bug and slowly started migrating in that  direction. I now spend most of my waking hours online –with periodic breaks for Barb and the dogs–and look forward to every day.

March 8, 2003

“When was the last time you saw a dead American soldier on TV?”

Flagdrapedcoffiin

I was talking with a co-worker about Lara Logan’s (CBS Chief Foreign Correspondent) recent appearance on The Daily Show. She posed the question, “When was the last time you saw a dead American soldier on TV?” She was making the point that media in the U. S. has been MIA on the war in Iraq (except for that victorious march into Baghdad).

My co-worker’s take was: “The only reason to show a dead American soldier would be to turn someone against the war.”

Or maybe that war is news and death is part of the story?

Actually, I didn’t have a response. I can understand that view coming from W or Rumsfeld (back in the day). But how many citizens feel the same? How many would rather not to see the bloody reality of war on their TV screens?

By this logic, we also shouldn’t be seeing the critically wounded at Walter Reed. Or can we translate missing limbs to a “don’t-let-their-sacrifices-be-in-vain” message?

So I’m asking myself why we saw more dead troops during the Viet Nam war, and it came to me. We had lots of reporters on the front lines in that war. But not so many on the mean streets of Baghdad.

In the old days, you could make a career filing reports from the front lines. Sure, you could shot, but you weren’t likely to wind up the star of a YouTube beheading video.

Naw, American journalism took a pass on this war. Better to let the Brits cover this one.

Bush: “We have a better way. Kill them!”

A little gem from “Wiser in Battle: A Soldier’s Story,” the new autobiography of retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the onetime commander of U.S. troops in Iraq.

Following the the killing of the four contractors in Fallujah in 2004, W tried to go all George C. Patton in a video conference with his national security team and generals:

“Kick ass!” he quotes the president as saying. “If somebody tries to stop the march to democracy, we will seek them out and kill them! We must be tougher than hell! This Vietnam stuff, this is not even close. It is a mind-set. We can’t send that message. It’s an excuse to prepare us for withdrawal.”

“There is a series of moments and this is one of them. Our will is being tested, but we are resolute. We have a better way. Stay strong! Stay the course! Kill them! Be confident! Prevail! We are going to wipe them out! We are not blinking!”

Can you imagine being in combat with dick-wad like Bush commanding your unit?

Bring back the draft

Viet Nam wasn’t going well. We needed more “boots on the ground,” so they re-instituted the draft on December 1, 1969 with a lottery. Low number, you’re on your way to Viet Nam. High number, you’re okay. My number was 213 (out of 365). The draft was frozen at 195 in December of 1970. I dropped out of law school the next day.

In 1968, we had 536,100 troops in Viet Nam (compared to our 140,000 in Iraq). If we had the draft today, the war in Iraq would be over by the Fourth of July.

Tommy Lee Jones, then and now

We watched In the Valley of Elah last night (rented from iTunes). I was pleasantly surprised to learn it was a murder mystery (sort of). Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron and Susan Sarandon all gave powerful performances.

For me the story was about how war can change the people we send to fight it. And I was reminded of one of Tommy Lee Jones’ earlier movies, Rolling Thunder (1977).

It was a so-so movie starring William Devane but Jones owned every scene he was in. He played Cpl. Johnny Vohden, a soldier who had served under Devane’s character in Viet Nam. Johnny is back, but he’s not “back.”

So, when Devane asks him to go down to Mexico to avenge Devane’s murdered family, Tommy Lee gets up, walks into his bedroom, picks up a little gym bag  and walks out the door. See the movie.

In In the Valley of Elah, Jones’ son, who is serving in Iraq, is that same burned out soldier with the thousand-yard stare.

TLJ was great in No Country for Old Men, but I thought his performance in Valley of Elah was even better.