Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bad and Sad and Scary

It is the moment of the boomerang. --Jean-Paul Sartre

My brain is not well.
A gunky head cold overtook me on Christmas afternoon, and I haven't left the house till now, two days later.

Last night and this morning, I lay on the couch watching the 3-DVD set of Battle of Algiers, which includes almost 5 hours of Special Features:
documentaries about terrorism, torture, and political violence, including a fascinating interview from a couple years ago with two American security advisors.

(They are Richard A. Clarke, former national counterterrorism coordinator and Michael A. Sheehan, former State Department coordinator for counterterrorism.)

These men both point out that the film shows torture does, in fact, work:
the French use of "rough interrogations" during the Algerian war of indpendence (1954-1962) led to their capture of the revolutionary leaders who organized bombings against European civilians in Algiers.

But both advisors also point out that the use of torture is bad policy ("besides being immoral and illegal," one of them notes).
It is bad policy, they say, because while effective in the short run, it breeds hatred that encourages more resistance in the long run. The French won the Battle of Algiers, but they lost the war.

The use of torture "is a hydra," one of the advisors notes, referring to the mythical monster that grows two heads for every one cut one off.
He referred to the old advice from the Vietnam War era that victories are won not just by winning militarily but by winning "hearts and minds." (Though in Vietnam that was a vicious farce.)
We have to win through having better values and ideas, the advisor said.

I am at the library now and, as chance would have it, the DVD of the documentary Hearts and Minds about the United States's involvement in Vietnam is available for check out.

I thought coming out to the library would cheer me up, but when I sat down here at my laptop, the first thing I see is that Benazir Bhutto has been assassinated in Pakistan.
When I hear bad and sad news like this, I wonder if this time we are hearing the final bit of news that will push the world over the edge.

In this mood, I e-mailed my sister, who replied that maybe I needed a dose of Monty Python.
She's right.
I am going to check out "Hearts and Minds,"
but tonight I am going to watch some or all of the four Star Trek episodes that came from Netflix today.
(They are from the series' first year, 1966, the same year Battle of Algiers came out.)

It's not Monty Python, but even the most serious Star Trek show provides some bizarre, restorative humor--at the very least through its low-budget special effects and costumes that don't quite fit anyone or that look as if they're made out of orange garbage bags...

I'll get back to political violence when my head clears.

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