A friend asked me for a list of my favorite war movies a while ago, and I decided to make it into a blog post. I may put up a sequel to this list for various specific historical periods, but for now, here is what I consider to be “the Best of the Best.” The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (and here) (and here). (1943). My favorite movie of all time, period. I had the good fortune to see the remastered, uncut version on the big screen at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1988, in gloriously restored Technicolor. The story begins with a fat, washed up, outdated, walrus-moustached English Home Guard Colonel being humiliated by a modern young officer, who ambushes him by preempting the starting time for a military exercise. Not sporting at all, old boy. The entire movie is a flashback covering 40 years of the life of Col. Clive Candy (as he turns out to) up to that moment. An epic of the demise of old-fashioned ideals of patriotism, decency and fair-play in the modern world of “total” war. The always reliable Deborah Kerr (in her first starring role) does triple duty playing Col. Candy’s love interest(s) – – three different women over the course of his life, a brilliant performance which captures the “modern girl” circa 1900, 1920 and 1940. Col. Blimp is not really a war movie, since it has no battle scenes, other than one excellent serio-comic sword fight. Rather it is a portrait of a particular kind of warrior and gentleman whose day was (apparently) coming to an end. Badly butchered versions of this movie are out there, so be sure to settle for nothing less than the restored, full-length 163 min. version. (recently reissued on DVD.) (I received a copy of this as a Christmas present and am well-pleased with it.) The Battle for Algiers (1965) (and here). In my darker moods, I’d say this is my favorite movie. A semi-documentary about the Algerian revolution against French rule, and the harsh but (initially) effective measures employed by the French to crush the resistance. While the director, Gillo Pontecorvo was a Marxist and sympathetic to the Algerians, he shows the cruelty of their terrorism without blinking, and he shows the hard-handed French as professional soldiers, without rancor or caricature. Unfortunately, the movie is something of a darling of leftists, who talk about how horrible it is that the captured terrorists are being tortured, while never mentioning that they and their comrades are sneaking bombs into public places to murder women and children. The one-sided critical response to this film shows the moral vacancy at the heart of western liberalism, especially of the academic/intellectual variety. Without regard to all that, this is the best movie about terrorism and guerilla warfare that I know of and truly brilliant movie, period. (Oddly, there are very few still images from the movie available on the net. There is however an excellent book, Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers by Franco Solinas, which contains many stills and the full script.) That Hamilton Woman (1941). A sentimental favorite. Reputedly Winston Churchill’s favorite movie. (Incidentally, Churchill hated Col. Blimp.) Legend has it that Alexander Korda got funding for the film by letting Churchill write some of Nelson’s lines: “You can’t negotiate with dictators! You’ve got to stamp them out!”– That has a Churchillian ring. Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh play Lord Nelson, Britain’s greatest naval hero, and Emma Hamilton, the wife of England’s ambassador to Naples, and Nelson’s mistress. The historical facts are roughly accurate. Olivier and Leigh were married at the time, but that didn’t prevent these two monumental egos from trying to outdo, and even upstage, each other at every turn. (Vivien Leigh wins this struggle hands down.) The stars and the character actors all show just how technically good the old-school theatre-trained British actors could be. The scene where Mrs. Nelson confronts Emma is superbly acted out with very little dialogue between the two women, but primarily with body English and facial expressions. Made during Britain’s darkest days during WWII, it had a low budget and it shows, though the black and white is a positive in my opinion. Anyway, actors like these didn’t need special effects. And Vivien Liegh was never more beautiful than in this movie, which is saying something. The Cranes are Flying (and here) is the tale of young lovers Boris and Veronica, whose happiness is destroyed by the German invasion of the Soviet Union, and the travails suffered by Veronica, and how she overcomes them. These various links describe the film better than I can. The movie starred the extraordinary Tatiana Samoilova (some stills here; scroll down). I saw this at the Art Institute in Chicago, and even that hyper-sophisticated crowd was mesmerized by this film. It is the only time I have ever walked out of a movie where the crowd was totally silent, with tears streaming down their faces. Black Hawk Down (2001). With Saving Private Ryan, war movies have recently gotten bloody and “realistic”. Black Hawk Down is the best war movie so far of this new era. Too late to see it on the big screen. A pity for you if you didn’t for this is true big-screen film. It also does justice to the book, which is an achievement. The movie is harsh stuff. One friend of mine walked out. Too much blood. The skill, competence and coolness of the American troops under absolutely horrendous conditions is the subtext throughout the movie. Very impressive, and based closely on the actual facts. The episode where two Delta Force guys are helicoptered into the middle of a howling armed mob (and, knowingly, to their doom) to try to protect a downed helicopter crew is incredibly moving – – pure, selfless heroism, with nothing glamorous about it, just stone cold professionalism. Only two posthumous medals of honor since Vietnam, I read somewhere. (Read the book too, as well as the author, Mark Bowden’s, article about Saddam Hussein, and his interview about how he researched it.) The Wild Bunch . (1969). Why is this on a war movie list? Sam Peckinpah’s notorious “ballet of death” came out at the height of the Vietnam war. The death of a bunch of Americans getting mixed up in a foreign civil war they don’t understand, and dying pointlessly while killing lots of the locals, is a pretty heavy-handed metaphor. Also despite the horses and cowboy hats, it has uniformed men running around with Springfield rifles, a mass attack on a water-cooled machine gun, .45 cal. automatic pistols, hand-grenades, a German advisor, etc. It looks like a war movie. So, you can make a case it’s a war movie. It is also, of course, a Western, but it is a Western about the death of the Old West, the death of personalized honor codes and of personalized violence, the end of horses and six guns, the rise of organized and large-scale violence, internal combustion and automatic weapons. The film recounts the final days of a band of hard-bitten desperados, led by Pike, played by William Holden in his greatest role: “…we’re gonna stick together like it used to be. When you side with a man, you stick with him, and if you don’t, you’re like some animal… then you’re finished… we’re finished … all of us.” The fact emerges that Pike has failed this code more often than he has kept it. As one of the friends he once betrayed closes in on him, he and the bunch strap on their guns one last time and go off to certain death. To live up to their code? Or because they are already ghosts in this new world? Or because all that cornered rats know how to do is turn and bite? Make sure you see the uncut, long version, which clocks in at 144 minutes. The butchered shorter version omits key scenes without which the motivation of the main characters is barely comprehensible. (This short article about the film is insightful.)
James Bennett speculates. He thinks the only plausible current justification for empire is to “secure those areas of the world that can be characterized as failed states or regions of ethnic conflict than cannot be resolved within the currently existing frame of reference.” Even then it isn’t such a hot idea. His hypothetical examples are Liberia and Israel. The Israeli example is dispositive:
Similarly, would they be willing to contemplate making Israel a state or territory of the United States, again, permanently? The United States extends a security guarantee to Israel little short of what it extends to its own national territory, but the Israeli government has the ability to make that guarantee more or less difficult by its actions, in a way a U.S. state government does not. The logic of empire would demand that Israel be brought under formal control as the price of its guarantee. This would be the end of the Zionist dream in some respects, but would guarantee the security of Israelis as no other action could.Americans wouldn’t want to do it and Israelis wouldn’t trust them to. Israel wouldn’t be willing to pay the price in independence. And why should we prop up Israeli socialism? (And would an economically reformed, more productive Israel even need us?)
I raise both of these cases not as serious proposals but as examples to try to concretize the question of what empire might mean in the 21st century. It is more likely that the mild hegemony currently enjoyed by the United States as a by-product of its technological, financial, and social successes is as much empire as most Americans are willing to contemplate, or pay for. It is also more likely that the future lies in the further development of the international cooperative links such as NATO and the North American Free Trade Agreement into organizations that are more loose commonwealth than empire.Exactly. The idea of an American empire in the style of past empires is fantasy. The U.S. isn’t likely to benefit from annexing five or 10 more Puerto Ricos, and productive countries will do much better to see us as a trading and cultural partner rather than a patron. (There’s also moral hazard in our implicitly holding out colonial status to dysfunctional countries as an alternative to their domestic reform. The very fact that we think it’s valuable to stabilize a region gives its inhabitants leverage over us. If we involved ourselves and insisted that they reformed, would we — who wouldn’t be there if we didn’t value their stability more than they did — leave as long as they appeared to be making an effort? I suspect that it is always easier for local elites to placate bwana than to do the hard, and perhaps personally disempowering, work of liberalizing their own backward economies.) Rather than talk of empire, we should invite countries like Israel into NAFTA while at the same time reducing the subsidies we pay to them. That would increase their incentive to reform. Our treating them as colonies would only increase their incentive to remain unproductive and, hence, dependent.
(Bennett link: Instapundit)
I may well be totally wrong on everything, but what the Hell, let’s just throw it at the wall and see what sticks. Iraq. The United States will conquer Iraq before March 1, 2003. The war will be brief, a true blitzkreig of stunning speed and force, and marked by the use of many new and massively effective weapons. The utter demolition of the Iraqi state and military will be evident in a matter of hours. Britain and Australia will make substantive contributions, though others may be along for the ride. Most of the world will respond to this smashing victory of American arms with sullen anger or vocal anger. The swift and crushing nature of the victory will make the United States feared and hated more than we are now in foreign countries. This will be most extreme in Europe, less so in poorer countries. Violence against Americans will break out in Western European countries, especially France and Germany. The American public will be ambivalent about the whole thing, though disclosures about the horrendous conditions in Iraq, and the relief if not joy of the liberated Iraqis, will convince a majority in this country that the war was just. As a result of this ambivalence, Bush will not get much political boost from the war. The occupation will last many years, perhaps in perpetuity. The Bush administration has bold plans to bring democracy to the Mideast. But, as yet, it is impossible to say whether these will be successful or a complete disaster, though by the end of 2003 we may have a decent idea of where things are heading. Economics, Finance, Technology. I leave all predictions in these categories for the other ChicagoBoyz, who know much better than I what the Hell they are talking about on such matters. (So Jon, Ralf and Sylvain, let’s get your predictions on the record here.) (And Seth, too, for that matter.) Politics. Wishful news media thinking is predicting that Bill Frist will be difficult for Bush to work with. Wrong. Frist will prove to be an articulate and effective Senate Leader who will work well with Bush. As a physician, he will have credibility when presenting Republican proposals for health care reform, which will be enacted in ’03. His elevation to the SML and the shit-canning of Lott have been a hands-down win for the Republicans. The Democrats will get essentially no benefit from what happened with Lott, and will have much to mourn at the accession of the appealing and tactically adept Frist to a visible, senior position. (An aside – it is a miracle that the whole Trent thing occurred after the election, too late to do the GOP serious harm, but before the new Congress came in, when it would have been much harder to force him out of the SML post. The GOP really dodged a bullet.) The Republicans will introduce a federal partial-birth abortion ban. It will be contentious. Bush will strongly support it. It will pass and be signed into law. The more libertarian (and/or libertine) wing of the GOP won’t like it, and there is some risk involved of alienating suburban voters who are moderately pro-choice. But Bush and Rove know that they need to cement the base prior to the run-up to ’04, and they know that polls consistently show strong support for the ban once people know what is involved. So, they’ll chance it. This will happen before the Summer, to get it out of the way. Hillary Clinton has been picked to respond to W’s State of the Union Speech. This is interesting for several reasons. One, it reflects the Democrat’s ongoing response to their November defeat: turning left. Exhibit A is the appointment of Nancy Pelosi as House Minority Leader. More significantly, putting Hillary up is a test-run for the 2004 Hillary for President campaign, which I herewith predict. Hillary is the clear Democrat front-runner. (See also Dick Morris on this point: “Notable, too, is how Hillary Clinton blows away all competitors. When she enters the field, she dominates with 40 percent. Way behind are Kerry and Lieberman at 16 percent and 15 percent. Hillary can get the Democratic nomination when she asks for it.) Morris concludes however that “she won’t ask until 2008.” I don’t agree. (And anyway Morris is always wrong lately, and he can’t be objective about Hillary, whom he hates.) The critical fact is that there is a leadership vacuum in the Democratic Party. The time to strike is now. 2008 is too far away. The Clintons are risk-takers and opportunists, and they have political courage. The gang of empty suits which is getting ready to run (Gephardt, Daschle, Kerry, Lieberman, to a lesser extent, Edwards) is so boring and awful that the core liberal Democrat voters whom I know are practically in despair. Two bellwether female liberal Democrats (my wife and mother-in-law) both told me they’d vote for whoever the Green candidate is rather than Lieberman, for example. Voters of this ilk will be elated by a sharply partisan, very left, very feminist Hillary run. These voters will be ecstatic to see the name Clinton on a ticket again. They loved Bill Clinton and wished he could have run a third time. I know Hillary said she won’t run, but Clintons lie and their supporters don’t care, and she’ll come up with some reason why she feels duty-bound to run. Count on it. She’ll run, and we will know it sometime before the leaves turn in ’03. Oh yeah, she will raise monumental amounts of money, clobber all opposition, and get the nomination in a walk. I’ll go out a little farther on a limb and tell you that General Wesley Clark (and here) will be Hillary’s running mate. Clark has been running around in New Hampshire, (and here) not quite running for President, but making it clear that he is not not running, either. With the telegenic General Clark on board, Hillary’s campaign will have instant credibility on military affairs. General Clark will barnstorm the country with a scathing critique of the Bush administration on pre-9/11 security, blaming W and his team for failing to stop the attacks, and criticizing each and every military action Bush et al. have taken. Clark will also attack Bush personally as a chickenhawk son of privilege who sat out Vietnam. Clark’s stripping away of Bush’s “War President” advantage, plus a run to the center by Hillary once she’s got the nomination, will be a very effective campaign. If I had to bet a dollar today, I’d say Clinton/Clark should win solidly over Bush/Cheney. As it dawns on the Bush team that they are going to lose the ’04 presidential election under this scenario, I predict that they will, sometime in ’03, move to ease Cheney out, due to “health problems” to open up the VP slot to someone who can add more to the ticket. They will want to do this early so as not to appear reactive. They may even put in someone as a “placeholder” until the convention. However they play it, I predict that the Republican ticket will be Bush/Rice in ’04. I am certain Condaleeza Rice does not want to do it. She seems to sincerely loathe the political process, which is reasonable. But I think she will do it if Bush asks for her help, because she is a loyalist and a team player. Bush/Rice should be a winner over Clinton/Clark. So, get ready for lots of political excitement in ’03. One other detail – a Hillary run means Terry McAuliffe keeps his job, even though his bad leadership had a lot to do with the Democrat defeat in ’04. He is a handpicked Clintonista who will work against any of her opponents and channel money to Hillary. Culture. We won’t need to reach for our revolvers this year. Some good things will be happening. For one thing, one of our wiser and more learned pundits, James C. Bennett, will publish his long-awaited book in ’03. Bennett is the historian, analyst and prophet of the ancient and ongoing Anglosphere, and its future articulation as a “Network Commonwealth”. Bookmark the link to his columns. They are always good. I and many others await this book eagerly. I predict it will not only be very good, but it will also be a very influential book, whatever its initial sales, which I hope will be substantial. Now, moving, way, way down the cultural and intellectual scale, I reiterate my earlier prediction that The Donnas will be huge in ’03. By “huge” I mean a nation-wide phenomenon. Big. Ubiquitous. My good pal Max strongly disagrees, and he offered these bitter words:
…the Donnas will not be “absolutely huge” by next summer — nor any summer. To think otherwise is to grossly overestimate the high-mindedness of the Keepers of Radio (ClearChannel, et al). Yeah, there are a few stations that will throw us a bone and toss the occasional White Stripes/Hives/Strokes tune into the mix, and yes, they may add the Donnas to their rotation, but “absolutely huge” they will never be (nor will Cat Power, nor will Sleater-Kinney …)I take his point. But I do not rely on anyone’s high-mindedness for this prediction. To the contrary. It will not be (nonexistent) good taste of the music industry which will drive the Donnas to stardom. It will be greed. The music business has been suffering from a dearth of new talent with the potential for mass appeal and a long-term ability to sell lots of product. The Donnas have commercial appeal. They are reasonably pretty women who can be marketed as “hot babes.” They sing about non-controversial topics like partying, getting high, getting drunk and irresponsible sex. They have some catchy songs, and a killer guitar sound that will jump off the radio. And they are not in any way avant garde, really, the way Sleater Kinney or Cat Power are, to use Max’s examples, so the Donnas’ mass appeal is not compromised by anything “artsy”. Also, the Donnas appear to be a pretty good investment for a record company. They have been a band for eight years, so they are a pretty tightly-knit team, not likely to fly apart under stress too easily. And despite their feigned image as wild party-girls, they are clearly a bunch of committed, ambitious suburban gals with a good work ethic. All reports are that they put on a killer live show. That is the proof of the pudding. You can only do that consistently, year in and year out, if you have discipline and drive. Most importantly, I now have objective corroboration that ’03 is going to be the Donnas’ breakthrough year. They will be one of the featured bands on MTV’s “ Spankin’ New” program. As this article notes record companies are getting desperate over another year of “anemic” sales, and so “[w]ith the music industry slumping, MTV is intent on breaking new bands in 2003.” I hold to my prediction. The Donnas will be blaring out of car radios coast-to-coast this Summer. And we could do a lot worse. They do ROCK. On a more tasteful note, the Muffs‘ long-awaited new album (scroll down) will actually materialize in 2003. It will be a very good record, I predict with confidence. I hope the near-total silence on their website of late is a sign of intense activity putting on the finishing touches on the new masterpiece and not anything dire or worrisome. Commercial success seems a long-shot, for any number of reasons, but I just want the dang thing in the cd player blarin’ — soon. I hope they will tour as far into the heartland as Chicago. Fingers crossed for that. (Also, I just noticed these videos of some super-cool Muffs songs available on the net: “New Love”, “Sad Tomorrow” (what is up with that pancake makeup on Kim in this video, anyway?), and “Lucky Guy”.) (This MP4 site looks pretty decent, generally.) I note with concern that the Five Foot Two website no longer lists a new Lisa Marr Experiment record as forthcoming. Hmmm. I could have sworn that used to be on there. I note with jealousy that something called “Radiosonic”, on “29 June 2002” apparently played five Lisa Marr Experiment songs which are not on the (brilliant) last album, entitled “Shooting Stars”, “Iron Girl”, “Do You Really Wanna Know”, ” Monday Morning Echo Park” and “Slaughter House”. I also note that the very great eddog site (many great photos) has a LMX setlist (typed, even) from a show on September 27, 2002, which cryptically shows two versions(?) of “Donna Lee” as well as five other tunes not on the last album: “Little Red Bird”, “Carolina”, “Lou Reed”, “Niagara” and “Slim”. Hell, that’s ten songs, about enough for a new album right there. So, no prediction on it, but poor old Lex is hoping, nay pining, for a new Lisa Marr record in 2003.