Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Dear Charlie:

Anyone who knows me well knows that I hate talking politics almost as much as I love it. I love it because it's intellectually challenging and because I learn something new from every person I speak to. But I hate it because everyone gets personally and emotionally involved, or maybe invested, in their argument -- I claim this hill for Spain, and by God and Sonny Jesus, I will defend it to death! -- that they lose all logic. Every reasonable point degenerates into, "Liar-liar-pants-on-fire!"

However, I just had the rare and, I think, beautiful opportunity -- thank you, Richard -- to prescreen a movie that's not yet out to the general public. The movie is called Lions for Lambs, a title which is apparently derived from German poetry about the British army during World War II. See, the Germans admired the British grunts -- their nobility, dedication, and loyalty to their cause -- even as they laughed at the British leaders and their strategies. One of the movie characters quotes a line something like this: "Never have I seen such lions fighting for such lambs". Not quite a paraphrase, but I wouldn't bank on the exact quote.

At any rate, this movie will piss a lot of people off. Leftists will bemoan that it's another piece of rightie propaganda to further endanger our boys Over There by stirring up out-dated patriot majumba to continue fighting an unwinnable war. Righties will shake their heads and mutter about more leftist defeatism, more liberal exposure of weak-kneed diplomacy and do-gooder tree-hugging.

They're both right, but they're also both wrong.

For the first time in a long time, we folks in the middle have something to both admire and despise in the same movie -- the closest thing to truth we're gonna get in a country where the 4 main national TV networks are as polarized on politics as a car battery. In fact, despite the liberals crying that the media is too conservative, if you spit out the alphabet of national networks, only the first three letters will give you a solidly conservative stripe. Not saying it's more right -- heh, no pun intended because it is awful rightie. In fact, it's just as wrong as the 3 liberal stations. It's just in the minority.

Somewhere between the two -- waaaaaaaaay back in the middle -- is the truth. We, the People, will never get it from them. And we won't get it from this movie.

However, we will get both points of view laid side-by-side for study. At least, that's how I saw it.

See, I'm a centrist. Logic, logic, logic. It's cold, and it's not always comfortable, but by God, it would get results. I admit that, jaded as I am by the liberal media, I went into this movie assuming I'd be fed the current liberal line that war is bad; if we love our boys, we'll bring them home immediately; and that the only way out of this war is defeat. I'm sorry, but I don't believe that.

But I also don't believe we're on the right track to winning right now. We're making progress, and even the media can't keep that quiet now, but it's slow and painstaking. I'm fine with that. Slow progress is usually permanent progress, after all. I don't like how many of our friends and family members are dying to reach that progress, but there's that omelets-to-eggs ratio that is so inconvenient to think about.

Yes, I have loved ones over there. No, I've not yet lost anyone close, thank God. And yes, when I say "thank God", I mean it as a small prayer, not just something to say.

Now, on to the movie, now that I've laid the groundwork.

I expected defeatism. I got a surprise. I think I got a pleasant one. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy the movie, but I didn't find myself rolling my eyes. Didn't find myself shifting in my seat and wondering how the liberal media would crow in triumph at this part or the conservative media would point to this line or that one with smug satisfaction.

This movie combines ex-protestors with Generation Why-ers. You know, the one after Generation X. The one that, instead of "ask not what your country can do for you" asks "why bother?" It combines idealists with realists. It combines a liberal journalist with a conservative and extremely gung-ho (and well-spoken and slick as a used car salesman with a year-old Aston Martin on the lot) senator. And it combines patriotism with with loyalty -- two things that used to be synonymous and are now so many shades of grey that only the color blind know for sure.

The ex-protestor regrets that his two most promising students chose to go to war even as he applauds their reasons for doing so. Gee, could that be logic at work? He tries desperately to reach a new student -- the Generation Why-er -- who has that same kind of potential, but would throw it away so he never has to be put on the spot again, never has to make a stand and possibly be embarrassed. Never has to make a decision on his own because then he'd have no one to blame when it went bad.

The idealists go to war knowing full well that they might not come back, but armed with the knowledge that if they do, they'll have that much more leverage to make their ideals a reality when they return. The realists try to nay-say them, try to humiliate them to keep them down, try to make them feel stupid about themselves. And when all that fails, they try to call them hypocrites.

Which is when the idealists produce their "report for duty" papers to show that they, if no one else, are willing to put their money where their mouth is. They will live their ideals, even if it means dying for them.

And the liberal reporter gets a solid, uninterrupted hour with the conservative senator who claims to have an actual, real solution for winning the war and wants to give her the "scoop" because she did him a solid back when he was first running. She doubts and questions and heaps defeat on his every word, while he remains solid on his beliefs -- note that I do not say facts or statistics -- and offers actual, real answers to her doubt-laden questions.

And at one point, he asks The Question: "Do you want to win this war?"

See, that's the question on everyone's mind. It's a simple yes or no question. To qualify or quantify it is to lose. What it comes down to right now in this country, what defines your "politics" right now, is whether you answer yes or no...or if you waffle. "Well, that's a complicated question." No, it isn't. "I need more facts." No, you don't.

Do you want to win? Or are you so committed to defeat that you'd rather lose than try?

And see, I think that's where the heart of this movie lies. Lay. Whatever. It's not whether you win or lose; it's whether you're proud of how you did what you end up with. Did you take a stand? Did you try to do what was right? Did you make your own decision?

One character asks, "But what happens if it doesn't work?"

I say, that's a defeatist question. That question leads to accepting the status quo. That question is a stall tactic to forestall change, for better or worse. If you're so afraid of losing that you never try to win, you'll never learn what it's like to be brave, be true, to stand (thanks again to Stephen King for the line). If you're so afraid of losing, what is it worth to win? Why not just roll over and expose your vulnerable belly to hasten the kill and make it painless?

Why try in the first place if you're not willing to risk it all for success?

Lions for Lambs asks this very question on several different levels. Personal. Professional. National. International. It asks it of a student getting ready to make the choices that will effect the rest of his life, because he is in the first steps of his adult life. It asks it of a reporter who must decide if her personal politics compare to how the nation views a war she never truly agreed with. It asks it of a senator who is, of course, looking to the White House but truly wants to end a war against an evil he cannot abide and refuses to tolerate any longer. And it asks it of two idealists in a foreign country where blood is the currency and everyone wants to know how rich you are before you die.

So yeah. I liked this movie. It made me think. It made me consider. And in surprisingly many places, it made me laugh. Surprising because it's such a serious movie to have such honest humor in so many unexpected places.

I don't care if it wins awards. I don't care what professional reviewers think of it. I don't even care what the makers or actors thought while making it, their personal politics, their voices for or against the war.

I care what I think, and while I may not always make my voice heard, I do want to say my piece. I mean, why not? This is America. Isn't that what we're fighting for?


At 12:03 AM, Blogger pacatrue said...

Hiya Gutterball,

I thought I'd drop by your blog because I haven't done so in a while and shoot the breeze about the Chiefs and the Titans, and then I find this detailed important post!

I too have "centrist" leanings politically. Pretty much the only political blog I read routinely now is one called The Moderate Voice. A few of the people are true moderates, some are liberals, and some are just independent.

Here's where I think a lot of people get caught up with the Iraq war: The basic problem is that eventual success or failure is tied up with whether or not it was the right thing to do in the first place. I am someone who thought it was the wrong war and unnecessary. We could have done far more to fight terrorism with the resources we've spent there than we will achieve with the war in Iraq. I also just morally reject the idea of "pre-emptive" war, because, as it turned out this time in fact, we often don't have as much knowledge of the future as we think we do. So from my point of view, it was the wrong decision to go there in the first place.

But, now that you are there, you want to "win" of course. I put win in quotes only because I still do not think we have clear objectives for our military, but in general, now that we are there, both Iraqis and Americans will be better off if we succeed. Going was the wrong choice in my mind both morally and practically, but now that we are there the right thing both morally and practically is to succeed.

I think the problem comes on both the left and the right because people can't separate what we do now from what we should have done in 2003. If we win now, the fear is that people will go, "look, pre-emptive war is great! Let's do it again!" But all that really happened is that our amazing military, our lions, managed to pull off a one of a kind feat from a lousy situation they were given. And so to avoid people recommending more preemptive wars, you end up with lots of people almost wanting us to lose. Does this make any sense?

My analogy would be something like little Tommy is wrestling in the house with Jimmy and breaks the DVD player. To make up for it, he mows lawns for the summer, buys a new even better DVD player, and learns about responsibility. So in the end things are actually better than they were before. The Right, in this analogy, might conclude that breaking the chairs was great because the outcome was so great. Let's break some more chairs! The Left in this analogy don't want people to keep breaking chairs and so they keep telling Tommy to stop mowing and just live with the broken DVD player. Of course, both conclusions are wrong.

There's also the simple practical question of what can and cannot be achieved. Facts are not altered by our will. No matter how much we want water to boil at 150 degrees, it in fact boils at 212 degrees. And if there is no possible way to achieve a certain goal due to facts beyond our control, read here the Iraqi political situation, then departing has nothing to do with desire to win or lose; it's just recognizing reality -- IF it is reality.

Sorry, those are my thoughts on your post. The movie sounds very good.

Oops! I went long-winded on you. Go Titans!

At 7:26 AM, Blogger GutterBall said...

Hey, Pac-Man! Good to see you!

See, this is why I love my country. We both agree but in a totally disparate way. You don't think we should have gone, but you are willing to support the effort now that we're there. Good on ya, man.

I, on the other hand, have no problem with the fact of the war, but I think we went with the wrong reasons and with a lack of foresight. See, President Bush, Sr., knew that sticking a sword in that particular snake would only make it stronger and more angry. So he poked at it, but only to make his point.

President Bush, Jr....well, didn't learn from the lesson. That area does need stability, but it won't come from that blitzkrieg of a war we won up front. And yes, I don't think anyone doubts that our frighteningly effective display in those first few weeks was anything short of victory.

The reason the war is dragging on is because we didn't know what we were in for. We didn't know the insurgents and splinter terrorist groups would be so dedicated that they wouldn't see that massive victory and roll over because of it. And we didn't know that not chopping of the respective heads of the resistence immediately would so embolden the followers.

Well, some of us did, but bygones and all that.

But yeah, now that we're over there, I want to win -- in a clearly defined way. We ostensibly went there to bring stability to the area. Let's do that. But let's keep in mind that, when given a free and open vote, the majority of people there voted in a dictatorial, borderline-terrorist organization.

Stability is the hard part of the equation, and it's the part that will take the longest to nurture. Because it's the part that's been lacking for so long in that region that I'm not sure people would recognize it if they had it. Does that make sense?

At 8:36 AM, Blogger Richard said...

Just for a side reference, I believe the exact quotation of the poetry went like this; "Nowhere have I seen such Lions led by such Lambs."
which as you said, comes from a German poetry that many believes is a reference to the Battle of the Somme.
Nice blog btw and you're welcome ^^

At 9:21 AM, Blogger GutterBall said...

Excellent! It's that "led by" that I couldn't remember. Thank you!

And definitely thanks for the ticket. Haven't enjoyed a political movie like that in YEARS.


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