Singing the Bite Me Song


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September 24, 2006

A thing of beauty: Former President Clinton gives Chris Wallace a smackdown

I've been around and watched Bill Clinton work since he was governor in Arkansas. One of the oddest things about him was how he never let the nastiness (and in Arkansas, you would not believe the nastiness) get to him. His supporters would get riled up at some outrage, but he'd just blythely say, "Well, it's just politics."

Which makes the transcript below (and hit the link to get the video off the Crooks and Liars site) so wonderfully delicious, because when he lets loose, he lets loose with both barrels. I'm not sure what he's thinking about it now, but many of us are rejoicing. It is one thing never to let anyone see that they've pushed your buttons, but it's quite another to give someone a verbal smackdown they so richly deserve, and to do it well. Makes you long for the old days when oratorical skills actually meant winning arguments.

I think I have to nominate Clinton for the first-ever Bite Me award. Let's all give him a rousing chorus of the Bite Me Song! (sung to the tune of Yale's "Boola Boola" song)

Bite me bite me! Bite me bite me!
Bite me bite me. Bite me bite me!

Again, with feeling!

Link: Crooks and Liars | Fox Clinton Interview - Part 1 - Osama bin Laden.

Thanks to Crooks and Liars, for the transcription. This must be preserved for posterity.

Fox_fns_clinton_part1_060924a1 Here’s the transcript of the Wallace/Clinton interview below the fold:

CW:    When we announced that you were going to be on FOX News Sunday, I got a lot of email from viewers, and I’ve got to say, I was surprised most of them wanted me to ask you this question: Why didn’t you do more to put Bin Laden and al Qaeda out of business when you were President? There’s a new book out which I suspect you’ve read called The Looming Tower. And it talks about how the fact that when you pulled troops out of Somalia in 1993, Bin Laden said, "I have seen the frailty and the weakness and the cowardice of US troops." Then there was the bombing of the embassies in Africa and the attack on the USS Cole

WJC:   Okay…

CW:     …May I just finish the question, sir? And after the attack, the book says Bin Laden separated his leaders because he expected an attack and there was no response. I understand that hindsight is 20/20…

WJC:  No, let’s talk about…

CW:     …but the question is why didn’t you do more? Connect the dots and put them out of business?

WJC:  Okay, let’s talk about it. I will answer all of those things on the merits, but I want to talk about the context (in) which this…arises. I’m being asked this on the FOX network…ABC just had a right-wing conservative on "The Path to 9/11" falsely claim that it was falsely based on the 911 Commission Report with three things asserted against me that are directly contradicted by the 9/11 Commission Report. I think it’s very interesting that all the conservative Republicans who now say that I didn’t do enough claimed (then) that I was obsessed with Bin Laden. All of President Bush’s neocons claimed that I was too obsessed with finding Bin Laden when they didn’t have a single meeting about Bin Laden for the nine months after I left office. All the right-wingers who now say that I didn’t do enough said (then) that I did too much. Same people.

They were all trying to get me to withdraw from Somalia in 1993, the next day after we were involved in Black Hawk Down.  And I refused to do it and stayed
six months and had an orderly transfer to the UN. Okay, now let’s look at all the criticisms: Black Hawk Down, Somalia. There is not a living soul in the world who thought that Bin Laden had anything to do with Black Hawk Down or was paying any attention to it or even knew al Qaeda was a growing concern in October of 1993.

CW:    I understand…

WJC: No wait…no wait…don’t tell me. You asked me why I didn’t do more to Bin Laden. There was not a living soul…all the people who criticized me wanted to leave the next day. You brought this up, so you get an answer.

CW:    I’m perfectly happy to. Bin Laden says…

WJC:   And secondly…

CW:     Bin Laden says…

WJC:   Bin Laden may have said that…

CW:     Bin Laden says it showed the weakness of the U.S. …

WJC:   It would have shown the weakness if we left right away, but he wasn’t involved in that. That’s just a bunch of bull. That was about Mohammed Adid, a Muslim warlord murdering…thousand Pakistani Muslim troops. We were all there on a humanitarian mission. We had not one mission - none - to establish a certain kind of Somali government or to keep anybody out. He was not a religious fanatic.

CW:     But Mr. President…

WJC:   There was no al Qaeda…

CW:     …with respect, if I may, instead of going through ‘93…

WJC:   You asked, you. It (was) you (who) brought it up.

CW:     May I ask a general question that you can answer? The 9/11 Commission, which you talk about–and this is what they did say–not what ABC pretended they said…

WJC:   Wait, wait…

CW:     …They said about you and 43 and I quote, "The U.S. government took the threat seriously, not in the sense of mustering anything like that would be….to confront an enemy of the first, second or third rank"…

WJC:   That’s not true with us and Bin Laden…

CW:     …the 9/11 Commission says…

WJC:   Let’s look at what Richard Clarke says. You think Richard Clarke had a vigorous attitude about Bin Laden?

CW:     Yes, I do.

WJC:   You do?

CW:     I think he has a variety of opinions and loyalties, but yes.

WJC:   He has a variety of opinion and loyalties now but let’s look at the facts. He worked for Ronald Reagan; he was loyal to him. He worked for George H.W. Bush and he was loyal to him. He worked for me and he was loyal to me. He worked for President Bush; he was loyal to him. They downgraded him and the terrorist operation. Now, look what he said. Read his book and read his factual assertions - not opinions–assertions. He said we took "vigorous action" after the African embassies. We probably nearly got Bin Laden.

CW:     [..]

WJC:   Now, wait a minute…

CW:     …cruise missiles…

WJC:   I authorized the CIA to get groups together to try to kill him. The CIA was run by George Tenet, who President Bush gave the Medal of Freedom to and said he did a good job. The country never had a comprehensive anti-terror operation until I came to office. If you can criticize me for one thing, you can criticize me for this: after the Cole, I had battle plans drawn to go into Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban, and launch a full scale attack/search for Bin Laden. But we needed basing rights in Uzbekistan, which we got (only) after 9/11. The CIA and the FBI refused to certify that Bin Laden was responsible while I was there. They refused to certify. So that meant I would have had to send a few hundred Special Forces in helicopters and refuel at night. Even the 9/11 Commission didn’t do (think we should have done) that. Now the 9/11 Commission was a political document, too? All I’m asking is if anybody wants to say I didn’t do enough, you read Richard Clarke’s book.

CW:     Do you think you did enough, sir?

WJC:   No, because I didn’t get him.

CW:     Right…

WJC:   But at least I tried. That’s the difference in me and some, including
all the right-wingers who are attacking me now. They ridiculed me for
trying. They had eight months to try and they didn’t.  I tried. So I tried
and failed. When I failed, I left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy and
the best guy in the country: Dick Clarke.

            So you did FOX’s bidding on this show. You did you nice little conservative hit job on me. But what I want to know..

CW:     Now wait a minute, sir…

WJC:   [..]

CW:     I asked a question. You don’t think that’s a legitimate question?

WJC:   It was a perfectly legitimate question. But I want to know how many
people in the Bush administration you’ve asked this question of. I want to know how many people in the Bush administration you asked ‘Why didn’t you do anything about the Cole?’  I want to know how many you asked ‘Why did you fire Dick Clarke?’ I want to know…

CW:     We asked…

WJC:   [..]

CW:     Do you ever watch FOX News Sunday, sir?

WJC:   I don’t believe you ask them that.

CW:     We ask plenty of questions of…

WJC:   You didn’t ask that, did you? Tell the truth.

CW:     About the USS Cole?

WJC:   Tell the truth…

CW:     I…with Iraq and Afghanistan, there’s plenty of stuff to ask.

WJC:   Did you ever ask that? You set this meeting up because you were going to get a lot of criticism from your viewers because Rupert Murdoch is going to get a lot of criticism from your viewers for supporting my work on Climate Change. And you came here under false pretenses and said that you’d spend half the time talking about…

CW:     [laughs]

WJC:   You said you’d spend half the time talking about what we did out there to raise $7 billion plus over three days from 215 different commitments. And you don’t care.

CW:     But, President Clinton…

WJC:   [..]

CW:     We were going to ask half the [interview time] about it. I didn’t think this was going to set you off on such a tear.

WJC:   It set me off on such a tear because you didn’t formulate it in an honest way and you people ask me questions you don’t ask the other side.

CW:     Sir, that is not true…

WJC:   …and Richard Clarke…

CW:     That is not true…

WJC:   Richard Clarke made it clear in his testimony…

CW:    Would you like to talk about the Clinton Global Initiative?

WJC:   No, I want to finish this.

CW:     All right…

WJC:   All I’m saying is you falsely accuse me of giving aid and comfort to Bin Laden because of what happened in Somalia. No one knew al Qaeda existed then…

CW:     Did they know in 1996, when he declared war on the U.S.? Did no one know in 1998…

WJC:    Absolutely, they did.

CW:     …when they bombed the two embassies?

WJC:   [..]

CW:     Or in 2000, when they hit the Cole?

WJC:   What did I do?  I worked hard to try and kill him. I authorized a finding for the CIA to kill him. We contracted with people to kill him. I got closer to killing him than anybody has gotten since. And if I were still President, we’d have more than 20,000 troops there trying to kill him. Now I never criticized President Bush, and I don’t think this is useful. But you know we do have a government that thinks Afghanistan is 1/7 as important as Iraq. And you ask me about terror and Al Qaeda with that sort of dismissive theme when all you have to do is read Richard Clarke’s book to look at what we did in a comprehensive, systematic way to try to protect the country against terror. And you’ve got that little smirk on your face. It looks like you’re so clever…

CW:    [Laughs]

WJC:   I had responsibility for trying to protect this country. I tried and I failed to get Bin Laden. I regret it, but I did try. And I did everything I thought I responsibly could. The entire military was against sending Special Forces into Afghanistan and refueling by helicopter and no one thought we could do it otherwise. We could not get the CIA and the FBI to certify that al Qaeda was responsible while I was President. [Not] until I left office.  And yet I get asked about this all the time and they had three times as much time to get him as I did and no one ever asks them about this. I think that’s strange.

CW:    Can I ask you about the Clinton Global Initiative?

WJC:   You can.

CW:     I always intended to, sir.

WJC:   No, you intended to move your bones by doing this first. But I don’t mind people asking me. I actually talked to the 9/11 Commission for four hours and I told them the mistakes I thought I made. And I urged them to make those mistakes public because I thought none of us had been perfect.  But instead of anybody talking about those things. I always get these clever little political…where they ask me one-sided question. It always comes from one source. And so…

CW:     [..]

WJC:   And so…

CW:     I just want to ask you about the Clinton Global Initiative, but what’s
the source? You seem upset…

WJC:   I am upset because…

CW:     …and all I can say is, I’m asking you in good faith because it’s on people’s minds, sir. And I wasn’t…

WJC:   There’s a reason it’s on people’s minds. That’s the point I’m trying to make. There’s a reason it’s on people’s minds because they’ve done a serious disinformation campaign to create that impression. This country only has one person who has worked against terror…[since] under Reagan. Only one: Richard Clarke.  And all I’d say [to] anybody who wonders whether we did wrong or right; anybody who wants to see what everybody else did, read his book. The people on my political right who say I didn’t do enough, spent the whole time I was president saying ‘Why is he so obsessed with Bin Laden?’ And that was ‘Wag the Dog’ when he tried to kill him. My Republican Secretary of Defense, - and I think I’m the only person since WWII to have a Secretary of Defense from the opposition party - Richard Clarke, and all the intelligence people said that I ordered a vigorous attempt to get Osama Bin Laden and came closer apparently than anybody has since.

CW:     All right…

WJC:   And you guys try to create the opposite impression when all you have to do is read Richard Clarke’s findings and you know it’s not true. It’s just not true. And all this business about Somalia  – the same people who criticized me about Somalia were demanding I leave the next day. Same exact crowd.

CW:     One of the…

WJC:   So if you’re going to do this, for God’s sake, follow the same standards for everybody.

CW:     I think we do, sir.

WJC:   Be fair.

CW:     I think we do. One of the main parts of the Global Initiative this year is religious reconciliation. President Bush says that the fight against Islamic extremism is the central conflict of the century and his answer is promoting democracy and reform. Do you think he has that right?

WJC:   Sure. To advocate democracy and reform in the Muslim world? Absolutely. I think the question is: What’s the best way to do it? I think also the question is how do you educate people about democracy? Democracy is about way more than majority rule. Democracy is about minority rights, individual rights, restraints on power. And there’s more than one way to advance democracy. But do I think on balance, that in the end, after several bouts of instability, do I think it would be better if we had more freedom and democracy? Sure, I do. …[Do I think] the president has a right to do it? Sure, I do. But I don’t think that’s all we can do in the Muslim world. I think they have to see us try to get a just and righteous peace in the Middle East. They have to see us as willing to talk to people who see the world differently than we do.

CW:    Last year at this conference you got $2.5 billion in commitments, pledges.  How did you do this year?

WJC:   Well, this year we had $7.3 billion, as of this morning.

CW:     7…Excuse me…

WJC:   $7.3 billion, as of this morning. $3 billion of that is…that’s over a multi-year [commitment]. These are at most 10-year commitments. That came from Richard Branson’s commitment to give all his transportation profits to clean energy investments. But still that’s over $4 billion [raised excluding Branson’s donation]. And we will have another 100 commitments and probably raise another billion dollars. We have a lot of commitments still in process.

CW:    When you look at the $3 billion from Branson, plus billions that Gates is giving and Warren Buffet, what do you make of this age of philanthropy?

WJC:   I think that for one thing, really rich people have always given money away. They’ve endowed libraries and things like that. The unique thing about this age is first of all, you have a lot of people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, who are interested in issues around the world that grow out of the nature of the 21st century and its inequalities - the income inequalities, the education inequalities, the health care inequalities. You get a guy like Gates who built Microsoft and he actually believes that he can help overcome all of the health disparities in the world. That’s the first thing. Second thing, there are a lot of people with average incomes who are joining me because of the Internet. Take the tsunami, for example. We had $1.3 billion given….by [average income] households. The third things you have all these NGOs [non-governmental organizations] that you can partner with along with the government. So all these things together mean that people with real money [can contribute] in ways that help people that before would have been only the object of government grants and loans.

CW:     I know we’re over, but can I ask you two political questions? Let’s talk
some politics. In that same New Yorker article, you say you’re tired of Karl
Rove’s BS.  I’m cleaning up what you said.

WJC:    I also say I’m not tired of Karl Rove. I don’t blame Karl Rove. If you’ve got a deal that works, you just keep on doing it.

CW:     So what is the BS?

WJC:   Well, every even number year–right before an election–they come up with some security issue. In 2000, right before the election. In 2002, our party supported them in undertaking weapon inspections in Iraq and were 100% behind them in Afghanistan and they didn’t have any way to make us look like we didn’t care about terror. And so they decided they would [push] the Homeland Security bill that they opposed and they put some pill in it that we wouldn’t pass–like taking the job rights away from 170,000 people–and then [they could] say that we were weak on terror if we weren’t for it. This year I think they wanted to make the question of prisoner treatment and intercepted communications the same sort of issue until John Warner came and Lindsey Graham got in there and it turns out there were some Republicans who believe in the Constitution and their convictions…some ideas about how best to fight terror.

            As long as the American people believe that we take this seriously and we may have our differences over Iraq, but I think we’ll do fine this election.

            Even if they agree with us about the Iraq war, we could be hurt by Karl Rove’s new foray if we don’t make it clear that we care about the security of this country. We want to implement the 9/11 Commission recommendations, which they haven’t [done] in four years. We want to [..] Afghanistan against Bin Laden. We want to make America more energy-independent. If they want to talk about Iraq, say what they really want about Iraq.

            But Rove is good and [that is] why I honor him.  I’ve always been amused by how good he is. But on the other hand, this is perfectly predictable. We’re going to win a lot of seats if the American people aren’t afraid. If they’re afraid and we get divided again, then we’ll only win a few seats.

CW:     Do you think the White House and the Republicans want to make the American people afraid?

WJC:   Of course they do. They want another Homeland Security bill and they want to make it not about Iraq but some other security issue, where if we disagree with them, we are by definition endangering the security of the country. And it’s a big load of hooey. We’ve got nine Iraq war veterans running for House seats. President Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy is the Democratic candidate for Senate in Virginia. A three-star admiral who was on my NSC staff - who also fought terror, by the way - is running for the seat of Curt Weldon in Pennsylvania. We’ve got a huge military presence in this campaign and you can’t let them have some rhetorical device that puts us in a box that we don’t belong in.

          That’s their job. Their job is to beat us. But our job is to not let them get away with it and if we don’t, we’ll be fine.

CW:     Mr. President, thank you for one of the more unusual interviews.

WJC:   I promise you, I was not trying to [..].

 

September 24, 2006 at 02:04 PM in Best Essays, Favorite Links, Media & Journalism, News to Note, Politics, Rhetoric, Singing the Bite Me Song, Television, War/Terrorism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 11, 2006

Response to Part 1 of the ABC fictionalized "docu-drama" "The Path to 9/11"

I wrote this yesterday, and just now, on listening to the President's speech tonight, I decided to post my thoughts from last night here as well. I have to think and process more on Part 2 and the president's speech, but my immediate thought, upon listening to the ridiculous editorializing of the ABC program, is that the president's handlers coordinated and scripted his address, probably from an advance DVD of the film, or visa versa. But I'll talk more about the ham-handedness of it all in another post. Dear lord, I just watched the film gloss over the delivery of the NIE warning to the president on August 6. And there was just some odd editing with garbled audio over a discussion about how the press disclosed a surveillance system and that has hurt the terrorism fight. (I mean, can you get more ham-handed?)

But first, I need to post this essay below.

I started writing this on an impulse to send it as a tip for media accuracy, at the site MediaMatters. But after I got sorta long-winded, I realized it really isn't the type of thing MediaMatters can pin down and expose.

What this really needs, what I really need it to be, is a visual and aural rhetorical study, a scholarly approach that can reach and persuade a lay audience while holding to the standards of proof and reasoning that good scholarship demands. It shouldn't just be an academic article that rots in an exclusive and unread academic journal.

In other words, I think a grad student somewhere should do this study I propose in general terms below as a seminar paper in a Rhetorical Criticism course or a Visual Rhetoric course, and then, of course, she should post it to her blog, where it can find a real audience.

I dunno. Maybe at some point in the future, I'll have more time to devote to the ideas below. But right now, I offer it here as a heuristic, a rambling starting point of sorts. You go gettum!

Miasma

An Open Letter to Media Matters (mediamatters.org):

Story TIP: The REAL dangers and inaccuracies in ABC's "Path to 9/11"

I had to watch it this evening, to see what made it in the final edit, what was toned down (very little was toned down, that I can see). Good god, this film is awful.

So you MediaMatters guys will run down the inaccuracies, and I count on you for that. But I wanted to alert you to the greater damage this film is doing, very subtle stuff.

I am deeply concerned over a kind of unthinking racism that this film not only reinforces, it also FEEDS it.

I'm referring specifically to the depictions of Muslims and terrorists outside the U.S., what ABC would probably call "cultural depictions," or "realism." It is the deepest propaganda of this film, because it flattens out Muslim cultures, makes them so "other" that the most important audience for this film, the racists and borderline racist people IN the U.S. could even be motivated to commit violences like those shown in the global hunt for terrorists in their extreme fervor and anger and quest for vengeance.

I would not be surprised to see events similar to lynchings, to what happened to Matthew Shepherd, in response to this film, if we were closer to the events of 9/11. Six years of Republicans in power have emboldened the closet racists in our culture to claim hegemony and to thump their chests more openly, by wearing their cultural prejudices and bigotry in public, by preaching them as cultural norms to increase the greater unthinking cultural bigotry in our society with a kind of critical mass (I get the same freaky feeling watching this film as I get from looking at old TV cigarette commercials where doctors tout their favorite ciggies).

I have not traveled much, but I've been to a mixed Muslim/Hindu nation, and around many scenes similar to those setting portrayed in the film in Muslim cultures. I am also an avid watcher of all types of news channels.

I understand that shooting guns in the air is a documented part of of many Middle East and Asian cultures, even at weddings.

I understand there's a different kind of background noise in markets, in cultures where people move around on foot and actually interact with each other outside of the exoskeletons Americans call cars.

But listen to the SOUNDTRACK of this film. Listen to where the background noise loops.

Yes, drumbeats and such are used to dramatic effects in the more even-handed film, "United 93." Calls to prayer are part of the sounds of the culture. Women singing, someone patting hypnotically on small skin drums. Yet ALWAYS, ABC depicts these terrorist camps and bases as utterly chaotic, noisy, almost incomprehensible, sort of like that choreographed "golden calf" idolatry orgy scene in DeMille's "Ten Commandments."

I'm struck in some ways by the caricatures of US military bases in "boot camp/drill sergeant" movies. The bases always have a busy background on camera, with a group doing calisthenics at all times, or jogging and chanting military chants.

And here, "terrorist training camps" always have to have chaotic scenes where Toyota trucks full of turbaned people careen around wildly while the turbaned people yell at the top of their lungs constantly and shoot guns in the air. Activity must always be at a constant fevered pitch. I'm amazed ABC left out a "mad gleam" in every terrorists' eyes, or why they didn't add flecks of spittle at the corners of their mouths, the Muslim equivalent of U.S. early media "black face" films, or perhaps even "Reefer Madness."

Against this backdrop, Americans' racist buttons are being pushed. The Muslims portrayed are consistently shown as "Other." We rarely see scenes from any other point of view than the US soldiers or intelligence operative's POV (apart from the occasional informants' POV, or that of the Northern Alliance leader Massoud).

It's sort of like how stories of British colonial arrogance appear to us now, as in Kipling, Burroughs, or even in Orwell (Shooting an Elephant, a masterpiece): unthinking, unconscious. Not deliberate racism so much as the unthinking arrogance of power and white ascendancy as an unquestioned entitlement.

This is a military recruitment film. It is designed to whip up unthinking gut-level anti-Muslim, anti-brown people racism (see also Macaca incident in VA), and make people who already have those inclinations desire to go overseas and take out their rage on some brown people who chant incomprehensible things in loud and chaotic, incomprehensible cultural spaces.

Yes, it is also designed to whip up fear, make you wonder what bomb-making equipment the brown person in the next apartment is keeping behind drawn shades. But I think anger and violence with racist triggers are an even bigger boogie man in this film than simple fear-mongering.

And I believe the most insidious effect of the film can be found in the background soundtrack in overseas Muslim cultural scenes. The "noise" loop.

I'm reminded of how the Valkyrie scene of the anti-war film "Apocalypse Now" is played to whip up soldier rage before shipping out in the movie "Jarhead." I believe many scenes from this film will have similar motivational uses within the US military as well.

We never see what triggers the Muslim anti-American rage. American soldiers just walk into it and can't comprehend why they are so hated and spit upon.

The answer the film provides is that Muslim rage is incomprehensible and can only be met by trying to humiliate and beat down Muslims.

Instead of fighting terrorism, what we are getting is a religious/cultural race war, with a demonized enemy created by a propaganda machine.

Leni Riefenstahl knew that it was the cultural depictions that mattered most, not just the content of Hitler's rousing speeches. This film does what WWII propaganda did to the depiction of "Japs" as evil, more so than Germans, which were more widely sympathetic in US culture, as was that unthinking gut-level right-wing fascist tilt at that time, in ordinary folks, not just Ford and IBM.

The racism of the film also reminds me of conversations I've had with my neighbors, a family who moved here from an Israeli kibbutz, very nice people. Like many Israelis in the US, they are left speechless at what they call the incomprehensible anti-Israel bias in US media. From talking with them, I can tell their objections exist because the Palestinian (and now, Lebanese) POV is presented AT ALL. They can't figure it out. According to them, the media must be anti-Israeli, because it is such a sharp contrast to the myopic groupthink of Israeli media.

I like and respect my neighbors, and have eaten at their home for Sabbath. But on this issue, there is simply NO other viewpoint that they can hold.

Journalists often say that if two polarized groups complain that you're biased to the other side, then you must be doing something right, as an equal opportunity offender.

But the US media is SO embarrassingly pro-Israel that I've watched repeatedly and counted casualties from news stories on both sides. Yet I've watched television coverage report ONLY the casualties on one side, Israeli casualties, and if reporting Arab casualties, downplaying them heavily in comparison.

Palestinian deaths are as invisible in US media as Iraqi casualties before the Iraqis started killing each other, back when most of the Iraqi civilian deaths were caused by U.S. acts of aggression and war.

So it appears many of the Israeli people, good people, are so steeped in their deep cultural racism against their hostile neighbors, can't even see that what they call bias in the U.S. media doesn't even come close to being bias.

People steeped in Israeli-style racism see their Arab neighbors as subhuman, perhaps made subhuman by their anti-Semitism, but subhuman nonetheless. Any depiction of Arabs as anything but hate-filled and incomprehensibly subhuman is a bias against Israel.

And this film also applies the beginnings of that same subhuman bias to the Muslims in the story. They are portrayed as incomprehensibly evil, incomprehensibly violent.

(Oh, except ABC's ubiquitous heroic correspondent (is John Miller a composite or a real person? Oh, he's on ABC right now, works PR for the FBI. Go figure.), who almost speaks admiringly from his visit with bin Laden, of his religious purity and his charismatic hold over his followers.)

The result seems to virtually guarantee that we will never understand the cultures that spawn Muslim jihad terrorism, and it essentially sets up fascist-style ethnic cleansing (crushing the culture totally, as if that could be done) or some other "final solution" as the only option in a FALSE DILEMMA FALLACY.

Appeasement or violent annihilation are NOT the only two options. In the black and white world of this film, that is the way they're presented.

just something to think about.

Sincerely,

Miasma

p.s. you wanna know how crazy/paranoid the repression inside this country has gotten? I'm actually apprehensive about posting this publicly without some kind of disclaimer, noting that I'm NOT a sympathizer to ANY violent terrorist causes.

WHY? Because so few of the people in power right now, people who make blacklists, budding fascists that they are, actually UNDERSTAND reasoning and rhetoric enough to know what a False Dilemma Fallacy IS, at least enough to actually be able to literally read and understand the point I'm trying to make above.

The biggest problem is that logic and reasoning, uniquely Western cultural constructs, are amazingly absent (or deliberately absent) in the education of the class of people who currently hold (and grab) so much power for themselves and over others. They just aren't very well-read, even of the dead white men conservative literary critics tout as cultural literacy. They seem badly unable to understand any form of thought that doesn't involve blind-trust authoritarianism or fear-driven bigotry.

September 11, 2006 at 10:31 PM in Best Essays, Media & Journalism, News to Note, Orwell, Politics, Religion, Rhetoric, Television, War/Terrorism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"Shooting an Elephant," by George Orwell

Shooting An Elephant

In Moulmein, in lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people, the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me. I was sub-divisional police officer of the town, and in an aimless, petty kind of way anti-European feeling was very bitter. No one had the guts to raise a riot, but if a European woman went through the bazaars alone somebody would probably spit betel juice over her dress. As a police officer I was an obvious target and was baited whenever it seemed safe to do so. When a nimble Burman tripped me up on the football field and the referee (another Burman) looked the other way, the crowd yelled with hideous laughter. This happened more than once. In the end the sneering yellow faces of young men that met me everywhere, the insults hooted after me when I was at a safe distance, got badly on my nerves. The young Buddhist priests were the worst of all. There were several thousands of them in the town and none of them seemed to have anything to do except stand on street corners and jeer at Europeans.

All this was perplexing and upsetting. For at that time I had already made up my mind that imperialism was an evil thing and the sooner I chucked up my job and got out of it the better. Theoretically, and secretly, of course, I was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British. As for the job I was doing, I hated it more bitterly than I can perhaps make clear. In a job like that you see the dirty work of Empire at close quarters. The wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the grey, cowed faces of the long-term convicts, the scarred buttocks of the men who had been Bogged with bamboos � all these oppressed me with an intolerable sense of guilt. But I could get nothing into perspective. I was young and ill-educated and I had had to think out my problems in the utter silence that is imposed on every Englishman in the East. I did not even know that the British Empire is dying, still less did I know that it is a great deal better than the younger empires that are going to supplant it. All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible. With one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an unbreakable tyranny, as something clamped down, in saecula saeculorum, upon the will of prostrate peoples; with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest's guts. Feelings like these are the normal by-products of imperialism; ask any Anglo-Indian official, if you can catch him off duty.

One day something happened which in a roundabout way was enlightening. It was a tiny incident in itself, but it gave me a better glimpse than I had had before of the real nature of imperialism � the real motives for which despotic governments act. Early one morning the sub-inspector at a police station the other end of the town rang me up on the phone and said that an elephant was ravaging the bazaar. Would I please come and do something about it? I did not know what I could do, but I wanted to see what was happening and I got on to a pony and started out. I took my rifle, an old 44 Winchester and much too small to kill an elephant, but I thought the noise might be useful in terrorem. Various Burmans stopped me on the way and told me about the elephant's doings. It was not, of course, a wild elephant, but a tame one which had gone "must." It had been chained up, as tame elephants always are when their attack of "must" is due, but on the previous night it had broken its chain and escaped. Its mahout, the only person who could manage it when it was in that state, had set out in pursuit, but had taken the wrong direction and was now twelve hours' journey away, and in the morning the elephant had suddenly reappeared in the town. The Burmese population had no weapons and were quite helpless against it. It had already destroyed somebody's bamboo hut, killed a cow and raided some fruit-stalls and devoured the stock; also it had met the municipal rubbish van and, when the driver jumped out and took to his heels, had turned the van over and inflicted violences upon it.

The Burmese sub-inspector and some Indian constables were waiting for me in the quarter where the elephant had been seen. It was a very poor quarter, a labyrinth of squalid bamboo huts, thatched with palmleaf, winding all over a steep hillside. I remember that it was a cloudy, stuffy morning at the beginning of the rains. We began questioning the people as to where the elephant had gone and, as usual, failed to get any definite information. That is invariably the case in the East; a story always sounds clear enough at a distance, but the nearer you get to the scene of events the vaguer it becomes. Some of the people said that the elephant had gone in one direction, some said that he had gone in another, some professed not even to have heard of any elephant. I had almost made up my mind that the whole story was a pack of lies, when we heard yells a little distance away. There was a loud, scandalized cry of "Go away, child! Go away this instant!" and an old woman with a switch in her hand came round the corner of a hut, violently shooing away a crowd of naked children. Some more women followed, clicking their tongues and exclaiming; evidently there was something that the children ought not to have seen. I rounded the hut and saw a man's dead body sprawling in the mud. He was an Indian, a black Dravidian coolie, almost naked, and he could not have been dead many minutes. The people said that the elephant had come suddenly upon him round the corner of the hut, caught him with its trunk, put its foot on his back and ground him into the earth. This was the rainy season and the ground was soft, and his face had scored a trench a foot deep and a couple of yards long. He was lying on his belly with arms crucified and head sharply twisted to one side. His face was coated with mud, the eyes wide open, the teeth bared and grinning with an expression of unendurable agony. (Never tell me, by the way, that the dead look peaceful. Most of the corpses I have seen looked devilish.) The friction of the great beast's foot had stripped the skin from his back as neatly as one skins a rabbit. As soon as I saw the dead man I sent an orderly to a friend's house nearby to borrow an elephant rifle. I had already sent back the pony, not wanting it to go mad with fright and throw me if it smelt the elephant.

The orderly came back in a few minutes with a rifle and five cartridges, and meanwhile some Burmans had arrived and told us that the elephant was in the paddy fields below, only a few hundred yards away. As I started forward practically the whole population of the quarter flocked out of the houses and followed me. They had seen the rifle and were all shouting excitedly that I was going to shoot the elephant. They had not shown much interest in the elephant when he was merely ravaging their homes, but it was different now that he was going to be shot. It was a bit of fun to them, as it would be to an English crowd; besides they wanted the meat. It made me vaguely uneasy. I had no intention of shooting the elephant � I had merely sent for the rifle to defend myself if necessary � and it is always unnerving to have a crowd following you. I marched down the hill, looking and feeling a fool, with the rifle over my shoulder and an ever-growing army of people jostling at my heels. At the bottom, when you got away from the huts, there was a metalled road and beyond that a miry waste of paddy fields a thousand yards across, not yet ploughed but soggy from the first rains and dotted with coarse grass. The elephant was standing eight yards from the road, his left side towards us. He took not the slightest notice of the crowd's approach. He was tearing up bunches of grass, beating them against his knees to clean them and stuffing them into his mouth.

I had halted on the road. As soon as I saw the elephant I knew with perfect certainty that I ought not to shoot him. It is a serious matter to shoot a working elephant � it is comparable to destroying a huge and costly piece of machinery � and obviously one ought not to do it if it can possibly be avoided. And at that distance, peacefully eating, the elephant looked no more dangerous than a cow. I thought then and I think now that his attack of "must" was already passing off; in which case he would merely wander harmlessly about until the mahout came back and caught him. Moreover, I did not in the least want to shoot him. I decided that I would watch him for a little while to make sure that he did not turn savage again, and then go home.

But at that moment I glanced round at the crowd that had followed me. It was an immense crowd, two thousand at the least and growing every minute. It blocked the road for a long distance on either side. I looked at the sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes-faces all happy and excited over this bit of fun, all certain that the elephant was going to be shot. They were watching me as they would watch a conjurer about to perform a trick. They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching. And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly. And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man's dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd � seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the "natives," and so in every crisis he has got to do what the "natives" expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. I had got to shoot the elephant. I had committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle. A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things. To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away, having done nothing � no, that was impossible. The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man's life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.

But I did not want to shoot the elephant. I watched him beating his bunch of grass against his knees, with that preoccupied grandmotherly air that elephants have. It seemed to me that it would be murder to shoot him. At that age I was not squeamish about killing animals, but I had never shot an elephant and never wanted to. (Somehow it always seems worse to kill a large animal.) Besides, there was the beast's owner to be considered. Alive, the elephant was worth at least a hundred pounds; dead, he would only be worth the value of his tusks, five pounds, possibly. But I had got to act quickly. I turned to some experienced-looking Burmans who had been there when we arrived, and asked them how the elephant had been behaving. They all said the same thing: he took no notice of you if you left him alone, but he might charge if you went too close to him.

It was perfectly clear to me what I ought to do. I ought to walk up to within, say, twenty-five yards of the elephant and test his behavior. If he charged, I could shoot; if he took no notice of me, it would be safe to leave him until the mahout came back. But also I knew that I was going to do no such thing. I was a poor shot with a rifle and the ground was soft mud into which one would sink at every step. If the elephant charged and I missed him, I should have about as much chance as a toad under a steam-roller. But even then I was not thinking particularly of my own skin, only of the watchful yellow faces behind. For at that moment, with the crowd watching me, I was not afraid in the ordinary sense, as I would have been if I had been alone. A white man mustn't be frightened in front of "natives"; and so, in general, he isn't frightened. The sole thought in my mind was that if anything went wrong those two thousand Burmans would see me pursued, caught, trampled on and reduced to a grinning corpse like that Indian up the hill. And if that happened it was quite probable that some of them would laugh. That would never do.

There was only one alternative. I shoved the cartridges into the magazine and lay down on the road to get a better aim. The crowd grew very still, and a deep, low, happy sigh, as of people who see the theatre curtain go up at last, breathed from innumerable throats. They were going to have their bit of fun after all. The rifle was a beautiful German thing with cross-hair sights. I did not then know that in shooting an elephant one would shoot to cut an imaginary bar running from ear-hole to ear-hole. I ought, therefore, as the elephant was sideways on, to have aimed straight at his ear-hole, actually I aimed several inches in front of this, thinking the brain would be further forward.

When I pulled the trigger I did not hear the bang or feel the kick � one never does when a shot goes home � but I heard the devilish roar of glee that went up from the crowd. In that instant, in too short a time, one would have thought, even for the bullet to get there, a mysterious, terrible change had come over the elephant. He neither stirred nor fell, but every line of his body had altered. He looked suddenly stricken, shrunken, immensely old, as though the frightful impact of the bullet had paralysed him without knocking him down. At last, after what seemed a long time � it might have been five seconds, I dare say � he sagged flabbily to his knees. His mouth slobbered. An enormous senility seemed to have settled upon him. One could have imagined him thousands of years old. I fired again into the same spot. At the second shot he did not collapse but climbed with desperate slowness to his feet and stood weakly upright, with legs sagging and head drooping. I fired a third time. That was the shot that did for him. You could see the agony of it jolt his whole body and knock the last remnant of strength from his legs. But in falling he seemed for a moment to rise, for as his hind legs collapsed beneath him he seemed to tower upward like a huge rock toppling, his trunk reaching skyward like a tree. He trumpeted, for the first and only time. And then down he came, his belly towards me, with a crash that seemed to shake the ground even where I lay.

I got up. The Burmans were already racing past me across the mud. It was obvious that the elephant would never rise again, but he was not dead. He was breathing very rhythmically with long rattling gasps, his great mound of a side painfully rising and falling. His mouth was wide open � I could see far down into caverns of pale pink throat. I waited a long time for him to die, but his breathing did not weaken. Finally I fired my two remaining shots into the spot where I thought his heart must be. The thick blood welled out of him like red velvet, but still he did not die. His body did not even jerk when the shots hit him, the tortured breathing continued without a pause. He was dying, very slowly and in great agony, but in some world remote from me where not even a bullet could damage him further. I felt that I had got to put an end to that dreadful noise. It seemed dreadful to see the great beast Lying there, powerless to move and yet powerless to die, and not even to be able to finish him. I sent back for my small rifle and poured shot after shot into his heart and down his throat. They seemed to make no impression. The tortured gasps continued as steadily as the ticking of a clock.

In the end I could not stand it any longer and went away. I heard later that it took him half an hour to die. Burmans were bringing dash and baskets even before I left, and I was told they had stripped his body almost to the bones by the afternoon.

Afterwards, of course, there were endless discussions about the shooting of the elephant. The owner was furious, but he was only an Indian and could do nothing. Besides, legally I had done the right thing, for a mad elephant has to be killed, like a mad dog, if its owner fails to control it. Among the Europeans opinion was divided. The older men said I was right, the younger men said it was a damn shame to shoot an elephant for killing a coolie, because an elephant was worth more than any damn Coringhee coolie. And afterwards I was very glad that the coolie had been killed; it put me legally in the right and it gave me a sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant. I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.

Autumn, 1936

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