Monday, May 23, 2011

Why Weren't People Talking About It?

More on "What's right before our eyes TODAY . . . ?": Make Drone Killing 100% VISIBLE!
Drones: Am I Responsible?

Last year I spent a lot of time watching movies with my mom. We watched a lot of comedies, and quite a few romances, and usually we didn't pause too long to talk about any one movie before we were off and running, watching the next one. But one movie started us doing a lot of talking.

It seems that everybody has some awareness that Charlie Chaplin did a satirical depiction of Hitler; but unless you've actually seen "The Great Dictator", it's hard to imagine just how bitingly accurate it was. Take a look, for example, at the way Chaplin, in the role of "Adenoid Hynkel" perfectly parodies Adolf Hitler's body language and verbalizations in this clip. (Does that speech actually mean anything in German? Does it matter?)

But what was more remarkable to me was the way the film shows the treatment of Jews by Hitler/Hynkel and his countrymen. For instance, this scene shows Chaplin's Rip Van Winkle-like character returning to his barbershop in the Jewish ghetto after experiencing amnesia, unaware of the persecution that has become commonplace there.

The conceit of the film is that this innocuous Jewish barber (played by Chaplin) is a lookalike for Hitler/Hynkel (also played by Chaplin), and at a crucial moment the two switch places.

It is often said that the West was shocked when the first reports came out of the Nazi concentration camps after the war. I found this hard to believe after realizing how thoroughly, explicitly, and pointedly this 1940 film -- a major studio film, by a Hollywood legend, which was nominated for 5 Oscars -- portrayed German persecution of Jews, including beatings, lynchings, and concentration camps.

After we watched "The Great Dictator" together, I asked Mom if people were talking about German persecution of Jews in 1940. "No," she said, "For instance, at that time I was spending time with your father's family, and because they were in the newspaper business, they were up on all the latest news and events, and talking about everything. But they never talked about this."

"I don't understand why people weren't talking about it," she said.

That conversation got us talking about a lot of things that Mom saw and experienced, especially during the early '40s when she was living in "the big city" of Philadelphia as the country was being drawn into WWII. I was glad that it finally occurred to me to ask, and also that she remembered so much, and so well.

I wonder if, years from now, we will be thinking back to today and feeling surprise at how little we thought about some of the developments in our world, and in our country, and how we talked about them even less. Someday will I have to explain to my kids, or to my kids' kids, why it was that "people just weren't talking about it" . . . ?

MORE: "What did Americans know as the Holocaust unfolded? Quite a lot, it turns out."

[This turned out to be one of my favorite blog posts of 2011. Check out my other 2011 favorite "Scarry Thoughts" blog posts here!]

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Posterboard and markers: $21.79
Leaflets: $7:50
Bullhorn: $99.99
Standing up for peace and justice when everyone around you is saying "Get a job!" and "GO F**K YOURSELF!": PRICELESS!

(See Dissent: PRICELESS!)

Thinking about the Holocaust Museum's depiction of the reliance on brutality and intimidation during the Holocaust, all I could think of was the repeated use of similar tactics by the U.S. military against prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo.

(See Holocaust Museum: "Those Nazi Bastards!" )

In the "Turing test," a person interacts with a counterpart and tries to tell whether it is a computer or a person. Hmmm . . . and in the case of Barack Obama, the answer would be . . . ?

(See The Obamoid and the Eva Test )

Friday, May 13, 2011

Why Have We Built A Monument To Bin Laden?

In the film "The Response," as military judges are debating the fate of a detainee at Guantanamo, one of them says, "Okay, if 9/11 is the measuring stick, are we a great nation because of the blow we took? Or because how we, as a country, respond to that blow? The response matters. Our response defines us . . . . "

When the death of Osama bin Laden was announced, I thought, "We're not done with this guy. We're stuck with him now. Guantanamo is our monument to bin Laden. And the worst part is: we did it to ourselves . . . . "

Guantanamo Bay Detention Center

I was having lunch with my friend Steve the other day. Before I could get the words out of my mouth, he was telling me "We've given him immortality! He's gone, but he's left all this erosion of our laws behind!"

Every person who detests bin Laden and what he stood for should be at the front of the line demanding that Guantanamo be shut down and we retrace our steps and correct all the abuses that we have perpetrated since we started that whole sad chapter of our history.

Until we do that, bin Laden has won. He provoked us, and our response has been to build, in his name, a giant monument of injustice.

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I was back in New Jersey to visit with high school friends in July. It gave me the opportunity to visit the newly opened 9/11 Memorial. Not surprisingly, what I saw made me spend days and weeks thinking about the memorial itself, and the larger issue of 9/11 in our national life. Out of all that I have seen and heard and read and thought about, several thoughts keep rising to the top.

(See 9/11 Memory: Grieving and Celebrating Valor, Leaving Vengeance Behind )

My most prominent memory of my first viewing of the Guantanamo film, The Response, is of one of the stars of the film -- Kate Mulgrew of Star Trek fame -- participating in a panel after the screening. I was blown away when she said, "I did this because our civil liberties in our country have been gravely damaged and we all need to contribute to repairing them."

(See Understanding What Guantanamo Means)

As Sankari explained, when people everywhere unite to fight back against the illegitimate prosecution and persecution of Muslims, they are making an important contribution to the leading edge of resistance against the racist and political repression that affects the African-American community as well as all people of color, with harsh treatment dealt out to undocumented people, LGBT people, women, Muslims, and people involved in the labor, peace, and solidarity movements; and when Muslims join in the broad movement against racist and political repression that affects all these groups, they are contributing to the resistance against prosecution and persecution of Muslims.

(See GUANTANAMO: "Is that who we are?" )