Monday, August 02, 2004

Demon with the Glass Hand

One of the stock devices of fiction is a scenario in which everyone is waiting for an answer before it dawns on the characters that they have asked the wrong question. Better still is the plot where the world the characters take for granted is shown to have no reality at all. Two years before September 11 the snuff film was an urban legend only rumored to exist. Since then the legend has come to life; hardly a day passes without terrorists releasing a video of some new decapitation on the web. If you live in the right part of the world, you may even get to watch one on TV. Roger Simon's readers are still trying to come to terms with the bombing of Christian churches in Iraq by Islamic terrorists, asking whether it might be a sign of "religious war", which, like the dinosaurs, was thought to be extinct.

Genocide fits that category too. That was something that happened long ago on Schindler's List. So when a few new ones walk out of the front pages we really don't know what to do with them. But when in doubt, make a movie. The BBC reports on the upcoming new film Shooting Dogs:

Shooting Dogs, a film about the 1994 Rwandan genocide, has begun filming in the capital Kigali, starring John Hurt and using survivors in the cast and crew. A line of grim-faced United Nations peacekeepers force back hundreds of desperate Tutsis trying to fight their way onto trucks. Close by, Hutu militias wait, sharpening their machetes. The truck engines start up, but only white people are allowed to board. Panic spreads through the crowd about to be left behind. Terrified at the fate in store for them, some try to lie in front of the trucks. Others beg the UN troops to shoot them before they leave. These events are being recreated in chilling detail for Shooting Dogs - but really happened at a school in Kigali 10 years ago.

It really happened. Do tell?. At least the actual survivors get to play themselves on the big-screen version. There are already ideas for a sequel.

As filming starts in Rwanda, some human rights groups have claimed another genocide is under way in the Darfur region of Sudan. "As far as I can see, there isn't a damn bit of difference now from then," says Mr Caton-Jones. "There is a reluctance for western governments to be involved in something that has no material impact on them." Shooting Dogs, backed by BBC Films and the UK Film Council, is among a batch of new films being made about the genocide this year.

That's where the BBC gets it wrong: there is a reluctance to acknowledge that these things exist at all -- religious wars, death cults, dysfunctional societies, biological weapons in the hands of certified maniacs, blackmarkets in nuclear weapons -- beyond being film subjects; because to do so would imply having to do ugly things to solve them. The Strategy Page has links to videos of jihadi platoons getting vaporized in Fallujah; pitiful RPG men in cheap tracksuits getting double tapped by SAWs; clueless mortarmen getting picked off by Apaches. All of it brutal and all of it necessary. The San Diego News has run a story built around Marine citations for valor in action in Fallujah.

Lance Cpl. Craig Bell got mad when he was nearly killed by an enemy grenade. And then he got even. "You know when they say that things slow down?" asked Bell, 20, from Del City, Okla. "That's what happened when I saw the grenade. "It was a pineapple grenade with a cherry-red tip," Bell said. "I didn't think they even made grenades like that anymore. It was like something from a World War II movie." Bell ducked behind a pigeon coop for cover. He "heard explosions and shooting in real time" while he seemed to drift into space. "I watched the grenade for what seemed like forever until it went off . . . but I talked to Marines later and they said it all happened in a split second." The blast wounded Bell in the right side and jump-started the clock. "I thought, 'That's it!" said Bell, a grenadier. "I thought about my wife and daughter and not doing anything stupid. But I was just so angry that he had thrown a grenade at me that I didn't care. I was going to take someone out." He grabbed ammunition for his grenade launcher and started blowing up rooms from which insurgents were firing, estimating he launched 100 rounds in about an hour.

It is a picture of the world beyond the border, theworld we almost had ignored, except for September 11. The real problem with that day is not what happened, but that it happened on TV. Three years onward those images are still de-materializing John Kerry's universe and making him, despite his best efforts, seem like a creature from another dimension. One of Roger Simon's readers quotes Russian journalist Sergei Lopatnikov:

To a great degree there is no Democratic party candidate John Kerry. There is an abstract "anti-Bush" candidate who has been compelled, in accordance with the US electoral system, to take on human form and assume a human name...

...come to take us back before it is too late. Forty years ago, the classic science fiction TV series Outer Limits began with the narration:

"There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. ... We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure."

Which ended variously and always disturbingly. Reality has intruded on long slow dream of the last years of the twentieth century. And the monsters are real.