Whales In A Time of War


"The safety of the whales must be weighed, and so must the safety of our warriors. And of our country."

So said Judge Andrew Kleinfeld of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 ruling over the future of the Navy's sonar testing program off Los Angeles waters. Last Friday's stay allows the U.S. Navy to resume training exercises halted August 6th by a Los Angeles judge because the sonar testing endangered 30 species. The Natural Resources Defense Council has more information about the effects of sonar testing here [link fixed 10/08/08].

The 3 judge panel noted the exceptional situation the U.S. faces today when regarding ecological questions: of being "engaged in war, in two countries." According to the ruling:

"we customarily give considerable deference to the executive branch's judgment regarding foreign policy and national defense."

The Navy's testing is not constrained to these waters, it conducts tests elsewhere. But the judge frames an issue of the local environment in the context of the war on terror. Outrageously, while spewing fallacies, the court also hasn't caught up with the rest of the world's judgment of the executive branch's abilities "regarding foreign policy and national defense". The NRDC will appeal the decision.

Armchair Warriors

So much for the whales, says the judge. But to the subject of the executive branch's "judgment". As the war in Iraq seems to lead policy by the nose in many seemingly unrelated areas, the nature of the executive judgment that guided us to this place never ceases to occupy us and the authors of numerous books, reports, legislative investigations, and judicial rulings. Such mendacity outrages the public, fuels years worth of reality comedy, and causes international consternation.

Now the occupation is taking over Hollywood in a slew of new movies, some of which we at Acronym Required have seen recently. And since man cannot live by science alone, we'll ungracefully segue into reviewing them here.

One arresting documentary is No End In Sight, a movie that chronicles the decisions made by Pentagon and White House during the first few years of the Iraq war, and links those decisions to Iraq's subsequent degradation into violence and chaos. The accounts are relayed by administrators and military who served in Iraq. I hesitated before seeing it, I'd heard it all, I thought. But it was especially captivating to view the build-up, invasion, and occupation of Iraq as contiguous history, rather than as news accounts broken up over time with distracting news about science and movie star jail episodes interrupting the narrative.

There's also War Made Easy, narrated by Sean Penn (on DVD) that deals with public relations efforts in by the executive branch of the U.S. in all wars since WWII. The message is that U.S. citizens are far too trusting of the executive branch. This film too is very good, but is not without it's own slant and advertising. (To begin with, it's not narrated by Sean Penn as much as by Norman Solomon.)

You can warm up for these accounts by reviewing Charlie Rose's interviews with Patrick Tyler and with Amy Goodman, at his table, on March 12, 2003. Seeing this display of unfettered war hoopla before the recent releases provided a sharp reminder of the media deluge we were under before the war, and gives a nice backdrop to the documentaries. The Rose interviews happened in the aftermath of a report on the unforeseen risks of going into Iraq just before the invasion. Patrick Tyler, a former New York Times correspondent, who is considered by certain sources to be a part of the (evil) politically "liberal" cabal of the Times, discussed the war with Rose,agreeing that it was "a giant roll of the dice", with unknown risks but possibly great payoffs.

Tyler's best case scenarios for the Iraq war were fairy tales. In the first week, he predicted, liberation Americans would march in and form "that big ring of steel around Baghdad...using psychological operations to break the will of his commanders...force them to choose between Hussein and American forces...Iraqis will cheer the arrival of Americans....". This strategy, Tyler mused, would serve to improve our foreign relations with Europe, Russia and the entire Middle East, teach North Korea a lesson, and set the stage for peace between Israel and Palestine. Not to mention get Bush re-elected. Needless to say, no one had really looked into the future beyond their fanciful visions of leis joyfully draped over the broad shoulders of U.S. military by the grateful Iraqis.

It's fascinating to see exactly how wrong the pundits were -- even the "liberal" ones -- about the pressure put on media to sell the Iraq war, about the actual vs. perceived threats of the invasion. They were not only dead wrong about Iraq, their visions for how other foreign policy would play out were off too. Tyler noted Putin's great leadership, and his remarkable inroads towards the west and democracy. One of the most dire risks predicted by Tyler was that the U.S. could get stuck in Iraq "3 months from now", and Bush would lose the election. All of this discussed in those somber, serious tones reserved for such especially exciting occasions. It's stunning just how much hindsight of a mere four years provides. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now has an interesting and relevant minor showdown with Charlie Rose in the same episode, about whether or not major TV networks were influencing the reportage of their anchors.

Not to focus exclusively on the U.S. and non-fiction, in fiction movies there is the somewhat related This Is England, which tells a story about England during the 1980's, and argues a view that desperate economic straits of that country under Thatcher led to the decision to go war and eventually, of all things, to the rise of skinheads.

These movies are apparently only the beginning. There are more Iraq themed movies attracting attention at the Venice Film Festival. These days, however, almost any movie, the Bourne Ultimatum for instance, can be seen by a jaded audience as containing an underlying message for U.S. foreign policy.

In times like these, the courts and Hollywood argue, the place of the whales fades away along with the mystical escapism of movies like Whale Rider, when warriors coexisted with whales, a product of ancient times -- 2002.

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