Clouds Over the Land: Sunset Song – Numbers 10:9

Clouds Over the Land: Sunset Song – Numbers 10:9

by

Howard Adelman

If you go to war in your land against an adversary that oppresses you, you shall blow a teruah with the trumpets and be remembered before the Lord your God, and thus be saved from your enemies.   טוְכִי תָבֹאוּ מִלְחָמָה בְּאַרְצְכֶם עַל הַצַּר הַצֹּרֵר אֶתְכֶם וַהֲרֵעֹתֶם בַּחֲצֹצְרֹת וְנִזְכַּרְתֶּם לִפְנֵי יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם וְנוֹשַׁעְתֶּם מֵאֹיְבֵיכֶם:

וְכִֽי־תָבֹ֨אוּ מִלְחָמָ֜ה בְּאַרְצְכֶ֗ם עַל־הַצַּר֙ הַצֹּרֵ֣ר אֶתְכֶ֔ם וַהֲרֵעֹתֶ֖ם בַּחֲצֹצְר֑וֹת וֲנִזְכַּרְתֶּ֗ם לִפְנֵי֙ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֔ם וְנוֹשַׁעְתֶּ֖ם מֵאֹיְבֵיכֶֽם׃

When you are at war in your land against an aggressor who attacks you, you shall sound short blasts on the trumpets, that you may be remembered before the LORD your God and be delivered from your enemies.

The Israelites are in the wilderness. Why are they getting commandments about blowing a trumpet in a certain way when they are defending their land against an aggressor? The Israelites had no land to defend. This is the only mention of the land in this section. There are verses on the cloud settling in over the Tabernacle and remaining there. There are verses on the cloud lifting from the Tabernacle and once again permitting the Israelites to go forward. There is the fire on the altar; when the cloud rests over the Tabernacle, and then the latter had the likeness of fire. (9:15) However long the cloud settled in over the Tabernacle, the Israelites remained encamped, unmoving and unable to move.

There may be fire, there may be water in the form of a mist, and there is always the harsh land, but what is noticeable is the absence of any mention of ruah, the divine spirit that animates things. Sometimes ruah is identified with the breath of life and with the soul, the only thing that remains when the physical body melts away with death. Earth, water – sometimes in torrents rather than as simply a mist – and fire, but no ruah.

The setting is described at the beginning of Numbers in the opening of verse 9:1-2. “The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, on the first new moon of the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt, saying (2) Let the people offer the Passover sacrifice at its set time.” Some take this as a message to hold a second Passover when you were unable to celebrate the first, when the family was unclean because someone had just died. But it is a description of a second Passover, as horrid a period as when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt when God was killing the first-born in every Egyptian family.

On the first anniversary of the exodus, when the nostalgia for what has been lost sets in, when the Israelites are in the desert, when the casualties of the trek through the desert can be counted, they are told that they are suffering a very different misery. This misery too shall pass. The cloud of despondency will lift and they will be able to move on with their lives. But when death lies in their midst, they are unclean. And once again they must eat bitter herbs and consume unleavened bread, the bread of affliction.

On the anniversary of the exodus, on the New Year, on Rosh Hashanah, otherwise known as Yom Teruah (Numbers 29:1), Tekiah is sounded, a long blast, when the people are assembled. Then, when they are attacked, when they are at war with themselves and, thus, with others, the Israelites sound the Teruah, the series of nine very short staccato notes, and the Shevarim, three medium length blasts following each Teruah section of three notes. The community is called to leave behind its misery, leave behind self-pity and get on the move to fight the enemies that assault them.

If you want to comprehend this section of the Torah, I suggest you watch Terence Davies’ movie, Sunset Song. It is a long film. (two hours and fifteen minutes) It is also a slow film. But it deserves your patience, if only to view the gorgeous but harsh Scottish countryside and the main character, Chris Guthrie played by Agyness Deyn. Chris is a bonnie lass and one of the greatest, if not the greatest character, in Scottish fiction. The film is an adaptation by the director of the first 1932 volume of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s trilogy, A Scots Quair, set in the north-east in the Scottish village or estate of Kinraddie and largely located in the farm, Blawearie, the meaning of which is found in its very sound – blah and weary.

The farm stands in stark contrast to the name of the larger community, Kinraddie, which means whistling away to oneself when the day shines bright before one and the sun is shining. The film oscillates between these two opposite moods. As Gibbon wrote, “there were more than nine bit places [like the very short blasts of Teruah] left in the Kinraddie estate.” Blawearie is one of those bit places. The film ends with the Sunset Song, the Flower Song, in an elegiac reference to the passing of loved ones and the passing of an old order, the passing of an age of innocence, but also of horror that receives its ultimate global expression in the muddy trenches of World War I.

The film begins in Kinraddie, in the local school, where a tall and thin and precocious red-headed lass, Chris Guthrie, is singled out for her excellent pronunciation of French, her ability to whistle as the instructor says, without making the whistling sound. The film ends by repeating the refrain, “The Land endures.” “Only the land endures.” And Chris discovers that she is the land. Otherwise, “there were lovely things in the world, lovely that didn’t endure, and the lovelier for that… Nothing endures.” But the land! The land endures even as the song, “Flowers of thee Forest” is sung.

I’ve hear them liltin’, at the ewe milkin,’
Lasses a-liltin’ before dawn of day.
Now there’s a moanin’, on ilka green loanin’.
The flowers of the forest are a’ wede away.
As boughs in the mornin’, nae blithe lads are scornin’,
Lasses are lonely and dowie and wae.
Nae daffin’, nae gabbin’, but sighin’ and sobbin’,
Ilk ane lifts her leglin, and hies her away.
At e’en in the gloamin’, nae swankies are roamin’,
‘Bout stacks wi’ the lasses at bogle to play.
But ilk maid sits drearie, lamentin’ her dearie,
The flowers of the forest are a’ wede away.
In har’st at the shearin’ nae youths now are jeerin’
Bandsters are runkled, and lyart, or grey.
At fair or at preachin’, nae wooin’, nae fleecin’,
The flowers of the forest are a’ wede away.
Dool for the order sent our lads to the Border,
the English for ance by guile wan the day.
The flowers of the forest, that fought aye the foremost,
The prime of our land lie cauld in the clay.
We’ll hae nae mair liltin’, at the ewe milkin’,
Women and bairns are heartless and wae.
Sighin’ and moanin’ on ilka green loanin’,
The flowers of the forest are all wede away.

How does that harsh land endure? How does it survive the harsh winds and pouring rain, the heavy snows of winter? Through fire. The constant flame throughout the film is the family altar, the big stove in the kitchen ever burning. And life is renewed when Chris falls in love with Ewan Tavendale (James Grant) and they blow out the candle to have sex in the dark, not only when they are first married when Chris is still seventeen and approaching her eighteenth birthday, but on each occasion afterwards. Except when Ewen returns from WWI on leave.

Ewen went to war to fight for king and country, urged to do so by his Presbyterian pastor to fight Kaiser as the anti-Christ and lest he be regarded as a coward. War transformed him from a loving and sensitive man into a brute who rapes his wife without turning out the candle. The scene is even more horrific than it reads. However, his ostensible cowardice was truly an act of bravery, for the spark of love within him, the ruah in the film, made him seek out the “white feather” treatment by the military; he was shot as a deserter in the three short blasts of the shofar, the Teruah, in the final act of the film.

The flowers of the forest are all wede away. They go mad. They rage. They rave. As Chris does when Ewen, her dear and loving lad turned into a monster by a war he did not want to fight, by the English who “by guile wan the day” “for the order sent our lads to the Border,” is shot as a deserter, his self-sacrifice lest he condemn Chris to a life of abuse as her mother, Jean, had been before she took her own life and that of her baby twins.

However, that is not where the film begins. We will soon learn about the harsh unforgiving reality of the hardscrabble land of these Scottish farmers, but Chris leaves the class with which the film opens with her best friend. They skip playfully through the forest in one of the many moments of pure bliss in a scene of sheer pastoral beauty, like the many scenes of golden fields of grain and green pastures.

Sunset Song, in the end, is not a lament for a past that will be no more, though it is that, with all its vices and virtues, but it is about the renewal of spirit, the renewal of life, just when you begin to think that life cannot get any worse. We know from the narrator of the film, Chris herself, who will go to renew her love of books, her love of life, her love of what I would call Torah rather than the harsh prescriptions in the biblical text that become the sole focus of tyrannical men and fathers who will mistreat their sons and even long for incest with their daughters. Peter Mullan plays John Guthrie with the same mastery that he lights his pipe in the few moments when he sits content with himself and with the world. At other times, he straps Chris’ brother Will (Jack Greenlees) across the back. One suspects that Chris became a writer as well as a teacher, for poetry suffuses a movie of tragic loss and despair.

In the opening, Chis intones about herself: “So that was Chris and her reading and schooling, two Chrises there were that fought for her heart and tormented her. You hated the land and the coarse speak of the folk and learning was brave and fine one day; and the next you’d waken with the peewits crying across the hills, deep and deep, crying in the heart of you and the smell of the earth in your face, almost you’d cry for that, the beauty of it and the sweetness of the Scottish land and skies.” The schizophrenia was only resolved when, after many tests akin to those Job suffered, she discovered that she was the land.

The Israelites were wandering in the wilderness. They had yet to learn that they were the land, that they were at one with the land, and that they would repeatedly betray that land as they betrayed their harsh and unforgiving God.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

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Vietnamerica: Part II Propaganda

Vietnamerica: Part II Propaganda – A Distinct Form of Documentary Film

by

Howard Adelman

In part I, I insisted that a good documentary should not be a propaganda film which brackets critical thought in favour of a single message pushing an ideological agenda on the public. When critical thinking is suspended, the documentary becomes a propaganda film. Today I will try to show how 10% of the Vietnamerica documentary that was ideological undermined the narrative of the suffering of the refugees who fled Vietnam.

Yesterday, I focused largely on the central core of the film and to some extend on one bookend, the success stories. Both happened to be military successes, one about the son of a refugee family who became the first Vietnamese-American general, and the other about the Vietnamese-American scientist who led the team that created the bunker buster bomb. This emphasis on militarism and a revisionist version of the Vietnam War opened the film. The film was transformed in good part from a view and record of the horrific experiences the Vietnamese had under the communists and in their efforts to escape, into an explicit propaganda film in defence of the theory that America betrayed its ally, South Vietnam. For it argues that the war had been effectively won when Kissinger was responsible for the stab-in-the-back, not only in abandoning Vietnam, but in refusing to re-equip the South Vietnamese army when China and the USSR were re-equipping the North Vietnamese. This thesis is dubious to say the least.

The film does not try to defend its extreme revisionist view, but simply to propagate the tale as a given. Quite aside from the questionable historical account, the effort to combine a historical propaganda film with a film of the experiences of the Vietnamese boat people allows the former to both undermine and detract from the latter.

There are the obvious readily challenged factual claims. A narrator says that half who fled Vietnam died in trying. If the numbers who fled were about two million, that would mean one million died in the effort to find freedom. But the film itself provides the generally accepted figure of 200,000 to 400,000 deaths. My studies indicate that the number was close to the higher estimate and North Vietnamese repression can be held responsible for at least half of those deaths. But not one million. Further, in the movie, there is no effort to resolve the contradiction in the figures cited. Similarly, assertions that 7 million died in the war are dubious. There is scant evidence to support such claims and virtually all authoritative sources cite a total of about 4 million dead and wounded on both sides, including 40,000 troops and civilians in The Convoy of Tears as civilians and military personnel fled the aggression of North Vietnamese armies as they moved against Saigon during March and April of 1975.

As far as atrocities and summary executions go, these were committed by both sides. The most famous was that of Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, Chief of the National Police, whose shooting of a handcuffed prisoner in the head with his 38 Smith & Wesson revolver became an iconic picture for the anti-war movement. The victim was Nguyễn Văn Lém, a member of the Việt Cộng captured in the Tet Offensive. Given the status of the photo, few knew that Lém was responsible for cutting the throat, not only of South Vietnamese Lieutenant Colonel Tuan, but his wife, six children and 80-year old mother. I do not know which side was guilty of the greater number of atrocities, but I suspect it was the Hanoi regime. Lém was captured beside a mass grave that held 34 civilian bodies.

It is easy to hold the Hanoi regime responsible for large numbers of deaths. After their victory over the French in the north and their breaking up the large estates and targeting large landowners, the Hanoi communist regime introduced land “reform.” that is, transferring all ownership of property to the state. Pacification followed. It is estimated that the Hanoi regime over four years killed almost 300,000 North Vietnamese citizens. In the period preceding the attack on Saigon, as suggested above, “Of the 200,000 refugees that fled the Highlands offensive by the North in March 1975, only 45,000 made it to Tuy-Hoa. Many of the 155,000 missing were killed by North Vietnamese troops; others were captured. Rebel highlanders also fired on the refugees, some were mistakenly bombed by government planes, and still others may have been run over by fleeing government vehicles. Some died by drowning and sheer exhaustion.” Of the death toll from one military advance over two months, Hanoi was probably responsible for almost half those deaths.

Thus, an estimate of those killed after the fall of Saigon of 100,000 does not seem so outlandish, especially if one includes in the total not only those executed, but those who were worked or starved to death in the so-called “re-education” camps. Some estimates go even higher. For a breakdown of civilians indiscriminately killed as a result of or consistent with orders from higher command, that is, democide, I use Bob Rummel’s publications in chapter 6 of Statistics of Democide focused on democide in Vietnam over 35 years.

The central issue of the propaganda element in the film is, however, not about numbers, but about the stab-in-the-back explanation of why Hanoi conquered South Vietnam. The propagandistic aspect of the film begins with two so-called authorities featured near the beginning of the film. One is Robert Turner, a Vietnam veteran and Associate Director of National Security Law at the University of Virginia, the university from which he earned his academic and professional degrees. Turner has been a national security adviser to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and testified before numerous congressional committees. Studying his works offers some hint of the weaknesses of his academic input into foreign policy in the United States. His CV is very skimpy to say the least, largely consisting of op-eds, power-point presentations and submissions to government committees.

Turner is most famous for his defense of presidential prerogatives in military matters without the checks of Congress. In contrast to the vast majority of scholars, Turner has argued against the doctrine that “unchecked” presidential power is incompatible with democratic governance. He defends “unfettered” presidential power to be at the heart of the constitution, namely, that the power of the democratically elected “monarch” is unboundaried. This thesis is not accepted as a very serious perspective by the vast majority of established constitutional experts. Here is how he expressed his view. “Congress exceeded its proper authority in several instances related to war powers and intelligence.” Turner especially stressed the issue of intelligence and often cited John Locke’s doctrine (Two Treatises of Government) that success in war, described by him as a state of enmity and destruction, required unity of plan, speed, dispatch and secrecy

Turner is fond of quoting Chief Justice John Marshall on this issue. “By the Constitution of the United States, the President is invested with certain important political powers, in the exercise of which he is to use his own discretion, and is accountable only to his country in his political character, and to his own conscience…whatever opinion may be entertained of the manner in which executive discretion may be used, still there exists, and can exist, no power to control that discretion. The subjects are political. They respect the nation, not individual rights, and being entrusted to the executive, the decision of the executive is conclusive.”

The problem is that secrecy in John Locke applied to implementation not to strategy and direction. The latter required a shared long term and even permanent conviction and shared by the executive, the legislature and the people of a realm. This required articulation and consent, not deceit and surreptitious behaviour. Strategy applies to long term existential threats. Tactics apply to the management and execution of opposing that threat. A State of peace among citizens requires consent. Conduct of a war against an enemy requires secrecy. The issue is always how you combine secrecy with consent and not have secrecy supplant consent. Interpreting the power of the purse and the approval of appointments very narrowly just does not cut how the dialectical dance works.

However, Turner’s interpretation of the last years of the Vietnam War, while influenced by that non-conventional doctrine, is, if that is possible, even more questionable and, I believe, outlandish. Those interpretations can be read in many of his presentations that presumably informed Nancy when she began making the film: “Reflections on the Vietnam War,” given to the Air Force Military Academy in 2010; “The Consequences of U.S. Abandonment of Indochina” given at the Fall of Saigon conference in April of 2010. For more recent references, see Turner’s power point presentations on the net entitled, “Remarks on the 50th Anniversary of Authorization for the Use of Military Force in Indochina (the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution)” given to the National Press Club in August 2014; “The Vietnam War and Constitutional War Powers” (October 2014), “Myths of the Vietnam War,” (2015) and “Views on Vietnam: The Irony of the LBJ Library Vietnam War Summit” (April 2016).

All are part of a revisionist history narrative that is akin to the one Hitler offered to Germans explaining why Germany lost WWI. “I continue to believe,” said Turner, “that a misguided and horribly misinformed Congress snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in Indochina, leading directly to the slaughter of millions of innocent lives and the consignment to Communist tyranny of tens of millions more.” Why would you include the testimony of such a questionable authority in a film about the horrible experiences of Vietnamese refugees even if it was somewhat credible? The thesis on the fall of Saigon is a crucial debate and a conflicted issue requiring one form of documentary treatment. The portrayal of the suffering of those who fled is based on a very wide consensus. The cost to credibility of including a thesis about the reasons for the loss of a war in a film about human suffering is enormous.

This is also true of the narrative offered by Lewis Sorley, author of A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and the Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam. His thesis is bought hook, line and sinker by Nancy Bui and, in the film, is offered in an abbreviated account. She expanded upon this thesis in my discussions with her after watching the film. The Americans and South Vietnam had defeated the Viet Cong, had allowed the South Vietnamese government to once again exercise its authority in the towns and villages, and the South Vietnamese army had by then been so well trained that it could carry the war forward without the use of American troops on the ground. However, Nixon and Kissinger sold out South Vietnam in the Paris Peace Accord of January 1973 and then double crossed the South Vietnamese by not resupplying them with arms and ammunition. This position has some justification, particularly the first of these two propositions. But the argument that in 1972, the Americans had won the war when General Abrams replaced General Westmoreland and shifted the strategy from the pursuit of the Viet Cong and body counts to a war to secure villages is highly questionable. Essentially, the thesis argues that the war had been virtually won by the American and South Vietnamese military and then the victory was squandered by the politicians and diplomats engaged in the Paris Peace Accords and its aftermath.

Colloquially put, the U. S. bugged out. Having gotten the North back to the bargaining table, Nixon and Kissinger cut a deal – the 27 January 1973 Paris Peace Accord – which allowed the North to keep its forces in South Vietnam. 80,000 North Vietnamese troops were permitted to remain in South Vietnam and this number was surreptitiously expanded to over 100,000 troops as Hanoi prepared for its 1975 offensive. The breach in the Accords was never really challenged by the U.S. or the world. At the time, of the 160,000 American troops once in Vietnam, down to 27,000 when the Accords were signed, under pressure from the anti-Vietnam War movement and a cowardly Congress, America cut and ran.

Further, Nixon refused to resume bombing to enforce the Accords. This enabled the North to use the cover of a cease fire to move more men and materiel into the South. Meanwhile, Congress, with bills like the Fulbright-Aiken Amendment, and extensive cuts to the military budget, pulled the logistical rug out from under the South. At the very time that the North was stockpiling arms, supplied by China and Russia, the South was having its supply of arms seriously curtailed. It was South Vietnam’s bad luck, at its hour of greatest peril, to be saddled with a feckless ally. Imagine having to depend on the U.S. for the logistical support which is your life’s blood at a time when it was being run by Nixon and Kissinger at the executive level and by folks like Ted Kennedy in the congressional realm. Sorley, and Nancy Bui in turn, lays much of the blame at the doorstep of the American political leadership.
Who else were the real villains responsible, in this revisionist version, for the fall of Saigon? The media focused on the protesters and the casualties (57,000 Americans died in the Vietnam War). A fickle public led by students and liberals opposed the war. There is no discussion in the film about the bombing of Hanoi, the efforts to destroy the supply lines, the refusal of the Saigon government to recognize the reality of the Viet Cong and the civil war (the Viet Cong are, to the best of my memory) never mentioned in the film.) and the widespread destruction in Laos, the failure to sustain a representative government instead of corrupt dictators or even a disciplined core of army officers – failures that would be repeated again and again for decades after the Korean conflict when America entered a foreign theatre to fight a war.

South Vietnam surrendered on 30 April 1975. America rescued 10,000 Vietnamese linked to the military effort and subsequently took in tens of thousands of others in the next three years, many or most of whom were linked with the American war effort. But in 1978, the Vietnamese government began a much wider and more oppressive regime that first targeted the ethnic Chinese in Vietnam and then spread to all other middle class Vietnamese. The suppression was horrendous and it was in this period that Canada entered into scene to help resettle refugees fleeing communist repression and not just those who lost the war.

Did a film about oppression and flight of refugees have to be combined with an alt-right interpretation of failure in the war? Obviously not. Interpreting the reasons for the fall of Saigon deserves a separate film in its own right. The effort to marry the two related but separate topics gives the impression that the plight of the refugees is merely being used to advance an ideological viewpoint. An excellent and emotionally powerful film about the Vietnamese refugee exodus is, ironically, almost drowned in a propaganda film about the reasons the South Vietnam government fell. I personally was torn between the tears I shed at the horrors suffered by the refugees and the tears I metaphorically shed at this lost opportunity to create an award-winning feature-length documentary. Though a lost artistic opportunity to make a great documentary of the exodus of the Vietnamese boat people does not compare with the real tears I have shed over the years at the suffering of the Vietnamese refugees fleeing a communist regime, nevertheless I was torn between my sadness at the lost opportunity and the revival of my compassion for the suffering and the dead. The film is valuable for attending to the latter. But it is flawed and distorted by advancing a far out historical thesis. And that is a pity.

An Afterword

One final and minor but relevant academic point arose, not in the film, but in my subsequent discussions with Nancy Bui. Nancy contended that the Paris Peace Accord obligated the U.S. to resupply South Vietnam with military weapons. I argued that the Peace Accords only permitted the U.S. to make up for depletions. As I recalled, the Accords stipulated that the U.S. would stay out of Vietnam after the U.S. army withdrew in terms of supplying military troops or equipment, except to replace losses on a one-to-one basis. Nancy insisted that there was no provision forbidding America from resupplying the South Vietnamese Army. I was not sure if my memory was correct and I promised to re-read the Accords to check whether Nancy’s interpretation was more accurate. The point is obviously relevant to a thesis that faults the U.S. for the fall of Saigon in general and for the refusal to re-supply South Vietnam with military arms.

There is some truth in this. Nixon did evidently secretly promise President Thiệu both that America would be able to maintain its logistical advantage and that if North Vietnam breached the agreement, the U.S. would resume bombing the North. However, chapter V, article 15(d) of the Paris Peace Accords provided that North and South Viet-Nam shall not join any military alliance or military bloc and shall not allow foreign powers to maintain military bases, troops; military advisers, and military personnel on their respective territories, as stipulated in the 1954 Geneva Agreements on Viet-Nam. Article 2 of Chapter II specifically stated that, “the United States will stop all its military activities against the territory of the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam by ground, air and naval forces.” This was interpreted as excluding the Americans from acting militarily in any way on behalf of South Vietnam.

Further, the Case-Church Amendment approved by the U.S. Congress in June of 1973 endorsed this interpretation and explicitly prohibited further U.S. military activity in Indochina and at a time preparations were underway to impeach Richard Nixon over the Watergate scandal. When North Vietnam resumed the war and launched the 1975 offensive, the U.S. refused to offer further military assistance and certainly refused to bomb the North. The North Vietnamese succeeded in defeating the South Vietnamese army, not primarily because North Vietnam was being supplied by Russia and China but America was not re-supplying South Vietnam, but because morale in the South Vietnam army had disintegrated, because corruption had eaten away at its soul and because most officers fled the field and abandoned their troops as the North Vietnamese advanced. The North Vietnamese did not have to fight very much to win the war. Replacing equipment was irrelevant when the South Vietnamese army was collapsing and the North Vietnamese were seizing more and more American arms and equipment.

Whether South Vietnam lost the war or the war was lost because the American people and the Congress betrayed and let down their partners is at best a matter of controversy. Dogmatic assertion on one side produced a propaganda film that undermines the documentary on the suffering of those who fled the new totalitarian order.

With the help of Alex Zisman

UNHRC Report.2014 Gaza War.IV. Context and Ius ad Bellum

The UNHRC Report on the 2014 Gaza War

Part IV: Context and Ius ad Bellum

by

Howard Adelman

The section on context in the UNHRC Report on the 2014 Gaza War is packed with interesting material even though it only has five paragraphs, an odd fact in itself since exploring the reasons for going to war is 50% of the obligation of applying humanitarian law to violent conflicts. The section begins with the following two sentences: “The hostilities of 2014 erupted in the context of the protracted occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, and of the increasing number of rocket attacks on Israel. In the preceding months, there were few, if any, political prospects for reaching a solution to the conflict that would achieve peace and security for Palestinians and Israelis and realize the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people.”

There are five words about the rocket attacks on Israel. That item is placed second, sandwiched between continuing occupation by Israel and the fading possibility of achieving self-determination for the Palestinian people. The evaluation is almost explicit: continuing occupation provoked the rocket attacks in the context of the failure to achieve an independent Palestinian state. The opening part of the first sentence is about the “protracted occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.” This not only assumes that the Gaza Strip is occupied, as the UN officially does, but that the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem is of the same order as that of the Gaza Strip. East Jerusalem, including the Old City, has already been relegated to a Palestinian state and regarded as under foreign occupation; the original 1947 UN resolution on partition putting Jerusalem neither under Jewish nor Arab control has been relegated to the dustbin of history. Further, only the failure to achieve self-determination of the Palestinian people is included as a receding goal; there is no mention of the security of Israelis. That is the context. Whatever one is to believe about the Middle East, this is not a statement of an impartial investigating body that presumably should either avoid taking sides, especially when unnecessary, or, at the very least, expressing some awareness of its own distinct bias.

The section on context is so short that I can reprint the whole of it following the opening two sentences quoted above of paragraph 53:

  1. The blockade of Gaza by Israel, fully implemented since 2007 and described by the Secretary-General as “a continuing collective penalty against the population in Gaza” (A/HRC/28/45, para. 70), was strangling the economy in Gaza and imposed severe restrictions on the rights of the Palestinians. Two previous rounds of hostilities in the Strip since 2008 had not only led to loss of life and injury but also weakened an already fragile infrastructure. Palestinians have demonstrated extraordinary resilience in recent years, living in an environment scarred by physical destruction and psychological trauma. In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, settlement-related activities and settler violence continued to be at the core of most of the human rights violations against Palestinians. In the absence of any progress on the political front, the risk of a flare-up of the situation was evident.
  2. In the meantime, threats to the security of Israel remained all too real. Palestinian armed groups increasingly launched rockets during June and July 2014. The discovery of tunnels leading into Israel added to the sense of insecurity. According to one witness, residents of her kibbutz experienced regular panic attacks after a tunnel discovery in March 2014 and the explosion of an alleged tunnel exit on 8 July. Several other infiltration attempts were thwarted by the IDF during July and August.
  3. The events of summer 2014 were preceded by an agreement, reached on 23 April 2014 between the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Hamas, which sought to end Palestinian divisions. On 2 June 2014, President Abbas declared the formation of a Government of national consensus. The Government had yet to assume its full responsibilities in Gaza when active hostilities broke out in the Strip in July 2014, thereby leaving Hamas exercising government-like functions, as had been the case since June 2007.
  4. On 12 June 2014, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and brutally murdered in the West Bank. In response, Israel launched an extensive search and arrest operation, which lasted until the bodies of the teenagers were found on 30 June. On 2 July, a 16-year-old Palestinian teenager from East Jerusalem was viciously murdered by being burned alive and his body discovered in West Jerusalem in what appeared to be an act of revenge for the murdered Israeli teenagers. Tensions in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, ran high, and were further fuelled by a rise in extreme anti-Palestinian rhetoric. Widespread protests and violent clashes ensued between Palestinians and the Israel Defense Forces.
  5. On 7 July 2014, the Israel Defense Forces commenced operation ‘Protective Edge’ in the Gaza Strip, with the stated objective of stopping the rocket attacks by Hamas and destroying its capabilities to conduct operations against Israel. The operation began during Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. After an initial phase focused on airstrikes, on 17 July 2014, Israel launched a ground operation, which it declared sought to degrade “terror organisations’ military infrastructure, and [… neutralize] their network of cross-border assault tunnels”.  A third phase began on 5 August and was characterized by alternating ceasefires and on-going air strikes. The operation concluded on 26 August when both Israel and Palestinian armed groups adhered to an unconditional ceasefire.

The causes and precipitators of the war are divided into two overall historical frames, the history of Israeli-Palestinian relations since 2007 and, secondly, the internal struggles between two factions among the Palestinians, Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank.  Further, there are two geographically-based classes of factors: the situation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and, secondly, the situation in Gaza. In the Report, the factors in the West Bank boiled down to four: i) the dim prospects of a peace agreement that would facilitate Palestinian self-determination; ii) settlement-related activities and settler violence that allegedly constituted the bulk of human rights violations against the Palestinian people; iii) the lack of political progress and the continuing Israel-inflicted human rights violations that had turned the West Bank into a tinder box in which the risk of a flare-up was evident; iv) the killing of three Israelis by Palestinians and the reprisal killing of a Palestinian by an Israeli.

As far as the situation in Gaza, four factors were also cited: i) the blockade; ii) the rocket attacks from Gaza onto Israel; iii) the digging of tunnels from Gaza into Israel; and iv) not the failure of but the prospect of  a reconciliation between the PA and Hamas. Let me deal with them all in reverse order.

Given that the apparent about-to-be-realized reconciliation between Hamas and the PA, one possible explanation for the outbreak of the war could possibly have been the use of war to disrupt the implementation of the agreement. The Report nowhere suggests this and simply notes that the reconciliation was underway. But it could have considered that argument. After all, in the seventeen months after Hamas took total control in Gaza in June 2007 following its electoral victory the year before, that is, following Hamas’ complete takeover of the Palestinian Authority national government within Gaza formed in March and headed by Ismail Haniya by a coup, in the course of and following the takeover, an estimated 600 Palestinians, one-quarter of the number purportedly killed in the fifty day Gaza War in 2014, were killed. In between May of 2008 for the next six years many more died, but not nearly the number in the initial militant phase of the conflict between Hamas and the PA, even including those murdered by Hamas under the cover of Operation Protective Edge. On all of this except for the last item, the Report is silent as if it is irrelevant to understanding the context.

Agreements of reconciliation, such as the May 2011 Cairo Reconciliation Agreement, were never implemented. In April 2014, two months before the outbreak of the Fifty Day Gaza War, an agreement was signed to form a unity government and hold elections. On 23 April 2004, both parties made a joint announcement about the formation of a new technocratic government prior to both parliamentary and presidential elections that would follow. The agreement said nothing about Israel, a two-state solution or the recognition of Israel by the Palestinian unity government, but President Abbas announced that the signing of the agreement was understood to imply both of these terms. On 2 June 2014, President Abbas swore in a new technocratic unity government.

President Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the agreement between Abbas and Hamas, that he repeatedly termed a terrorist organization committed to the destruction of Israel. Abbas issued a statement saying that Israel was out to sabotage the new government. Contrary to Netanyahu’s prophecies and warnings, the European Union, including France and the United Kingdom, as well as Russia, China, India, Turkey, welcomed the new unity government as a step towards peace. The Israeli cabinet, in contrast, voted to impose further unspecified sanctions against Palestine.

The war interrupted but did not end that process of Fatah-Hamas reconciliation even though Fatah stood aside, refusing to get involved militarily and allowing Hamas to be beaten to a pulp. The negotiations resumed in earnest after the war was over, but that process also recently came to naught. One might have thought all of this was pertinent to the issue of determining whether Israel initiated military action in Gaza to undermine the new unity government and once again set Hamas and the PA against one another. On the surface, this indeed did seem plausible. But there is no discussion of this in the Report. Perhaps it is because during Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s Shin Bet brought Abbas very convincing evidence that Hamas was plotting to depose Abbas and assume rule over the West Bank by activating its sleeper cells across the territory to instigate a third intifada.

Israel had not waited for Abbas to act. On 1 July, Israel launched Operation Brother’s Keeper, ostensibly in response to the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers (see later). The crackdown targeted Hamas’ militant cells and leadership in the West Bank resulting in 11 killed, 51 wounded and over 400 arrests, many of them recently released prisoners in the Gilat Shalit 1,100 prisoner exchange for Shalit’s return to Israel. Surely this was relevant to consider whether Hamas’ increased reign of rockets was at least understandable and, possibly, even justifiable.

Shin Bet’s evidence for a plot may have been false. After all, Abbas did revive the negotiations for a unity government. However, in the interim, Israel acted with force against Hamas in the West Bank, presumably with the blessing or perhaps only acquiescence of Fatah. Abbas did nothing to interfere with Israel’s sweep through the West Bank. However, whether or not there was secret cooperation between Fatah and Israel, surely the Israeli government’s serious concern about the formation of a new unity government with Hamas as a partner was at least relevant in understanding and trying to assess whether the instigation of all-out hostilities was warranted as a matter of self-defence, as Israel declared, or whether it was an act of aggression deliberately undertaken by Israel to destroy the prospect of a new unity government. In any case, if the latter was Israel’s objective, it did not work because negotiations over a new unity government started up again at the end of Operation Protective Edge. Further, by the summer of 2015, they had self-destructed on their own accord without any military intervention by the Israelis.

What about the blockade of Gaza and Hamas’ building of tunnels and sending rockets into Israel prior to the outbreak of the war? In 2007, after Hamas seized total power in Gaza, Hamas denounced the Oslo Accords, rejected the two-state solution and declared its objective to be the elimination of Israel. Surely, that is relevant as a possible casus belli. Israel initiated a land, sea and air blockade of Gaza. Israel had disengaged from Gaza. Instead of Palestinian society advancing its process of self-determination alongside that of Israel, the latter witnessed the emergence of a much more formidable and determined enemy in Gaza. This was the strongest blow that the Oslo Accords had received.

But this is not how the Commission wrote up the preceding events. Rather, with a weakened and already fragile infrastructure, “Palestinians have demonstrated extraordinary resilience in recent years, living in an environment scarred by physical destruction and psychological trauma.” The focus is on the Palestinian people as a whole. The different factions are not recognized. The people are raised to heroic status for their stamina in the face of great challenges. Now one could write the account much more from a Palestinian perspective than I did, but the contents in the report are written like first level history writing in which one side consists of heroes and the other of bullies and aggressors. Since it would be hard to dub Hamas as heroic, especially given the documentation of their actions, the virtuous attributes are assigned to the people as a whole. And no distinction is then made between the response of West Bankers who, whatever the inconveniences and hardships of the occupation, have economically prospered and strengthened the infrastructure, and the residents of Gaza whose infrastructure has been repeatedly destroyed by two previous violent encounters and whose re-investment in infrastructure has been significantly dedicated to building first quality attack tunnels and purchasing rockets and missiles.

The Report does say that, “threats to the security of Israel remained all too real.  Palestinian armed groups increasingly launched rockets during June and July 2014. The discovery of tunnels leading into Israel added to the sense of insecurity.”  Go back to 5 March 2014 when the Israeli navy intercepted a ship with a load of scores of long range missiles from Iran. Subsequently, Hamas spent its scarce funds for infrastructure on a monument to celebrate its rocket attacks that took the war into what Hamas dubbed the heart of the Zionist enemy. Reading the Report, one would never know that the EU, Canada, Japan and the U.S. as well as Israel had dubbed Hamas a terrorist organization, while the UK and Australia restricted that depiction to its military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades.

The Report provides as context that Hamas “increasingly launched rockets during June and July.” But rocket attacks went back to 2013. In January alone, 22 rockets were aimed at Israel; there were 9 in February and 65 in March. During the negotiations of a new unity government between Hamas and Fatah, rockets launched fell to 19 and 4 respectively in April and May, but then leaped again to 62 in June. Perhaps these figures seemed, in retrospect, insignificant in light of the 2,874 rockets Hamas rained on Israel in the opening month of the war. But surely these actions were relevant to depicting the context.

What about Palestinian activities in the West Bank? The key turning point that could have ignited the third intifada was the killing of two Palestinian teenagers on Nakba Day, 15 May 2014 by sniper fire. On 22 May, CNN broadcast evidence that the shots were not rubber bullets as the Israelis claimed, but live ammunition that had been fired against the Palestinian protesters, likely from the vicinity of Israel’s Ofer military prison. International demands for an independent investigation were ignored. On 12 June, possibly in reprisal for the shooting of two Palestinian teenagers, three Israeli teenagers were abducted in the West Bank and were eventually found dead.  Israel blamed Hamas which initially denied the charge, but Israel released documents showing that a Hamas member, Hussam Qawasmeh, had orchestrated the abductions after his brother had received $60,000 from Hamas in Gaza. On 20 August, Saleh al-Arouri, a Hamas leader in Turkey, acknowledged responsibility and said that the goal was to ignite a third intifada. Was this not relevant to the context?

The original specific goal of the abduction of the three Palestinian teenagers was evidently to hold the teenagers in return for the release of many more Palestinian prisoners, while, in the interim, sabotaging the progress on the Palestinian unity government as well as firing up the youth in the West Bank and demonstrating Hamas leadership even there. The PA confirmed Hamas responsibility. Then Hamas did as well, but insisted that it had no prior knowledge of the incident, did not condone the targeting of civilians but nevertheless celebrated the action as a response to oppression and an act of resistance. Since 2013 until these abductions, the PA and the Shin Bet together foiled about one hundred prior abduction attempts, the PA almost half of them. Was this not relevant to depicting the context? The incident triggered the reprisal Operation Brother’s Keeper by the Israeli military mentioned above, and human rights organizations, including Israel’s B’Tselem, denounced the disproportionate response. The denunciation could be expected from B’Tselem, but it also revealed that the human rights organizations did not interpret proportionally to mean the ratio of response and actions in relation to the military objective as required by humanitarian law, presumably foiling future kidnappings and preventing another intifada, but the ratio of the effects on each side.

However, suspicions about the real intentions of the Israelis rose when it was discovered that the Israelis did not learn of the deaths of the three teenagers on 30 June when the bodies were found, but had known for a long time that they had been killed. On the other side, Hamas significantly escalated its rocket attacks in response to Operation Brother’s Keeper. Negotiations between Israel and Hamas to halt and roll back the escalation broke down when Hamas added to its demand that Israeli reprisal bombings against Gazan targets be stopped in return for the cessation of rocket fire, but the conditions now included a demand that the blockade be immediately lifted and prisoners released. Hamas also escalated its rocket attacks once again. That is when Operation Protective Edge was launched.

Providing a far more adequate and fuller context would have only taken another page or two of the Report. Why was this aspect of the Report so impoverished and so deformed? Now I am not arguing that I have provided a more objective treatment than that provided by the Commission, only that it is much more complete. A much more complete picture was necessary for the Commission to assess to what degree the escalation of violent hostilities and their instigation into all-out warfare fell within the range of military actions permitted by the set of ius ad bellum criteria for going to war. Was Hamas the proper authority to escalate its rocket attacks since it was not the government of the Palestinian state, but only the political faction in de facto control of Gaza? Did each party warn the other? Certainly Israel announced that unless the rocket attacks ceased, Israel would launch a much more formidable response. In fact, from the Israeli side, it is very difficult to suggest under any of the criteria for evaluating breaches in ius ad bellum that Israel was in breach of any of them, including:

  • Proper authority
  • Fair warning
  • Just cause
  • Probability of success
  • Proportionality in resorting to military means
  • Last resort

On the other hand, the initiation and escalation of the violence by Hamas at best only satisfies the criterion of just cause. Hamas had no probability of success. If self-determination was simply the goal, then following the path of the PA would surely indicate a greater route to success. Resorting to an escalation in violence was only justified if Hamas had a larger goal, and Hamas was explicit in asserting that it did – the destruction of Israel. Given that goal, violence was not a last resort as it might have been if the goal was simply self-determination or lifting the blockade, but a requisite first step.

I can only speculate, but I presume this truncated and distorted account of context was so brief because nothing the Commission could have written would allow any detached reader to conclude that Hamas was justified in escalating the number of rockets fired at Israel according to humanitarian law governing the initiation of war. Quite the contrary. The best route to lifting the blockade would be to agree to giving up aggression against Israel and giving up its goal of eliminating Israel from the map of the world.

The initial substantive content of the Report instead of reinforcing the credibility of what would follow undermined it.

Next Blog: Ius in Bello – Hamas Violence Against Israel During the War

Fury

Fury
by
Howard Adelman
Fury is a buddy war movie that is at once gritty and gripping, terrifying and tense. There are plenty of war movies – The Pianist is one – but war buddy movies are a special sub-genre. Like all buddy war movies – The Dirty Dozen, Inglorious Bastards, The Monuments Men – the issue is NOT individual survival, me versus them, but us versus them. Because the individual in war will not survive unless buddies are watching his back.
“Fury” is the name of the tank that becomes as much a character as any of the people portrayed by actors. In Fury, an American Sherman tank crew that has been together since North Africa are fighting their way into Germany against the final stubborn resistance of the Germans on their own soil. One of the crew has just been killed. He is being replaced by a totally inexperienced young soldier who has, until then, been a typist in the military command headquarters. The impact of this tale is enhanced by a subplot of this young soldier, Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), maturing into manhood, defined as experienced in both sex and the art of cold blooded killing, and gradually being accepted by the rest of the crew. However, as the leader of the tank crew says at the beginning to the novice, “I had the best gunner in the entire United States Army in that seat. Now I have you.” The challenge is set at the very start of the movie.
This buddy war movie is at once a throwback to an older, purer expression of tough man masculinity as well as a very contemporary movie in its theme. There is no touchy-feely figure in the whole crew – except for the novice who has to lose both his virginity and his acute sensitivity. But he is a modern figure for he can openly say that he is afraid to die. The members of the crew learn to respect one another. They never learn to love one another even after the ordeal they go through. They care deeply but not so deeply that their ability to kill the enemy is compromised.
There is a reason which Bible (Shia LaBeouf as Boyd Swan) reveals near the end of the film when he quotes: “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.” In the end, they are all doing the Lord’s work and, hence, cannot love the things of this world. One is surprised how this gritty story of hard-headed battle-weary grunts turns into a metaphysical and religious treatise.
Nor is this a buddy movie that tries to communicate that it is colour blind by including one member of the crew who is black. Instead, every member of the crew is metaphorically black. This is a film that is muddy more than it is earthy, a real paean to the horrors of real war that is set in a time in America when four white guys would not share the close claustrophobic quarters of the inside of a tank with a fifth black man. They have a hard enough time sharing their quarters with a bookish innocent youth, Norman, who could be Jewish. After all, he shares his last name with Lawrence “Larry” Ellison, the third richest man in America who turned the software of relational databases into the brilliant success of Oracle. God may no longer speak directly to Jews now, but in assimilating into the American heritage of the more mathematical Greeks, Oracle became a portal through which the gods speak directly to people. This is Norman’s role in the film.
The Bible serves as this bridging role. For this is still a multicultural movie because the crew includes the religious soldier nicknamed Bible, a lapsed Christian, Don “Wardaddy” Collier played brilliantly by Brad Pitt who commands the crew, and a strident atheist, the foul-mouthed vicious Arkansas cracker (Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis played by Jon Bernthall) as both the literal and metaphorical loader of the heavy explosive missives that the Americans fire at the Germans. There is also a Mexican (Michael Peña as Trina “Gordo” Garcia) from the south-west. The regional as well as religious differences of America are respected, but are left uncooked and underdone to add to the emphasis on the need for unity and mutual support.
However, though the men come from different backgrounds, display different degrees of intelligence and sophistication, and though they have very different personalities, the development of the film does not arise from the clashes between and among them, but through the growing respect that the novice earns from his fellow crewmen. Contrast this with Full Metal Jacket where R. Lee Ermey as the drill sergeant training new marine recruits on Parris Island has to cope with the uncoordinated and clumsy fat dough boy, Gomer Pyle, who surprises everyone by becoming and expert marksman and sniper. Fury, instead, is a story of the UNITED States of America, where Americans, including the sergeant – who, incidentally, speaks German – fight together and to the death to vanquish the enemy. It is a throwback in its stark patriotism while, at the same time, discarding all the clichéd versions of patriotism into the dustbin of history,
This film does not belong to the patriotic fifties when what you mainly saw of Americans fighting in Germany was a portrait of US soldiers marching into Italian and German towns to be welcomed by flag waving locals joyous at being liberated by the Yanks. In Fury, the troops are met with booby traps, a sullen and defeated population, and disciplined SS troops determined to fight to the last man and enforcing that discipline by hanging corpses of German men and women on lampposts because they refused to fight for the fatherland in the dying days of the war.
This is not a film that either glorifies the enemy or denigrates it as in the even worse anti-anti-Patriotic movies of the sixties did as the Vietnam War ramped up. The Patriotic movies portrayed heroes, like John Wayne in the 1968 The Green Berets, as a total artificial construct, an unbelievable fantasy of history that bore no relation to reality. That movie glorifies the US presence in Vietnam and portrayed the Viet Cong as sadistic sicko bastards while the Americans were compassionate humanitarian gum-chewing lovers of children. Contrast that film with Michael Cimino’s 1978 ambiguous but tremendous tale of war as a story of love and loss with Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken and John Cazale as the three Pennsylvania buddies in The Deer Hunter. The era of the anti-patriotic war movie culminated in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 classic, Apocalypse Now, the remake of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness transformed into a vivid cynical hallucinatory and ultimate acid trip.
In Fury, defeating the enemy is just a job that has to be done and only the SS are caricatured as evil and worthy of being slaughtered even after they have surrendered. There is no sense that the Geneva laws of war were operational. Though there are moments of humanity, the most poignant by a German (I cannot disclose the scene without giving away a key emotional moment in the movie), but the overall sense is the sheer brutality of war.
Like Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, David Ayer’s Fury is equally graphically violent. However, while this film resembles the former in miring the war in mud, it is not set in a period when courageous Americans, as well as Aussies, Brits, Canadians, and Kiwis, stormed ashore on the beaches of Normandy to finally free Europe from the iron grip of the Nazis. There, the heroism, as in Fury, is set in the very minor mundane tasks of war, but the question that hangs over the whole of Fury in the inglorious final days of the war is not the preservation of a very ordinary soldier as a precious individual, but the question: “Is the loss of even one other life worth it?”
As a buddy film, the crisis of masculinity is at the centre. And it revolves around courage – how archaic is that! Further, this courage in the face of death is not diluted by including clashes related to class and region, ethnicity and belief. These differences are mere peccadilloes, items of interest that allow the members of the tank crew to dis one another. In fact, that is how the movie starts – by getting you to believe that this may be a film that is loyal to its genre by placing the tension between alpha males at the centre of the movie. But this movie has only one alpha male, Wardaddy. And no one challenges him – except in minor skirmishes and asides.
Further, the message of the film is contemporary. Instead of “Thou shalt not kill,” the key value taught is, “Thou shall kill.” Further, instead of the film introducing compassion in the midst of violence and conflict, the compassion these fellows feel for one another is held in check. For if they feel too much – either for each other or for the enemy – they are through. They are finished.
But the film, true to its heritage, is still about heroism. Though the movie has only one alpha male, there are two heroes, Wardaddy, who holds a key crossroads against enormous odds, and, Norman, who is inducted into the ways of war and survives. The hero who lives and the hero who dies – that is what war is about in spite of these men initially being alien with and to one another. As Eversmann says in Black Hawk Down, the story of the 18 rangers from the American Elite Delta Force whose helicopter was brought down by a rocket fired by the Somali version of the Taliban in Mogadishu, “Nobody asks to be a hero, it just sometimes turns out that way.” As Bible quotes, “And I heard the voice of Lord saying: Whom shall I send and who will go for Us? And I said: Here am I, send me!” Then Wardaddy intones, Isaiah Chapter 6, clearly indicating he is very familiar with the Bible.
Brad Pitt plays a traditional hero – braver, tough and fairer – whose only goal is ensuring the survival of his men while he, willingly and without question, carries out the orders of his superiors. He refuses to get too close to them, though sensitive to their needs, but trumping that sensitivity with the greater demands of what is required to win a war. Wardaddy is a traditional hero played against the foil of a soldier who has to learn to become a warrior if not a Wardaddy. This process is set within the tension between loyalty to orders from above and loyalty to the soldiers below and under his command.
Contrast that with The Lone Survivor, a 2013 American war buddy movie starring Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster and Eric Bana. As in Fury, there is only one survivor after the ordeal the men go through when this Navy Seal team’s efforts to take out a senior Taliban leader, Ahmad Shah, in Afghanistan goes awry. Though both films are realistic, there is no effort of Fury to accurately represent an actual historical event. In contrast, The Lone Survivor is based on detailed eyewitness accounts and tries to be an accurate representation of what took place. Members of the Navy Seals even served as technical consultants on set. Compare that to Fury which is really a character more than an event movie.
The two movies are even more radically distinct in another respect. The Lone Survivor uses digital photography shooting with Red epic cameras with their detailed pixilation to allow the movie to more accurately represent a landscape or a human face. Fury uses old fashioned photography to give us a better sense of a WWII movie than the contemporary graphics of digital photography. Fury thus echoes film history more than real history. Black Hawk Down: Leave No Man Behind is another contemporary war movie in the vein of The Last Survivor rather than Fury.
There are war buddy movies intended to recapture a particular historical moment that are as tense and gripping as Fury, but others, such as The Monument Men, can be almost a total bore because history imprisons the film rather than releases it to do its wonders. The Monument Men is a pastiche of clichés about the works of art standing for the freedom for which the West has fought. In that movie, there is not even a tip of the hat to critical theorists like Walter Benjamin who viewed the cultural treasures of bourgeois Europe as spoils to be fought over by the retreating German army, the advancing Soviets and the small strange crew of Americans who recognized the value of art. The film portrays the competition, but, instead of seeing the event through cynical or critical eyeglasses, it glorifies the America victory and the heroes give the art works back to their rightful owners.
Fury enhances the tension with its rich echoes of cinematic and even religious history as it reaches for a much more monumental and prophetic goal. The prophecy comes in intimate moments when Norman reads the palm of the first love of his life, a beautiful German girl, Emma, played by Alicia von Rittberg, and tells her, “You see this right here? That is your heart line. You’re gonna have one great love in your life.” Though you can imagine them as spending the rest of their lives together, deep down, given the bleak tone of the movie, you know your romantic inclinations will be crushed. For ideals belong to peacetime. War is cruel and violent. Not only is it violent and cruel, but everything is determined by fate.
By the twenty-first century, realism replaced and displaced the self-indulgence of star movie directors with a new kind of buddy war movie like the 2008 release, The Hurt Locker, but the innovation actually began earlier on television in the serial, Band of Brothers and was continued in the mini-series, the intertwined story of three marines fighting the Japanese in the Pacific theatre and simply called Pacific. However, Fury is a better film than The Hurt Locker, and the latter earned a fistful of Academy Awards, including one for Kathryn Bigelow, its director.
Both movies are totally raw, immediate and extremely visceral and gut wrenching. Both films laud instinct and raw guts. Wardaddy has the same steely calm and strength, the same confidence and unpredictability as the IED (Improvised Explosive Devices) military defuser in The Hurt Locker. Both films were not shot digitally with special effects, but on real film, The Hurt Locker with Super 8s. This, along with the sound recordings of the echoes inside the tank or the breathing during the tense moments when a bomb is being disarmed, enhance the realism of each movie.

However, the two films are also quite different. The reasons are many. Fury sticks to realism, unlike the mysticism of Karen Shakhnazarov’s 2012 Russian film White Tiger that also takes place in the final stages of WWII when inferior allied tanks were sent to do battle with better armoured and better equipped German monstrosities. The Hurt Locker, with all its emphasis on realism in its sensibilities and perspectives and the omission of special effects, and through the use of hand-held cameras to create the feeling of disorientation, is an exercise in super-realism. The scenes in Fury are true to the way tank battles take place. The Hurt Locker has gut-wrenching immediacy and spell-binding suspense, but the narrative has little similarity with the way IED’s are actually disarmed – usually as remotely as possible and where the actual handling of an explosive device by a human is very rare indeed. IED disposal units do not operate as three-man autonomous units without radios. However, not only is the narrative manipulated to serve the emotional intensity of the movie, but so is the story. The Hurt Locker uses the sharp cuts and the jerkiness of the camera to evoke nausea in the viewer. In Fury, when Norman vomits, we experience his repulsion as any observer would, but we do not feel nauseous ourselves.

Finally, Fury has gravitas like Apocalypse Now, but a seriousness that arises from the mud of war rather than revealed by a super nova. The Hurt Locker rises above the microscopic perspectives, but only to offer a macroscopic physical perspective. The macroscopic viewpoint of Fury comes from verbal asides and biblical quotations that are metaphysical rather than just physical perspectives. Thus, though The Hurt Locker was lauded for its portrayal of the brutish and cruel realities of war, it does not take the actual route of authenticity.

In addition to harking back to the set pieces of Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, The Hurt Locker is an adrenaline soaked movie in which war is just the other side of sex, a thesis that Norman Mailer first put forth in his WWII novel, The Naked and the Dead, but the unity evoked is not between a man and a woman but between a band who become brothers through butchery. In The Hurt Locker, men take enormous pleasure in the testosterone fuelling of battles. In Fury they get to accept it and even enjoy killing enemy soldiers but they never get their rocks off by killing, even though fellow soldiers may laugh at a novice forced to kill for the first time. Finally, the miniscule space of the insides of a tank evokes, not the greatness of humans, but the pitiful miniscule role they play in the universe. The tank is the real home for men and offers the best job anyone could ever want.

Would you take it?