The American Military Retreat from Vietnam: a general history of the prolonged end of the Vietnam War

Carlton Meyer, “The American Military Retreat from Vietnam” (Tales of the American Empire, 19 June 2020)

This video serves mainly as a retelling of the significant events in the Vietnam War from 1968 to 1975: the 1968 date is chosen, not so much because most people in the West believe that was when the war began in earnest for the United States and its allies (including Australia), but because this date was actually the start of the prolonged end of the war. By this time, the US government knew it could not win the war unless the American public was willing to countenance the sacrifice of tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of Army conscripts in a war it had no appetite for. In 1968, the then US President Lyndon B Johnson, his reputation ruined by prosecuting the war, decided not to contest for the presidency which was later won by Richard Nixon. On becoming President, Nixon decided to turn the prosecution of the war to South Vietnam and to arm that country with military materiel and money – but thanks to endemic corruption in the South Vietnamese government and military, the equipment often ended up with the Viet Cong and money in politicians and military generals’ Swiss bank accounts. After throwing money and providing arms to a nation whose soldiers and people were unwilling to fight for corrupt leaders, and preferred instead a united Vietnam, the US government finally withdrew all its forces and assistance from South Vietnam by April 1975, and not long afterwards South Vietnam collapsed. The nation’s elites escaped overseas with American taxpayer money and Vietnam was united under the Communists in Hanoi.

The video presents the war as part of the US strategy to hang onto South Vietnam as a vassal state, in much the same or similar way as it currently hangs onto South Korea as a vassal state. What this video and a later video “The Mythical Threat from North Korea” in this series (Tales of the American Empire) do not actually say is why these countries serve as virtual colonies and what purpose they serve as colonies. Their geopolitical value to the US as battlegrounds between the US and the real enemies – the nations dominating the Eurasian heartland Russia and China – is not mentioned.

Interesting war film footage is shown and photographs and stills of the significant US politicians and military leaders of the war are interspersed with these to match Carlton Meyer’s voice-over narration. The video serves as a good general introduction to the history of the Vietnam War from 1968 to 1975 with a clear theme of the US pursuing an unwinnable war, unnecessarily throwing thousands of soldiers, equipment, ammunition and money, aiming at prolonging the war for imperialistic reasons. The long-term effect of the war on US politics, the economy and society generally – it might be said that the Vietnam War marks the beginning of the decline of the US as a superpower – is not covered in this brief video.

The Mythical North Korean Threat: how the US exploits North-South Korean tensions for its own benefit

Carlton Meyer, “The Mythical North Korean Threat” (Tales of the American Empire, 26 June 2020)

Amazingly in this admittedly short (eight-minute) video there’s no mention of North Korea’s nuclear defence program among the DPRK’s other defence strategies and military capabilities which for the most part are very poor. The video pivots on the US need to keep North and South Korea divided so as to maintain its iron grip on South Korea as a vassal state. To that end, the US built its largest offshore military base, Camp Humphreys, at a location some 40 miles south of Seoul to house up to 30,000 soldiers and their families. The base includes primary schools, a junior high school and a senior high school, and a number of fast food franchises are located there as well, to judge from photographs and film featured in the video.

The video pulls apart the propaganda, constantly repeated in Western mainstream news media, that North Korea poses a major danger to both South Korea and the US, and that current DPRK leader Kim Jong-un is a crazed despot. Far from it, the video tells us that Kim was educated at a private school in Switzerland, speaks English well, loves US basketball and has a physics degree. Kim also knows what his country’s armed forces are capable of, and not capable of. The DPRK’s army is made up of agricultural labourers who spend more time working in the fields than maintaining their weapons and equipment; consequently what weapons and military materiel the North Koreans have are in poor condition. Meyer might have added the reason for this state of affairs: due to economic sanctions imposed on North Korea since the 1950s, not to mention the devastation the Korean War brought to the country (some 20% of the population died during the war and every major city was ruined), North Korea has no agricultural machinery or the tools to make such machinery, and farming is highly labour-intensive.

South Korea turns out to be a far more powerful nation than North Korea, militarily and economically, and North Korea well knows the punishment the ROK could dish out if it dared to invade its neighbour. Indeed, many South Koreans realise that the Americans are not needed and demonstrations against the US presence in South Korea are common. The question is why the US continues to stay in South Korea. The video makes clear that in both the US and South Korea, political and military elites profit from the spending (running into the billions of US dollars) that US military occupation enables in South Korea. What perhaps is not clear in the video (its major failing) is the geopolitical value of South Korea as a threat to China and Russia in its far eastern region.

The real eye-opener in this video is the existence of Camp Humphreys and the huge size of the base: a family could easily live there for an entire lifetime and never set foot outside the base. Its shops and facilities however have a generic and soulless look about them: one would never know that it is located in South Korea as everything about the place – its buildings, their design, the shops there, the people who live and work there – does not acknowledge the culture of the host nation. The impression I have is that the camp exists mainly to provide employment for Americans – indeed, actual military personnel make up a minority of all Americans employed at Camp Humphreys – and for US companies to profit from by providing services and goods that resident military families need.

While this video is very informative, I did have a feeling that some information about North Korea might need updating. In recent years, North Korea has experienced some prosperity, along with some relaxation of restrictions on North Korean citizens and private enterprise being allowed. The video relied mainly on old film and not very recent photographs to portray Kim, the North Korean military and life generally in the DPRK. Perhaps at a future time the video might be updated to include more current information about this reclusive nation.

Football Star Murdered in Afghanistan: how the US government exploited the life and death of Pat Tillman

Carlton Meyer, “Football Star Murdered in Afghanistan” (Tales of the American Empire, 9 April 2020)

With the passage of time, former NRL football player turned soldier Pat Tillman (1976 – 2004) may well turn out to be an all-American hero – just not in the way assumed by most Americans brought up on US news media and Hollywood propaganda. After completing college on a football scholarship, Tillman began an illustrious sports career as linebacker for the Arizona Cardinals in the late 1990s. Eight months after the plane attacks on the World Trade Center towers in New York in September 2001, Tillman turned down a US$3.6 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals and enlisted in the US Army with his brother Kevin. After completing training, Tillman participated in the US invasion in Iraq in 2003 and then returned to the US to complete other military training. In October, he was sent to Afghanistan. On 22 April 2004, Tillman was killed, supposedly by Afghan enemy combatants.

Meyer’s short 9-minute video shows that, rather than being killed by enemy Afghans in the heat of battle, Tillman was killed in cold blood by someone on his own side in a scenario that suspiciously looks like a trap aimed at getting rid of him. During his deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan, Tillman became disillusioned with the US conduct of the war in those two nations. He voiced his disapproval to other soldiers. The video mentions that he exchanged correspondence with leading US dissident of the time, Noam Chomsky, and planned to meet with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor after returning to the US. It seems very likely that the Pentagon realised how embarrassing Tillman’s meeting with Chomsky and opinions might be to it, and how his actions and opinions might affect the US public’s attitude to the military. That might affect the all-important military recruitment drive among high school students and other young people to get more cannon fodder to throw at harmless people of colour in dirt-poor countries holding resources dear to wealthy elites in the US and other parts of the Western world. Therefore Tillman had to go.

The video does a good job of delineating Tillman’s career in the last few years of his life. Viewers wanting more information will need to make their investigations but the video provides enough detail to be a foundation for those enquiries. Special mention must be made of Tillman’s family members, particularly his mother, who became suspicious when Tillman’s personal belongings including his private diary were burned by the Army rather than returned to his immediate relatives. The family later discovered that Tillman had been killed by friendly fire. The video also mentions that Army doctors disagreed with the official narrative on the cause of Tillman’s death and pointed out that Tillman was shot three times in forehead at near point-blank range.

A major source of information relied on by the video is a “60 Minutes” (US version) interview with Pat Tillman’s mother Mary about her son and the despicable and cowardly way in which the US Army and the US government handled the news and information about the circumstances of Tillman’s death. As with other videos in the Tales of the American Empire series, this major source comes near the end of the video.

It seems that justice for Pat Tillman, bringing his killers and those who plotted his death into a court of law to be charged with premeditated murder, is still some way off. His brave family continues to meet with obfuscations from the authorities. The video ends quite awkwardly and abruptly. Tillman’s horrific death serves to show that even in the case of one very high-profile and popular individual, the US government and the powers behind it are prepared to exploit that person’s popularity and reputation for their own ends and to throw the individual under the proverbial bus when it suits them – let alone other lesser-known people and even entire nations. This is the way of the political culture of the US and its allies.

The Destruction of Libya in 2011: a good general survey of events surrounding the downfall of Colonel Ghaddafi

Carlton Meyer, “The Destruction of Libya in 2011” (Tales of the American Empire, May 2020)

A very good general survey of how the US overthrew Colonel Muammar Ghaddafi’s government in 2011 after 42 years of rule and turned what had been Africa’s most prosperous and stable nation into one of the continent’s poorest and most volatile flash-points, this short film does rely on other sources to flesh out its narrative but it is straightforward, unflinching and easy to follow. After pushing for a no-fly zone at the United Nations and getting it, the US and its allies invaded Libya, bombed its major cities and infrastructure (including the Great Man-made River Project, the world’s largest irrigation scheme, bringing water from beneath the Sahara to Libya’s coastal cities) and allowed Islamic jihadists, many of them foreign, to brutalise, sodomise and kill Ghaddafi. The country’s gold wealth was stolen by Western banks and thousands of Libyan refugees, along with hundreds of thousands of refugees from other parts of Africa, wracked by wars stemming in part from foreign (especially US) meddling, fled Libya by attempting dangerous sea voyages across the Mediterranean Sea to Malta and Italy, and then beyond. Thousands drowned in the Mediterranean and even those who made landfall in the EU faced uncertain and often dangerous futures.

Through maps, archived newsreels and John Pilger’s interview of Julian Assange on the then US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s role in pushing an invasion of Libya, narrator Meyer lays out how the US has plotted to bring down Ghaddafi’s government since he deposed the country’s former king in 1969 and set about reconstructing Libyan society along socialistic lines. Ghaddafi introduced free education and healthcare to Libyans and many other services were subsidised by the government. The Great Man-Made River Project was financed entirely by Libyan banks operating on what Westerners would regard as unorthodox financial and banking principles. Throughout Ghaddafi’s long reign as the country’s figurehead – he relinquished the role of Prime Minister in the late 1970s – the US consistently painted him as a quixotic dictator and blamed him or his country’s agents for various terrorist incidents including the Pan Am passenger jet bombing at Lockerbie in December 1988. The no-fly zone declared in late 2011 allowed a US-led coalition that included France and Italy to initiate a bombing campaign of Libya in which thousands were killed or injured. Since then, Islamic jihadist groups such as ISIS and al Qa’eda, financed or supported by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the US and EU nations, have been fighting the Libyan National Army commanded by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, formerly on the CIA payroll.

The most jaw-dropping part of the video is John Pilger’s interview of Julian Assange in which Assange states that Hillary Rodham Clinton (hereafter HRC) pressured US President Barack Obama to attack Libya and depose Ghaddafi, with the intention of using a successful attack and overthrow of the Libyan government as a core feature of her Presidential election campaign in 2016. The evil cynicism behind this behaviour on HRC’s part is mind-boggling: thousands of people had to die, and floods of people had to pour out of Libya (which had hitherto provided them with jobs on the GMMR Project) and into Europe, destabilising that continent, just so this wretched woman could use the invasion to flaunt herself as a Presidential candidate in 2016. With Donald Trump’s success in the US Presidential elections in 2016, HRC’s ambitions came to naught.

At every step along the way to Ghaddafi and Libya’s downfall, the US government or its agencies (particularly the CIA and maybe the National Endowment for Democracy) are in the thick of the plotting and grooming of alternative leaders who nearly always have been educated in the US from childhood on and who know very little of their original countries’ histories, in part because their families left and joined the global diaspora of migrants, refugees and other displaced individuals and family groups.

The film does have an abrupt open-ended conclusion though the message is very clear that US political / economic / military interference in another nation’s affairs nearly always leads to impoverishment, instability and degeneration manifested as political corruption. Neoliberal economic policies and programs are pursued that enrich a very small elite and force the rest of the population to live close to the breadline. Punishment can’t come soon enough for HRC, Barack Obama and others (in France, Italy and the UK at least) who stood to benefit from the US destruction of Libya in 2011.

Profiles in Courage: ENN Middle East reporter Gertrude Bellinger – parodying Western MSM disinformation on Middle East affairs

Pavel Serezhkin, “Profiles in Courage: ENN Middle East reporter Gertrude Bellinger” (2019)

Written and produced by The Grayzone journalist Rania Khalek who plays ENN Middle East correspondent / bureau chief Gertrude Bellinger, this very funny satirical video tears the strips off Western news media outlets and their correspondents in the Middle East for reporting disinformation and conforming, both naively and deliberately, to the Western agenda of invasion and overthrow of legitimate governments in that region. Rania Khalek plays Gertrude Bellinger (the name riffs off Gertrude Bell, the English writer / traveller who explored parts of the Middle East in the early years of the 20th century and later provided foreign policy advice to the British government) who is Middle East foreign correspondent and the head of the Middle East bureau for ENN (parody of the US media company CNN) in Beirut. Accompanied by long-suffering second stringer Alia – who acts as camera crew, secretary, researcher and maker of numerous soy lattes – Bellinger trawls Beirut and finds evidence of Hezbollah operatives and operations everywhere: three guys lazing about on a bench at the beach, a hunky fella doing push-ups and three black sedans driving down the highway in the same direction.

The funniest part of the film features Bellinger interviewing a guy who claims to be a senior Hezbollah commander through his translator Ahmed Ahmed. The “commander” spouts all kinds of guff in Arabic and Ahmed Ahmed deliberately mistranslates what he says in English to Bellinger. Viewers are privy to the guys scamming Bellinger; later the two men will saunter down the road to the local bar where they will regale their friends with stories about how they scammed the American reporter for big bucks. When Bellinger herself visits her local watering hole, a friend there tells her she is being scammed by the two men – the reality is that Hezbollah does not permit foreign press access to its most senior commanders – but of course Bellinger prefers to trust her own instincts (or whatever passes for them).

Along the way, Bellinger lives the high life visiting trendy cafes, people-gazing at the beach (and zeroing in on those hunky Hezbollah fighters sunning themselves on the sand or on the bench) and fixing her nails and hair while Alia runs around making more appointments with “senior Hezbollah commanders” and with the nail salon and hairdresser in some posh part of Beirut.

The production is very slick and professional-looking and Khalek is clearly having a blast at the expense of Western mainstream media outlets who, because of excessive cost-cutting and pressures from political and defence elites, push naive reporters into situations where they can be gypped for money (it’s their employers’ money anyway) and fed deliberate misinformation. Already brainwashed with years of propaganda on TV news and at school and university, the reporters are eager for any information that fits in with whatever they’ve been told to believe. The result is sloppy journalism that feeds an agenda increasingly out of touch with reality. When such an agenda pushes nations into wars that destroy lives and ruin societies, even entire nations, the role played by ignorant reporters such as those Khalek parodies, small as it is, can be seen to be dangerous.

Seam: an action thriller SF allegory of societies under siege from government and global oppression

Elan Dassani, Rajeev Dassani, “Seam” (2017)

An excellent little film that could serve as a pilot for a television series, “Seam” posits that in the near future, after a global war between cyborgs and humans, cyborgs will be living and working separately from regular humans in the cities, towns and the countryside, and the two groups will be allowed to interact only in militarised border zones known as “seams”. Human societies by then will have become de facto panopticon police states in which activity is monitored by authorities using drones to spy on people and, if necessary, destroy them. The major aspect of this film is that there are cyborgs still living among humans, even partnering with them and having children with them; moreover, these cyborgs are suicide sleeper agents working for a secret resistance organisation which itself monitors government oppression of human beings.

The film divides into two parts, one a minor part that takes place in a Chinese city and the second major part set in a town somewhere in the Middle East. The major link between these two parts is the effect on human relationships that the rival politics between oppressive government and resistance forces exerts with devastating results. In the Chinese part, a family is left without a father (Stephen Au), and in the Middle Eastern part, Ayana (Rakeen Saad) and her soldier husband (Khaled al Ghwairi) must part forever because one of them is the sleeper agent carrying information to the resistance organisation, located in a remote desert, which the authorities, represented by the Commander (Oded Fehr) and the Controller (Ulka Simone Mohanty) are determined to thwart.

The entire cast does a great job in the breathless cat-and-mouse action thriller game that takes place, and this viewer quickly started cheering Ayana and husband Yusef on against great odds. The cinematography is so good that the desert environment becomes a major actor character in its own right as the historical mythical source of the Semitic-speaking peoples and as a continuing inspiration to them. The special effects, emphasising holograms, are well done, and the actors’ interaction with them is also spot-on natural and casual.

The film can be interpreted as an allegory of the reality in far too many parts of the world today: people angered at oppression, losing hope and ready to sacrifice future love and happiness, may give in to their fury to join extremist organisations and become suicide bombers and terrorists. Whoever controls them may draw on their history and culture to manipulate their charges and set them on destructive paths. Oppressors in their turn become more extremist in their own ideologies and behaviours and actions towards those they themselves rule and control. At the centre of the film though is the question that science fiction has posed since its origin as a distinct cultural phenomenon: what is a human and what makes someone a human?

Red Joan: a stodgy film skirting issues about loyalty, betrayal and the nature of the British state

Trevor Nunn, “Red Joan” (2019)

Adapted from the novel of the same name which as the film acknowledges is based on the real-life case of Melita Norwood, Britain’s so-called “Granny Spy”, “Red Joan” spins an intriguing fictional tale of a young British woman, Joan Smith (Sophie Cookson) who in the late 1930s briefly flirts with socialism at Cambridge University and makes friends with two student Communist followers, Sonia (Tereza Srbova) and Leo (Tom Hughes) there. Joan is recommended by Leo to a secret British military physics project whose chief professor Max Davis (Stephen Campbell Moore) hires her. The project is involved in working out the physics required to discover nuclear fission and eventually build an atomic bomb before the Americans do. While she resists at first, the eventual news of the US atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 convinces her to change her mind and to pass on the secrets to Sonia. Amidst all of this, Smith becomes romantically involved with Leo at university and afterwards, and also with Davis who has long been estranged from his wife who refuses to consent to a divorce.

Eventually the British security forces become aware that British military secrets are being passed to the KGB and start hounding the unit where Smith works. Sonia flees Britain and Leo is found dead. Max Davis is arrested, charged with treason under the Official Secrets Act and is imprisoned. Smith does what she can to get Max out of prison and, by blackmailing a former university colleague, William Mitchell (Freddie Gaminara) who has achieved a senior position in the British Foreign Office, she and Max flee Britain with new identities as Mr and Mrs Stanley. For half a century afterwards, Smith’s treachery remains undiscovered until the early 2000s, when Mitchell dies and old government documents are declassified. The documents point to Joan Stanley (Judi Dench) as a long-serving KGB agent.

The story is told in flashback and pans back and forth between the present and the past as Joan Stanley reminisces to two British security officers about her past misdeeds in answer to their questions. Dench plays Stanley as a somewhat doddery old grandmother, the kind of slightly bemused elderly lady in whose mouth butter would stay solid; viewers may have some trouble matching the elderly Joan to Cookson’s more determined and steely character, but the lovable fuddy-duddy front falls away when Joan Stanley faces the press. The two actresses play their parts more or less well though Dench is clearly underused in her role. Cookson plays her intelligent but naive anti-heroine to the hilt. The rest of the cast is pigeon-holed into stereotyped backing roles: Sonia and Leo are portrayed as glamorous yet sinister, and the scientists Joan works with are obsessed with their own work to the exclusion of everything else, politics included. The modern-day British security forces are portrayed as efficient bureaucrats paying lip service to Diversity and Identity Politics.

In trying to develop the character of Joan Smith / Stanley as an anti-heroine viewers will sympathise with, the film waters down many aspects of Melita Norwood’s background – Norwood was a fervent Communist sympathiser – to the point of turning Joan Smith / Stanley into a bland generic character. As a result the decisions that the young Joan makes often seem bewildering and her justification for spying – that sharing knowledge is fair and, in the context of Cold War politics, has prevented the use of nuclear warfare for 50+ years – is very unconvincing. Stereotypical plot devices are used to tidy up the narrative: Sonia’s disappearance gives Joan a vital weapon with which she can blackmail Mitchell and very few viewers will believe the fantastically comical scheme in which Smith and Davis manage to escape Britain and flee to Australia. (At this point the film-makers decided not to explain how Joan later makes her way back to Britain.)

In spite of the use of flashback structuring to generate a sense of tension that should build up during the course of the film towards the present day, the film tends to be stodgy throughout its running time. Had British security forces been portrayed as sinister, menacing and violent towards both Joan and Davis, rather than as efficient, even sympathetic, the much-needed tension and fear could have been generated. The film fails to acknowledge the repressive and secretive nature of British society past and present, and to draw a parallel between this and Soviet repression and paranoia: the result is that the film, along with the other liberties it takes in reshaping the central character and her background, and in skirting other issues that arise about loyalty to one’s country when it conflicts with one’s ethics and values, does not rise above general mediocre entertainment.

Peterloo: an immersive dramatic re-enactment of a significant event in British political history

Mike Leigh, “Peterloo” (2018)

Made just before the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester in August 1819, when British cavalry troops and foot soldiers charged a peaceful demonstration of some 60,000 to 100,000 workers and their families protesting at high food prices and unemployment that were leading to hunger and suffering, and at their lack of political representation in Parliament, this film is a fictional re-enactment of the historical political and social background and the events leading to the mass protest at St Peter’s Field. The detail that director Mike Leigh invests in recreating the hierarchical British society of the time, the huge social inequalities that existed and the attitudes expressed by people of different social layers, from the monarchy and aristocracy down through the technocracy, the labouring classes to the very poor is incredible. The film takes care to create and build up carefully a credible society, using different points of view of various characters, and the result is highly immersive and filled with a distinct flavour of early 19th-century life in Britain.

The film is structured around the experiences of a young soldier, Joseph (David Moorst), who stumbles home from the Battle of Waterloo (in 1815) suffering from PTSD and falls into the care of his close-knit labouring family in Manchester. He tries in vain to find work but the economic conditions are hard and none is available. People complain about the high prices of corn due to the Corn Laws which among other things forbid the import of cheap foreign corn. Meanwhile, Home Secretary Lord Sidmouth (Karl Johnson) is concerned about worker unrest in the northern counties of Lancashire, Yorkshire and areas around Liverpool and Manchester. Government spies, infiltrators and provocateurs are put to work and intercept mail sent between radical reformist preachers and their flocks. Two Manchester reformists, Samuel Bamford (Neil Bell) and Dr Joseph Healey (Ian Mercer), go to London to hear reformist leader Henry Hunt (Rory Kinnear) speak; they try to invite him for a friendly drink but he rudely spurns them.

Much of the film then follows the reformists’ plan to hold a mass demonstration in Manchester at which Hunt will speak. Hunt insists on having no weapons at the protest despite Bamford’s warning that armed yeomanry will be present. Organisers of the protest include the staff who write for and print The Manchester Observer newspaper and a brief scene in the film shows how the newspaper was printed by hand.

Steadily the film builds through the viewpoints of Joseph and his family, especially his mother Nellie (Maxine Peake), Hunt and the family who hosts him in Manchester, Bamford, The Manchester Observer reporters, and the representatives of the aristocracy and their enforcers in Parliament and the legal system and courts who fear the reformist movement and who will do anything to crush the workers and deny their political rights, to the climax when the local magistrate sets the yeomanry like dogs onto the crowds. Especially sinister are the informers and the constable who spy on the reformist meetings and report back to the authorities.

The film’s general tone tends to be matter-of-fact and sober; even scenes of carnage are treated in a dispassionate way. Joseph’s nightmare of the scenes of Waterloo revisits him, to his ultimate cost. At this point the film’s denouement is rather hurried, untidy and surreal, featuring a bizarre meeting between the fawning Lord Sidmouth and the grotesque Prince Regent (Tim McInnerny) and his wife, and this is the weakest part of the narrative. Nothing is said about the forced closure of The Manchester Observer and its replacement by The Manchester Guardian, founded by people antagonistic towards the aims of the reformist movement. We learn nothing of the fate of Henry Hunt, Samuel Bamford or other significant reformist characters featured in the film: there are no brief end titles that could inform viewers of these people’s futures.

While the film can be long for most Western audiences, with very little apparent plot, I did not find it at all boring; if anything, I felt it was not long enough and could have covered more detail. The music soundtrack, featuring popular melodies that later were incorporated into church hymns during the later 19th century, is a highlight of the film. There are some slight historical errors – a woman is sentenced by a cruel magistrate to transportation “to Australia” (actually the colony of New South Wales at the time – but perhaps young viewers in Britain and Australia these days are not so well educated as those of my generation) – but on the whole, the film and the actors especially convey the lively flavour of society at all levels of Regency Britain.

Aspects of the film’s narrative may strike a chord with modern British viewers, as Britain currently limps through a dark historical period in which the vast majority of people are suffering from austerity policies imposed by a corrupt and remote government, the politicians of which from the Prime Minister down are incompetent, vicious and hell-bent on squeezing as much as they can out of the public for their own selfish interests and those of their secret masters in the City of London, the military and abroad.

The Image Book: a demanding critique on the role of film in contemporary Western society

Jean-Luc Godard, “The Image Book / Le Livre d’Image” (2018)

At 84 minutes, in no way is this a long film, yet it’s far more demanding of one’s attention in so many different aspects than more commercial films that are at least half as long. This film works on so many levels and probably needs to be seen at least a few times for Godard’s message/s to sink in.

On one level, the film questions and criticises the dominant role of cinema as escapist entertainment in an age where so many technologies and trends that have developed at the same time and in parallel or even enmeshed together with cinema have had destructive effects on humanity around the world: modern warfare, the development of weapons capable of destroying all life on earth, propaganda, societies dependent on technology (including cinema) and materialism to keep people distracted and unaware of their repression by Deep States. On a second level, in its use of snippets of other directors’ films, film audio soundtracks, music and paintings, Godard pays homage to directors and films that he may consider significant: I managed to pick out Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “Salo”, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” and Georges Franju’s “Blood of the Beasts” among the films referenced. By juxtaposing audio soundtracks from other films with the snippets of film organised collage-style, Godard creates a new narrative that, among other things, criticises Western viewpoints of Arabic-language peoples and their cultures and histories, and invites viewers to question how their opinions and worldviews have been moulded and manipulated by film in all its variety, documentary and newsreel film as well as film drama. This narrative includes a completely fictional story about the despotic ruler of an imaginary Arab country called Dofa which has no resources – not even oil or natural gas to speak of – but which lack does not stop this ruler from dreaming of dominating all the Arabian Gulf oil states.

There is much beauty, a lot of it deliberately over-coloured or overlit in ways to make the film look psychedelic and hallucinatory, as if to call attention to the power of film and film narrative to keep people in a heightened state of addiction and to change their neural networks (not always for the better). For all its experimentation, the film does present a linear narrative based on the five fingers of the hand – because the hand does much if not most of the work of the imagination and creation – with each chapter in the narrative representing some form of motion or conflict: water, trains, warfare, the law and the Western view of the Middle East.

The film’s collage nature and confrontational message make it difficult viewing for most people. I must confess I did find the middle section of the film quite heavy and tiring.

Courage and grit under fire in “Enemies Within: When Israel Declared War on the United States of America” (screenplay)

Clint Burnette, “Enemies Within: When Israel Declared War on the United States of America” (screenplay, published January 2019)

At last one of the most shameful episodes in recent US military history has become the subject of a screenplay. On 8 June 1967, the USS Liberty, a reconnaissance ship on patrol in international waters not far from the coast of Egypt (near El Arish), was bombed and then torpedoed by Israeli fighter jets and motor torpedo boats with the intent to sink the entire ship and its crew. The attack was sustained for at least an hour. Over 30 men were killed and 171 including the ship’s commander William L McGonagle were injured in the attack. Just as inexplicable as the attack by Israel – supposedly an ally of the US at the time – was the decision by the US government from the President, Lyndon B Johnson, down to smother and suppress the truth behind the attack and to concur with the Israeli government that the attack was a case of mistaken identity, even though the USS Liberty had been flying the US flag at the time and its markings identifying it as a US ship should have been obvious to the attackers. To this day, the attack on the USS Liberty by Israeli air and naval forces still remains a highly controversial topic.

Writer / script-writer Clint Burnette’s screenplay of the event, based on his interviews with USS Liberty survivors and other research, is a detailed and riveting dramatic narrative of what happened during the attack. The suspense starts building up towards the actual attack, with a fair few characters having misgivings about joining the ship’s crew on its fateful voyage in the eastern Mediterranean. The script alternates between scenes on the ship itself and scenes on a Soviet destroyer in the same area as the American ship, and in Israeli military headquarters where Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Dayan is ordering the attack; this jumping back and forth between the Americans, the Soviets and the Israelis heightens the tension. Readers will find themselves drawn into the thick of the action.

The description of the attack is very thorough in its details, which in themselves demonstrate the deliberate nature of the Israeli attack and the extent to which the US government was complicit in allowing the attack to continue even though other US warships not far away offered assistance to the stricken USS Liberty. However the most important aspect here is the courage and determination of the crew in rescuing their wounded, trying to keep them alive, and repairing whatever communications equipment they could to maintain open lines.

I did find the denouement not quite as strong as the events leading up to and including the attack: the action switches away from the USS Liberty crew to a Navy JAG lawyer, appointed to assist in investigating the incident, who is confronted by belligerent senior naval commanders who threaten to derail her career if she insists on following proper procedure and interview the survivors. The lawyer herself suffers personal and family crises in part as a result of her pursuit of justice. I am hoping that when the film is made, that this section can be fleshed out by a good cast of actors aided by consultants or historians who can verify the necessary details needed for accurate portrayals of courtroom testimonies.

What is most impressive about this screenplay is its portrayal of men whose character and loyalties are tested under the most incredible pressure in the most extreme circumstances, and how their loyalties to one another and their professionalism and patriotism are betrayed by their government whose interests in the Middle East usurp original American ideals. The film that is based on this screenplay, if done well and faithfully, will be a film about ordinary people demonstrating the most extraordinary qualities of bravery, sheer grit and compassion in surviving, rescuing others and living to see justice done.