The American Empire in Asia in the 1800s: an enthralling if disturbing story of US imperialism in east Asia and the western Pacific

Carlton Meyer, “The American Empire in Asia in the 1800s” (Tales of the American Empire, 9 July 2021)

This short history documentary is an excellent entry in Carlton Meyer’s Tales of the American Empire series and a great introduction to the history of American foreign policy during the 19th century for the general public. Meyer quickly dispels the notion that American imperialism began with US victory over the Spanish in the Spanish-American War in 1898 that led to US colonisation of Cuba and the Philippines, as is accepted by most US historians. Indeed the first US President George Washington is known to have referred to the new United States in the early 1780s as a “nascent empire” and even as early as 1778, David Ramsay, South Carolina’s delegate to the Continental Congress, wrote that the North American continent would be the foundation of an empire that would make the Roman empire and the Macedonian empire of Alexander the Great “sink into insignificance“. The early US empire got under way in the 1830s when US warships, on the pretext of protecting US merchant and whaling ships, attacked islands in eastern and southeast Asia whose inhabitants (Malays, Dayaks) had threatened such ships and killed some of their sailors. US warships became regular visitors to eastern Asia and China in particular, working with the British to protect British interests and later American opium interests in southern China. The visits of US warships under Commodore Matthew Perry to Japan in the 1850s, forcing the Japanese to westernise later in the 1870s, should be seen in the context of growing US imperial influence in the eastern Asian region.

Capitalising on local political disputes in the Samoan islands, the US Navy established a naval station in those islands, an action that brought the US into conflict with the German navy there. Disputes with the Germans and local Samoan political factions eventually led to the islands being parcelled among Germany and the US: those islands that came under American rule remain so to this day as American Samoa, the German part later passing through New Zealand rule and becoming independent Western Samoa in 1962, renamed Samoa in 1997.

These details plus others Meyer mentions show that the US acquired its various colonies not by accident or because of other nations’ predatory actions but deliberately to enable US elites to profit from seizing and exploiting other people’s lands and resources. This empire of direct US colonies may no longer exist in the form created in the late 19th / early 20th centuries but it continues in the global outreach and ambitions of the US Navy, as succinctly demonstrated in the US Navy advertisement that ends the short documentary.

Fascinating archival maps, photographs and film shorts illustrate the documentary and the riveting if disturbing tale it tells.

What the Media Won’t Tell You About Venezuela: mini-documentary won’t tell you much more either

What the Media Won’t Tell You About Venezuela” (ReallyGraceful, 3 June 2017)

Viewers of this very short mini-documentary on Venezuelan politics won’t learn very much about why Venezuela’s current socialist government under President Nicolas Maduro continues to survive despite the country’s poverty and food shortages – nor will they learn anything about what’s actually fuelling the food shortages there. The thrust of ReallyGraceful’s video is to show that the people of Venezuela – and by implication, people in other middle and lower income nations around the world – are caught between two camps of evil, or what ReallyGraceful herself perceives as evil, and that the Western mainstream news media will push their audiences to choose one of these camps (usually the US and its allies) as the good guys. In the film, former President Hugo Chavez and the socialist ideology and structures he implemented in Venezuela are viewed by ReallyGraceful as part of Venezuela’s ongoing problems; at the same time ReallyGraceful correctly identifies Venezuela being under siege by the US and forces allied with it (among them, Israel and the global finance industry including the Bank of International Settlements) as part and parcel of the problem as well.

While ReallyGraceful does well in fingering the dominance of the oil industry in Venezuela’s economy over past decades as the underlying foundation of Venezuela’s recent past and current problems, she fails to note that this dominance is the result of policies made by past politically conservative governments in the country working together with US political and corporate interests to the detriment of Venezuelan people. Such policies privileged foreign oil interests (to the extent that other industries in the country suffered from lack of support and declined) and ignored the healthcare, educational and other social needs of the Venezuelan people. When Chavez became President in 1999, he sought to rectify the dire economic straits of the majority of Venezuelan people by using oil revenues to fund social services and other programs. To his credit also, Chavez tried to diversify Venezuelan industry and support programs aimed at reviving agriculture though with mixed success.

ReallyGraceful notes that food shortages have been severe in Venezuela but fails to realise that, again, the favouring of the oil industry and US oil interests by conservative governments before Chavez led to the decline of agriculture in Venezuela to the point where the country became overly dependent on imports of food, even food staples. For some reason, or perhaps because his time as President was cut short, Chavez never tried to wrest control of food imports away from companies owned by wealthy families and individuals opposed to his government and socialist ideology, and current President Maduro and his government are perhaps too preoccupied in dealing with more urgent issues to be able to address this issue of food imports. The result is that food importers can use classic-economics demand and supply phenomena as blackmail over the general public and create social and economic chaos for the Maduro government.

ReallyGraceful’s anti-socialist stance blinds her to the possibility of Venezuelans as individuals and in groups, communities and non-profit organisations confronting the food shortage issue by growing their own food and organising their own food markets to sell, barter or otherwise distribute food to those who need it most.

I note though that ReallyGraceful ends her film by observing that Venezuela is under pressure from the US and the global finance industry to yield its natural resources to foreign ownership and control. As she always does, she invites viewers to comment on her mini-documentaries, which is her way of admitting that she is open to criticism and counter-opinions.

The Empire enters the Cocaine Trade: an introduction to US involvement in a sordid trade

Carlton Meyer, “The Empire enters the Cocaine Trade” (Tales of the American Empire, 25 June 2021)

For a nation committed to neo-capitalist ideology – under which any and all activities with the potential to generate considerable profits (at minimal cost to those undertaking them) are more than just desirable, they are legitimate no matter how unethical they are or how much suffering to others they might cause – it should come as no surprise to fans of Tales of the American Empire series that the US military and intelligence agencies are involved in trafficking in illegal drugs such as opioid narcotics and cocaine, and profiting from that trafficking. This episode is the first in an ongoing investigation of the involvement of the US government and its agencies in the illegal drug trade among other topics that the series returns to from time to time. It also considers the role that US mainstream news media has played and continues to play in either ignoring, condoning or denying US government complicity in the global trade (usually in collusion with other criminal organisations) to the extent that vast numbers of Americans and others around the world who consider the US to be an important ally and friend are completely unaware that the US even engages in illicit drug trafficking, let alone know how deeply entwined in criminal activity the US government is.

The episode consists mainly of interviews going back nearly 50 years in which US government officials admit their government’s participation in drug trafficking and even protection of drug dealers, supposedly in the name of fighting Communism. In many cases, as detailed by individual US Drug Enforcement Administration agents, former Nazi war criminals were helped and given safe haven in South America by CIA agents among others through profitable drug trafficking rings. Many rogue CIA agents made large amounts of money doing so. Other interviewees describe in considerable detail what their roles were in sending planes packed with illegal drugs from South America to the US, all of which could have been intercepted by border patrols, and their cargo seized and impounded. One interviewee considers the damage that such trafficking does to US democracy, especially when such activities are part and parcel of US collusion with fascist forces in other countries (particularly countries in Latin America) to overthrow democratic governments, crush democratic opposition and deny those countries’ citizens their freedoms and rights.

There’s not much actually said about when and how the US became involved in the global cocaine trade – no actual year or incident that can be said to signify the start of an unlovely addiction on the part of the US government and its agencies to the illegal drug trade -but then the whole sordid history of how the US became involved in such trade, and how its politics became corrupted due to the massive profits that were made and how much of those profits went into politicians’ pockets or election campaigns, would take many, many episodes to cover. The episode under review aims mainly to introduce audiences to an aspect of US geopolitics that they have never been informed of. I’m sure sequels to this episode will be very informative and more specific on details of how far and how deeply US complicity in the illegal drug trade goes.

What the Media Won’t Tell You About China: the historical context behind the downfall and rise of modern China

“What the Media Won’t Tell You About China” (ReallyGraceful, 20 June 2018)

This short film is less a historical documentary about China and how it came to be the nation is it now and more a demonstration of the historical context behind contemporary China and its politics. The aim is to show why China takes the actions it does and how the intent of these actions is deliberately twisted by Western mainstream media to suggest that China is an aggressor with sinister imperial designs. ReallyGraceful shows how Confucianism as a political and social philosophy has influenced and shaped the relationship between the government and the people, individually and collectively, and helped give China long-lasting stability that lasted through several dynastic cycles and was ended by European, particularly British, imperial economic ambitions.

The film focuses on a few significant events that destabilised China or influenced its political direction: the Opium Wars and the corruption and instability that mass opium addiction brought to China; the Boxer Rebellion, which discredited the Qing dynasty; Mao Zedong’s Long March; and the civil war between the Communists and the Nationalists that made the country vulnerable to Japanese invasion. Along the way, RG notes the association that Mao Zedong had with Yale University in the US (a short one, by the way) and spends some time detailing the links between Yale University and one George Herbert Walker Bush, a former US President and CIA Director, through the notorious Skull & Bones Society: this association suggests that the Chinese Communists had quite intimate and complicate contacts with the CIA and the Skull & Bones Society that go right back to the 1920s. This association with its networks was rent asunder by the Tiananmen Square event which, as ReallyGraceful sets out meticulously, turns out to be nothing like its portrayal in Western mainstream media: instead the “massacre” was actually an attempt by the CIA, using people embedded among the protesting students, to take control of the protest, turn it into a violent revolution and force (through violence) the overthrow of the Communist government and with it the dissolution of the Communist Party of China.

After the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989, China forged ahead with its economic development to the extent that the nation is now the largest economy in the world and owns over a trillion US dollars’ worth of US debt. China has become a major global investor in several countries in Africa and elsewhere. The country now wields such major economic influence through trade and trading networks that it is now in a position to challenge US global financial hegemony by enticing its trade partners – and Middle Eastern suppliers of oil – to trade in petro-yuan rather than in petro-dollars. This threatens the privileged status of the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency, not least because a move away from using the US dollar would result in plummeting demand for the dollar, leading to the dollar’s deflation and the dire consequences for US trade and the economy.

RG passes no judgement on China’s human rights situation though her description of what happened during the Tiananmen Square events suggests she is less likely than most to view China as a heavily authoritarian and oppressive state that brutalises its peoples. As this short film is an opinion piece, RG gives no sources for her information. Mao Zedong’s link to Yale University and the Skull and Bones Society will come as a surprise to many – it certainly did to me – but Google searches confirm that Mao indeed received help in his political and literary career from Yale University through its Yale-in-China Group; he might never have risen as high as he did without financial help and other support from that group, and the history of China would have taken a very different direction!

RG’s portrayal of the events of Tiananmen Square in 1989 merits mention and praise in the way her commentary slides right into a more objective and critical view of those events without any bias. She puts up information and invites viewers to consider this information for themselves and to find out more and share their discoveries with others. While the film omits to mention significant events of the 20th century – the Japanese invasion of China surely merits one mention, as does the way in which China became the new workshop to the world at the expense of working and middle class jobs in Western countries whose leaders saw nothing wrong in companies offshoring jobs to China – it does well enough as an introduction to modern China and how it has become the nation it is.

Minamata: a solid film on the power of image as social activism

Andrew Levitas, “Minamata” (2020)

In these times when fake news and deliberate disinformation are the norm in mainstream news media, here comes a very welcome, solid film on environmental pollution and its lasting effects on two, even three generations of families, and on the power of image to convey this message and call for justice for the families made victims by the pollution. “Minamata” is based on events that took place in the early 1970s to bring the suffering of the victims of what was then known as Minamata disease – actually the effects of environmental mercury poisoning – to world attention. Johnny Depp plays US photojournalist W Eugene Smith, world-weary and with his life in tatters, who is approached by two Japanese fans of his work in 1971. The two fans, of whom one is Aileen (Minami), persuade him to follow them back to their home town of Minamata, a one-company town on Kyushu island, to document the injuries and deformities suffered by Minamata town residents. Smith grudgingly accepts and accompanies the two activists on what is supposedly a three-month assignment. Once there, Smith gradually becomes more involved in the lives of the Minamata families, befriending a teenage boy suffering from Minamata disease and teaching him photography; he himself eventually becomes an activist participating in and visually recording protests against the Chisso company which has been discharging mercury into local waters. The Chisso company discovers the American living in the Minamata community and, after failing to bribe Smith, ramps up the harassment and violence against the community and Smith himself. His studio is burned down and much of his work is destroyed, and the photojournalist realises he must try to persuade the Minamata community to work more closely with him and allow him to photograph affected family members if he is to get their message to the outside world.

While the film revolves around Depp’s performance, excellent as it is for most of the time he is on screen, he allows his fellow cast members including Minami as Aileen, Tadanobu Asano and Hiroyuki Sanada as activist leaders and Jun Kunimura as the Chisso company president their moments in the spotlight. Minami’s character is basically supportive but is upfront when it needs to be. Kunimura puts in a powerful performance as the president who tries to bribe Smith and is then later forced to admit the company’s culpability for the harm caused by his company to Minamata residents. Though Depp himself occasionally lapses into his kookly old Hunter S Thompson character from “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” which he made back in 1998, his portrayal of Smith as initially gruff and cynical (this appearance hiding deep self-loathing, past trauma and lack of purpose in life) and then later turning into social crusader with a cause that consumes his life seems credible. The film does a good job detailing the menace that hired uniformed goons present to Smith and the Minamata residents, less so on how the issue of mercury poisoning divides the community, especially as so many people in Minamata depend on the company for employment.

The film’s cinematography highlights Minamata town’s charms as a rural seaside village, focusing at times on villagers’ activities such as drying fish or on children playing in the town park where Smith first meets the teenage boy. Over the course of the film the background settings become important in advancing the film’s narrative and message as historical film reels are mixed into the live-action scenes and some scenes are recreations of actual photographs taken by the real-life W Eugene Smith.

The action may be slow and the plot doesn’t rev up until quite late in the film but the slow pace allows viewers, like Smith himself, to fully immerse themselves into the life of Minamata as drawn by Levitas and his capable cast. By the end of the film audiences may well find themselves rooting for Smith, Aileen and her fellow activists. However the end title credits present a very sobering conclusion to their efforts: to date, the Minamata community has still not been fully compensated for its suffering by the Chisso company and the Japanese government.

The United States Started the Korean War: an unjust lie corrected

Carlton Meyer, “The United States Started the Korean War” (Tales of the American Empire, 11 June 2021)

Most histories on the Korean War (1950 – 1953) state that the war began when 75,000 North Korean soldiers crossed the 38th parallel which formed the border between North and South Korea to overrun the latter country. Only intervention by the United States and its allies in South Korea, so the story goes, saved South Korea from becoming Communist and reuniting with North Korea to form one Korean nation. In this short historical documentary, Meyer demonstrates with various sources and films and photographs of the period that the US wanted a war in the Korean peninsula to throw out Communist rule and install a new colonial government answerable to the US so that US corporations with business in the Korean peninsula could resume their operations and continue profiting at the expense of Korean workers and their families. In addition, US corporations had lost their business in China after the 1949 Communist Revolution in that country and were keen to get that business back. A war would give the US a chance of defeating the Communists in China and reinstalling Chiang Kaishek as China’s leader.

From there, Meyer goes into considerable detail into the lead-up to open warfare in the Korean peninsula in the late 1940s, including South Korean workers’ protests, strikes and rebellions against repressive rule by the South Korean government, backed by the US. US political and military leaders regarded South Korea as a convenient battleground on which to fight godless Communism. Americans were not too keen on helping South Korea recover from Japanese imperial rule and the devastation of World War II. The CIA secretly encouraged South Korean troops to cross the 38th parallel frequently and skirmish with North Korean troops in order to capture territory for Seoul. The US attitude created an environment in which South Korean harassment and even invasion of North Korean territory would lead to open warfare.

Meyer’s marshalling of his facts is good if quite fast, and viewers might need to run the film a few times to absorb the information. The actions of President Harry Truman in declaring war on North Korea without the approval of US Congress, in violation of the US Constitution, are to be noted. The film ends on a very dark note in which Meyer reels off statistics of millions of Koreans ending up as refugees or dead as a result of the three-year war.

If Meyer had gone a little slower in his narration, the film would obviously not seem rushed for those viewers not familiar with the Korean War. However this short film is clear in its aims: to show that the US had a clear agenda and interest in seeing a hot war erupting in the Korean peninsula, and did not care for Koreans, living in both North and South Korea, caught up in the crossfire.

What the Media Won’t Tell You about Iran: the history behind Iran’s relationship with the US and the West

“What the Media Won’t Tell You about Iran” (ReallyGraceful, 23 November 2017)

Back in 2017 I’d been watching short history mini-documentaries on ReallyGraceful’s Youtube channel but fell out of this habit for various reasons, most of which I’m too ashamed to mention. I vow from now on to watch more of RG’s videos when I can as they are highly educational yet short enough for viewers to watch whenever they have spare time and moreover watch a second or third time to digest the information Grace gives. The videos come jam-packed with facts pulled from (I presume) many and varied sources and include stills and snippets of interviews and news articles that come and go at a steady but not rushed pace.

“What the Media Won’t Tell You about Iran” is a useful introduction to the history of Iran’s fractious relationship with the West and the United States in particular over the 20th century. It starts with how the British Empire’s need for oil to fuel its naval ships – so it could have the upper edge in fuel efficiency and speed over the naval forces of Germany, the chief economic rival of Britain in the late 19th / early 20th centuries – led that evil empire to buy a 51% stake in the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, originally founded by a London millionaire in 1908 to explore and drill for oil in Iran. In 1935, the company was renamed the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and in 1951, the company was nationalised as an Iranian company by the Iranian government, at the time led by Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq. In 1953, Mosaddeq was deposed in a coup engineered by the CIA and elements in both the US and British governments, and the company (renamed British Petroleum) was back under British control. Twenty-five years of repressive and corrupt rule by the US-backed Shah followed. In early 1979 the Shah’s government was overthrown in a popular revolution. The Iranian Revolution led to the destabilisation of the US government under then President Jimmy Carter.

Thus began over 40 years of animosity between Iran and the United States, and by implication the West as well, with all the associated disinformation and propaganda in Western mainstream media portraying Iran as a backward, oppressive and corrupt theocracy, and the consequences this animosity had not only on Iran’s future economic development but on the stability, security and political integrity of Iran’s neighbours Afghanistan and Iraq.

In the documentary’s second half Grace moves into the present day to examine Iran’s present geopolitical context, in particular the country’s nuclear production program and how it is continually misrepresented by Western mainstream media as a nuclear weapons development program. Grace asks why wouldn’t Iran want to have a nuclear weapons development program, given that the US has destabilised Iraq and Afghanistan through invasion and continued occupation, and that Israel has long had nuclear weapons in violation of international law governing nations’ access to and use of nuclear energy. She looks at the possible agenda behind Israel’s access to nuclear energy and its production, why the US and the West turn a blind eye to Israel’s actions both overt and covert, and Israel’s interest in conquering more territory at the expense of Lebanon, Syria and other nations in its neighbourhood for its Greater Israel project. Grace concludes that ultimately US and Western actions in supporting Israel and destabilising Arab and other nations in the Middle East / North Africa region are tied to Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich nations’ continuing use of the US dollar in selling oil to the West – because US global political dominance depends very much on other nations’ dependence on US dollars (and the continued printing of US dollars by the US Treasury) for all global financial transactions.

For such a short documentary, this film ranges far and wide in time and space, touching on many topics worth investigating in more detail in their own right. Viewers will need to do their own research on the topics Grace raises in her video, if only to confirm if she is right in what she says. The film is very dense in facts and may not always drill down deeply enough into the details of how different facts and information are linked; it’s up to viewers to find these links and work out the wider narrative behind the links themselves.

Death of a Ladies’ Man: a tale of loss, addiction and redemption but not much character change

Matt Bissonnette, “Death of a Ladies’ Man” (2020)

Inspired by the poetry and songs of Canadian poet / novelist / singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, some of whose songs grace the film as its musical soundtrack, “Death of a Ladies’ Man” follows hard-drinking Montreal university professor Sam O’Shea (Gabriel Byrne) whose life starts on a series of strange and unexpected turns beginning with finding his second wife Linda in flagrante delicto with a boyfriend. Their marriage broken down and heading for divorce, O’Shea starts seeing strange things: his long-dead father Ben (Brian Gleeson) turns up for one-on-one chats, he meets Frankenstein’s monster in a bar and a tiger-headed waitress in a restaurant. Perhaps he is under stress or having alcoholic delusions; a visit to his GP reveals a terminal brain tumour and O’Shea realises there are dreams he had been putting off a long time and which now demand fulfilment. Shoving his undergraduate literature classes off onto a colleague, O’Shea contacts and tells his ex-wife Genevieve (Suzanne Clement) and estranged children Layton (Antoine Olivier Pilon) and Josée (Karelle Tremblay) that he’s going back to Ireland to write his first novel. The children themselves need support – Layton has come out as gay and is in his first relationship with a man, and Josée is in a destructive relationship with a heroin junkie – but O’Shea flies off to Ireland and back to his childhood home in a small rural community where he almost promptly takes up with a young woman, Charlotte (Jessica Paré) and incurs the murderous wrath of a local man keen on her.

The giddy plot with its various sub-plots and their unexpected (if not quite plausible) resolutions works thanks in part to Byrne’s rumpled ease and charm as the otherwise self-absorbed and egotistical O’Shea as he leaves behind a trail of damaged relationships with consequences ranging from upset to anger to near murder. The film moves at a steady pace and the action is structured in three chapters that keep the various sub-plots separate so the plot appears more orderly than chaotic. Everything revolves around O’Shea, reflecting his self-absorption, and this means that some sub-plots go only so far and are never fully developed: the brain tumour part remains in the background and Layton’s sexuality and how this affects his relationship with O’Shea also stay dormant. How O’Shea’s family rallies around him and then how O’Shea manages to help Josée deal with her heroin addiction and come back to something resembling a normal life is not explored in much detail.

O’Shea’s chats with Dad reveal a childhood of trauma and loss that may underlie his womanising and alcohol addictions, leading to both his marriage breakdowns and his strained relationship with his children. The pattern of abandonment, trauma and loss has afflicted two generations in O’Shea’s family and threatens Josée’s health and life. Random incidents though work out to O’Shea’s benefit and eventually he is able to resolve most if not all his troubled conflicts and fulfil his ambitions of writing and publishing his first novel. Tying up loose pieces of his life brings reconciliation with his first family but also brings an unexpected sting.

The film labours under several themes: family trauma and loss that repeat through the generations; and the randomness of life and how it can derail order and cause crises but also lead perhaps to insight, purpose and eventually redemption. O’Shea eventually accepts and comes to terms with his delusions and the prospect of death itself. Things though tend to happen in such a way as to suggest that O’Shea is let off the hook for a great many serious occurrences and perhaps any lessons he might learn don’t penetrate very deeply into his consciousness. He may attend Alcoholics Anonymous sessions and swear off chasing pretty young women but the film’s general tenor as musical comedy / drama seems a bit too light-hearted to allow much character development and maturation in our hero. At the end of the film O’Shea still seems the same man he was at the beginning, with no great insights into his character and little understanding of how his childhood of abandonment and loss laid the foundation for his relationships with women and his children. He continually nags his ghost father about what happened to his mother and why she left the family even after his father admits he has no idea, and at no point during the film does O’Shea appear to acknowledge that whatever might have driven his mother to abandon him might be related to whatever drove him to leave Ireland: the lack of opportunity, the claustrophobic, even paranoiac nature of life in rural Ireland for those who didn’t conform to pre-1990s Irish social traditions.

The best part of the film is its scenery set in Montreal and rural Ireland which suggests a deeper social context to the dramas playing out in O’Shea’s life: urban Montreal, where comfortable middle-class people struggle to find purpose in dysfunctional lives in a deindustrialised environment and instead find only escapism in addiction, is a significant character in its own right, as is also rural Ireland which at first seems bracing and inviting but turns out to be restrictive and dysfunctional in its own way. That this aspect of the film is more felt than explored may be seen as a weakness but viewers cannot expect the all-too-human cast of characters, with what they already have to cope with, to be able to recognise what is oppressing them and do something about it.

American Special Forces Destroyed a Hospital in 2015: US cowardice and incompetence on display over Kunduz hospital attack

Carlton Meyer, “American Special Forces Destroyed a Hospital in 2015” (Tales of the American Empire, 14 May 2021)

This episode in Carlton Meyer’s Tales of the American Empire series focuses on the US Air Force attack on a hospital, Kunduz Trauma Centre, in the city of Kunduz, northern Afghanistan, on 3 October 2015 that killed at least 42 people, injured over 30 others and left another 33 people unaccounted for. At the time of the attack, Médecins Sans Frontières was using the hospital to treat women and children and combatants from both the Taliban and pro-government forces, and had informed all warring sides including US forces of the hospital’s exact geographic coordinates (and confirmed them as well with US military officials back in September 2015). While the hospital was treating Taliban militants at the time of the attack, all these militants were unarmed. The hospital was brightly lit up at the time as well.

The episode presents the case that US Special Forces destroyed the hospital as revenge for an incident in which a C-130 transport aircraft crashed while taking off from Jalalabad, killing six American airmen and five contractors, sometime after Kunduz fell to insurgent fighters in September 2015. A quick history of the US Special Forces and its connection to the CIA and the US government in carrying out secret operations (which amount to war crimes) without informing the US Defense Department or State Department is given. It goes into much technical detail about the attack, what the hospital did to alert US military forces that it was under attack, and shows that various parties within the US military were busily shifting responsibility for the order to attack onto the crew who carried out the order to bomb the hospital. Not only did the US military and the US government cover up and avoid culpability for the attack but also later changed course to justify the attack on the hospital, and US mainstream media followed suit in covering up and then obscuring who was responsible for bombing the hospital.

The episode does well in presenting its case that the US attack on Kunduz Trauma Centre is a war crime and the US military and media reaction to the attack exposes US cowardice and incompetence. I would have liked to have seen how the attack might have fit a pattern of US military strikes on hospitals and other medical and non-military institutions in Afghanistan and other nations during wars in which the US is a major combatant either directly or indirectly through proxy armies such ISIS but perhaps that is beyond the scope of Meyer’s series to cover. There is nothing either about the consequences of the Kunduz Trauma Centre attack on the Afghan people, apart from MSF having to leave Kunduz (and how that would have affected Kunduz residents’ access to medical care and their attitude towards foreign occupying forces), or on the United States’ conduct of the war in Afghanistan. It would seem that, like so many other incidents in which US forces bombed and killed Afghan civilians and unarmed militants alike, any lessons the Kunduz Trauma Centre attack could teach have not been learned by the US and its allies.

Land: a film of two exiles from society finding friendship and healing

Robin Wright, “Land” (2021)

For her directorial debut, US actor Robin Wright chose to do a challenging character study of a bereaved woman, Edee (played by Wright herself), in shock after losing her husband and son, who isolates herself in a log cabin in the remote Rocky Mountains somewhere in Wyoming state. She intends to start her own vegetable garden and go hunting and fishing if need be. Her plan to go completely off-grid is apparent in the split-second scene where she ditches her cellphone into a rubbish bin, and is reinforced when she tells the man from whom she is buying his father’s log cabin that he can take away her rented car and haulage vehicle. Her attempts at living off the land however meet with failure upon failure and she doesn’t get far coming to terms with new neighbours like a pack of wolves and a huge bear that ransacks her log cabin during a severe winter. In the middle of a terrible blizzard, Edee curls up on the floor of her freezing log cabin, ready to die and be done with life.

In the nick of time arrive local hunter Miguel (Demian Bichir) and nurse Alawa (Sarah Dawn Pledge) who find Edee only days away from starving and freezing to death, and who bring her back to life with medicines, soups and warm clothing. Alawa wants to get Edee down to town and into hospital straight away but Edee refuses. Miguel offers to care for Edee and, surprisingly, teach her how to survive on her own since she is adamant about staying in her log cabin. From then on, Miguel visits Edee frequently to show her how to chop wood, how to hunt, shoot and prepare deer, and cook venison. Hunting her own food and eating meat help to strengthen Edee so she can concentrate on teaching herself from books how to create her vegetable garden. Before long, Edee is doing well for herself and becomes close friends with Miguel. At this point in the film though, Miguel tells her he is going away and leaves his dog with her. Time passes and Edee soon realises something may have happened to Miguel, that he has been away from his own home for too long.

On the surface a film of survivalist self-exile and isolation, “Land” turns out to be a meditation on reconciliation, healing and being able to connect with other people. In his own way Miguel is a damaged human being who has suffered loss because of past irresponsible behaviour; by helping Edee and teaching her how to survive, he finds purpose in living and ultimately grace and redemption. From Miguel, Edee learns to reconnect with people and to reach out to others when she needs help. Eventually she is able to come to terms with her loss and to contact her sister-in-law as equals.

While Wright and Bichir give excellent performances as Edee and Miguel, the script does leave much to be desired: the sudden jump from Edee on her own being hopeless to Edee being capable and self-reliant under Miguel’s tutelage strains credibility, especially in before-Miguel and after-Miguel scenes of Edee chopping wood. While the landscape and the ever-changing seasons are significant to the film’s visual impact and as an important aspect of the plot, even the physical environment seems subordinated to the whims of the plot with the bad weather, the wolves and the bear bothering Edee before she meets Miguel and everything brightening up and the bad animals staying away after she meets Miguel. There is much in the script that seems forced and not a little hokey, especially when Edee meets Miguel for (spoiler alert) the final time and they both reveal to each other the reasons why they did what they believed they had to do, that brought them together in the first place.

Of course the physical environment of the Rockies is essential to making this very minimally styled and structured film work and to give the impression of the passage of time. The dialogue is very sparse which I consider detracts from the realism the film attempts to show: in real life, Edee would have been talking to herself a lot as she encounters one trial after another. Voice-over narration by Wright would have added another, perhaps deeper and thoughtful dimension to the film: Edee would be wondering why Miguel goes out of his way to help her and what he hopes to get out of helping and teaching her. A mystery and not a little frisson of tension could develop as to his intentions toward her. As it is, the film seems very circumscribed by its minimalist scope and the landscapes and cinematography are made to do the work of carrying the film.