It Was Mother

It Was So

It Was So
Wayras Olivier
JUNE 2017


SO, LAST MONTH I CAUGHT myself saying this is torture when going through a tunnel, I heard someone say: “Victory smells like napalm in the morning.” As the subway emerged from out of the dark, I could see that this someone was a high-ranking film buff. Though he did cite correctly Apocalypse Now, I didn’t have the decency to bring him into the light. He was as smart as he looked. A real winner. And for that, deserved a court marshal. I hedged and parsed his lousy misquote before saying anything, and to my surprise found that there was a twinge of logic to it. He’s an aspiring Chomskyite, I thought, and his use of wordplay is merely a liberal experiment. The victory business, perhaps he’s trying to imply, is invariably feculent. Ah, nice one! The clever cinephile began to take on a lovable and relatable hue and my pain vanished.

But standing behind me was his crony. He, too, looked terribly gifted, and nodded in agreement when his savvy ally “informed” him that Apocalypse was Dennis Hopper’s directorial debut. My pain returned. Which device, I began to think, could I best use—the Judas Chair or the Iron Maiden—to turn these terrifically misinformed SJWs systematically right. I settled instead on stink eye. He didn’t scream ‘uncle,’ but he sure pursed his lips. Sleep deprivation, itself the most barbaric form of torture, awaits me tonight, I thought, if I don’t immediately take action. Pay it forward and correct him, I reasoned, so he can intelligently quote the line for future generations. He did, after all, inadvertently make me think of the film’s best scene.

Playing an image-maker on a decimated Vietnamese shoreline, Francis Ford Coppola (in a cameo) frames a ‘win’ for American newsreel when the Martin Sheen character, in-passing, looks directly into the camera:

“It’s for television,” Coppola’s character yells, “Don’t look at the camera. Just keep going. Don’t look at the camera. Just go by like you’re fighting. Like you’re fighting. Don’t look at the camera. It’s for television.”

While American superiority was being staged, Sheen was clearly getting in the way. A few scenes later, after another ‘win,’ Robert Duvall’s character carols how he favors the smell of napalm in the morning because it smells like victory. A line itself, however great, that teeters on bathos as no one, however macho, can truly claim to desire or wallow in the stomach turning smell of petrol; thus victory here, for those impressionable young minds who love the line, is indeed really nothing more than a euphemism for any situation that is corrupt, bothersome and indefensible. (Cover-up—the 1969 title of Seymour Hersh’s story, who himself received a Pulitzer for getting in the way—remains a slight understatement.)

The Killing of Osama bin Laden

Obama’s announcement—“It’s important to note that our counter–terrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to Osama bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding”—on May 01, 2011, according to one of the book’s sources, (who Hersh cites as a retired senior intelligence officer), was supposedly initially planned to be issued a week after UBL was killed, and framed as a lucky break—the unintended consequence of a drone attack on the Afghan side of the Hindu Kush. A cover story set in place so as to keep the involvement of two of ISI’s (Pakistan’s intelligence agency) top generals, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Ahmed Shuja Pasha, a secret. Politically, however, methodical and deliberate intelligence gathering sounded much better than a lucky break and a change at the eleventh hour produced the version broadcasted.

One year after UBL’s execution, the world was granted access into the Sit Room when the President sat down with NBC’s Brian Williams to talk. ISI ‘cooperation’ was not to be mentioned, as according to Hersh’s source, Obama’s comment, made just a year earlier, had hopefully been long forgotten from the American memory. There was “the photo” of Hillary covering her mouth—not because of UBL’s execution but rather the Black Hawk crashing, itself, the major focus of the interview, including the drama of getting the Seals safely out of Pakistan—the wonder of it all, a solo American affair—after ‘Geronimo had been KIA.’ (The gunfight had to occur; it explains why the Seals abandoned their ‘capture’ protocol, their supposed objective.)

To whom is the neologism assigned? Kathryn Bigelow’s film, which itself took a creative liberty or two, or Hersh’s 144 paged book—released last April—which runs au contraire, mon sœur for the majority of her 157 minute political thriller? Alice herself—instructed on the nature of logic by Tweedledee and Tweedledum—was in the dark when being told that, essentially, all the thoughts in her own head are subject to contrariwise. How helpful is that, if one’s head is the very tool one uses to examine the truth claims made in “fake news?” (And yes, technically you’re right. It’s not new. But it was, for what it’s worth, coined around the same time Carroll published his Alice books.)

Having consigned both authoritative and sentimental respect to Tweedledum for Against All Enemies, and Tweedledee for Point Break—I don’t make a distinction on each point made as the tenuous line between fact and fiction is blurred, just a quick partition on some of the general points helmed; leaving “if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t,” to the experts from Wonderland.

Tweedledee: tracking “the courier” is how the CIA analysts found the compound in Abbottabad. The CIA, unable to confirm unequivocally UBL’s identity, went ahead with the mission anyway; keeping ISI out of the loop. They crossed undetected into Pakistan using two “Area 51” helicopters equipped with radar defeat, hitting a guarded UBL, who remained, given the files and disks in his hideout, strategically and tactically “active”—(digital terrorist tchotchkes for the Seals to loot).

Tweedledum: UBL was not hiding in the compound in Abbottabad, rather, he was being held prisoner by the ISI after they suborned the tribal locals and captured him in the Hindu Kush back in 2006. The walk-in, from whom the CIA got their intel from, was a disgruntled ex-ISI officer who approached them in 2010 for the reward money. He passed a polygraph. UBL’s health, the walk-in concluded, was deteriorating, and his DNA was confirmed. ISI’s involvement, Generals Kayani and Pasha (mentioned earlier) ensured that the two Black Hawks crossed into Pakistan without triggering any alarms. An ISI intermediary led the Seals through the darkened compound—without a gun battle, thus making the operation a straightforward execution in his room on the third floor, four days after UBL’s murder White House legal bound the Seals to an NDA. And two months later, when the Carl Vinson returned to California, the crew, under strict orders, were silent about UBL’s—supposed?—“sea burial.”

The reader’s credulity is being tested, naturally, and quite early on too, as any thoughtful reader will not surrender their stink eye if, on Hersh’s first point mentioned above—most notably a pressing one, if not the most chilling one—logic fails to explain the zip up. He anticipated this, obviously, and he carefully unzips every bare point (and then some) that leads up to, according to Hersh’s source, Pasha’s reason given to U.S. intelligence for keeping first, UBL’s capture a secret, and second, why he was ostensibly being held as a hostage:

“We needed a hostage to keep tabs on al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The ISI was using bin Laden as leverage against Taliban and al-Qaeda activities inside Afghanistan and Pakistan. They let the Taliban and al–Qaeda leadership know that if they ran operations that clashed with the interests of the ISI, they would turn bin Laden over to us [USA]. So if it became known that the Pakistanis had worked with us to get bin Laden at Abbottabad, there would be hell to pay.”

By the by, ZDT was often vocally charged with being a “pro-torture-film” by the same people (let’s say a friend or two of mine) who were later mum to Prisoners, released nine months after ZDT. So why the silence if, by ‘thinking’ one is fact and the other is fiction, they’ve made the obvious distinction? Desperate for the intel that could rescue his daughter, after American jurisprudence had failed him, a frantic Hugh Jackman thought to himself, “the hell with human civil rights,” and boarded up her kidnapper in a highly uncomfortable position for weeks on end. Her kidnapper, remember, was American, which makes the violence much more politically correct? We can, I suppose, invoke one of Escher’s strange loops, like Drawing Hands, and argue how torture is, in this case, merely a metaphor, and those fanatics who practice it, like Jackman in the film, are in effect just torturing themselves. Eh, smells like film school. Or is it, indeed, because fiction is lenient and provides, for those who adhere to a strict deontological code of ethics, a guaranteed discharge after vicariously condoning consequentialism? The private certainly does become political (Hanisch’s phrase, now synonymous with persuasions other than just feminism), and I heard more than one person, after a showing of Prisoners mutter variants of “If it were my daughter I’d have done the same” under their breath.

The film buff drew his hand on the subway and began to—before I could correct him on how to quote “victory” equitably and judiciously—engage his friend in a game of rock-paper-scissors; both opting for the dark yet humane strategy of remaining closed fisted. The deciding difference between a winner and a loser would—the logic was apocalyptic and indefensibly darker—come down to the one who could, given sufficient will on the next move to change, wound the one who is open.

W.