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Peter Cochran

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INTRODUCTION

Ronald Reagan – and this was before he developed Alzheimer’s – used to live in a world shaped by the movies. He entitled his autobiography Where’s the Rest of Me? from one of his own lines in Kings Row. He’d quote lines from Rambo and Dirty Harry partly in joke, but he’d also think Spencer Tracy thoughts and Gary Cooper thoughts and put them into lines from Tracy and Cooper films. He once told a press conference that his dog was called Lassie: she was called Millie, a fact which he acknowledged at once, with laughter. More worryingly, he’d ascribe words spoken by an admiral played by Frederick March to real admirals, and lines spoken by Dana Andrews as an air force pilot to real air force pilots. He couldn’t tell fantasy from reality. He even, when demanding procurements for the fantasy Star Wars anti-missile shield programme, assured America that “The Force would be with us”.

It seems that the strange people lately in the White House, who thought that they ran the world, also thought moviethoughts in movietalk. The following are quotations from Bob Woodward’s recent book Plan of Attack (Simon and Schuster, 2004):

What if Saddam folded and retreated with his Republican Guard to Baghdad and “circled the wagons”? (p.147)

Informed that Cheney had left hours ago, Powell wrote, “I was disappointed, even hurt, but not surprised. The lone cowboy had gone off into the sunset without even a last, ‘So long.’” (p. 176)

These people had argued that a democracy was too sweeping a change, too hard, something Iraq had never had, a bridge too far. (p. 284)

“Are they going to be off-loading at Gallipoli?” Powell asked sarcastically at one NSC meeting, referring to the Turkish peninsula where British and Australian forces launched a disastrous campaign in World War I that left 100,000 dead and is recounted in the 1981 film. “We’ve seen this movie and it isn’t going to happen.” (p. 324)

Bush could issue an ultimatum to Saddam to get out of Dodge – a favourite expression in the Bush family – or he could just announce the beginning of military action because Saddam had not complied with the first resolution, 1441. (p. 341)

We all know the sequence in Aliens where the attack is going wrong, and the sad officer commanding it stares in panic at his VDUs and gives panic orders to try and save the situation. It’s echoed in Black Hawk Down, where, in a movie reproduction of a real emergency in Somalia, Sam Shepard as the C.O. stares at his display screens and realises that his men are in a potential disaster situation. How about this next passage from Woodward:

AT HIS SPRAWLING, high-tech headquarters in Doha, Qatar, [General Tommy] Franks monitored battlefield progress on a large plasma screen that depicted both the red-colored enemy forces and his blue-colored forces in a real-time visual representation. This Blue Force Tracker included indicators for small, medium and large coalition units. Several days into the war, as his ground forces were moving towards Baghdad, all the blue tracking designators seemed suddenly to merge into what looked like a giant blue blob or massive concentration. To Franks that represented an ideal target for a biological or chemical weapons attack by Saddam.

“We’ve got a fucking disaster on our hands,” Franks exploded. “It’s got to be fixed or I’ll relieve everyone!”

A WMD attack would be what Franks termed “a strategic dislocator,” halting his drive to Baghdad. “We have to disperse this fucking formation as quickly as we can because we are presenting a target of opportunity to the enemy at exactly the wrong time.” One helicopter from Iraq’s meagre air force with a gallon of chemicals or biologicals could stop them cold. “I want every plane and helicopter destroyed on the ground immediately!” he ordered. He soon calmed down when he realized that the blue forces were not as close together as the plasma screen had seemed to indicate. (p. 404)

And how about this next one? It’s from page 331 of Woodward’s latest book, State of Denial (Simon and Schuster, 2006):

IN AUGUST 2004, the number of enemy-initiated attacks jumped by 1,000 over the previous month to 3,000 according to classified reports. Rice hated getting up in the morning and reading the newspaper. It was one bad story after another with the American presidential election just several months off.

“I feel like that little Road Runner character,” she told her staff, “hanging on to a branch and spinning my little feet with news stories coming along and chopping at the branch.”

crrr1 This is a very serious misreading. The Road-Runner does not exist outside the imagination of Wil.E.Coyote. Wil.E.Coyote is in a State of Denial over this, and arranges his whole existence around catching the Road-Runner. We know that he never will, and watch as the Road-Runner destroys him, in cartoon after cartoon. We all should watch one Road-Runner cartoon a day, to remind ourselves of the inevitability of human limitation, and of the innate futility of all attempts to ameliorate our lot: to maintain a humble awareness that none of our dreams will ever come true. – but Wil.E.Coyte never learns such a lesson, and never emerges from his State of Denial. He starts every cartoon confident this time that he’ll catch the Road-Runner (what he’ll do when he does so, he hasn’t worked out: kill it? eat it? We know the question to be immaterial, but he doesn’t).

But it’s obvious from the passage here that Condoleeza Rice has never watched a single Road Runner cartoon. She’s got the Road-Runner (which means for her, “Democracy in Iraq”), mixed up with Wil.E.Coyote; the nemesis with the protagonist, the dream with the dreamer.

Her cinematic education has never even got started.

The same applies to them all. If they’d really watched Apocalypse Now, for example, they’d know that if America tries to invade a country, that country will turn on itself and mutilate its own children, rather than allow the Americans in.

We all think moviethoughts and express them in movietalk. It’s just that some like the movies which give them confidence in their own poor judgement, others try and modify their own poor judgement by the better judgements displayed by people in the movies – and some, like Condoleeza Rice, never watch movies at all. This website is for people in the second category.

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