Ofc. Krupke at 8:44 AM Permalink |
22 November 2005
When the Gulf War movie Three Kings came out, I was on UDP at Camp Schwab in Okinawa, which isn't the loneliest outpost of the Republic, but certainly turns in a good effort. The day after the movie ran at the base theater, we were having our usual morning formation, and our platoon sergeant, SSgt Hunter (imagine Opie Taylor all grown up into one of the most terrifyingly accurate rifle marksman you ever saw), asked, "How many of y'all saw that Three Kings movie last night?" Roughly half the platoon raised our hands.
"Well, I was there," SSgt Hunter said, grinning in amusement. "Shit wasn't nothing like that."
I would love to know what SSgt Hunter thought of Sam Mendes' Jarhead. Since the movie came out, many people have asked me about it (apparently I am the only former Marine many people know). Generally, the question they ask is, "Are you going to see it?" (which is interesting in its stated assumption that I haven't already).
Specifically, I think, they're curious to know whether I feel the portrayal of the Corps is accurate. Such is the mystique of the Marine Corps, that when people find out you were in, that's always what they immediately want to know: "Is it really like in [insert iconic movie title]?" The answer is, usually, "Yes and no." It's kind of complicated. I try to be careful in how I answer, since very often the underlying question is actually, "Are you going to confirm my pre-conceived notions about the military or not?"
Of course, I can only examine the movie's portrayal in the context of my own experience (I wasn't in at the time of the Gulf War). I can't speak to that of Anthony Swofford, on whose memoir the movie is based. That said, I found the movie authentic, but not accurate. That is, they did a good job recreating the look, sound, and feel of Marine culture. The way they talked, the words they used ("You will train, you will hydrate"), the look of the buildings and buses, the formations and equipment and commands. The characters of the men in Swofford's platoon were vibrant and (mostly) convincing, and I was much reminded of the guys I served with. Some things rang truer than others. For example, we never held a scorpion vs. scorpion deathmatch while deployed to a desert area: it was actually scorpion vs. dung beetle (for the curious, the dung beetle won handily). There were a lot of little technical inaccuracies, and other times I would see some event or other and think, "Yeah, not likely." Watching the movie stirred up a lot of memories - by the time the credits rolled I found myself a little overwhelmed. It made me miss it. Given the movie's nightmarish tone that may be hard to understand - it's certainly hard to explain.
I say I didn't find it accurate because many things, particularly the more lurid aspects of Swofford's experience (which the movie, for understandable dramatic purposes, concentrates on) didn't resonate with what I went through. Maybe it's because Swofford and I served in different time periods. Maybe it's because I went through the Parris Island pipeline and Swofford was a Hollywood Marine. I don't know. I do know that I never received the level of hazing or mistreatment Swofford gets in the movie. It wasn't the Ritz, it was still an infantry unit, but it wasn't that bad. Short version is, I would strongly caution anyone against drawing broad conclusions about the character of Marines or the Marine Corps from Jarhead.
It's a good movie, however. It's very well-acted, brilliantly shot, and evocative. Sam Mendes' previous movies were, I thought, generally over-praised. This is his best one yet.
Naturally, many people are all a-twitter about the movies' "relevance". Specifically, that it is given additional heft since the country is at war. There is less political axe-grinding in Jarhead than many will expect, and what there is is generally clumsy, artificial, and numbingly simplistic ("Oil! Oil! Oil! Oiloiloiloil!") It doesn't have much to say about the Iraq war today, other than its Philosophy 101 assertions that war kills people, etc.
I think there is a tendency to draw easy, superficial parallels (war in Iraq then + war in Iraq now = relevance!) One of Jarhead's central themes is that modern war, with its precision airstrikes and GPS gizmos, has drawn down the role of the ground trooper. The Marines of Jarhead are subjected to the tedium of war preparation, going slowly crazy in the desert waiting for the shooting to start, and then when it does start, they are sidelined and left out, and they consider this ridiculously unfair.
I can relate. On several occasions in my service, we were told we were going into some hot zone or another (Sierra Leone, Albania, Indonesia, the Korean peninsula, etc., etc.), or were deployed to sit off the coast thereof. What we felt was both fear and anticipation. You knew, intellectually, that you didn't want to go into combat, because horrible things happen in combat. You felt no small relief when it was called off. But at the same time, there was a sense that, well, this is what you had trained for. We used to say that it was like being on a sports team, where you practiced all the time but never played any games. You felt no small disappointment when it was called off. It's difficult to underestimate the role combat plays in the culture of the Marine infantry (whether Marine cooks and office clerks feel the same way, I have no idea). Jarhead does a good job of evoking that sense of being pumped up and then held in suspense, and for me, at least, that is one of the things that makes it an effective piece of cinema.
The thing is, though, that the paradigm has changed again because of the new war. One of the lies we told ourselves during the Clinton years was that we had transcended traditional warfare, the same way we had transcended the "old economy". The futurist assumption (often unspoken) that air power alone could win wars bit the dust in the hills of Afghanistan and the streets of Nasiriyah. Subsequent to Swofford's frustrating sojourn in the Arabian desert, Marine snipers have "got some" in Somalia and Al-Anbar. In a strange way, the current war makes Jarhead's point less relevant than it would otherwise have been.
Side note on movies and the military: at one point, the Marines of Swofford's unit are shown watching Apocalypse Now, cheering wildly the scene when the 1st of the 9th Air Cav attacks a VC village outpost while blaring "The Ride of the Valkyries". This sequence really hit home, but not for the reason the creators of Jarhead probably intended.
I think many people would be surprised at the extent to which war movies typically presented as "a searing indictment of militarism", etc. are loved in the military. I had a reputation around the barracks as the best guy to borrow movies from, since I had the best ones. Everybody liked Apocalypse Now, but nothing approached the popularity of Full Metal Jacket (one guy referred to it as "The Motivator"). In fact, my VHS copy of it is still "borrowed" to this day (yeah, fuck you, Reynolds, you also still owe me $20.) The reason behind this is simple, I think - it's pretty cool to see your occupation depicted in an exciting movie.
This phenomenon wasn't limited to the ranks, either; it seeped up into the official Marine Corps. While I was at the Jungle Warfare Training Center in Okinawa, they showed us a scene from Platoon to illustrate a point of training. Other movies regarded as anti-war classics were used the same way. Yes, the United States Marine Corps actually uses Full Metal Jacket as a training film. I imagine the makers of these movies think they're making devastating critiques of the War Machine, and would probably be appalled if they knew.
It wouldn't surprise me in the least if future classes at the MCRDs were shown segments of Jarhead in the course of their training. Fitting.
Anyway, I've seen the movie. Maybe now everyone will stop bugging me about it. Semper Fi.
Ofc. Krupke at 5:05 AM Permalink |
08 November 2005
When I first saw this, I thought, "Well, that one didn't do too badly. The bottom is wrecked of course, but much of the stuff up top should be pretty much undamaged."
Until someone pointed out to me that when the storm hit, the Copa was located about a half-mile down the pier from where it is now.
Anyway, if you have any Barry Manilow-themed jokes, now would be the time to make them, I guess.
Ofc. Krupke at 3:29 PM Permalink |
05 November 2005
There's so much to say about the ongoing riots in France, one scarcely knows where to begin.
First, a recap for those who may have missed the story, and it's been easy to miss - CNN just spent an equal amount of broadcast time on the story of a guy arrested in L.A. while wearing an Elmo suit. The riots, which have involved large-scale arson, street battles between crowds of (overwhelmingly) young Muslim men and riot police, Molotov cocktail attacks on ambulance crews, gunfire with both real and rubber bullets, and a 56-year-old handicapped woman set on fire have been raging for over a week, and are appearing to spread to more and more of the Paris suburbs (20 different neighborhoods, at last count).
They started after two teenagers in Clichy-sous-Bois ran away from police and hid in a power substation, where they were promptly electrocuted. This caused anger in the Muslim community, which accused the police of chasing the pair, a charge the police deny.
I may be endangering my credentials as a Sensitive Human Being, but I ask: so what? Am I missing something here? Is there some strange quirk of Gallic law that views foot pursuit as a human rights violation?
I have chased plenty of people in my time as a cop, and one thing I know is that you have, to put it mildly, limited control over where they run. These kids died because they picked a bad hiding place, not because of anything the police did.
Lord knows we have our share of unhinged cop-botherers in the U.S.A. too, but at least their complaints usually make some kind of argument that is rational at least on its surface: he died because the cops pinned him in a hold where he couldn't breathe. The cops shot him when they didn't have to.
Siaca Traore, brother of one of the dead youths, said: "The minister of the interior must get rid of his troops. They are nothing but a provocation. If they go, I think the neighborhoods will remain calm."
Yes, nothing ensures calm quite like pulling all the cops out.
Oh, and one more thing: I assume that the media and intellectuals both here and in Europe will publish sniffy articles and magazine covers about the "Shaming of France" the way they did the U.S. after Hurricane Katrina. Right?
Ofc. Krupke at 5:57 AM Permalink |
04 November 2005
This is the view on 2nd Street, one block back from Highway 90, and it illustrates some of the problems we had patrolling this place. There were a few places you could get a car through, but it generally wasn't worth it, so we ran foot patrols through here.
The debris was primarily wood framing, but there was a little of everything: furniture, household items. You would be making your way across a debris pile, and look down and realize you were walking on someone's roof, which had been torn from the disintegrating house and cast into the street.
With wood framing, of course, come nails, and they were pointing up everywhere, coated with rust and seawater and rancid chicken particles and the everpresent reeking death mud that had swept up along with the water. On our last day of patrol I had a moment of half-woken forgetfulness at the start of the shift, and put on my soft boots. That, of course, was the day I managed to find one of these nails while chasing a phantom description of a looter that a citizen had seen. It slid right through the sole of my boot and spiked my foot.
The wound wasn't deep, but it had broken the skin. The embrassment of it was worse than anything, with Burke conferring on the radio about me as though I were some invalid. It was quickly decided by the shift sergeant that I should go for a tetanus shot, just in case. We got directions to the makeshift emergency personnel clinic, which consisted of an ambulance sitting in the parking lot of the county detention center.
"Hi," I announced myself to the paramedic sitting outside of it. "I'm an idiot, and I stepped on a nail."
"Okay," she replied. "But unfortunately, some other idiots locked me out of my ambulance, and we're out of alcohol preps. Come back later." Good thing I wasn't shot, I guess.
I came back after the shift was over, and Burke and I dug in his trunk until we found an alcohol prep of our very own, which I held on to en route to the clinic like a lucky lotto ticket. I got my shot, and upon review after I came home, I discovered that while Tetanus shots are good for ten years, I've had three in the last three years. If this keeps up, I'll be able to destroy Tetanus bacteria just by looking at them.
Ofc. Krupke at 6:53 PM Permalink |
At the intersection of Highway 90 with the road we used to get down to it (one of the few that was clear), there was, or had been, a Family Fun Park, featuring mini-golf, low-rent roller coasters, and the like. It was mostly flattened and covered with debris, but you could still see some remains of the mini-golf course.
On one of the early days of our patrol, Burke and I got out with a shirtless middle-aged man picking through the ruins. He turned out to be the owner of the park, trying to see if anything could be salvaged. He had an employee, who looked like a crazed finalist on Survivor: Mississippi , sleeping in a ruined car on the site at night in order to provide some kind of security. We verified their IDs to the extent we could, and agreed to pass on the info so the guy wouldn't get rousted.
The manager listed off some of the things he had lost. "I had several crates of golf balls," he told us. "I have no damn idea where they are now." He had a giant rack of putters, as well, and he laughed at the image of them scattered randomly throughout the city of Gulfport. He also thanked us profusely for coming down to help. "I wish I could offer you guys some free passes for your families," he said sadly, sitting down on a pile of concrete. "But it wouldn't be much use."
Anyway, the picture: one of the only things at the park to survive relatively undamaged was this sculpture, which sat near the entrance to the park. Humpty Dumpty sitting on his wall. You don't know whether to laugh or cry. So you take a picture.
Ofc. Krupke at 6:47 PM Permalink |