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Dirty Wars, film review from SIFF


We saw Dirty Wars last night at SIFF (Seattle international film festival) at the Harvard Exit. As a Democracy Now viewer, twitter follower of Mr. Scahill, and regular reader of his articles in The Nation, I’m somewhat familiar with where he’s been in researching this trail. I was not prepared, however, for the grace of this film. The images staying with me this morning are those of meals and endless cups of tea he was offered by those who have suffered the loss of their future and legacy, the loss of children and grandchildren by the unaccountable military deployment of our tax dollars.

Concerned by the almost anxious energy of Mr. Scahill’s media appearances (I guess all war reporters are kind of soldiers themselves), I assumed this would be an intense and possibly violently edited film, informed by Hollywood techniques and video game imagery. In contrast, I see these meals, men dancing in Afghanistan, mint leaves on the sides of countless glass cups, Scahill sipping gingerly suggesting this tea is served hot, the sofas and bolsters of Dr. Nasser Awlaki, testaments to the endurance of civilized cultural codes regarding hospitality and the patience of reporters in getting interviewees to “spill.” Later, I can view the content: I have the book (signed! after some in city adventures) and look forward to reading the interviews with soldiers and politicians. His hosts are angry, frank and fully capable of narrative transfer. Perhaps their potential to challenge the JSOC belief system is what drives the continued drone attacks.

I think the film assumes some knowledge of the cast of characters and the chronology of the recent wars. The discussion after seemed to assume that this world battlefield (alluding to the subtitle of book and film) is a recent phenomenon. But it’s difficult not to see the same behaviors among JSOC originating in the Green Berets of Vietnam, and the atrocities during the Spanish American war detailed so eloquently by Mark Twain. As much as our protests and celebration of human rights are important to American culture, we need to own that for most of the poor in this world, the face of special forces is the face of America. Mr. Scahill’s apology is inspiring.

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