True/False 2015, Day 2: The forever wars in the Middle East.

I saw two films Friday, both taking a closer look at the strategies in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere in the region.

The first was Bitter Lake, the title a reference to a meeting between US President Franklin Roosevelt and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz in 1945, which set the stage for US-Arab relations to follow, through today. It seemed to say, in a nutshell, that today’s ISIS fighters follow the very same Bitterextremist ideology that surfaced in Afghanistan in the 1970s and which that country tried to eradicate, but that at various times to come, the extremists were inadvertently aided by intervention from the Soviet Union, the British, and the U.S. Their foundation is Wahhabism, which teaches that people of other sects, including other Muslims, are the enemy. Its followers include the Mujaheddin, the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and now ISIL. The agreement at Bitter Lake was for the U.S. to be allowed to purchase Saudi oil, in exchange for non-interference in religious practices within the region, which were very unpopular in the West. Yet as money rolled into the once financially struggling region, it brought Western ways of life–and corruption–with it, further feeding the ill feelings of the extremists. The film expands the story of the conflicts presented through the traditional media, yet tries to wrap up the entire history from Bitter Lake to today’s conflicts into a neat, two-hour package, and some claim it still does not go far enough. Personally, I found the film to be very informative but long-winded. It lacked some of the creative touches that usually hold my interest throughout a documentary. But its message is clear, and repeats an old theme: The road to hell is paved with good intentions.


A drone at peace, hanging from the ceiling of the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC.

The second film was Drone, which took a hard look at the ethics and affects of unmanned machines of war. It focused specifically on Waziristan, Pakistan, where many civilians have been killed by a faceless attacker sitting in a control room 10,000 miles away. There were accusations of war crimes, but perhaps it is simply the new way of war in the 21st century. The film contained dramatic images of children who were maimed by robots in the sky, but also included an overhead view of the World Trade Center site with the 9/11 memorial fountains, and suggested it is only a matter of time before enemy drones are over our heads in America, as well. A defense department training room filled with young men and women sitting at computers displaying CGI images of battlefields hinted that coming wars will be fought not by foot soldiers but video gamers. The film American Sniper revealed a very targeted, surgical approach to taking out targets, often after facial recognition by the sniper. Drone showed repeated images of moving blurs on a monitor, among other blurs, with no faces at all, surely much easier to end. So-called collateral damage can be less of a thought now than ever before. I don’t mean to argue against the use of drones in wartime, but I do mean to question the definition of terror.


We had our first really negative experience with the Q Friday, as my wife and I showed up about 1 minute before “show time” for one of our films, and the volunteers had already let in people from the Q, filling all of the seats and leaving about 20 other ticket-holders in the cold. The festival asks that you arrive 15 minutes prior to show time, but typically they won’t start letting in the Q until right at the film’s time (there are always introductory speakers before it begins anyway). But by 1 minute ’til, all the seats were full. We tried to use the opportunity to go to a different venue nearby, but our numbers in the Q there were 108 and 109, meaning there were 107 non-ticket-holders in line in front of us, in addition to all of the ticket-holders already seated inside. We were about 25 spots away from getting in to that one. The one we had tickets for was the mountain-climbing adventure, Meru.The one we tried to get into instead was The Measure of All Things, which we were able to successfully see on Saturday (which I shall write about next…).


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