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American Fascism and the New Deal: The Associated Farmers of California and the Pro-Industrial Movement
American Fascism and the New Deal: The Associated Farmers of California and the Pro-Industrial Movement
Price: 48.57

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars review – American Fascism And The New Deal, 3 Feb 2014
Most Americans — by which I mean citizens of the United States of America (US) — emphatically believe that they live in a democratic country. This unquestioned assumption has come down from the US’s Founding Fathers, and was set in cement by Alexis De Tocqueville’s oft-quoted book Democracy in America. Compared to Nazi-Germany, for example, no one would argue that the US polity isn't democratic. But therein lay the problem: the comparison is always made with the “classic fascism” of 1930s-40s Germany and Italy. As the authors of American Fascism And The New Deal clarify, there is a lot more to the fascist story than is commonly known, and that during the Depression years the United States spawned it’s very own fascist organisations, one of the largest and most dangerous of which was The Associated Farmers Of California (AF), vanguard of the fascist Pro-Industrial Movement in the same state, the main subject of this important book.

Before describing the activities of the AF in some detail, Almanzar and Kulik go to some lengths to try to define what “fascism” actually means, a sociological digression that is and of itself immensely valuable. The attempt to define fascism, however, turns out to be problematic since there is “…nothing original about any of its ideas, but only an original combination of existing ideas.” This philosophical truism can be applied to almost any social phenomena, and doesn't really help, but I think the authors get warmer when they talk about fascism as a methodology: fascism is a means by which political and economic dominance by a private group, or social class, is maintained over the mass of people. In America (i.e. the US), the key group we are talking about here are corporations, and when we talk of “American fascism”, we are really talking about corporate fascism. In the 1930’s, corporate fascism was favoured by American industrialists as a means to hold the capitalist system together; they were corporatist, anti-union and anti-communist in orientation, and were prepared to use extra-judicial violence to counter real and perceived threats. In their scheme of things, the rights of labour were not to be considered; democracy was okay just so long as the rights of capital were not contested.

But in 1930s America, the rights of capital were duly challenged by labour. In California, there was serious conflict between farmers and farm labour. The challenge in that state was launched at first by Mexican migrant labourers, partly organised by the American Communist Party, and then by native migrants — the “Okies” — and by dock workers at West Coast ports, and took the form of peaceful, organised, strikes. In the early years, many of these strikes were successful. What is interesting is the way farmers responded to the wave of strikes, finally seeking to break them up violently rather than carry on negotiating peacefully. Strike breaking also required organisation, and this is how the AF developed. It was the character and modus operandi of the AF and the Pro-Industrial Movement that marked it out as fascist — the emblems, the de-humanising portrayal of their political opponents and, crucially, the use of violence and their infiltration and corruption of law enforcement agencies. When police officers start firing into crowds of unarmed strikers, something has gone terribly wrong with democracy, and it is on this largely unknown chapter of US history that Almanzar and Kulik shine a light; however, some readers will see obvious connections with the long use of vigilantism by American elites fearful of any organised threat to their privileged positions. It’s surprising so little is known about the AF though —I had never read anything about them before — in consideration of the fact that they were, according the authors of this book, “…the most virulent and notorious right-wing group in American history with the possible exception of the Ku Klux Klan.”

Of course, the AF, and associates, would have justified their undemocratic actions based on the need to counter communism. This “communist threat” became the great bogeyman of the Cold War, cited again and again to justify many deplorable actions and policies by the US government, most especially in foreign arenas where the US never hesitated to shore up a military or quasi-fascist government over democratic forces. So when Almanzar and Kulik say, “Let’s be clear. In our view America has never had a truly fascist government in power…” the point needs qualifying. Maybe the US doesn't need a truly fascist government because the democratically-elected government does such a good job of supporting corporatism, while the executive branch has a more or less a free hand in foreign policy? The authors do note, however, the links between fascism and contemporary corporate authoritarianism — without ever mentioning Noam Chomsky oddly enough — and the permanent war hysteria of George Bush post 9/11. Moreover, there are clear fascist overtones in the agenda of parts of the Republican Party power base today, notably among the evangelical wing, and Tea Party faction that promote intolerant social conservatism and laissez-faire capitalism respectively. Another interesting question raised is whether fascism can ever be separated from capitalism, given that the latter system is inherently exploitative and inevitably leads to social confrontation, although a full discussion of this question was never within the ambit of this book which is more of an inter-disciplinary analysis of a significant inter-war American political movement, its unseemly behaviour overshadowed by the subsequent official history of the US’s decisive contribution in snuffing out the classic European fascist dictatorships.

American Fascism And The New Deal will be of enormous interest to general and specialist readers alike, and I highly recommend it.


The Act of Killing [DVD]
The Act of Killing [DVD]
Dvd ~ Joshua Oppenheimer
Price: 7.40

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review: The Act of Killing, DVD, 17 Jan 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Act of Killing [DVD] (DVD)
"The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting." Milan Kundera

As soon as I heard about The Act of Killing, I pre-ordered the DVD, and subsequently watched it as soon as it was delivered. I've now watched both the theatrical release and the director's cut, leaving about a month in between to catch my breath.

The other reviews on this page are highly commendable, and I'd especially like to thank Tommy Dooley, Paul Allaer, dipesh parmar and Stephen C. Rife for sharing their thoughts about the film. I want to respond to some points these reviewers have made by way of clarifying what's going on here. Firstly, Joshua Oppenheimer did not set out to make an expose of the perpetrators of the Indonesian killings of 1965-66; rather he was interested in telling the story of the victims and their families. But he found his path in that direction obstructed. It was almost by accident that he stumbled upon his subject, finding the perpetrators of this massacre all too willing to talk about what they had done. The director had the brains and the guts to follow up and, after consulting with human rights groups, decided to switch his focus to a group of perpetrators for two reasons: he was able to establish easy access, and because he realised that this angle was going to reveal something not just about what happened forty-five years ago, but also a great deal about contemporary Indonesian politics and society, the legacy of the events of 65-66 as it were. So yes, this is a "meet the killers" documentary, but it's a lot more than that -- it's a meditation on killing, an interrogation of killers' motives, and an exploration of modern Indonesian society all rolled into one. A lot has been made of the unusual, indeed unique, methodology of the film whereby the subjects have been given free rein to re-enact their crimes, sometimes in the most extraordinarily weird, imaginative, and explicit way. The genius of Oppenheimer's approach was not to get them to do all this, but to catch the moments in between: the asides, the reflections, and the emotion. The filmmaker is not passive -- he makes pointed remarks himself sometimes, and also asks awkward questions -- but on the whole he stands back in the documentary and lets his subjects appear to be in control. Only one of the subjects ever realises what Oppenheimer's true motives were in allowing them this freedom, and I'll come on to him below; otherwise they carry on blissfully deluded about what they are doing. Of course, they are trying to come to terms with the past, albeit it in a totally confused way.

Before talking a bit more about the gang in question it's necessary to address the vital subject of context. This documentary does not really attempt to explain why the Indonesian massacre irrupted in 1965; there is no back story. Stephen C. Rife makes a valid critical remark: "A broader view might have been more appropriate, and context, provided primarily by an opening text, is wanting..." Although true, I think this is an unfair criticism in a way because the filmmaker had to make a decision about what his documentary was going to be about, and as his title suggests, this film is about killing and not about political context as such. Rife's argument is well taken though -- it is vital to understand why the Indonesian massacre happened. The back story has a lot to do with Cold War politics and the entirely machiavellian nature of post-war Anglo-American foreign policy. The trigger to the massacre was apparently an attempted coup d'etat and execution of six generals by a faction within Indonesia's military. The events surrounding this coup are very murky and it's not clear who was doing what or why. However, after the coup Suharto moved very quickly to take control of the country by eliminating the Indonesian Communist Party and left-leaning President Sukarno. An anti-communist blood bath followed, directly organised by the military and supported by the US and the UK. A very good book to read on this topic is "Constructive Bloodbath in Indonesia, The United States, Britain and the Mass Killings of 1965-66" (2009), by Nathanial Mehr. Judging by what he says in interviews, it's obvious that Joshua Oppenheimer has read this book and is therefore personally familiar with the whole context of what happened in Indonesia, and why it happened; his documentary's narrative does not go into all this because there's no time for it. As an aside, I want to say that I personally believe the Indonesian military attempted coup of '65 was directly planned by the CIA -- all the circumstantial evidence suggests as much, and therefore the US is even more culpable for the massacre than is generally supposed. Certainly there is hard evidence to show that both the United States and Britain aided and abetted the massacre and did absolutely nothing to stop it; on the contrary, they stood back and applauded the results, their multinational corporations stepping to share the spoils after Suharto had firmly established himself in power by wiping out the very people who may have resisted neo-colonialism. The massacre, as so many like it around the world, thus had much to do with the securing of resources. The Indonesian military, finding the killing of large numbers of people hard work, enlisted gangsters and Muslim youth and paramilitary groups to help do their atrocious deeds -- we may never know how many were killed, but half a million is a safe estimate. It was a ferocious pogrom.

Enter Anwar Congo, Herman Kota (a junior gang member), and Adi Zulkadry, Congo and Zulkadry just two of the many gangsters enlisted by the Indonesian military to do their dirty work in the sixties. These two individuals talk with an alarming frankness about their past murdering, still valorised by pro-Suharto elements within Indonesia today. What emerges clearly here is that both historically and today the perpetrators believed that there was nothing wrong with killing a "communist." Of course, this belief, prevalent also in the United States, is totally wrong -- to kill someone because they're a communist is like killing someone because they are a Jew, or because they are left-handed; it is extreme pathological discrimination based on an arbitrary category. But no one gets it in this film: all the participants justify their past crimes in terms of anti-communism. Some of the most interesting, and disturbing, sequences in this documentary occur when Anwar introduces us to his patrons past and present, namely a newspaper proprietor who helped identify targets in 1965-66, the present governor of Northern Sumatra, and the neo-fascist Pancasila Youth paramilitary organisation, all of whom still unquestioningly believe that the killings of the mid-sixties were entirely justified in the name of anti-communism. Even when the gangsters question anti-communist propaganda, even when they know it this propaganda was false, they still cling to the deluded belief that it was okay to do what they did because they were killing "communists". "Beating people up is sometimes needed", says an Indonesian vice president at a Pancasila rally reminiscent of Nazi rallies in the 1930s, only this was filmed not in the 1930s, or the 1960s, but by Joshua Oppenheimer in contemporary Indonesia.

A lot of commentary has centred on Anwar Congo, who I suppose is the "star" of this documentary. Congo is central to the film because in a way he is the one who is making it all happen; he is the one who is trying to come to terms with what he did, albeit in a very confused way: he knows it was wrong to kill, but he is convinced it was necessary to kill communists, "My conscience told me that they had to be killed..", Congo says, lying to himself yet again. Anwar is quite charismatic, and he has a lot of authority among his peers because he killed so many. For me though, Adi Zulkadry, one of Anwar Congo's associates, is the most interesting subject insofar as he is probably a more typical perpetrator type; at least he is less likely to go into convolutions about what he did, and he knows very well that in re-enacting torture and murder the gang are playing dangerously with official history -- he is the only one who has some inkling of what the repercussions of their filming may be in the wider world: "This film will disprove all our propaganda about the communists..", says Adi at one point, very pertinently. Adi has no appealing qualities: he is an out and out coward and a thug; he has no remorse for what he did in the past, and what he did included stabbing to death his girlfriend's father, and other Chinese people, because they were...Chinese?...no, no, because they were communists, of course. Adi also repeats the cliché that it's the winners who write history and heck the Americans killed the Indians when they got in the way, just like we had to kill a bunch of commies...Perhaps the saddest sequence in this film is the one of Adi Zulkadry walking through a sterile shopping mall with his innocent wife and daughter, himself somewhat distracted and disinterested, every bit the smug, chauvinist patriarch. As for Herman Koto, he is almost too pathetic to be taken seriously, but here he is one minute extorting money from Chinese traders in a market, the next minute standing for elected office simply so he can rake in more money selling building licenses. For these gangsters at the dirty end in 1965 it was always about the money -- Aldi confirms this in a moment of reflection it would be easy to miss. The one question Oppenheimer didn't ask Anwar, which I would have asked, is "How much did you get paid to do this?"


Kindle, 6" E Ink Display, Wi-Fi, Black
Kindle, 6" E Ink Display, Wi-Fi, Black
Price: 59.00

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Kindle, Wi-Fi, 6" E Ink Display, 22 Oct 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The first Kindle I bought malfunctioned after about eight months for reasons I know not. Amazon happily replaced it, although could not ship to an overseas address. The replacement copy has malfunctioned, possibly because I dropped it on the floor once (it was in a cover, which offered some, but evidently not enough, protection against such an accident.) Two points: Firstly, the Kindle, this Kindle anyway, is rather poorly constructed and cannot take a knock. It's perfectly okay if you're careful, but it's only a matter of time before you drop it, realistically speaking, and then bang goes the e-reader. Secondly, this Kindle is effectively a tracking device. When you download to it, the device uploads information about what you're reading and when you're reading it to Amazon. This may not bother you, but when I figured out what was going on it gave me pause for thought. Amazon offered to replace the second faulty device, but I've decided to bin it. You might like to consider other e-readers, which may be more robustly made and don't track your reading.

Postscript: I've come to the conclusion that e-readers are a waste of time..you can read your Kindle books with the Amazon Cloud Reader App on any computer, and can even download and pin half a dozen books to read offline, so why not get a tablet on which you can do so much more, and probably have a better reading experience? Your reading will still be monitored by Amazon, but that's unavoidable if you use their Apps.


In the Service of the Sultan: A First-Hand Account of the Dhofar Insurgency
In the Service of the Sultan: A First-Hand Account of the Dhofar Insurgency
by Ian Gardiner
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 13.59

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars short review of In the Service of the Sultan: A First-Hand Account of the Dhofar Insurgency, 10 May 2012
In anticipation of working in Oman myself sometime soon, I had a quick read through this book. There is no doubting the author's integrity, courage and intelligence. He writes about his interesting war experiences in a way that is thoroughly engaging, and extremely honest. He says, for example, that most soldiers in his situation were in it for booty and glory, of which he himself picked up his fair share, after taking enormous risks. My slight reservation is the ideological anti-Communist justification for what he was doing there. In my opinion, the author is lost between the woods and the trees; he has a very one-sided view of world politics, and basically toes the British interests line, but there again what else would you expect from a British soldier? However, the way the author does address ideology, instead of pretending politics doesn't exist, is in and of itself highly commendable.


Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class
Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class
by Owen Jones
Edition: Paperback
Price: 10.49

10 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class, 20 Mar 2012
I don't have time to properly review this book, but just wanted to say I think it's one of the best books I've read on British politics in years. Owen Jones' style is simple, direct and to the point; his arguments are cogent, and I happen to think his analysis is 100% correct. Of course, it takes more than one great writer to change Britain, but how heartening to hear this brave and just voice in among all the rubbish noise. Well done Owen, and hope to hear much more from you in the coming years--keep up the excellent work.


The Spanish Temper
The Spanish Temper
by V. S. Pritchett
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars short review of The Spanish Temper, 17 Sep 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Spanish Temper (Hardcover)
This book, published in 1958, is considered a classic. Based on his wide experience of Spain, mostly before the Civil War, V.S. Pritchett, the famous English literary critic and short story specialist, takes us on a tour of Spain in this concise, virtual travelogue, adopting the guise of the omnipresent author. The narrative, by modern standards, seems a little pretentious and impersonal, although in 1958 this style would probably have been considered modish. Another jarring note to the modern reader are all the summary generalizations, which are not necessarily untrue, but do tend to "other" the subject. However, Pritchett can be very engaging at times, and it's the remembered conversations and character sketches that resonate. Pritchett is also a sharp observer, well describing the art in bullfighting, the sexual aggression in flamingo dancing, and the anarchism in the Spanish soul, among other things. Overall, The Spanish Temper is a good read with many interesting insights, but a book of its time.


Psychogeography
Psychogeography
by Will Self
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 12.59

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars short review of Pyschogeography, 16 Sep 2011
This review is from: Psychogeography (Hardcover)
Having lived abroad for most of the period 1990-2008, I missed a great deal of what was going on in England during the 90s, culturally speaking. I missed, for example, the rise and rise of Will Self, cartoonist and writer extraordinaire. On the strength of his short story collection Tough Tough Toys, which was excellent in my opinion, I thought I'd give Pyschogeography,another side of W.S., a go.

Bit disappointing actually: although some of the pieces in this book were quite engaging--I quite liked Walking to New York, for example--the mish-mash of "memories, dreams and reflections", can get a bit tiresome. I mean anywhere could also be the real Empty Quarter couldn't it if you thus conveniently construe things. Self shows good mastery of narrative in his short stories, but his non-fiction can meander in an alarmingly undisciplined way, and in the end I found myself flicking through the book rather than reading it. There is no doubt that Self is an original and pleasingly caustic writer, and his vocabulary flashes like a knife on every page. Also, Steadman's illustrations perfectly compliment the text--both he and Self are Picasso-like: brilliantly inventive and imaginative within a limited range. Perhaps this is why, in spite of the large geographical parameters of the book, the territory seems rather small in the end.


The Future of Feminism
The Future of Feminism
by Sylvia Walby
Edition: Paperback
Price: 14.11

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars short review of The Future of Feminism, 9 Sep 2011
This review is from: The Future of Feminism (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The other three reviews of this book, available at the time of my writing this, were a little harsh. The Future of Feminism is, after all, an academic book. Walby sticks, like superglue, to the conventions of the genre, and the result is a dry, dry book. No angst, anger or radical demands for action here. But this is not surprising, and one of Walby's points is that feminism, while still around and very active, has moved away "from identity politics towards alliances, coalitions and networks." Feminism then is not a monolithic movement these days, if it ever were, but a live strand running through every aspect of the modern polity. Walby proceeds to describe the nature of feminism today, its prospects and challenges, and provides a balanced view of the literature. The author is not "neutral", however, (since no one can actually be neutral, Phil), and implies by all she says that the neoliberalism turn of the past 30 years, on the whole, makes women, and indeed men, worse off and more challenged: "The rise in inequalities and the shrinking of democratic spaces makes a more difficult environment for the operation of feminism, which attempts to reduce inequalities and to deepen democratic governance." Women are still underrepresented in trades unions and in parliaments, although the trend has been towards greater representation, and incorporation. It is a measure of the success of second wave feminism that feminist issues are raised at every level of governance and are taken seriously, and despite differences of emphasis there is a "remarkable" consensus on the areas of concern to feminists, says Walby. However, neoliberalism has misrepresented feminism and women must be careful not to be constructed as victims, or become the unhealthy focus of attention: women's issues are men's issues, and vice-versa. The second part of the book examines feminism within a global context, and the prospects for feminism in the future. I must confess, I gave up about four fifths of the way through this book--its hardly a rip-roaring read. However, The Future of Feminism is valuable insofar it accurately describes the state of feminism today, and how feminism intersects with other interests and issues. If the book is rather dry, it does a good job of untangling the web of modern feminism; it makes feminism visible.


Armadillo [DVD]
Armadillo [DVD]
Dvd ~ Janus Metz Pedersen
Price: 5.92

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars review: Restrepo and Armadillo compared, 8 Sep 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Armadillo [DVD] (DVD)
The Anglo-American military involvement in Afghanistan has now dragged on for ten years, and sadly a lot of British and American soldiers have been killed, and that's not to mention the Afghans who have had it worse for longer. I bought and watched the documentaries Restrepo and Armadillo out of respect for the documentary makers who risked their lives to make these films, and to see what I could learn about this intractable conflict from watching them...

Restrepo is a truly brilliant documentary. The first thing to say about it is that it was made in co-operation with National Geographic, and was therefore politically constrained from the start. That's why there is no overt or explicit critique of US policy in the film, and little context-setting. Instead, the film makers rather cunningly went for realism, which becomes it's own critique. One scene after another makes you realise the total futility of trying to control and dominate a place like the Korengal Valley militarily. This documentary is really stunning, and could not get more real. The opening sequence, where the vehicle the cameraman is driving in hits an IED, is as shocking as anything else, perhaps the most shocking sequence. But there's plenty more action--the American soldiers come under fire almost every day, and when things are quiet they go out looking for a fight. The reviewer SCM rightly comments on the naivete of the American captain who attempts, but fails, to win the hearts and minds of the locals, who are after all the Taliban, or Taliban supporters. The brilliance of this documentary lay in the de-briefing interviews. In one of these interviews a soldier reflects on the bungled attempt to curry favour with the locals, "...hearts and minds was not working--we're loud, we're obnoxious, we're immature at times; going in and acting like their friend doesn't work." That was a glimmer of self-awareness coming through, after the event. Another soldier remarked, in response to the cliche that you did what you had to do, "I didn't have to do any of it." This awakening comes too late, one feels. There is so much more to say about this documentary, but I'll confine myself to the observation that it was superbly edited (by Michael Levine) and artfully filmed (by the late, great, Tim Hetherington) with beautiful sweeping shots, and many telling close-ups.

Watching Armadillo, which in its own way is a superb documentary, made an interesting counterpoint to Restrepo. This film is equally artful to Restrepo, but a more orthodox effort: the film makers take the traditional approach of following a group of soldiers from training to deployment. The documentary is beautifully shot borrowing classic cinematic technique and narrative. Some reviewers have commented that Armadillo is more real than Restrepo, somehow more engaged. I agree that the film makers get close to their subject--the Danish soldiers, who by turns come across as macho and spartan, and then not much more than schoolboy porno enthusiasts. The main subject followed is a young man who seems to be out to prove himself, which he finally does by getting wounded, much to everyone's admiration. The whole thing is such a joke, and that young man is headed for a lot of nightmares. But I digress. Back to the action: the Danes go out on a "domination patrol" (no irony!). The vanguard patrol move like a herd of elephants--the cameraman has lots of time to film civilians fleeing in advance of a firefight. On go the Danes, one of them falling over after losing his balance. Finally, bang, bang, bang. They bag some enemy. But the enemy hit back a couple of days later--"they're everywhere", comments one of the Danish soldiers, referring to the Taliban. And indeed they are--they're all over this documentary. In both Restrepo and Armadillo we get to see the western soldiers talking to civilians, some of whom no doubt later pick up weapons to take a pop at the occupiers. Of course, you have to be sensitive to pick up on this, but it was as plain as day to me--and its exactly why the western armies will never win in Afghanistan: they don't know the enemy; the enemy, however, knows them all too well.

Both these documentaries are involved, engaging, and brilliantly filmed. I can't recommend one over the other--I recommend you watch them both.


Restrepo [DVD]
Restrepo [DVD]
Dvd ~ Tim Hetherington
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: 8.42

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars review: Restrepo and Armadillo compared, 5 Sep 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Restrepo [DVD] (DVD)
The Anglo-American military involvement in Afghanistan has now dragged on for ten years, and sadly a lot of British and American soldiers have been killed, and that's not to mention the Afghans who have had it worse for longer. I bought and watched the documentaries Restrepo and Armadillo out of respect for the documentary makers who risked their lives to make these films, and to see what I could learn about this intractable conflict from watching them...

Restrepo is a truly brilliant documentary. The first thing to say about it is that it was made in co-operation with National Geographic, and was therefore politically constrained from the start. That's why there is no overt or explicit critique of US policy in the film, and little context-setting. Instead, the film makers rather cunningly went for realism, which becomes it's own critique. One scene after another makes you realise the total futility of trying to control and dominate a place like the Korengal Valley militarily. This documentary is really stunning, and could not get more real. The opening sequence, where the vehicle the cameraman is driving in hits an IED, is as shocking as anything else, perhaps the most shocking sequence. But there's plenty more action--the American soldiers come under fire almost every day, and when things are quiet they go out looking for a fight. The reviewer SCM rightly comments on the naivete of the American captain who attempts, but fails, to win the hearts and minds of the locals, who are after all the Taliban, or Taliban supporters. The brilliance of this documentary lay in the de-briefing interviews. In one of these interviews a soldier reflects on the bungled attempt to curry favour with the locals, "...hearts and minds was not working--we're loud, we're obnoxious, we're immature at times; going in and acting like their friend doesn't work." That was a glimmer of self-awareness coming through, after the event. Another soldier remarked, in response to the cliche that you did what you had to do, "I didn't have to do any of it." This awakening comes too late, one feels. There is so much more to say about this documentary, but I'll confine myself to the observation that it was superbly edited (by Michael Levine) and artfully filmed (by the late, great, Tim Hetherington) with beautiful sweeping shots, and many telling close-ups.

Watching Armadillo, which in its own way is a superb documentary, made an interesting counterpoint to Restrepo. This film is equally artful to Restrepo, but a more orthodox effort: the film makers take the traditional approach of following a group of soldiers from training to deployment. The documentary is beautifully shot borrowing classic cinematic technique and narrative. Some reviewers have commented that Armadillo is more real than Restrepo, somehow more engaged. I agree that the film makers get close to their subject--the Danish soldiers, who by turns come across as macho and spartan, and then not much more than schoolboy porno enthusiasts. The main subject followed is a young man who seems to be out to prove himself, which he finally does by getting wounded, much to everyone's admiration. The whole thing is such a joke, and that young man is headed for a lot of nightmares. But I digress. Back to the action: the Danes go out on a "domination patrol" (no irony!). The vanguard patrol move like a herd of elephants--the cameraman has lots of time to film civilians fleeing in advance of a firefight. On go the Danes, one of them falling over after losing his balance. Finally, bang, bang, bang. They bag some enemy. But the enemy hit back a couple of days later--"they're everywhere", comments one of the Danish soldiers, referring to the Taliban. And indeed they are--they're all over this documentary. In both Restrepo and Armadillo we get to see the western soldiers talking to civilians, some of whom no doubt later pick up weapons to take a pop at the occupiers. Of course, you have to be sensitive to pick up on this, but it was as plain as day to me--and its exactly why the western armies will never win in Afghanistan: they don't know the enemy; the enemy, however, knows them all too well.

Both these documentaries are involved, engaging, and brilliantly filmed. I can't recommend one over the other--I recommend you watch them both.


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