Saturday, May 27, 2017

"It is my job, however, to ensure that your personal ambitions are not entirely delusional and do not carry with them an unacceptable cost for everybody else."

War Machine is a new Netflix film about General Stanley McChrystal (called Gen. Glen McMahon in the film, but see note at the bottom.)  He's the general Obama fired after an incendiary 2010 Rolling Stone article, by Michael Hastings.

Whatever you think of War Machine , there's one scene that Americans can only dream about - Tilda Swinton plays a German legislator who questions the general in Berlin.  I've written out this brief (under 4 minutes) interrogation.  (I haven't been able to figure out if something like this actually happened.  The character Michael Hastings is sitting in the audience as well when this takes place, so perhaps it was in the book the movie is based on and comes from an actual event.)

German politician:  General, the US invaded Afghanistan because of the al-Qaeda attacks on September 11th.  This is correct sir?
General:  Yeah
German politician:  You have been speaking to us now for 45 minutes and yet in all of that time you have only mentioned al-Qaeda once.  Your own vice president has advocated a much smaller and simpler counterterrorism approach to incapacitate what is estimated to be  a little more than 100 al-Qaeda fighters that still remain in Afghanistan to refocus on what it was that started this war in the first place.
General:  Ah.
German politician:  Your analysis of the insurgency there  suggests to me there is no monolithic Taliban.  You are spread over the entire country.  You are fighting 1,000 separate battles with locals whose principal ideological position would seem to be simply that they don’t want foreign soldiers in their village.    And that, General, you must know, is a war you will never win.
General:  Ah. Uh, with all due respect, ma’am.  Uh I must beg to differ.  I firmly believe, having traveled to all corners of the country, having spoken with many people from many walks of life . . . that what these people want is the very same thing that you and I want.  Hmmm?  Freedom, security, stability, jobs.  Progress is being made.  Real Progress.  But challenges do remain.
German politician:  Yes, I understand all of that, General.  And . . .and , please let me say quite sincerely that I do not question the goodness of your intent.  I have been listening to you here this morning, and, uh. . . I believe you are a good man.  I do.  What I question is. . . your belief in your power to deliver these things that you describe.  I question your belief in the power of your ideals.
General:  Ah, well. . .

German politician:  I think what I am trying to say, and I apologize, General, if this is sounding impolite, but I question your sense of self. 
General:  I appreciate your commentary.  I do.  But I have a job to do.
German politician:  Yes, I understand, And I also have a job to do.  And I’m trying to do mine.  As an elected representative of the people of Germany, it is my job to ensure that the personal ambitions of those who serve those people are kept in check.  You have devoted your entire life, General, to the fighting of war.  And this situation in Afghanistan, for you, it is the culmination of all your years of training, all your years of ambition.  This is the great moment of your life.
General:  Well. . . .
German politician:  It’s understandable to me that you should have, therefore, a fetish for completion to make your moment glorious.  It is my job, however, to ensure that your personal ambitions are not entirely delusional and do not carry with them an unacceptable cost for everybody else.  (emphasis added.)

The closest we have to someone like this is Elizabeth Warren, though she isn't quite as calm and polite.  And how long do we have to wait for the rest of our Congress to get some backbone and remember who they serve?

I'd note that the Guardian didn't think much about the movie, saying the portrayal of General McChrystal was all wrong.  It had this comment about Tilda Swinton's performance:
"Tilda Swinton has an interesting, if slightly supercilious, cameo as a German politician who questions the general about his personal motivation."

A more positive NY Times review says that another of the characters seems to be Gen. Michael T. Flynn.

I'd note that perhaps the movie makers originally considered actually naming the main character   Gen. Stanley McChrystal.    I say this because when I googled the cast, I got google's quick answer (top in screenshot below) which listed Brad Pitt as "General Stanley McChrystal."  But when you go to the cast listed by IMDb (bottom in screenshot below) Brad Pitt is listed as playing Gen. Glen McMahon.

I can't find anything on line that explains this - whether they were going to use the general's real name and then changed their minds or whether google just messed it up or something else.  

I'd also note that Michael Hastings, the author of the Rolling Stone article and the book this movie comes from, died in a strange car crash in Los Angeles.  A long New York Magazine article examines  Hasting's life and career in an attempt to unearth the cause of the accident, from conspiracy to suicide to accident.  It doesn't declare a cause, but seems to lean towards Hastings being out of control in his life rather than someone tried to kill him.  

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