The Battle of Algiers, Gillo Pontecorvo (1966)

I’ve seen this devastating mock-documentary about the Algerian War for independence several times; its force remains undiminished. Unfortunately, the Iraq coverage on CNN resembles this film more and more every day. A western Christian country occupies an Islamic country, secular nationalist rebels are squashed by the occupier leading to a growth in anger and religious fundamentalism. The rebels (I’m so sick to death of the word “insurgents,” aren’t you?) practice hit and run assassination techniques and then melt back into the crowded and chaotic neighborhoods. So the occupier sets up a fortified green zone with checkpoints where the locals are searched for weapons before passing through, but of course this only increases resentment and creativity among the rebels. Throughout all this, it should be noted, the commanders actually on the ground evince a much stronger grip on the grim realities than do the ideologues and politicians at home. Finally, out of frustration, the occupier resorts to torture of prisoners (“detainees” is another Orwellian euphemism I’m trying to purge from my vocabulary). Thus in the end, the occupier, in its supposed effort to bring humanism, democracy, and open society to the occupied, ends up inhuman, totalitarian, and closed.

The New York Times reported in 2003 that people were watching this movie in the Pentagon in order to learn how to win hearts and minds in Iraq. It’s a nice story, but I don’t think anyone was paying much attention.

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