Saturday, March 1, 2008

Senator John McCain is not your friend.

A story by Los Angeles Times staff writer, Peter Wallstein, on the front page of the Saturday, March 1, 2008 issue, prompted me to write. It revolves around the cleverly misleading commercial (but then aren't the most dangerous of those cleverly misleading) running about a “ringing phone in the White House.”

I made commercials back in the days when Barry Goldwater was attacked by showing an atomic bomb seeming to destroy a little girl sniffing a daisy. At least that's how I remember it. I knew the guys who created those false images, and they didn't believe they were being cynical at all.

The story goes on to say that in recent days, Senator John McCain of Arizona, the Republican nominee, has accused Senator Barack Obama of misunderstanding the role of Al Qaeda in Iraq. Perhaps he thinks if he repeats confusion and lies endlessly they will become truth. It's not pertinent here to discuss our president’s suggestion that it would not be appropriate for Senator Obama, were he president, to meet with foreign dictators. Talking never killed anyone.

How many American are dismayed by our Cuban embargo? Does it make any of us more secure to impose hardship on a people because of a corrupt government. If that were so we would have to cease communicating with half the world. The way to change the government of Cuba is by getting close to the people and showing them we are their friends. Then they might be more likely to copy us. A bully never wins.

When, so long as money and power was involved, was immorality ever a detriment to any president playing footsie with corrupt dictators? Hell, we created Saddam Hussein because it suited our notion of apportionment of power in the Middle East. Videos of President Bush walking hand-in-hand and kissing the vicious, anti-Semitic religious demagogues who run Saudi Arabia are disgusting. We know the direct role that country played in 9/11 and its human abuses, especially to women, are obscene. These are not nice guys.

Senator Obama provides the absolutely correct response. In the decision to invade Iraq, President Bush and his government filled with brilliant advisors, gave the wrong answer and led us into a debacle. There is also massive evidence they lied to us about the need for war. The Army, led by brilliant military minds, and "Donny," created the situation we now face by failing to plan for an occupation.

At least now the Generals get it and are restructuring the Army, creating training and capacity within it to provide "nationbuilding." The new Army field manual, FM 3-0 offers what it calls a "revolutionary departure from past doctrine" creating a third core mission besides offense and defense. Stability operations. It was not enough to blow Iraq apart, we need the skills to help those remaining put it back together. President Bush and his government hires are directly responsible for our failure to do that. Now the mighty US Army realizes it must rethink its mission. This is the president Senator McCain believes in, and presumably respects. This is a war with no possible military victory that he supports.

I spent 2 1/2 years as a young lieutenant making training films all over the country for the Army signal Corps. It was the best film school anyone could want and I thank the Army for it. I showed up somewhere with my five man GI crew on VOCO (one of them later became a successful Hollywood cameraman), checked in with the commander and started shooting -- in 35 mm no less. After 10 years in the reserve I "graduated" with the rank of captain. I am reminded of this whenever I check my automobile insurance with United Services Automobile Association. They call me Captain Brown. Really!

After leaving the Army, my old friend Daniel Tamkus and I spent a year making a film for General Westmoreland (the consummate Vietnam war liar) about the "modern volunteer army." We interviewed soldiers from the highest to the lowest, all over the world and assembled them into an hour film that apparently was shown only to top generals. Even though, under pressure from my client, I fudged the cutting to favor the army establishment, the conclusion was that for most soldiers, the military was not something, that had they known its faults, they would've volunteered for. Changes would be necessary and perhaps this film influenced them

We had and still have a military to be proud of. Every evening, while shooting, I would marvel at the young men, from all over the nation I had met that day. The generals I interviewed, who ran the Army, would be the last to claim that experience is all that is necessary to be a good soldier. They were of a moral caliber which were do honor to the leadership of any major corporation.

In talking to them I learned that soldiers in command make terrible mistakes, not necessarily because of lack of experience or training, but because of failures in character. The history of our wars is filled with examples, and Iraq is no exception. It is character we should be looking for in our president, self-control, lack of ego -- rather than so-called "experience." If it is character we are after we must look to the life experience of each candidate. What kind of husband, wife, parent have they been and are they? We do not want a leader with a "famous temper."

Our film advisor, appointed by the office of the Chief of Staff of the Army, was a handsome, young West Point light colonel who had also been a Rhodes scholar. He exemplified the very best, but told us that after the film finished shooting he was leaving the Army.

In a handheld, pre Steadycam, tracking shot through countless rows of American graves above the Normandy beaches the colonel spoke about the dozens, perhaps hundreds of high ranking officers in the German military, who upon refusing to murder Jews, were murdered themselves. This madness (Stalin also suffered from the disease of killing his best officers) crippled Hitler and led to shortening the war.

The colonel reminded that no one above the rank of captain, and only one of those, had put his career on the line (not his life) to protest atrocities committed by our military in Vietnam. Military experience is only useful if it is backed by temperance and morality. I tried, but this material never got into the finished film.

For Senator Clinton, being the wife of a president is no sort of training to be one, Any more than by being her husband he learned to cook, sew and raise children.

What is all this flap about “national security”? We are in no danger of foreign invasion. Al Qaeda is not going to take over our country. This is not going to become an Islamic state. Terrorism is absolutely not going to bring us down. We have the most sophisticated, intelligent weapons in the world and they are reliable. We have the best army --and it's all volunteer. We do not need more nuclear weapons, we already have enough to wipe out most of the world. We do not need a hyper expensive national missile defense system, which would only benefit the fat cats who run the companies that would build it. It is dubious if it would work anyway. We be better off spending the money on our children's education, because it is there we are falling behind.

Other blunders, such as a useless and wasteful war, and economic blindness are more likely to bring us down. The worst that could possibly result from terrorism would be a series of tragic and insane acts which kill Americans at home. The death toll will be a fraction of those killed because we are too foolish to teach our children how to drive properly -- a fraction of those killed by alcohol, because we love to advertise booze. Terrorism would be tragic, but it's not going to end life in America as we know it. Stupidity about how we choose our president will.

Those of us in the abuse business are trained to observe speech. It's our highest function as humans and the one most likely to be affected by early child abuse. Among sure warnings of post traumatic stress are: nail biting, stuttering, inability to look into another person's eyes, excessive shyness or aggression – and “mechanical speech."

We must avoid having a president again who was an early child abuse victim. We must avoid presidents who are enraged at their father or, more dangerous, in competition with them. Both our current president and Senator McCain had powerful, overwhelming fathers that they have spent their adult life in competition with. In Senator McCain's case the ghost of his heroic grandfather was also ever present.

Compulsive womanizing, alcoholism, religious fanaticism; are warning signs of a man we should not allow to lead us. Unfortunately they are so common as to be regarded as normal. Sadly, religiosity is considered important by many Americans. It is hard to find a positive resulting from extreme religious belief. It led to – among other religion induced human disasters , including 9/11 -- the Inquisition.

John McCain has the smoke around him of someone who had a difficult early life. He comes from a line of powerful, courageous, and successful military men. One never hears anything about his mother, but she must have been a compliant military wife. In such an early environment it is likely he was beaten. It seems that he isn't present, that some part of him is hidden behind the terrible torture he has endured, and all the smiling and gesticulating is a mask.

Our current president has a similar emotional affect. His smile is as false as his bravado. Propped up by the power of his position, he might seem to some an effective leader. But one sees on television a blank look appear, followed by one of terror, when he is asked to simple question he cannot answer. Dangerous stuff.

Senator McCain has a history of irreverence and opposition, as a young man, to authority. He apparently was quite the cutup in his youth, but thrived. It takes extraordinary courage to fly a military jet in combat. Without the experience you cannot comprehend the skill and information processing talents required. One of the worst qualities a military pilot can have, however, is blindness in the face of obvious defeat. When you run out of bullets or fuel – turn for home.

Senator McCain's anger at authority came to its climax when, we are told, on a bombing run, all set to drop, he saw a Sam missile coming up at him. These things are not invisible; they look like flying telephone poles and have a distinctive radar signature. Apparently, with his radar screaming warning, he could have avoided it. But that would have meant aborting his bombing mission. So stubborn, heroic to a fault, he toggled his bomb where he was supposed to, and the Sam blew his wing off.

This was not the act of a war hero; it was the act of a tragic figure seeking to outdo the phantom of his father. It is not much different from that of a fanatic suicide bomber. Senator McCain was ready to kill himself rather than abort his mission. Will he be willing to take us all with him the next time?

Planes and pilots are fantastically expensive. Senator McCain's training cost our government more than his airplane. He was trained, and experience told him, to save himself and his plane for the next mission -- but anger and intemperance rose above all. "I'm going to get those bastards." This is how far experience rose above poor character.

That is not the mentality we want in our president. Just as we don't want a president who was a crafty draft dodger, alcoholic and personal coward. The next stage of John McCain's career was spent under the most unimaginable circumstances. The tale of his heroism, and refusal to accept special treatment as the son of an admiral, has oft been told. Most men would have given in or died. Not most, virtually anyone. These acts, enduring torture were super human. One wonders what his illustrious father thought of his son’s half mad sacrifice that did none of us any good.

But being able to sustain the unimaginable does not necessarily make for a good president. Senator McCain was stubbornly rebelling against a memory, more powerful than anything in the present. A memory of being a tortured, helpless child. -- even if the torture only took the form of having a father and grandfather who were impossible to beat war heroes.

Our president suffers from this. It haunts his every waking moment. His recent public exclamation about what a “tough guy” he is, spoken through the face of an adolescent frat boy, was telling. It is said McCain has dramatic anger management problems and a history of allowing revenge to overpower his common sense. Dangerous characteristics in the president of the most powerful country in the world.

Watching Senator McCain one is struck by his tortured face, a product of six endless years spent in hopeless, unimaginable conditions. When he speaks about that time he seems to have worked the resulting PTSD through. That in itself is heroic, and rare. He had cancer and that has added to the psychic burden his unconscious must carry. He’s made unfortunate personal choices and those probably weight on him, as they weigh on us all.

But the “tell” – the dramatic and obvious “tell” -- is Senator McCain's incessant use in public speech of the expression, "my friends.” One must beware of what is behind automatic speech. "My friends," is placed in the Senator's conscious brain by his unconscious to conceal and cover up rage.

In the most stressed out period of my 20s, I was married, raising two small children, and trying to build a film company all by myself. I was incapable of having a friend or associate or of asking advice from anyone. I was unconscious of the reasons I was so isolated. The fault lay with my inability at that time to recognize what had been done to me as a child -- which led directly to that place. I was angry and did not know why. The slightest thing set me off. I blamed everyone else, because I could not place the blame where it belonged; on my parents -- and especially on my beloved father.

Then I began speaking automatically. My communication was littered with a series of repeated phrases which were so practiced that I did not stutter when I said them. The repetition comforted me, creating a wall against my unhappiness and terror. Whenever I hear anyone mechanically repeating a phrase, I think what great sorrow lies behind this?

"My friends," tells me that John McCain has no friends. That he is a man flying blindly into a speeding missile, and doesn't give a damn. We don't want him taking our country along with him. He hides his rage behind a mantra of friendliness and reasonableness. His self control is skin deep and we are told those close to him know it. Were he in real power the skin would fall away.

With his hundred year war Senator McCain presents a terrifying prospect for America -- one similar to that faced by Tojo and the Japanese government at the end of the Second World War. It didn't matter that the war they started was ill-conceived and unwinnable. It didn't matter that hundreds of thousands of Japan's finest young men had been killed. Bombs were falling. People were starving. No weapons were left. It didn't matter that they had blundered into something their obsolete Samurai ethic blinded them to. They were facing an invasion that would have killed half of their remaining population, who were commanded to fight to the death with farm implements. Echoing John McCain's words -- it only mattered that there be no surrender. We know the result.

Senator McCain would have our nation repeat again, the same casual disregard for the obvious as when he ignored a flying telephone pole with a bomb on its tip. The oft referred to experience with foreign affairs and protecting our country, which may be valuable intelligence for our next President, is only useful if it is filtered through a neutral conscious.

The prospect of Senator McCain as president should terrify us all. He cares more for staying on his flight path, and dropping his damn bomb, than he does for the fact that the Iraq war is bankrupting America and closing enormous pain and suffering for almost every American. It is the direct cause of the depression we are heading for.

This is to say nothing of the families of the men killed tomorrow -- and the tomorrows to follow. They are the greatest tragedy -- because the Iraq war was created by some disturbed, gray haired men’s notion of money and power -- and now it is all for nothing. It is disconcerting to see on television some of our finest young men parroting their indoctrination that they are in Iraq because of 9/11.

We abandoned the pursuit of known terrorists in preference for flashier, but impossibly ambitious “nation building.” The president's ego got the better of him. And there was the “oil.” This has been an imperialistic war, one that in the 21st century most of us are ashamed of. You would be hard-pressed to find an informed commentator or military expert who does not believe that the Iraqi war has created many times more terrorists than it ever killed.

According to a Los Angeles Times article, retired General Merrill McPeak, a prominent backer of "Obama for President" said: "If you want to know what kind of commander in chief Barak is going to be, why don't you compare the campaigns that have been run here? Is it a panic situation? Crisis driven? Are you firing people? Are you loaning yourself money?"

General McPeak sums up what I have written in the previous pages with a comment he once made to Senator McCain: "You don't get to be a hero by getting shot down, you get to be a hero by shooting then other fellow down." General George Patton said much the same.


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but that last comment by Gen. McPeak made me livid. By saying that anyone that got shot down or captured during the service of our country is not a hero. You better tell that to the men and women who in the service to our country DID get shot or captured to protect the american people. That comment was stupid and insensitive. I am very upset that a General would say that. Very upset.

Barry said...

You misrepresent what the General said. General Patton's famous speech to his soldiers so vividly presented in Francis Coppola's screenplay advised his men to kill the enemy, not get killed themselves. General McPeak said it did not serve the country that Senator McCain, hero though he is for just going into combat, allowed his military judgement to be swayed by his ardor. With the whole country at stake we must consider this. He is still the same, driven man.