Two recent tv documentaries made me think of the USA again, but in a more critical vein.
It goes without saying that the USA is a great nation. Perhaps the greatest in the world in most respects. Like all nations it has its very best, then its mediocre average, and then inevitably, its worst. This is relative to the mass and population of a nation. Certainly a great deal is also determined by the fact that America was originally Europe's exigent offspring. Today it's the 'adolescent' of the whole world.
Winston Churchill once said 'You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing- after they've tried everything else.'..
If this laconic irony reflects some truth in any events that took place during the most critical periods of the last century, it certainly seems to reflect the truth regarding events of this century.
When pride, ambition, vanity and power encroach on discernment, intelligence, judgement, justice and logic, thus national- and by extension- world interests, there's a problem. And in today's world, there's no longer any margin for trial and error.
President Obama seemed determined to set up his healthcare service during his first mandate. This would have been an amazing feat, and he will go down in history for this ambitious initiative in any case, even if it could be considered irrational and irresponsible to try to set up such a costly system during one of the worst economic crisis in history.
Obviously it would be more judicious to go about setting up Obamacare stone by stone, correcting faults gradually, to avoid extremely expensive stumbling blocks. It would be better to project the setting up of the whole system far more into the future, in a more visionary way, rather than to try to accomplish the impossible, perhaps also for personal motives.
But without considering any aspect of inopportunity, it seems incoherent to think in terms of establishing an effective U.S. health service, when the U.S. legal and judicial system often appears to be seriously on the blink.
Could it not be regarded as absurd to spend many millions of dollars of American tax payers' money in trying to set up a health service for the care of American citizens, when at the same time the world is being regularly informed of U.S. judicial errors and executions that should never have take place in view of evidence (or lack of it) that should have automatically cancelled out such ignoble sentences?
Whether one is for or against the death penalty, if an American State approves it, then the least it can do is to make absolutely certain that an innocent victim isn't being murdered.
One often has the impression that the American legal system is a bulldozer, driven by an officious bully either half-blind or wearing blinkers, and that if the jury, members of whom are sometimes suspect themselves, has established the 'required verdict,' nothing will stop the bulldozer from advancing, crushing everything in its path, including any new evidence that comes to light, that should automatically cancel the whole nightmarish procedure.
One of the tv documentaries was an interview with Roman Polanski. On request he briefly went through his whole life. First in Poland during the war. The walls built confining the ghettos of Warsaw and Kraków. The Nazis searching for his sister, finally capturing his mother instead, and sending her to Auschwitz, where she was gassed. His father miraculously reappearing, cutting through the wire to allow Roman to escape. He was too young to fully understand, although he did as his father commanded, and ran away.
Other children including his best friend were less fortunate. Many of them were simply lined up in the road and shot. His narration is illustrated with authentic photographs of these scenes. Often he was reduced to silence, holding back tears. He describes how he was accepted by a family in the country, and worked on a farm until the Russians arrived, and the war was over.
He made a crystal set, (I remember when I made one too, and how impressed I was by such 'technology'). This in fact triggered off his vocation. He worked for the radio and also as a theatre actor. His artistic talents as a film producer were soon recognised, and he started producing the films that are all now regarded as classics, such as Cul de Sac, which on release were less appreciated than they should have been.
He met Sharon Tate and they fell in love. This was such a happy period when he made the marvelous spoof film that I have seen so many times, always with the same pleasure and appreciation- Le Bal de vampires (The Fearless Vampire killers).
It's interesting to note that Newsweek called the film an unprofitable 'witless travesty', which seems more to reveal how witless (and prejudiced) Newsweek must have been at that time.
Polanski was uneasy when Sharon left for America. She was eight months pregnant and determined that their child should be born in the USA. He wanted to go with her but was held up by work that couldn't be postponed.
When he was informed of her death, he thought at first that there had been an avalanche, as the house in Los Angeles is tucked below a steep cliff.
Along with five other friends, Sharon, two weeks before her child was due, had been murdered, savagely stabbed sixteen times.
Before (and perhaps even since) the Charles Manson 'family' had been traced and convicted, certain unleashed media pushed the idea that there were satanic connections between the murders and Polanski's films. Stupid hints of rituals and devilry. Incredibly the film producer himself was somehow suspected, and hounded continually by the press. Even the memory of Sharon Tate was also callously trampled upon.
It was in fact her mother, Doris Tate who devoted the rest of her life fighting and campaigning against the prospect of parole for the Manson killers.
In 1992 President George Bush praised her for her volunteer work. She died of a brain tumour, but her youngest daughter, Patti, continued her work on behalf of victims of violent crimes, and contributed to the founding of the 1993 Doris Tate Crime Victims Bureau. When Patti died of cancer, her older sister Debbi carried on the fight. In 1995 the Doris Tate Crime Victims Foundation was established.
Despite all this, US record companies showed great interest in publishing a song Manson wrote in prison, therefore they were perfectly prepared to set him up on a pedestal. Neither he nor any of his barbaric, glazed eyed 'family' have ever shown or admitted to having any remorse for the abominable murders they perpetrated.
This in itself is no credit whatsoever to American justice.
Naturally Polanski refers to his own crime. He doesn't make any excuses for it. He clearly regrets it. He doesn't suggest his still being in a vindictive or disturbed state of mind at that time, after losing his wife and child in such an atrocious way, and being continually hounded by the press.
There was also the tv appearance of his victim (Samantha Geimer). Even she fought for Polanski's rights stating that the press had caused her far more harm than he ever did, and that the fame hungry, press cutting collector, Judge Rittenband, shamefully revoked his own word. 'US justice simply couldn't be trusted. They were out to get Polanski, etc.' Even the ex prosecutor, David Wells, later admitted that he had lied regarding the Polanski case.
Although the documentary is very moving, and as his friend who interviewed him pointed out, Polanski's is a living example of Rudyard Kipling's poem- 'If', I've gone into considerable length, not to defend Polanski, but to condemn such instances of American injustice, and U.S. journalism when it isn't as exemplary and as responsible as journalism, at least in principle, should be.
In retrospect the callous American media and judicial reaction to the Manson killings could even be interpreted as a gutless dismissal of any responsibility regarding the existence of the Manson gang, and the real danger they then represented.
Obviously it should never be up to families, acquaintances and ordinary people to defend the rights of victims, sometimes at the cost of their own lives. It's the duty and responsibility of the law and judiciary system of a nation. One shouldn't need to sign petitions and write articles to try to save victims of American injustice, such as Troy Davis, a tragic case in which even Obama apparently showed no interest.
Which brings us back to the first argument. To try to establish a working welfare system is truly commendable. But it also seems incoherent and inconsistent in relation to a legal system full of holes. One imagines the absurd horror of condemning people to death for crimes they never committed, but allowing them the divine right to benefit from Obamacare right up until the day the State chooses to murder them.
The other documentary was an equally moving French film by Arte on Massoud. I've already referred to him enough times on Viewfinder, but he is an important Afghan hero to whom the American authorities still seem to prefer not to refer.
He too was a victim of lies, apathy, injustice, ignorance and self-opinionatedness. And Europe share the blame, although the European fault was the apathy, the lack of interest, engagement and responsibility. The infamous ni-ni-isme, as the French still call such immobilism. And this certainly thrived under Chirac, who as President of France at the time of Massoud's visit to Europe in April, 2001, must have been fully aware of the purpose of his coming, as well as what he had to say.
In the film, Massoud was interviewed by a journalist. He was questioned about Osama bin Laden. Massoud replied that bin Laden had caused a great deal of harm. He is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Afghans, and when he is captured, he must be tried and condemned in Afghanistan..
Many mistakes have been made by the West regarding Afghanistan. And little seems to have been learnt. The best way to have gained the trust of the Afghans would have been by supporting Massoud. The US authorities preferred to continue to believe, and put their trust in Pakistan and the ISI, who originally fostered the Taliban. They preferred to support a Pashtun presidential candidate who casually justifies massive election fraud.
At that crucial time was there not a better option? The right-hand man of Massoud himself, Dr. Abdullah. Or would that have caused the US authorities to fear that supporting Abdullah might possibly be interpreted as admitting to a serious error of judgement in not supporting Massoud in the first place?
Wouldn't Dr. Abdullah have been more able to bring the country together, and thus help Nato effectively purge the nation of the Taliban? Karzai has done very little to bring the country together. He has even shown an adverse tendency, by favouring Pashtuns above all other Afghan ethnics.
Would this not be another example of the U.S. 'bulldozer- let's do it our way- phenomenon?' Once more one asks the ultimate question, if the propped up Afghan authority isn't seriously engaged in defending the principles of democracy, what have the young soldiers of Nato in Afghanistan been fighting and dying for?
Naturally if any of the above is considered debatable (naive, prejudiced or inexact), I would welcome all constructive arguments.
Opinion © Mirino. With thanks for the use of photographs (modified) also to
Wikimedia commons. October, 2012
Wikimedia commons. October, 2012