Along the Tracks

Friday, May 30, 2003

Suggested role-playing for Hollywood liberals

I know, I know ... Let it go Paul, those actors and producers and singers and the like will simply never change! Sorry, but I believe in everyone’s opportunity for redemption - even unthinking leftist wackos!

From last weekend’s Bryan Times (Subscribe to the Times!):

By Paul A. Miller

With the Iraq war concluded, and the depravity of Saddam Hussein now proven, allow me to assume the role of psychologist beside the couch of a few of Hollywood’s more vocal antiwar activists, and provide some therapeutic options to help them with their “baggage.”

I feel confident no one from Hollywood will object, as my role-playing experience in this area at least matches Billy Crystal’s from “Analyze This” and “Analyze That.”

Mike Farrell is not an Army doctor, but he did play one on TV 20 years ago, giving him expertise on the horrors inflicted by war. Based on this background, he was one of the spokespersons for “Win Without War,” the group which opposed the liberation of Iraq. Unfortunately, his dramatic history was too limited to offer him proper perspective on the situation of the Iraqi people.

Perhaps Mike could perform in a new role, as a nondescript Iraqi chemical engineer working in Saddam’s labs. We could see his frustration at the expenditure of millions of dollars on ever more destructive weapons, even as children die for lack of antibiotics. We could laugh at his black humor as he notes co-workers sometimes disappear for a month, then return missing their fingernails. We could feel the engineer’s pain, tears streaming down his face, as he receives the monthly videotape of his captive 13-year-old daughter being abused, just to make sure he doesn’t say anything to the United Nations inspectors. Maybe after playing such a role for several years, Mr. Farrell would have a different outlook on liberating oppressed peoples.

The movie “Dead Man Walking” helps us understand the politics of two war critics: Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon. For Sean, living for months inside the mind of man who was “on the clock,” so to speak, certainly created an empathy for butchers approaching their expiration date. The stress, the fear, the helplessness - Sean felt these emotions at the MGM studios, even if they did not translate into an Academy Award-winning screen performance. Yes, Sean could identify with a condemned killer in his last days. That’s why he visited Baghdad. When George W. Bush set an “execution date” for Saddam, Sean’s heart sank with the dictator’s. How could it not?

But Sean’s breakout role as a “serious” actor was limited by a little thing called “guilt.” The convicted killer was only getting what he gave, whatever human emotions fogged that basic cause-and-effect storyline. Sean might see things differently if, in his next cinematic endeavor, he is cast as an Iraqi Kurd. The movie could open with him chiseling in the mines north of Irbil - dirty, dangerous work, but work nonetheless. His day ends, and he climbs aboard a flatbed truck for the hour-long ride back to his village and his home. As the group approaches, they see Iraqi army units racing off on a side road, and notice a pall of smoke over the village. The closer they get, the harder it is to breathe - but they press on. Sean’s character jumps off the back of the truck, holding a filthy kerchief over his mouth, and runs to his single-room house. Inside, his children lie huddled beneath his wife, their arms and legs blue-white in the dusk. They are dead. His wife chokes out her dying words, “Why us? Why us?”

After finally getting his Oscar with this role, Sean may consider the human emotions surrounding death differently. He may find those of the innocent more compelling than those of the guilty. He may even wish to join efforts to reduce the number of parents weeping for their dead children every day, all around the world.

Susan Sarandon’s empathetic nun in “Dead Man Walking” demonstrated some of the best instincts in the deeply religious, seeking both mortal value and eternal salvation. Yet, once again, the limited scope of the role may have misled her to believe that, since her character was pained by both the impending death of the convict and the agony of the victims’ families, all such emotions are equivalent. This interpretation does much to explain why Susan would have wished to keep Saddam’s torture chambers full.

Maybe we need a sequel to “Dead Man Walking” - call it “Dead Man Walking Again.” In the story, the nun contacts the family of one of the original movie murderer’s victims, only to find them shattered, hopeless and purposeless. In particular, the victim’s teen-aged sister is deeply depressed, near suicide. Susan’s character asks the young lady to join her in a journey to Baghdad, to serve as a human shield. The two quickly learn the populace holds no love for Saddam, yet people are afraid to voice their true feelings. Even so, the nun and the teen-ager work to help frightened civilians as they can, and are embraced by one quiet but desperate family.

War comes, and as the bombs explode, the “shields” find the Iraqi family becomes more excited with each passing day. When Baghdad falls, the family celebrates wildly, racing into the streets for a glimpse of the U.S. military columns. Their own teen-age daughter rather sheepishly comes home with a computer screen in her arms, pilfered from the Ministry of Justice, to the laughter and hugs of her parents. The next morning, the nun and American teen, along with the family, are awakened by a knock at the door. The father opens, and before him stands a gaunt young man. The two look over each other for what seems like forever, then with shouts of joy, embrace with love. The man at the door is the family’s eldest son, taken away from them eight years before, and long thought to have been killed by the Ba’athist regime.

The mother and daughter, tears streaming down their faces, join in the reunion. The human shields finally realize what they were really “shielding.”

“My son is alive!” the mother cries with relief. “He was a dead man, but he is walking again!”

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