Especially the core story part, from posting 13 http://talk.guardian.co.uk/WebX?14@@.ee7a163/12 to posting 23 http://talk.guardian.co.uk/WebX?14@@.ee7a163/22 There is a comment in #26 that I feel some may find interesting, as well...


rshowalter - 10:27pm Oct 24, 2000 BST (#13 of 135)  | 

Can I assume that everyone has seen the movie b CASABLANCA , and remembers it?

I'm sure the answer is no, and that's a pity just now, because if I were to choose a movie to illustrate issues important to our understanding of nuclear war, and important to the jobs we now face in peacemaking, I'd choose CASABLANCA as the text to refer to. It is one of the most popular movies ever. It shows clear examples of peaceful harmony (for real manipulative, conflicting people) in a small society, RICK's nightclub.

It shows the core facts about psychological warfare, especially how damaging emotionally important and unresolved lies can be to minds, and to social function. It also shows examples of redemption in the practical sense, that I find genuine and compelling.

I think CASABLANCA rings true - I think it shows real human behavior.

Depending on how you look at it, it is one of the most romantic, or one of the darkest, movies I know. I think it is both romantic and dark. Everybody manipulates everybody else, sometimes with consent, sometimes without. Often, the manipulations are graceful, and work.

When lies are involved, the manipulations are rougher, and results are worse.

I'm gonna go on as if people know CASABLANCA . It is a fine way to spend an hour and a half. I'll try not to lose anybody, but it'll be easier if you know the movie.

One point to start, that I think is important when we think why we should prefer peace to war, and prefer direct statements fit to circumstances, to deceptions, is that deceptions and false understandings get us into trouble when unanticipated changes happen. The truth is distincly safer, when you have to react to unforseen complications. A lie, that you happen to believe, can clobber you. In fact, in military or adversarial circumstances, that's the main reason people lie so often.


rshowalter - 10:32pm Oct 24, 2000 BST (#14 of 135)  | 

The core story of CASABLANCA is of a courtship between two people in Paris, just before France falls to the Nazi Germans. The female lead is Elsa Lund, played by Ingemar Bergman (a knockout!) and the male lead is Rick, played by Humphrey Bogart. These characters are passionately in love, they are smart, and they work hard at their courtship. It is some stunningly beautiful footage. But the courtship has a deep flaw.

Elsa won't discuss her past. She says "no questions" ... and Rick agrees. They don't know things the ordinary chattering of courtship usually tells the people courting, and arranging their minds for close cooperation.

Disaster, not made clear until much later in the movie, strikes when Elsa finds that the husband she thought had died in a Nazi concentration camp is alive, and needs her, just as she is about the flee Paris with Rick. She sets Rick up (we find out later in the movie) to leave on a train without her (something he'd never do voluntarily), and stands him up, with a note saying "I can never see you again .... you must not ask why .." . Rick is devastated - his mind injured - he is in unbearable pain. It is a very gripping, convincing scene to me.

This recounting happens in the middle of b CASABLANCA , as a flashback.

CASABLANCA begins by showing a wonderful, convincing little society that Rick has built in his night club b RICK'S CAFE AMERICAIN . The night club runs perfectly and amusingly. RICK is a totally dominant Alpha Male character, everybody does as he arranges, he's got a breathtaking woman he doesn't care much for under conspicuous control, and the defenders of the cafe (the employees) handle the invading customers gracefully, with manipulations that everybody basically understands and accepts. (There's a nice scene of predation, too, with a pickpocket who distracts (lies) lifts a wallet, and escapes.) This is a beautiful example of a working society, and very convincing to me. Absolutely everybody is manipulative in this society - everyone is, by turns, manipulated and manipulator, usually in stereotyped and mutually satisfactory ways. There are little emollient deceptions, but it is a model of good commercial conduct and nice entertainment.


rshowalter - 10:36pm Oct 24, 2000 BST (#15 of 135)  | 

Rick is the alpha male, in total control of his world. Then disaster strikes. Elsa enters, with her journalist-hero husband. b Rick is devastated. It is interesting to see.

In fact, the bottle scene, where Rick is devastated and disabled by the emotionally and logically devastating, unresolved confict of Elsa's never explained treachery, is a fine example of how unresolved, emotionally laden lies can disable, can be useful in psychological warfare. Rick, a man totally in control, is brought to his knees, just by seeing his old flame. It is worth seeing the movie, to see how Bogart plays this. (This really does have to do with nuclear weapons - we used absurd contradiction, combined with terror, to psychologically disable Russians, and did so with considerable success. To a terribly unfortunate extent, in my view, that continues.) That bottle scene is worth going a long way to see, and worth a careful look. In this scene, Rick is trying to drink himself into oblivion, trying to drug his pain away, trying to somehow resolve the contradictions and pain in his mind from Elsa, while Sam, the piano player (you may recall the line "play it again, Sam ..." from the movie) is doing everything he can to try to get Rick away from Casablanca, away from Elsa, who he knows, and who he knows is now so damaging, so devastating, to Rick's mind.

Sam sees how dangerous the situation is, and really works to get Rick out of there.

Bogart's depiction of psychological agony is very beautiful and convincing to me. It is here in the movie that the Paris flashbacks occur - Rick orders Sam to "play it again" and Sam plays "As Time Goes By" as the flashback scenes roll.

Elsa meant everything to Rick, they loved each other, things were going great, and then, with no explanaiton at all, she blindsides him, drops him, and breaks his mind!

The scene of Rick's agony as Sam barely gets his crying husk onto the train is, again, a scene worth going a long way for. end of flashback.


rshowalter - 10:39pm Oct 24, 2000 BST (#16 of 135)  | 

(hint: when I first saw Casablanca, some things looked a lot like the nuclear arms talks to me. With the Russians a lot more upset and victimized than we were, but plenty of Americans traumatized, too.) To continue with the next shots in the movie .....

Rick looks up, bleary from drink, and choking back tears. There's Elsa, standing before him. She shows up trying to explain herself, trying to explain what happened. Another wonderful, very dark scene.

Elsa tries to explain, to establish emotional contact ---- Rick cuts her off, attacks her honor and femininity sharply, effectively, and clobbers her.

After a little more, two people who are still in deep need of each other separate, each in agony.

Note: They "aren't reading off the same page" - they haven't yet agreed about what happened in the emotionally significant past, and so emotional and practical contact between them isn't possible.

End of scene.


tutusxxi - 10:41pm Oct 24, 2000 BST (#17 of 135)

Walter:

On the fighting: Ghandi is not a good example - he was facing one of the most humane colonnial oppressor known, the British (some of my other comments notwithstanding, although, the British can be stupid in their pomposity, and brutal at the football game).

Ghandi knew that he could provoke a desired intellectual response in British. Not everyone was so lucky in history.

In general, the fighting urge is not always automatic: when put in the dire circumstances, not everyone will fight. And historically people WERE making deals and offering concessions rather then suffer obliterating defeat, or, simply, to prevent senseless bloodshed. Unfortunately, the latter consideration occured much more infrequently.

As for the nuclear imbalance: I think that instead of weakening the existing superpower (the US), it would be wiser to strengthen the RUSSIANS, who in their present day weakness will under no circumstances give up their nuclear capability, as it serves as the last vestige of their superpower status, and provides the emotional shield.


rshowalter - 10:43pm Oct 24, 2000 BST (#18 of 135)  | 

Point to emphasize - The Russians and we "aren't reading from the same page" about what happened during he cold war, and especially what happened in our nuclear and pyschological warfare interactions. Until we come to agree about the basic facts (not how we feel about those facts, but objectively what happened) we can't interact emotionally and practically well enough to make peace.

We'll go on clobbering each other, sometimes intentionally, but also, tragically, by mistake, sometimes when we're trying hardest to make contact.

In my opinion, our nuclear stalemate would be easy to take down, and the weapons would be easy to eliminate, if we were "reading from the same page" in the sense used above.

The Russians, knowing this, have worked for clarification of facts for decades. Worked hard. The Americans have resisted clarification at every turn. We've wrenched the Russians by absurdity and obfuscation, again and again.

Here, the Russians have the necessities of peacemaking straight.

We need a clear, verifiable, workably complete accounting of what happened in the past. That is, what happened that matters for nuclear disarmament. We need this so that we can communicate, and maintain the marginal but still real trust that disarmament is going to take.

As it stands, American and Russian military officers barely communicate at all at any level of emotion.


rshowalter - 10:48pm Oct 24, 2000 BST (#19 of 135)  | 

Back to CASABLANCA . The next scene may be the least convincing in th movie, because Rick looks in half decent shape the next morning. Anyway, after conducting some business he happens to meet Elsa.

There's a market scene illustrating how powerful Rick is in his world, but the main part of the scene is this - Elsa baffles Rick again, this time not meaning to maybe, by giving Rick a truth, incompletely contextualized, that he isn't set up to think about. Elsa, it seems, has been married to her husband (played by Paul Henried) all along, and was when she was with Rick in Paris. Not a fit to the way she acted !

Truths can be unassimilable, and even useful for disorientation, when they don't occur in a workable context.

There are some other scenes, nice but not on point here .... except that Rick would rather die than let Elsa and husband have visas that will get them out of Casablanca, because now he hates Elsa .... then, Rick goes up to his living quarters, above the night club, and there, in shadows, is Elsa, looking threatened and wrenched, but breathtakingly beautiful as usual.....

She wants another go at explaining herself, and also the letters of transit to get herself and her husband out of Casablanca. Some nice confrontation and dialog, especially if you like the style of '40's movies, and some distraction of Elsa, who is conflicted, wanting as she does to declare her love, snatch the exit visas, and tear herself away at the same time.

Anyway, a time comes when she pulls a gun on Rick. This gun is a useful rhetorical device, because, after a little back and forth, it immobilizes Rick just enough so she can get some basic truths into him.

And their messed up minds heal. Once they have the facts straight, communication is possible again. !

The romance (or treacherous manipulation, or both) gets heavier here, and at the end of this set of scenes, it looks like Elsa has agreed to leave her husband for Rick, and it looks like Rick has agreed, and maybe he has but it isn't clear.

There follows a beautiful sequence of scenes about mutual human manipulation, and various kinds of social redemption.

(Hint: this movie is really worth seeing, or seeing again if you haven't looked at it in a while.)


tutusxxi - 10:48pm Oct 24, 2000 BST (#20 of 135)

Walter:

It would also be good to have another superpower which can relate to the parts of the world the US does not.

Would also warm up the hearts and minds of the Western Europeans, who would be less inclined to judge the US foreign policy as ignorant and stupid.


rshowalter - 10:50pm Oct 24, 2000 BST (#21 of 135)  | 

A student of military function, and the use of deception and setups in battle and butchery, will definitely appreciate the rest of the movie, where repeatedly, sequences that seem to be leading towards one end are switched, by surprise, by one of the "dancers" or another. People end up, manipulated like robots, in places they didn't expect, where they are often defenceless. Nearly everybody whipsaws everybody else. . .. .

The kinds of whipsaws on show are analogous to the ones involved in any militarily sensible attack - especially any militarily sane attack with nuclear weapons.

The message these scenes show, from a military perspective, is an ancient one. It is this:

If you trust somebody, for even a few steps, and they switch signals on you, they can kill you.

This is, of course, the primordial fact about military function ... a fact well worth remembering if one wants nuclear disarmament sequences that can actually work with the real military officers who have to make them work.

You don't want to be anywhere near "trusting" relationships. Nobody feels safe with them, and they are unstable.

What you need is clarity of fact, combined with distrust. That's stable. That's where the hope for success has to lie..


rshowalter - 10:54pm Oct 24, 2000 BST (#22 of 135)  | 

Remembering this adds real spice to a viewing of the last parts of CASABLANCA .

Lots of ambushes. And by and large, the ambushes "work."

At the end, a woman who has been working very hard to ditch her husband on the plane to Lisbon, so she can stay with Rick, is instead coerced by Rick onto the plane with that same husband, .... and all cry a little and praise the wisdom of it all, to the tune of patriotic music. Off everyone goes to face their duty. H.L. Menken would have found it funny as hell, but I'm soft hearted, and I cried a little, too, smiling in appreciation of all the ironies going along.

It is worth remembering that in these scenes, the major players set each up like robots, and the setups and switches work like clockwork.

Just at the end, the scenes all have a socially redemptive flavor - redemption occurring when, in the senses that matter "everybody is reading from the same page" so social life can go on without the insanity that comes from disagreement about facts.

The only way to redeem a situation including a certain Nazi major is to shoot him, and he is shot.

The only way to fix up the relation between Elsa and Rick, so they can stay sane, is a recapitulation of what happened. ***


rshowalter - 10:57pm Oct 24, 2000 BST (#23 of 135)  | 

For a while now, I've felt that a good start on nuclear arms talks would be to get the people to agree on what happened in CASABLANCA . The patterns of human behavior that matter for negotiation are on view in that movie. I don't mean that different parties have to agree about their feelings about the facts. But they should agree on the facts themselves. For the movie, that seems a possible thing to ask for. There are only so many disagreements likely to occur on such a finite text, and each, I believe, would be simple enough to resolve, even for Americans and Russians, if the Americans (and Russians too, but this is easier) were playing it straight.

If they could talk about the things in CASABLANCA as an agreed upon text, they might make shift to avoid impasses, or clarify them enough to make mediation possible, in disarmament agreements.

So long, that is, as nobody really trusts anybody else much, and patterns of checking are very complete, so that there can be no surprises, and "everybody's reading off the same page." The Russians need to understand how we beat them, so that they can heal, and put their society back into more effective, more stable shape.

And we should stop subjecting the Russians to terrorization and psychological warfare by systems of deception, since the Cold War's long since over.

I also think that we Americans should feel sorry for the mess we've made after the fall of the Soviet Union, when our warmaking should have stopped, and we should extend some helping hands, in effective ways, to help Russia heal.

All the while taking down nuclear weapons as fast as we can. Which could be done quickly according to the patterns set out in http://forums.nytimes.com/webin/WebX?14@@.f0ce57b/286 up to entry 269.


rshowalter - 11:03pm Oct 24, 2000 BST (#24 of 135)  | 

03:10am Sep 27, 2000 BST (#32 of 60) I'm going to bed. Tomorrow, I'll say some more about notions of balance, and about the effectiveness of the combined terror-psychological warfare policies of "the Americans."

There is a problem. The policies that won the Cold War were not pursued with the informed consent of the American people, or of most American politicians. If one wonders "could there be a vast right wing conspiracy" I think the answer is yes.

I believe there was some justification for setting this conspiracy up. It was been arranged to make an obstensible democracy, the United States, capable of fighting a bitter, desperate Cold War. (Yes, Americans were terrified by the Soviet Union, and had plenty of good reasons to be terrified.)

Problem is, this shadow government somehow, never shut down, and in many ways we've gone right on fighting the Cold War, after it ought to have been over.

Which gets back to a point made before, and deferred, about how to deal with institutions built to conceal and defend lies. America has some institutions like that. They stand in the way of peace. They also stand in the way of more efficient operation of American society, and much more efficient operation of the rest of the world. And, in my view, these shadowy institutions are putting the country at grave risk, because nuclear "balances" are now so unstable, and these operations have told so many lies, not only to others, but to themselves, that they are hopelessly incompetent to face the challenges that we have to face.

I feel that we should take nuclear (not conventional) weapons down. Soon. I think, if the core problems related to history could be resolved, we could do this by Christmas of this year.

For thirty years, the Russians (Soviets), their shortcomings and brutalities notwithstanding, have been trying to moderate the growth of nuclear arsenals, or eliminate them. It is time to admit that they have been right here, and get rid of nuclear weapons.

I feel that all the nuclear weapons in the world should be taken down, and believe that it would be practical to get this done. Nuclear charges are obsolete weapons of extermination. Once people understand how terrible, and terribly uncontrolled these weapons have been, I think a prohibition on their manufacture and use could be made permanently effective.


rshowalter - 11:07pm Oct 24, 2000 BST (#25 of 135)  | 

JackGladny - 03:19pm Sep 27, 2000 BST opaz: are you rshowalter? I always thought you were in need of psychiatric attention.

rshowalter - 05:52pm Sep 27, 2000 BST Opaz is a brilliant female, I'm a mere male. And taking a little time to be careful.

Here's one thing that I think investigation would show. The Soviets, very often worked terribly hard to try to meet our very detailed and difficult suggestions for a reduction treaty. And when they thought they had it, and were exhausted but full of hope, were left in much the same case as Rick, at the train, and looking at a note saying "I can never see you again ..... you must not ask why." Don't know how many times it happened. A journalist who asked might get a straight, detailed answer. Many. The psychological agony was very, very real, because these Soviet people, who knew very well what genocidal threats were like, having dealt with the Nazis, wanted our genocidal threats relaxed.

Year after year, we worked them, frustrated them, and never let them "off the hook" ---- when Gorbachev offered total nuclear disarmament again - a terrible risk, and was rebuffed in Washington, he made a gesture we thought emollient, and "western."

Gorbachev stopped his motorcade, and reached out to talk to, and actually touch, some Americans. Were they indeed human? My view, watching at the time, was sympathetic. He had reason to wonder.

He'd offered to disarm, if only the Americans did too, and was jived, scorned and rebuffed.

As I watched what we'd done, I was ashamed.

  • ****

    Does anybody but me around here know the classic story of the imprisoned Nazi officer, after the war, explaining the secret, well known to the Nazis, of how to fight Russians? Would the story bore anyone?

    It is a dark story. I think I'll eat lunch, and relax, and then tell it, unless anybody would find it boring.


    rshowalter - 11:13pm Oct 24, 2000 BST (#26 of 135)  | 

    08:26pm Sep 27, 2000 BST I guess I'll have to move slowly. It is a terrible story, and I find myself upset as I review it.

    After the almost unbelievable agony and sacrifice Russia endured during World War II, The Soviet Union found itself facing American troops, actively prepared to use atomic weapons against the Soviets. These American soldiers had taken in many German war criminals (at this point, the Russians considered all German soldiers who had fought in Russia as war criminals) and used these Germans as thoroughly effective military teachers.

    So, with almost no time to relax, the victorious Soviets found that they faced a new enemy - Americans fully trained in all the tactics the Nazi Germans had actually used with success against them. Somehow the Germans had quickly become American friends. The Soviet Union, which bore the disproportionate burden of World War II, was the new enemy.

    There were reasons that the Americans acted as they did, including very good pragmatic military reasons. But this was a wrenching experience for the Soviets, whether one happens to like them, and everything they did, or not.

    The Germans had a main tactical message for the Americans. It was that Russian soldiers were very brave , hated to lie , and didn't dissemble well.

    When you threatened Russians, they'd practially always fight. So, if you threatened effectively and then stepped back into a tactical defensive position, you could butcher them as they charged you. The Germans had done a great deal of this during their time in Russia, and it had worked well for them. Most Russians died attacking Germans in tactically defensive positions (sometimes tactically defensive positions fashioned in seconds). Russians charged into well watched killing zones set up by Germans, and many more Russians than Germans died in the conflict, because of this pattern, which persisted at the tactical level all through the war.

    Although training can mask this, Russians, at the level of culture, are very brave, and not quick tactical dissemblers. Which made it relatively easy for the Germans, who were skilled and carefully disciplined military liars, to kill them.

    American battle plans depended on this knowledge, all through the Cold War.

    The key thing to know, fighting a Russian, was how b brave the Russians usually were, and therefore how vulnerable to a force that could switch positions quickly, and take them down in order.

    Our combined conventional, nuclear, and psychological posture toward the Soviets evolved assuming these things that the German officers had learned so well, and taught us so carefully.

    For all the reasons one can understand, it remains very sad that the nation which, more than any other, saved the world from Nazi domination became our enemy so quickly, and hostility and distrust between our countries escalated so rapidly and implacably.

    No matter how terrible the Soviet system was, no matter how monstrous Stalin was, no matter how ugly the Gulag was, no matter how easy it is to describe the Soviets, from a distance, as "the bad guys" and the Americans, from a distance as "the good guys" it remains true that our two countries, and generally subordinate allies, were in a continous standoff, without territorial change, for over forty years. All this time, we were posturing to each other, as militaries do, the war of words was continuous, and military deceptions were accumulating. Almost all this time, though there were switches of forces, and therefore exceptions, and though details were complicated, we were in a primarily offensive posture, with superior armaments, and the Soviet Union was in a primarily defensive posture, and usually outgunned. Our own people weren't told this. Our politicians may not have appreciated this, or been in much control of our core military decisions vis a vis the Soviets. But this was how it was.