They say that the more things change, the more they stay the same, and they are correct. Only people who are shamefully unaware of history can assert that we are meeting only issues of first impression in our still fresh 21st Century.
One of my favorite film directors is John Frankenheimer. I say, “is,” although he is long dead. In the familiar manner of art, he will live forever in people’s continuing appreciation of his artistic endeavors. He had a long career, and he directed many masterpieces. He directed a lot of workmanlike efforts too, in the service of Hollywood. I love examples of both. “Grand Prix” was one of the Hollywood pot-boilers, but it was elevated to the level of great art by his direction. Somehow, someway, he convinced the money guys to allow him to experiment with split screens, multiple shots within the frame. That was the Sixties, the days of the so-called Underground Movies, and I guess they figured, sure, see if people like it. Well I can’t speak for people, but I liked it fine. Grand Prix is one of my favorite movies.
Another favorite of mine is one of Frankenheimer’s real masterpieces, “Seven Days in May,” (1964, with Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster, and John Houseman in his first movie role, at the age of 62, if you don’t count a credit for appearing in 1938 in the suggestively titled movie, “Too Much Johnson.”) Seven Days in May is so much in the flow of history that it not only takes its plot points from events from the Thirties and Forties, but also presages the politics of today. I watched it again the other day.
In the movie, a presumably Democratic president is thought by right-wing opponents to be selling the country down the river and placing the entire American experiment in jeopardy by signing a disarmament treaty with the Russians. A cabal of military officers, along with some presumably Republican members of congress and some right-wing media propagandists, plot a coup d'etat to depose the “weak sister” and replace him in the White House with a charismatic general. There are many echoes of things that we are witnessing today.
A radio agitator warms up a crowd by swooning over the “. . . red, white and blue of our glorious flag!” Late in the movie, the general himself declares that “patriotism, loyalty and sentiment (are) the U. S. of A.!!!” It all sounded a lot like the recent Republican debate. Debate! How grand a term for it! Nothing was debated except maybe the fine points of the fascist future that they envision for America. How much war is enough? (Lots more of it, if we are to take them at their rabid word.) How much domestic spying is too much? (Don’t worry about it; trust us.) What about the constitution? (Judicial review is a myth and we’ll do whatever WE say is permitted.)
It was illuminating to watch, re-watch, this movie in light of President Obama’s recent signing of a treaty with Iran, a treaty that our new right-wing crazies find very similarly disagreeable to the disarmament treaty in the film. More echoes, like “you can’t trust them,” or “they’ll double cross us,” or “after the deaths of 100 million Americans it will be too late!” Quotes that are point for point with the movie. Would it be so surprising if a cabal similar to that in the movie were to attempt a coup of some kind today? After all, it has happened before, and not just in films.
Take a minute and Google, “fdr military coup.” That would be Franklin Roosevelt, and it happened in the late Thirties. It’s all there, easy to find, real as the sunrise and serious as a heart attack. Or snoop around in the history of the late Forties, the time of the Korean War. Another Democratic president, Harry Truman, was criticized for being soft on communism. Why, the fool didn’t want to use the atomic bomb on those slant eyed bastards! Not like we haven’t done it before. And it worked too! It was General MacArthur doing the push-back during the Korean War. Boy, there was a case worthy of further study by psychiatrists. Does “egomaniac” begin to describe him? Add “megalomaniac” and you’re getting closer. Only when you get to “messianic complex” do you begin to approach the magnitude of MacArthur’s behavior problem. Even making him the Emperor of Japan after the Second World War didn’t dampen his ambitions. President, Schmesident! I’m MacArthur!!!
Regarding Mr. Obama’s treaty with Iran, should anyone be worried? Do they have any reason to be worried in the least? The very question becomes irrelevant when you consider that reason has nothing to do with the fears and ambitions that lead to these kinds of coup conspiracies. And the treaties themselves aren’t that important either. Recall that conservative darling, second rate actor and faux-Republican imitation conservative Ronald Reagan himself signed a disarmament treat with the Soviets, and a major one too. And what happened? A big nothing, that’s what. No one was killed, there was no sneak attack, America went on like nothing had happened. That’s what’ll happen this time too. The Iranians, ne Persians, have been around for a long time, three thousand years anyway, and they are among the least stupid people in the world, diplomatically and politically. They can be trusted to be reasonable within the steady awareness of their best interests, which is all you can say for anybody in the diplomatic world. They are certainly more trustworthy than the Soviets were, and even the Soviets were careful not to violate their own best interests. Let the treaty stand; we’ll be fine.
The main difference between us and the Iranians is that they know where their best interests lie, and we don’t seem to have a clue about our best interests at all.
It’s amazing, and very discouraging, that we can still have the same kinds of blockheaded disputes over political softballs that have been occurring in a very similar manner and form almost forever. It is beyond discouraging that these disputes can still lead to dangerous political posturing and/or violence. It is actively frightening that low-information voters are so swayed by the political posturing of a bunch of self-centered dilatants, politicians of convenience who so obviously have only their own selfish interests at heart. Shouldn’t we grow up? Or at least try to grow up? From the evidence of that debate the other day, it doesn’t look like many of us are even trying.