|The personal versus the political William Bowles (03/05/03)|
We are shaped by history and in turn, history shapes us, at least thats the theory. This morning on the radio (BBC Radio 4 "Today" programme) the pundits were commenting on Tony Blairs messianic belief that what he was doing in invading Iraq was right and that hed "squared" his conscience "with his maker", so that when he faced those hed murdered and those who had died carrying out his orders, in the afterlife (or wherever), hed be able to look them in the eye, his conscience clear. One of the pundits commented that in one TV programme hed watched, before the invasion, where Blair was confronting his critics, he had an "unhinged look in his eyes".
Which reminds me of one the best political movies Ive ever seen called "Quemada" or "Burn" in English, directed by Pontecorvo, the Italian director who also made the "Battle for Algiers," a brilliant film that captured in documentary style, the Algerian independence struggle in all its viciousness.
An agent of history?
Brando meets a young Black man (played by an unknown young Cuban Pontecorvo discovered in Havana) as he steps off the ship, who offers to carry his bags and Brando, sensing something special about the young man, decides to test him by attempting to kill him. The young man survives and he becomes Brandos protégé and the leader of a slave revolt to oust the Spanish, which eventually succeeds but too well.
The free slaves take over the island and occupy the former governors mansion. Brando races to the mansion to try and head off the revolt before its goes too far. In a memorable scene which echoed the famous Black Panther photo of Huey P Newton and the other leaders of the Black Panther Party, posing in black leather jackets and holding pump shot guns, Brando confronts the leaders of the revolt, who are assembled, Black Panther-style even to the same high-backed wicker chair, except that theyre carrying muskets and sabres, and are wearing the clothes of their former masters, down to the epaulettes and tri-corn hats.
Brando succeeds in convincing them that the best solution is to allow the British to replace the Spanish, theyre "not yet ready to rule themselves". The British will make good rulers and, in the fullness of time, independence will come. The leader of the revolt, his protégé reluctantly agree to Brando's persuasive argument, and the island becomes a British colony and the slaves are back on the plantations. Its business as usual once more.
The plantation owners argue that first they must crush the revolt. "Oh thats easy. Why do you think this island is called Quemada? Simply burn the plantations down and the rebels will have nowhere to hide."
"Burn our crops? You must be mad!" cry the plantation owners.
"You have savings. In a couple of years your plantations will grow back and youll be making money again."
The owners reluctantly agree and Brando burns the island to the ground thus removing the cover that rebels use to hide in.
Quemada! The revolt is crushed and his protégé captured. The governor wants to hang the leader to set an example but Brando argues that will make a martyr of him but to no avail, the execution will take place in spite of Brandos protests.
Desperate to save the man he has helped capture, Brando confronts him and offers to free him. He unlocks his chains, "Run! You can live to fight another day," but the man refuses. He knows hes more powerful dead than alive. In the background, on the distant horizon, smoke rises.
"Do you know which island that is,?" he says. "Thats Haiti. You know I have to die."
The young man is executed and Brando, his mission accomplished, returns to England. Brando is walking toward the ship which will take him back when he hears a voice, "Carry your bags sir?" and he turns and sees the face of the young man hed discovered all those years ago. As he faces him, the young man plunges a knife into Brando.
Does this mean that Blair could step outside his role? In theory yes, but would he be prime minister? No, or at least not for long. There are some things we can control and others that we cant. Recognising the difference is crucial. Had Blair really been in control of his actions and aware of the real reasons that underpinned them, he would have resigned. But then if he was that kind of man, he would never have become prime minister in the first place.
Dont bullshit a bullshitter
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