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Movies I Use in the Classroom

[ 0 ] March 23, 2006 |

I love to use film as a teaching tool, and not just because it buys me a day of no lectures. Movies help to make clear certain concepts in a non-traditional way. Also, I think there’s positive value in exposing students to non-academic perspectives about particular questions. Finally, there are films that are just as important to cultural literacy as books. Lately, I’ve been assigning David Brin’s novella Thor Meets Captain America as a companion piece to Arnold Wolfers’ National Security as an Ambiguous Symbol, and I think it has worked quite well as a demonstration of how unimportant national security can be in some contexts. I also assign the occasional novel.

I know that a fair number of professors and teachers read LGM, and I’m interested in learning how many use movies in the classroom, and what they use them for. I’m also interested in the student side; what movies have worked well in the classroom, and which ones haven’t? Here is what I use, and why.

Dr. Strangelove: I’ve probably shown Dr. Strangelove half a dozen times, more than any film except perhaps Battle of Algiers. The discussion of deterrence theory is worth the price of admission, but I think it’s also useful for conveying a particular (and particularly male) culture of national security. I once showed it along with 13 Days, the Kevin Costner flick about the Cuban Missile Crisis, and it was fascinating to compare how gender relations were depicted in the two films. Dr. Strangelove is also a critical cultural document, one that anybody purporting to be an educated person needs to see.

Red Dawn: I showed Red Dawn one year in an American Foreign Policy class. I’m still not sure how it worked out. The point was to convey the fear that accompanied Reagan’s America, and remind students that, for the first half of the 1980s, Reagan and his lackeys relentless inflated the Soviet threat. Red Dawn is really an exercise in absurdity, and the first twenty minutes are truly a masterpiece of absurdist art. Milius has a talent for creating masculine-affective set pieces like this (see also the first thirty minutes of Conan the Barbarian). I love the idea of half a million Nicaraguans and half a million Cubans infiltrating across the border, and I love how the Cuban officer gets to order the Soviet soldiers around. For me, it’s Reagan’s America: Part I. I don’t know if the students got anything out of it, though.

The Manchurian Candidate: I’ve shown the first Manchurian Candidate three or four times. I saw the second on cable, but Manchurian Candidate is a film so deeply embedded within a particular time and worldview that it simply doesn’t translate as a remake. The point of Manchurian Candidate in the classroom is to evoke a historical period; not to convince the students that the Chinese were really infiltrating the US with mind-controlled zombies, but rather to show them the general atmosphere of paranoia that existed in America in the 1950s. Also, most students have only been exposed to Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher (and, recently, few even of those), and her portrayal of the Red Queen is a revelation.

The Battle of Algiers: I’ve shown this eight or nine times. It’s indispensible to any conversation about terrorism or insurgency. Longer discussion here.

The Thin Red Line: I’ve shown the whole thing once, and parts of it once. Thin Red Line is a hard movie to show a class, because it’s very long and because I know that a large percentage of the class will absolutely loathe it. I like it as a pedagogical tool for its portrayal of military hierarchy, but especially for the assault on the hill, which is the best depiction of an infantry attack against a fortified position that I’ve ever seen.

Breaker Morant: Maybe five times? There’s just so much going on here; counter-insurgency, laws of war, personal responsibility, military hierarchy, nationalism, and the moral context of war. Indispensible. It’s too bad that my students are now getting too young to remember Edward Woodward in The Equalizer, a passable 1980s vigilante/detective show.

Triumph of the Will: I showed Triumph of the Will to an International Conflict class once. I don’t think they got it. It’s valuable in and of itself as a cultural document, but it also has important things to say about nationalism as a product of mass culture and modernity, a concept which is sometimes kind of hard to convey. Bonus points go to students who can pick out the parts of the film that George Lucas lifted for Star Wars.

Grand Illusion: Three or four times. Grand Illusion is really about multiple group affiliation and shared identity. Class, nationality, European, and the military profession are all important, to varying degrees, to the principals. I show it in my Europe in World Politics course, generally during the part of the course that I discuss state-building in Europe and the expansion of the European nation-state form to other parts of the world.

I’ve also used Elizabeth once (to depict the violent side of state building) and Thirteen Days once (both for the historical narrative and the for the contrast with Dr. Strangelove). If I taught other courses, I’d use other movies, probably including some from this list. Sadly, there are a dearth of decent movies about China, and Last Emperor is way too long to show in any class.

Are You Cat Worthy?

[ 0 ] March 23, 2006 |

I must admit that I was a little bit surprised at how extensive the application was to adopt Nelson and Starbuck. At no point in the process did I think I would be rejected, but I can certainly see how rescue organizations would be a lot more worried about dogs than cats:

Even as adopting a stray dog or cat — rather than buying one from a store or breeder — has become politically fashionable, a badge of pride for some because of the millions of animals that are euthanized each year, the hurdles that some humane societies and rescue groups make potential owners leap — including multipage applications, references, background checks, interviews and home visits — can make the process feel nearly as daunting as adopting a child.

The promise of a home visit probably surprised me the most, although thus far I have only received a phone call and a request for pictures, and I think that the latter was because the volunteer missed the two kittens. I was a bit worried about having to explain, the first couple of days, that Nelson was fine hiding behind the furnace, that he could live a rich and fulfilling life back there, and that we wouldn’t need to pry him out with a stick…

But really, it was reassuring that the volunteers had so much concern for the animals that they had in their care.

John Mearsheimer=Ward Churchill?

[ 0 ] March 21, 2006 |

Blarg. I was planning to get important work done…

I wish that Reynolds, Hewitt, the boys at Powerline, the lovely Alexandra, or really anyone on the right side of the blogosphere would at least take a moment to note that Mearsheimer and Walt are not raving leftists, but rather, respectively, a genuine conservative and a political moderate. Mearsheimer is a Republican, views the first George Bush as a great foreign policy President, graduated from West Point, served in the US Air Force, and hates the United Nations. In short, he’s exactly the kind of guy that David Horowitz would like to see more of in the academy. He cannot be relied upon to parrot the Republican Party line at any given time, and that’s partially why he’s working at the University of Chicago, rather than the Heritage Foundation.

Reynolds, Hewitt, et al carefully avoid discussing any of this, because they’d prefer their readers to think that all academics are crazy, America loathing, anti-semitic leftists with Ward Churchill tatoos.

It’s the Media, Damnit!!!

[ 0 ] March 21, 2006 |

From Fox News’ Soldier’s Diary correspondant Capt. Dan Sukman:

Most of the coverage seems to focus on the bad things that happen here — car bombs, murders, etc. — but that’s what news is. Footage of a car blowing up will always make for more readers or viewers than all the cars that do not explode. The analogy I will use here is this: If a triple homicide occurs in your hometown, everyone is tuned in to see what happened, but you will never see a news report about some guy going to work like he does every day.

My question is this: How is a reporter supposed to make an event like this look good?

Insurgents stormed a jail around dawn Tuesday in the Sunni Muslim heartland north of Baghdad, killing 19 police and a courthouse guard in a prison break that freed dozens of prisoners and left 10 attackers dead, authorities said.

As many as 100 insurgents armed with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades stormed the judicial compound in Muqdadiyah, about 60 miles northeast of the capital. The assault began after the attackers fired a mortar round into the police and court complex, said police Brig. Ali al-Jabouri.

Is the media supposed to focus on all the days that the jail wasn’t the scene of a massacre of police officers and a mass freeing of prisoners? No attack on the jail happened yesterday, after all, or the day before that, or even the day before that. Postive news!!!! Is it supposed to point out that many other jails in the country haven’t suffered from an attack by 100 armed men? The media concentrates on cars that explode, bridges that get blown up, and jails that get attacked because, in the normal course of business, cars aren’t supposed to explode, bridges aren’t supposed to be blown up, and hundreds of armed men aren’t supposed to attack jails. If these events take place with some regularity, it’s evidence that something is wrong. That they happen so often in Iraq actually works to reduce the cumulative effect of the violence rather than enhance it; we actually don’t hear about, and don’t pay attention to, most of the massacres, explosion, and suicide bombings in Iraq because they’re so common.

Apologist

[ 0 ] March 21, 2006 |

I’m neither surprised nor disappointed that Hitchens refuses to budge from his initial position on the Iraq War. It should probably be noted that he has now become a self-contrarian; he has apparently forgotten that he demanded the firings of Rumsfeld et al over the feeding on information to certain reporters in Iraq, a sin I still find to be the least consequential yet committed by the Bush administration in Iraq.

I am surprised, though, by how relentless his apology is. He is desperately reluctant even to criticize the Bush administration on the merest of tactical questions. In his latest, he says that he wouldn’t have opposed the deployment of an extra hundred thousand troops, then blames the entire failure of the operation on the international community. That’s it. Not a bit of blame attaches to George W. Bush or his administration.

Compare Fred Kaplan’s assessment of the war with Hitch’s. Kaplan is a knowledgeable, sensible analyst of military affairs, and carefully lays out a series of critiques of the Bush administration’s performance. This isn’t the only place you’ll find such an analysis, because the failings of the administration are painfully obvious. Given that many who supported and continue to support the war have admitted these mistakes, you’d think that Hitch might at least allow that things could have been better executed. You’d be wrong.

Instead, we have a recounting of how Saddam probably did have WMDs, or would have in the future, and even if he didn’t, there’s no way we could have known about it at the time. This has been so thoroughly destroyed by so many people that I don’t think we need to spend much more time on it, and admits of a refusal on Hitch’s part to grapple with ANY aspect of the post-war situation, including the failure to find any substantial amount of WMD or the capacity to construct a future program. Then Hitch points to a series of Steven Hayes articles that have “laid out a tranche of suggestive and incriminating connections, based on a mere fraction of the declassified documents, showing Iraqi Baathist involvement with jihadist and Bin Ladenist groups from Sudan to Afghanistan to Western Asia.” Laid out a tranche of suggestive connections? That’s the best he can come up with? No effort to compare this set of connections to say, the same kind that you might find in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria or Egypt. No effort to grapple with the fact that the central contention of Cheney, that Iraq and Al Qaeda had an operational connection, remains utterly unsupported by any meaningful evidence.

I can see two possibilities with Hitch. First, he’s so bitter at the Left, and so unwilling to admit that he made a critical and stupid mistake on the single most important political judgement of his life, that he’s taken a position to the right of Jeff Goldstein. Goldstein, at least, allows for friendly tactical criticism of the Bush administration. It would seem that Hitchens won’t stand even for this. The notion that Hitch sees solidarity with the troops as a postive value is wholly implausible given his previous work. Second, perhaps Hitch has simply decided to accept his lot in the life as that of an uncritical apologist for an inept and corrupt President. The benefits are good, there’s plenty of scotch, the pay is solid, and you get to meet lots of nice people at AEI and the National Review.

Oh

[ 0 ] March 21, 2006 |

Congratulations to Japan, Ichiro, and Sadaharu Oh on winning the WBC. Kudos to Cuba for a fine run.

Protesting

[ 0 ] March 20, 2006 |

Kingdaddy attended a protest commemorating the third anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, and wasn’t pleased:

The speakers displayed their tin ear for American politics in other ways. A Middle East expert blew several minutes dissecting the Bush Administration’s public statements on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A folk singer belted out a tune about how Americans like to blame “welfare immigrant mothers on drugs” for all their problems. After the mother of an army lieutenant killed in Iraq gave the rally touched the nerve that a majority of Americans are feeling about Iraq, a local public radio personality stopped the political and emotional momentum with a rambling discussion about the Bush Administration.

The organizers had an opportunity, and lost it. You don’t need a manifesto to explain why you should be against the current US strategy in Iraq. Instead, you need only listen to someone like the mother of Lt. Ken Ballard, who said what a growing number of Americans are feeling: we did not need to fight this war; we were lied to about the reasons for the invasion, which then kept changing; we were ill equipped for the insurgency; too many Americans and Iraqis are now dying, without the substantive progress that might justify their sacrifices; and in the end, we are not safer than we were the day before the 9/11 attacks.

I can’t say whether Kingdaddy’s experience at the protest was representative of other protests, although I can say that it resonates with MY experience at such events. Nevertheless, even though I agree with a lot of Kingdaddy’s account, my agreement leaves me feeling vaguely uncomfortable.

I suppose that my first problem is that these events usually attract committed, anti-war leftists, and I am far from a committed anti-war leftist. This is neither my fault nor theirs, but it still produces a disconnect. I’m not anti-war in a politically meaningful sense; I’ve supported every other major military intervention that the US has conducted in my lifetime, although I really haven’t taken the time to rethink Lebanon or Grenada since I was eight. Of course I’m going to be uncomfortable with a genuine condemnation of US “militarism”, US foreign policy, and (although rarely seen these days) the US military. I could never condone a withdrawal from Afghanistan, for example, and I still haven’t fully politically forgiven a friend of mine for superimposing a swastika over a NATO star at an anti-Kosovo War rally. To the extent that protests about the Iraq War almost always seem to extend beyond the Iraq War to a more general critique of US foreign policy, I’m left cold.

My second problem is that I’ve never understood the web of connections between a particular war and the other issues that animate the Left. I hate the word “moderate” when it’s applied to political beliefs, and I especially detest self-declared “moderates” and “centrists”, but I am, after all, kind of moderate. There are some issues, like trade, on which I’m much more likely to agree with those on the right than with those on the left. I think that recognizing Israel’s right to exist is a good thing, and I’m deeply suspicious of the motives of any number of foreign countries. Like Kingdaddy, I think that universal health care, the Iraq War, and vegetarianism really are separate and distinct issues, although this seems a minority of opinion at these kinds of rallies.

But I’m also uncomfortable, because I know that any political movement must bring together a whole set of different interest groups, and that those who feel most strongly are likely to make up the vanguard in any struggle. There are some incredibly bad arguments for NOT staying in Iraq, and for NOT invading Iraq in the first place, but it’s important not to pay so much attention to those that I forget that there are good arguments, as well. No demonstration for any cause, really, is going to look like middle America, even if it has the tacit support of the majority, and the energy that people spend on these things has to be honored in some way.

Then again, I can’t help feeling that some people are just idiots, and are wholly detrimental to the causes they support. I feel that way a lot about Gore Vidal, for example. I’ve been sitting on this Vidal interview in the Nation for a while because I just haven’t been sure how to approach it. This exchange here particularly grabbed me:

Q: If, indeed, this Administration is collapsing for lack of weight, what comes after it?

A: Martial law, that’s next. Bush is like a plane of glass. You can see all the worms turning around in his head at any moment. The first giveaway of what’s on his mind–or the junta’s mind.

Q: The junta being…?

A: Cheney, who runs everything, I suspect. And a few other serious operators. Anyway, I first noticed this was on their mind when Bush finally woke up to the fact that the hurricanes were not going to be good PR for him. And he starts to think friends of his are going to be running in ’08. So what’s the first thing he does? The first thing on the mind of a dictator? He gets the National Guard away from the governors. The Guard is under the governors, but Bush is always saying, Let’s turn it over to the military. This is what’s on their mind. Under military control.

Q: Are you predicting a coming military dictatorship? And that the American people would stand for that?

A: They’ll stand for anything. And they will stand for nothing.

Just what in the hell has to be wrong with you to think that George Bush is about to order a military junta? Anyone who has been awake over the past four years might have noticed that the uniformed military and the Republican Party are not the same entity, and indeed stand at odds on a number of important questions, not least the conduct of the Iraq War. For Vidal, though, there is no difference; Cheney is evil, the military is evil, and therefore their ends and means must be identical. As far as I’m concerned, this kind of analysis is worse than useless; it makes us look like idiots.

So my not terribly insightful conclusion to this overly long post is that moderate dissenters of the war need to express tolerance for the truly committed, but that this tolerance can’t be unlimited. There can be enemies on the left, but that the Reynolds/Hitchens trap of emphasizing only the worst arguments against the war or in favor of withdrawal is very dangerous.

Lexblogging: Fun with Governor Fletcher

[ 0 ] March 20, 2006 |

In 1986, Judge Lewis Paisley declared Kentucky’s anti-sodomy law unconstitutional.

In 1991, a group called Pro-Family Kentucky distributed a flier claiming that “Lexington is becoming a Hot-Bed for growing Sodomy, Pornography and Violence against women and families,” in part because of Judge Paisley.

The treasurer of Pro-Family Kentucky at the time was a man named Ernie Fletcher, who is now the governor of our fair state.

As one of the commenters at Bluegrass Report puts it, “I didn’t know you could grow Sodomy in a Hot-Bed. And to think for all these years I’ve been using potting soil and Miracle Gro.”

Given that it’s had fifteen years to grow, you’d think I’d notice all the sodomy here in Lexington. Eh, not so much, as far as I can tell. I’m also uncertain how sodomy laws prevent violence against women and families, but I’m sure that Governor Fletcher has a good explanation.

V

[ 0 ] March 20, 2006 |

V for Vendetta was fair enough for a big studio production. Natalie Portman rarely impresses me as an actress, and this was no exception. Hugo Weaving was a perfect choice for the title role, however, and pulled it off both verbally and physically. The plot was rather predictable, and its foray into the political was unsurprisingly hamfisted and clumsy.

As a final note, please don’t rely on this film for its historical interpretation of the original Guy Fawkes. Just because you want to blow up Parliament and decapitate the English elite does not, in fact, mean that you’re an anarchist.

For Glenn Reynolds, is there a difference?

[ 0 ] March 19, 2006 |

Verbatim Glenn:

They’re not so much “antiwar” as just on the other side.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: HMS Invincible

[ 0 ] March 19, 2006 |

Lord Fisher was not content with the invention of Dreadnought, the all big gun battleship which would render the fleets of the world obsolete. The mission of the Royal Navy was not limited to the destruction of the enemy battlefleet. Fisher was worried that smaller, less capable navies might attack British trade through the use of commerce raiding armored cruisers. These cruisers could typically outpace even Dreadnought, and could make the defense of Britain’s trade lifeline difficult. Accordingly, before Dreadnought had even left the slip, Fisher commissioned a design for a new kind of ship, the battlecruiser. HMS Invincible was the first of this kind.

HMS Invincible displaced 18000 tons, carried 8 12″ guns in four twin turrets (one fore, one aft, and two wing), and could make 27 knots. Although roughly the same size as Dreadnought, Invincible sacrificed one turret and a lot of armour for six extra knots of speed. Invincible could either outgun or outrun any ship in the world. Against armoured cruisers, she was, well, invincible. Facing battleships, she had the speed to withdraw. The Royal Navy would build eleven more battlecruisers, culminating in HMS Hood. The German Navy, feeling the need to match the British, built seven, and the Japanese four.

HMS Invincible began the war with the First Battlecruiser Squadron, based in Britain. Her first action was the Battle of Heligoland Bight, in which a group of British battlecruisers intercepted a destroyed a few patrolling German light cruisers. Developments in the Far East, however, drew HMS Invincible away. At the beginning of World War I, Germany controlled a naval base at Tsingtao. A crack German squadron including Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, Germany’s best two armored cruisers, had been transferred to China before the war. The German position in Asia was untenable, however. British and Russian forces could easily occupy the German territory, and the Japanese were making ominous anti-German noises. Admiral Graf Maximilian Von Spee decided to take his squadron into the Pacific in an effort to do as much damage as possible before being caught. There was a small chance, if the German ships were lucky, that they might make it back to Germany. Spee’s squadron wreaked havoc in the Southeast Pacific for a couple of months before the British were finally available to collect the ships necessary to track it down. The first British effort ended in disaster, however; the British cruisers became detached from a pre-dreadnought battleship, and were destroyed at the Battle of Coronel. This defeat outraged British public opinion, and the Admiralty decided to deal with Spee by sending HMS Invincible and HMS Inflexible to the South Atlantic.

Admiral Graf von Spee’s squadron attacked Stanley on the morning of December 8, 1914. The Admiral had no idea that Inflexible and Invincible were in port. Had the Germans launched an immediate and all out attack, they might have had a chance of seriously damaging or even crippling the British ships. On the other hand, Admiral Graf von Spee can hardly be blamed for retreating before an overwhelimingly superior force. The British Admiral, Frederick Sturdee, was unfazed by the initial German attack, and ordered the crew to take in breakfast while the battlecruisers raised steam. When Inflexible and Invincible were ready, they proceeded to leave Stanley, track down the German cruisers (they had an advantage of 3-4 knots) and destroy them at range. The ensuing battle was deeply unsporting, but Scharnhorst and Gneisenau did manage to score a number of hits on their poor shooting Royal Navy opponents before sinking.

HMS Invincible
returned to Great Britain, but missed the Battle of Dogger Bank. In May 1916, Invincible was flagship of the 3rd Battlecruiser Squadron, temporarily operating with the Grand Fleet out of Scapa Flow rather than with the rest of the battlecruiser squadrons. Her commander was Read Admiral Horace Hood, part of a family with a long history in the Royal Navy. Invincible did not arrive at Jutland early enough to participate in the “Run to the South” where five German battlecruisers managed to destroy two of six British battlecruisers. When the Grand Fleet appeared on the horizon, the German fleet began to turn to the south. Hood joined his ships to Beatty’s surviving battlecruisers, and Invincible began to hammer SMS Lutzow, the flagship of Admiral Hipper’s German battlecruiser squadron.

Unfortunately, the Germans noticed Invincible’s excellent gunnery, an unusual characteristic in a British ship. Lutzow and Derfflinger poured fire onto Invincible, and a salvo from Lutzow hit the British ship on its middle turret. Invincible was not designed to take heavy fire from battleships, but the admirals of neither the Grand Fleet nor the High Seas Fleet could resist pressing their battlecruisers into front line combat. Invincible exploded and sank, taking all but six of her crew of 1021 with her, including Admiral Hood. That was twice the number of survivors of the battlecruiser Hood, destroyed almost twenty-five years later. A much larger number of sailors probably survived the initial explosion, but it was not the policy of the Royal Navy to pick up survivors during battle. Invincible came to rest in two pieces, with her stern protruding just above the water. As the rest of the Grand Fleet passed by, the name Invincible was clearly visible on the stern of the wreck.

Trivia: What battleship devoted the highest percentage of its displacement to armour?

Challenge Results, Round 1

[ 0 ] March 18, 2006 |

The Bearded Ducks are ready to make their move. Ordinarily, I’ve already been eliminated by this point, what with my special ability to identify high seeded first round upset victims and pick them to win the tournament. If Albany had pulled it out against UConn, I’d be sitting pretty; I have unwisely selected Kentucky to upset the Huskies, and an Albany victory would have let me off the hook.