A Very Good Save-the-World Software Development Idea. Please Help Yourself! :-)

Will some brilliant programmer please step up and design a google-type software program that can linguistically analyze and determine a speaker/writer’s cooperative tone and intent?


Your new program could identify and distinguish among those writers/speakers whose communications promote a sense of division, partisanship, negativity, polarization, blame, attack, incivility, rudeness, destructiveness, unfriendly competition, bickering and hate—and those promoting a sense of positivity, creativity, life-affirmation, support, harmony, acceptance, forgiveness, productivity, civility, courtesy, equality of opportunity, caring, cooperation and unity.


Your software could have endless useful and profitable applications. For immediate profitability, please consider using your product for security purposes, to helpfully ward off unfriendly attacks and attackers (of whatever kind) upon individuals and enterprises (of whatever kind.)


Imagine leaders young and old in every field vying for their communications to be screened and certified via your software. Why not simultaneously award a “Truth-bearer” (or some other such logo) “gold seal of approval” identifying individuals and organizations as positive communicators, healers, light-bearers?


Your prestigious and desirable software “accreditation” could motivate many people to investigate and understand the important distinctions between peaceful and contentious communication purposes, and to recognize and encourage humanity-unifying goals as non-threatening and potentially beneficial to all earthlings, while discouraging communications with adversarial, hostile ends. Your software would also surely stoke national dialogue, while heightening awareness about the many distinct (although often confusingly-disguised) differences between helpful and harmful human communications. Your software would take care not to exclude any gentle, friendly, cooperative practitioner of any ideology, religion, political party, nation, organization, affiliation, etc.


One important goal of your software would be to educate. Hopefully, everyone would eventually become enlightened enough to merit universal inclusivity (by acting as good, positive communicators) according to your accrediting software, which might also be developed Wikipedically, or perhaps Amazon-style—i.e., open-sourced, by inviting motivated reviewers and voters opportunities not only to build your site, but also to offer feedback opportunities and provide needed talent to shape and debug upgrades and develop next-generation software.


Recipients of your approving nods (such as Nobel prize winners and mild-mannered third-graders) could proudly display and announce their cherished new affiliation and certification on their websites, on Facebook, business cards, in TV commercials and advertising, on coffee cups, tee-shirts, shopping bags….


Additionally, your software could assist web surfers to more-judiciously select helpfully-screened websites, products and opinions as the very ones they will most benefit from investigating. Perhaps your software could also eventually include a function which would recognize and refute inappropriate co-opters of your symbol of acceptance and stamp of approval—an iterative process that would call out abusers while encouraging more awareness and discussion.


Your software will stimulate lively dialogue; increase the impact and number of creative, thought-provoking, and controversial-but-civil exchanges; reduce (by virtue of indifference and neglect) the quantity and influence of divisive communications arising anywhere in the world; universally improve facility in verbal and mental processing of complexities, innuendo and nuances; and inspire us all to pull together cooperatively to resolve our common personal, local and global problems.


While you're programming, please give extra points for humor?


And if you're not a programmer, but merely a earthlinged, godlinged promosapient like me, please pass this idea on to any similarly-inclined programming/software folk or foundations, or to whomever might be interested!


Thank you…. 🙂


Nancy Pace





















































































Daniel Craig As Evolving, New Age James Bond “Everyman”: Hey, It Works For Me

I went to see Quantum of Solace because I liked Daniel Craig as James Bond in Casino Royale, and because I always take my husband to opening weekends of all good new action movies. I’d already heard reviewers complain that this new Craig/Bond was insufficiently Bondish—i.e., not enough jokes, too much heavy emotion, too many similarities to other, un-Bond-like traditionally-vengeful action heroes, not enough Bond-techy gimmicks and vehicles, too few glam locales. And what to make of the movie’s weird politics? And of Bond’s lack-of-sex with his sexy new love interest? I went to see for myself.


I liked the movie very well. I thought it was very effective, violent, destructive, action entertainment, for those who enjoy this genre. I thought it was definitely worth the price of admission. Even if it was only part of a to-be-continued movie, it was a very complete and satisfying part, setting up well the Craig/Kurylenko movie(s) to follow, which will tantalizingly develop Bond’s budding romance with this particularly ravishing new heroine.


I thought Olga Kurylenko was great. She reminded me of what I love about Catherine Zeta-Jones. I hope she will endure as an unkicked-aside Bond sidekick for many films to come. How much more can Bond evolve, than to stick with one woman?


I liked this movie’s (admittedly undeveloped) politics. I was glad the writers went to the trouble to imply that good and bad actors can be found in every nation and every endeavor, and that all of us will have ample opportunities to participate–or not–in increasingly rampant opportunities for corruption, greed, crime, terrorism, hypocrisy, war, cruelty, espionage, exploitation, backstabbing and wanton violence, especially as enhanced by the global contest for dwindling resources—oil, water, money, what have you….


I also enjoyed the side-talk references affirming vengeance as both a very powerful and tempting human motivation and an unsatisfying one, and forgiveness—of oneself and others—as essential to sanity and peace. Very un-traditional un-Bondian stuff. Very New Age perspectives. And also very true.


This Bond movie didn't disapoint my expectation for novelty, either. I don't think I'm alone in my curiosity about life in desperately poor third world locales like Port au Prince, Haiti, or about glamourous off-the-beaten-track cultural events like traditional bareback horse racing in the public square, and exotically-staged modern operas.


I also loved the new holiday Coca-Cola commercial which preceded the movie. Taken together, the new commercial with the new Bond movie, I got a heady whiff of what our millennial creatives are all about and up to these days: philosophical acceptance of an imperfect “what is,” along with real commitment to making “what is” better, through positive, ideologically indifferent, large and small, person-to-person, moment-to-moment, choice-by-choice contributions in gray areas and complex moral situations, in whatever way they can.


Thus, I saw variously flawed and well-intentioned players in the movie and the commercial persist in acquiring the necessary wisdom and clout to act well their parts and support one another when and where it mattered most—that is, when push came to shove. These creatives and the crowds they are playing to believe in the power of acceptance, forgiveness, inclusion, diversity, and best of all, in one person’s ability to make a difference and find a quantum of solace within such caring moments.


I liked watching Daniel Craig’s Bond try to do his best with his very limited but amazing personal resources. I enjoyed watching him courageously try to make some sense of a morally chaotic world, and seek meaningful ways to contribute and endure. Craig’s Bond is a unique and powerful Everyman perfectly suited to today’s audiences.


I don’t miss the grand old Bond clichés. That was then. This is now. Welcome back, Mr. Bond.



Please send comments to njcpace@gmail.com. Thank you. 🙂






Ironman (the Movie) Offers Good Entertainment and Good Politics

It's hard to find an action movie that both my husband and I think is wonderful, but Ironman has proven once again that it can be done. I loved the characters, humor, romance and politics in Ironman, and my husband especially enjoyed the heroism, computers, robotics, stunts, jets and action. The whole theatre, filled with middle/high-schoolers and adults, cheered and clapped when the movie ended. Amazingly enough, we hadn’t even been exploited or insulted by stupid politics, graphic sex, or gratuitous violence masquerading as entertainment….
You can tell that the whole world is changing when a big-box-office action movie has as its major theme the evils of war profiteering and global weapons proliferation. Ironman simultaneously entertained and enlightened the whole crowd. Multi-faceted Robert Downey Jr. and classy Gwyneth Paltrow were at their most charming.
Ironman is a sweet, funny, exciting, well-made, fast-paced action movie I recommend to all who enjoy high-quality movie-making in this genre….

(Please send your comments to njcpace@gmail.com and I'll post them here. Thanks. 🙂

Fighting Words

My letter below was published in the Washington Post Book World on Sunday, September 2, 2007. Following my letter is the reviewer's own response to my criticism, and then a somewhat-satirical, but-you-get-the-point response to the reviewer describing the review that I think he should have written if he wanted to be fair.

Nancy Pace's letter:

“Andrew Nagorski apparently thinks Giles MacDonogh shouldn't have bothered to dredge up all those nasty facts about the occupation of Germany in After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation, because, after all, the Germans had it coming, and Allied cruelties were understandable considering their pain and sacrifices (Book World, “The Squall After The Whirlwind,” Aug. 26).

In fact, while we're at it, why don't we just throw away the entire historical record of suffering by losers of all wars throughout history, because they all deserved what they got? From now on, let's write only one-sided histories glorifying the bloody actions of wars' winners and keep on using history primarily to perpetuate the myth that conflicts have only one side worth listening to. That way, we can have more wars.

Justifying fresh injustices by pointing out past injustices does nothing to end the cycle of violence and retribution. Every war, like every retaliatory “peace,” sows the bloody dragon seeds reaped in future wars. Good historians rightly tell the story of the suffering on both sides of wars and about how all the leaders failed to keep the peace.”

ANDREW NAGORSKI'S REPLY on Sept. 2 (in the Washington Post):

Ms Pace seems to have deliberately misread my review. As I pointed out, this last gruesome chapter of World War II needs to be told. And the efforts of the Poles, Czechs and others to confront such uncomfortable truths should be commended. But historians have an obligation to put the events they chronicle in their proper context and to avoid anything that smacks of moral equivalency between the crimes of the Nazi regime and the revenge exacted by some of the victors.

HERE'S THE ANDREW NAGORSKI BOOK REVIEW I (Nancy Pace) WOULD HAVE LIKED TO HAVE SEEN. (I published this in the comments section below the above Nagorski comment in the Washington Post online, and he probably read it.) I hope it helped….:

Finally. At last. A reputable historian has found not only the courage, but the commitment, perseverence, and moral fortitude to report on “the other side” of WWII, to lift up and look under the few remaining pebbles of undestroyed evidence, and to climb over the huge boulders of resistance strewn for generations by the war's victors in their massive efforts to block such reporting, as victors always do.

To be sure, as a loyal and patriotic supporter of the war's victorious Allied side, I might have preferred to see a little more context about my side's sufferings. However, I can certainly understand why Giles MacDonogh didn't feel it necessary to re-tell that particular story, since hundreds, perhaps thousands of historians have already told it in great and welcome detail—i.e., the desperately tragic story of Allied suffering.

However, I recognize that Mr. MacDonogh's difficult task of researching and reporting on the previously under-reported suffering of the losers was certainly a daunting enough task, one difficult to confine to a single volume, without adding extraneous material beyond “perfunctory nods.” Therefore, MacDonogh's effort is a warmly welcomed addition to the reporting on this war, well-worth his considerable trouble. I hope his noteworthy efforts will be recognized and rewarded, and that he will be widely commended for undertaking this long-neglected task, and for filling in an important part of history's sad record of the suffering of the losers of war everywhere.

(Ps. I, Nancy Pace, am no expert on WWII, nor have I any connection with either above writer. Nor have I read the book in question. I am reacting to what I consider probably unintentioned and unconcious bias in historical writing/reviewing. (I would have retitled the Andrew Nagorski review: “YES, BUT….”) Please. All sides, whether citizens or soldiers–all innocents alike–suffer in all wars, which are generally initiated and sold by short-sighted, inadequately informed, megalomaniacal, greedy leaders unwilling or unable to empathize, communicate, and make difficult (but bloodless) compromises with one another.)

Please see Nagorski's original review at  the Washington Post website: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/23/AR2007082301769.html

Please send your comments to: njcpace@gmail.com . Thank you! 🙂



Rachel Corrie Uncensored, Bullies and Martyrs, Lambs and Lions, AIPAC, and Messianic Voices Off

I was privileged to recently attend a one-woman play called My Name is Rachel Corrie, about a young American tragically killed by an Israeli bulldozer as she protected Palestinian homes from destruction. Art-upon-art lavishly swirled in layer upon layer, as a dedicated actor-artist nurtured a compelling script crafted by two talented playwright-artists from the lyric insights of writer-activist Corrie—herself one of God’s great artistic creations….


After the play, I was grateful to Rachel and her parents, to the actor and playwrights, to the director and leaders of the Contemporary American Theatre Festival in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, for collaborating so beautifully to share Corrie’s insights as she matured into a loving, idealistic, modern-day David out to slay her Goliath-of the-moment.


Rachel Corrie had no affection for bullies. Burning with a wish to stand up to power and deadly violence, she seemed born to resist injustice. I think she would have been just as eager to oppose Palestinians attacking innocent Israelis, were she drawn to their plight first.


I was saddened to think that some who cherish holocaust narratives like The Diary of Anne Frank would try to censor Rachel’s inspired voice and words for partisan reasons. I doubt any peaceful Jew seeing this play would urge such censorship.


But after it opened successfully in London, extremist Jewish organizations protested its further production, and it was dropped in New York City, Florida, and Boston. The Shepherdstown festival lost a $100,000 pledge and risked a boycott for their decision to stage it. During production, the protest in West Virginia continued in several purchased and prominent playbill pages presenting the Israeli-extremist side of the story, including six touching photos of Israeli “Rachels” tragically killed by Palestinian violence (implying an erroneous six-to-one death toll of Israelis to Palestinians,) along with a dehumanizing and demonizing suggestion about how all Palestinians want only to kill Israelis and put an end to Israel, while all Israelis want only peace.


Christians, Jews, and Muslims have found relative safety from prejudice in America, and I can understand why each of these groups would want to zealously guard such hard-earned respite, especially in view of their respective ghastly historical memories of exploitation and persecution. Which is why, wherever Muslims in America gather to air grievances, polite, respectful Jews show up to tell their side of the story.


American Muslims, however, rarely feel welcome to speak at Jewish events which accede to violent solutions in Israel/Palestine. In both America and Israel, the Jewish-extremist viewpoint is so well-funded and orchestrated as to saturate media and government; it also has much to answer for, in egging on the Bush administration’s current war on Islam, or should I say on Iraq, or should I say on terror…all of which have worked out to be pretty much the same thing. To the extent that nearly every influential comment opposing extremist policies in Israel is instantly reprimanded, often with accompanying accusations about the speaker’s anti-semitism—to that extent is the Palestinian/Islamic world-view grossly under-represented and out-of-balance in America, and of course in Israel/Palestine.


Considering all the pre-play controversy, I was nervous myself about attending it, and hoped I wouldn’t be thought anti-Semitic. I still hope to avoid that charge, although I welcome the labels of pro-peace and anti-violence.


The voice in the Israeli-Islamic conflict consistently drowned out in America and Israel is the moderate/peaceful Islamic voice, although peaceful Muslims are working hard to change this. AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League, and other American Jewish organizations are too vigilant for their own good, defending themselves too assertively against slights both perceived and real, and attacking perceived attackers. An anti-Jewish backlash in reaction to such strategies, and to Israel’s typical knee-jerk disproportionate violent responses to aggression seems sadly inevitable.


Peaceful Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other Americans are often so aggressively intimidated by their own extremist factions that they rarely speak out publicly against the vengeful actions, bloody rhetoric, and sheer barbarism of all they see, on all sides. Caught within the context of a violent century’s heightened emotions, most moderates—peaceful Jews and Christians and Muslims and citizens of all nationalities everywhere—are too frightened even to say “Enough” to the extremist voices within their own groups.


As long as demagogues and partisan extremists freely pressure and intimidate moderates, worldwide anti-Islamism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Americanism will continue to grow. And if the hot-blooded AIPAC successfully pushes extremists in America and Israel into another bloodbath, this time against Iran, the potential for anti-Semitic, anti-American, and anti-Islamic blowback upon moderates in all these groups everywhere will be as terrible as the cataclysmic impact upon the direct victims of the war.


The Bible does not say “the lamb shall lie down with the lion,” but,“ the lion shall lie down with the lamb”—meaning, the powerful shall offer peace to weaker opponents as a wise first step toward peaceful resolution of conflicts. Even the mega-powerful United States is finally learning that everyone’s interests are best served when the mighty dare to humble themselves to acceptance and generosity toward weaker “others,” and truly begin to see—and treat—their neighbor as they would want to be treated, to love their neighbor as their own self. Our learning curve in America, meanwhile, has been excruciating for Muslims worldwide.


In the peaceable kingdom, the powerful will “lie down with” (a tender, intimate metaphor) all their lambish neighbors. This means that the biggest and toughest of the terrorizing thugs on every block, whether they be the American or Chinese nations, whether Iranian, Jew, or Muslim, Irish or British, a strong band of criminals, a tough group of insurgents, whether militias, tribes, national armies, navies, air forces, or even the marines, all the mighty and powerful will come to realize that their job is to protect the weak from those who would hurt them, and not to push the weak around in order to prevail in conflicts, however troublesome or longstanding.


Lambs, too, are opening their eyes to the fact that the terrible lions they so fear may in fact be more fearful themselves than fierce, and desperately in need of peaceful perspectives from ancient cultures and wise elders willing to patiently remove the painful thorns of ignorance and fear from their dripping paws.


Extremist Jewish leaders preaching the wisdom of ten-eyes-for-an-eye, and depicting Israel as a tiny beleaguered island within a vast sea of murderous Muslims all wanting to kill Jews and “erase Israel from the map” (please see the writings of Arash Norouzi) are as repellently manipulative as extremist Palestinian leaders claiming to be nothing more than a defenseless band of ragtag refugees confronting the combined wrath of the world’s largest and most powerful military forces, or American Christian-extremists sounding the alarm of American invasion from rapacious outsiders and infidels, or American patriots bristling with nuclear arms, self-righteously claiming to be the potential victims of nations working frantically to develop even a single one.


Violence, or violent extremism, or terrorism—that is, resorting to violence to resolve conflicts—turns out to be “the problem” itself, and not, as many have tried to persuade us, any particular ideology, ethnicity, religious tradition, or national affiliation. The burning question is always: who is committed to non-violent resolution of conflicts, and who isn’t?


Whether Bin Laden or Bush, Communism or Capitalism, Shiite or Sunni, Hamas or Abbas, Judaism or Islam, the U.S. or Iran, Saddam or Arafat, Hirohito or Mao or Eisenhower or Hitler—it is increasingly evident that “the good guys” are the ones who are committed to resolving conflicts non-violently, while “the bad guys” are the extremist zealots who turn to the use of violence to resolve their conflicts, whether through conventional warfare, street-fighting, or assassination, whether by suicide-bombing, napalm, nuclear weapons, torture, or IEDs. The choice of violent extremism IS the problem; and violent extremists ARE the terrorists.


Disproportionate retaliation against aggression makes sense only for cornered wild animals fighting for survival against overwhelming odds. Unfortunately, this is the very vision offered up by violent extremist leaders, regardless of affiliation, who deliberately stoke up fears and urge violent responses by perceiving all situations through dire scaredy-cat doomsday lenses.


Fortunately, the world seems to be developing new improved crap-detectors, and violent tactics in our small, interconnected, and media-rich world don’t play so well in Peoria anymore. People now recognize man’s-inhumane-violence-to-man for what it is, regardless of context, and despite all the varied ideological, ethnic, religious, and national colors and flavors that violence so often comes wrapped up in—whether it be bulldozed homes, the shattered bodies of innocent children, or maimed and traumatized young soldiers from every land.


The sanctity of human life has finally emerged to be the world’s highest human value, rising ever more clearly above even the most rabble-rousing words of demagogues and ideologues bent upon stirring their fellow-citizens to torture and murder.


In the promised land we are approaching, constructive criticism of the policies and actions of various peoples and organizations won’t be called anti-semitic or anti-American or anti-Islamic or un-patriotic. Instead, powerful, messianic, moderate voices of Jewry and Christendom and Islam and all other isms will speak freely and softly of peace, cooperation, and compromise in all our holy lands, where we will all work side-by-side, undivided by ancestry or belief or tradition, letting go of old grudges and offering olive branches of reconciliation, as we non-violently resolve each day’s natural conflicts freshly and openly, as they arise.


May we learn without having to endure more lessons from ever-greater tragedies, wars, and environmental catastrophes, and may we all awaken together to begin with a convert’s zeal our great shared task of peacefully saving our tiny blue planet, and all our brothers, every one.


Please write comments to njcpace@gmail.com . Thank you! 🙂








If THE DEPARTED Reflects American Cultural Offerings to the World, Then We Yankees Truly Should Stay Home

The Departed is a too-long slog through a repellent underworld of hopelessness, human frailty, and continual struggle. An angry, bitter old man’s cynical vision of despair and disillusionment, it mocks all human efforts to transcend past and primal influences. Its desired audience-response seems to be disgust.


Although The Departed offered challenging roles to talented actors and film-makers, I kept wondering, why did any of them, the immensely talented and capable Scorsese included, even bother? Why make this movie? What’s the point of pooling all that energy, creativity, and talent on such a boring, pointless script? The Departed is neither entertaining, nor satisfying, nor thought-provoking, nor enlightening, nor any other respected goal of movie-making—unless perhaps you find pleasure in staring at cripples or ogling car wrecks.


Scorsese’s many clumsy attempts at youthful (Tarantinoesque?) edginess played out as merely shock-by-politically-incorrect low-life humor,  inspiring only embarrassed titters. I found this film completely lacking in compassion, crass, boorish, and childishly defiant about religion, race, and responsibility. It was definitely a movie offering family values–all the wrong ones. For those hooked on action and violence who want to see positive values, start with L.A. Confidential or A History of Violence (see my review elsewhere in this blog), In the Line of Fire or The Fugitive. It can be done!


When I compare this kind of American blockbuster to, say, the Iranian blockbuster, Children of Heaven–also a depiction of human struggle under the most difficult circumstances–I can certainly understand why many Muslims find our culture decadent, and why they hope to prevent us from infecting their own cultures.


Always in search of high-quality action movies which my husband and I can both enjoy, we saw The Departed on opening night out of respect for Scorcese’s better (if uneven) previous efforts—The Age of Innocence, Taxi Driver, Casino, and Raging Bull. We even heard, while standing in line, that the reviews so far were stellar. What a disappointment.


Leonardo di Caprio’s and Mark Wahlberg’s brilliant performances were very appealing and convincing, but I found little else to like. The sound was uneven too—either way too loud (I literally protected my ears) or too soft.


In comparison, Invinceable—although formulaic—was a recent high-quality action movie we will add to our collection, one which I would be proud to export to other countries as an example of American culture and entertainment. That we might use our great wealth and freedom in order to corrupt the minds of our own youth and those around the world with garbage like the life-sucks-and-then-you-die story offered by The Departed is a truly depressing thought. 


Please send comments to epharmon@adelphia.net








Sanctimonious History Overthrown in Stephen Kinzer’s OVERTHROW: AMERICA'S CENTURY OF REGIME CHANGE FROM HAWAII TO IRAQ

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Sanctimonious History Overthrown in Stephen Kinzer’s Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq
People like to feel good about themselves, and Americans are no exception; so only a relative handful of scholarly Americans are even aware of their government’s direct historical responsibility for a century of violent regime changes in fourteen countries from Hawaii, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Nicaragua, and Honduras, to South Vietnam, Iran, Guatemala, Chile, Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
Kinzer offers a compelling case that, without exception, all this violent meddling has worked against the overall best interests of Americans, and—with the possible exception of Grenada—against the citizens of all these exploited nations.
Kinzer’s brilliant decision to summarize the colorful particulars of who-what-when-where-how leading up to, during, and following each overthrow, give range to his best journalistic talents, while reducing his biographer’s breadth and historian’s bounty of facts, figures, places, and times into fourteen short, lively, memorable tales of derring-do, intrigue, overreaching, ignorance, prejudice, greed, and mayhem.
Reading Overthrow brought to mind the darker aspects of Margaret Meade’s assertion, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has,” while adding credibility to the mounting evidence that the tragedy of today’s Middle East is indeed directly traceable to the benighted machinations of a few dedicated, powerful, and sorely misguided neocons in Washington, D.C. For each case of regime change, Kinzer implicates a small group of daring individuals usually acting for corporate interests, and always acting with presidential authority.
Kinzer’s reasonable-length history is backed by over twenty pages of end notes, as well as an impressive international, multilingual twentieth-century bibliography of nearly five hundred on-the-spot memoirs, biographies, government documents and news accounts, and a twenty-page index. Kinzer definitely entertains, but more importantly, he connects the dots and fills in the necessary details of significant historical events which many would prefer to erase, to our nation’s peril.
I’m very grateful for the years of persistent and generous scholarship necessary to produce this readable summary which surely deserves wide consideration. Overthrow fills in the many gaps and blanks left by incomplete reporting-at-the-time, and offers an opportunity for synthesis, analysis, and reconsideration of the patterns, results, and morality of our past violent involvements in the political, economic, and social lives of people in faraway nations, as well as their implications for the present and future:
“There is no stronger or more persistent strain in the American character than the belief that the United States is a nation uniquely endowed with virtue…. This view is driven by a profound conviction that the American form of government, based on capitalism and individual political choice, is, as President Bush asserted, ‘right and true for every person in every society.’…By implication, it denies that (culture) changes only slowly, and that even great powers cannot impose their beliefs on others by force…  For more than a century, Americans have believed they deserve access to markets and resources in other countries. When they are denied that access, they take what they want by force, deposing governments that stand in their way. Great powers have done this since time immemorial….When the United States intervenes abroad to gain strategic advantage, depose governments it considers oppressive, or spread its political and religious system, it is also acting in its commercial self-interest….Most American-sponsored ‘regime change’ operations have…weakened rather than strengthened American security. They have produced generations of militants who are deeply and sometimes violently anti-American; expanded the borders that the United States feels obligated to defend, thereby increasing the number of enemies it must face and drawing it ever more deeply into webs of foreign entanglement; and emboldened enemies of the United States by showing that despite its awesome power, it has a soft and vulnerable underbelly….Most of these adventures have brought (Americans), and the nations whose histories they sought to change, far more pain than liberation.”
These are important lessons we need to learn, and Kinzer has assembled the foundational stories, facts, and figures necessary to establish their credibility.
Stephen Kinzer is an award-winning foreign correspondent with reporting experience in more than fifty countries on four continents, including service as New York Times bureau chief in Turkey, Germany, and Nicaragua. He has previously written four well-received histories focusing on Iran, Turkey, Nicaragua, and Guatemala.
Kinzer prefers patient diplomacy to violent regime-change, pointing to the efficacy of our productive continuing dialogues with China, the former Soviet Union, South Korea, and countries in South Africa. While he asserts that nations always act in their own self-interest, I wish he had also concluded that, on today’s tiny, interconnected, fragile blue planet, everyone’s national self-interests are irretrievably tied to the interests of everyone else, everywhere else. Pragmatically, we can no longer afford to think in terms of “them,” but only “us.”
I pray that President Bush will soon decide to become presidential, Christian, politically astute, humble, and visionary enough to boldly shift from a doomed-to-fail, self-centered foreign policy based on international competition, to one of enlightened, self-interested global cooperation. Neither approach is simple, obvious, or guaranteed, but only one has any chance of succeeding.
   Please send your comments to epharmon@adelphia.net

A Fog of War Movies and Books

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A few months ago, I decided to watch some of the best-received war movies that came out of the Vietnam era—The Deer Hunter, The Killing Fields, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now, and Coming Home, as well as some recent and older ones—The Battle of Algiers, Crimson Tide, Saving Private Ryan, The Enemy Below, and Black Hawk Down.
Although I’m definitely a quality-movie buff, I’m not easily entertained by violence, which explains why I avoided all of these movies when they first came out, despite a deep childhood curiosity about (and fear of) war.
I’m currently writing about the immorality of war, so feel compelled to watch such movies to help fill in my (fortunate) experiential gaps. I also watch them out of respect for their creators’ passion, dedication, and achievements in uniquely sharing their own war experiences.
Despite the fact that my father was a war hero and bird colonel with thirty-three years in the service (Silver Star, Purple Heart, and many more) he always firmly refused to share with us his sad or frightening WWII memories.
So after I left my military-brat life on-post, I dipped my toe into the vast body of quality literature coming out of Vietnam and other wars, admiring and enjoying Fields of Fire (go Jim Webb!), Dispatches, The Things They Carried, as well as War and Peace, Silent Flows the Don, and All Quiet on the Western Front. More recently, I loved Cold Mountain, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, Blowback, An American Requiem, and the wonderful Patrick O’Brian Aubrey/Maturin series.
I found amazing agreement in all these books and movies in their moral conclusions about war, even as each offered me a unique personal perspective and story unlike any other.
Over and over, every work expressed or implied the point of view that “their” particular war had been insane, cruel, hard, sad, misguided, and stupid, and that it had seemed to create far more problems than it resolved. Their actual acts of war—the killing parts—were consistently experienced as pointless, chaotic, numbing, unreasonable, inhumane, confusing, wrong–and often thrilling, in that the pointy end of the sword had actually gone into the other guy.
Each work of art also revealed war’s most appealing reality:  war, like any other deeply challenging experience from marriage to sports, offers stirring opportunities for revelation and nobility, compassion and achievement, faith and idealism.
The “highs” of war remembered in these works were based in youth’s vitality, resiliance and resourcefulness, in the belongingness, common cause, and humor of bands of young brothers, and of course, in the bittersweet exhilaration following survival in battles in which, although others died, you didn’t.
Nearly every work used war’s bleak, terrified, often mutilated children to emphasize the meaninglessness and tragedy of war. And they all made the point that fear for oneself and for one’s friends drove them to acts of cruelty and immorality unimaginable during peacetime.
War, in these books and movies, turns out to be not at all what was expected, nor what they were trained or prepared for—although with works of art like these, perhaps the next generation will be better informed.
None of these soldier/artists, with the exception of O’Brian, ever found a way to make killing feel psychologically acceptable, although they all killed as necessary, “doing their duty” and protecting one another; their childhood moral conditioning in human compassion too strongly resisted killing other people. (Jack Aubrey’s disciplined and enthusiastic patriotism and militarism overruled his compassion, as happens sometimes with seasoned soldiers, if less often, with artists, but Maturin’s disgust with war offered a thoughtful foil.)
All authors implied how indelibly their training in the hate and fear which is necessary to kill enemies in cold blood had carved black chasms in their psyches, changing them (and their families) forever in ways they could not express to anyone who hadn’t shared similar experiences—mixed as war memories are with both pride and shame.
When at war, every soldier longed for home, and when finally back home, missed the “highs” mentioned above.
Most celebrated the rare beauty of the foreign lands being fought over, and condemned the  environmental and human waste, and the high costs of war.
Another interesting commonality was how universally fascinated all were with how soldiers react to fear, and, most specifically, with how they would perform under fire. (Although I didn't care much for The Red Badge of Courage, it merits attention primarily for this focus.) Much consideration was given in each of these works to the fact that every soldier reacts differently to fear, and to the impossibility of hiding one’s unique sensibilities during war. Like vocation, parenting, friendship, scholarship, accident, disease, death, and every other peacetime human trial, war reveals much too clearly the best and the worst in each person’s character and personality, while offering, as all difficult challenges do, ample opportunities for growth and wisdom.
I feel deeply privileged (and emotionally gutted) to have read and watched these great works, and will continue to see and read more. Some of the war-related books I want to read (and review) next are: Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq; Carroll’s House of War; Ambrose’s Citizen Soldiers; and perhaps Keegan’s The Second World War. The movies next on my list are, first, war documentaries: Why We Fight, The Fog of War, The War on Iraq, Hearts and Minds, and Protocols of Zion, followed by Foyle’s War, The War Within, and Casualties of War.
Do you have any other suggestions for quality war movies and books? I’ll gladly share them with my readers.

Central Station, Not One Less, Children of Heaven, Autumn Spring, and Other Wonderful Movies….

I just watched the award-winning 1998 Brazilian film, Central Station (about the importance of connecting, belonging, and giving.) Two desperate, appealing, and brilliantly acted characters in dire straits—one a recent orphan, the other a sad retiree—are thrown together, and reluctantly save one another. The story centers on a relationship that develops during a journey. This movie drives home in a touching and entertaining way, how important family, friends, and security are in life, and how fragile and easily lost they are in life’s changing circumstances, and through cynicism, defeatism, and self-isolation. This gripping, beautifully-directed movie is also a revealing snapshot of everyday lives in a variety of intriguing rural, suburban, and urban settings in today’s Brazil.


Among many other wonderful, critically-acclaimed foreign films I’ve seen recently through Netflix, the following are truly the best of the best….


For families with young children, and for every adult, these films have my highest recommendation, as entertaining, well-made, and, well…just plain wonderful. Like Central Station (above), each has great potential for discussion, for insight into different cultures and human values, and for just about every pleasure one can find in a really memorable, insightful movie:


Children of Heaven, a not-to-be-missed, touching slice-of-life story showcasing a child learning values while making difficult choices, is set in working-class Iran. Not One Less (the same, with an emphasis on perseverance, is set in rural China. Rabbit-Proof Fence, an Incredible Journey-sort of film, except that it’s set in historical Australia, is based on true events. The three sojourners are Aborigine children trying to return home….


These three movies are all gentle, touching stories of winning children/families living typical lives in far corners of the earth, all highly enjoyable for all ages. They will stay in your mind forever.


For teens and their families, or for any adult, I recommend The Road Home, a sweet love story set in mainland China, and the funny and moving Secrets and Lies, about a successful (black) daughter’s reunion with her troubled (white) birth mother/family, who gave her away before seeing her as an infant (set in London).


The Battle of Algiers is a well-made, sad, dark, and moving historical film about an Islamic uprising against French colonists. I recommend it only (but especially) for adults who, like me, are interested in politics and history. It compellingly sheds light on current Middle Eastern conflicts.


The Barbarian Invasions is an interesting story of a father-son reconciliation, as well as a marvelous depiction of what a “good death” might entail. You'll see some fascinating Canadian culture, strong direction, a funny, thought-provoking and touching script, and solid performances by a delightful cast … recommended for any adult who finds this synopsis appealing.


I not only found Autumn Spring (about a Czech retired couple) delightful; it also taught me something I had forgotten about men—that they need to feel free to be men or they’ll die inside. Right after seeing this movie, I encouraged my husband to buy the bike of his dreams, which he is simply thrilled with…. I’m so happy with his new happiness that I’m reminded, as I write this review, to keep listening for and supporting the rest of his dreams…as he does mine….


Finally, a sometimes slow-moving but memorable and powerful film for anyone interested in immigration, migration, and refugees in any country, including our own, is In This World, about two young Afghan cousins who undertake a secret/illegal, and very arduous journey to improve their lives in London.


I am so grateful to all the creative and brilliant film-industry workers who made these films, and also to Netflix, truly the bargain of the century for culture-lovers…. Thank you!


(Please click on “reviews” to see earlier outstanding movies I've reviewed….)


Please send your comments to epharmon@adelphia.net






Jim Wallis Practices God’s Politics

Jim Wallis’ rich and thought-provoking exploration, God’s Politics, will stimulate a generation of dialogue at the intersection of faith, politics, and contemporary culture. Wallis’ mental exuberance and hyperactivity are easily balanced by his brilliance, generosity, and love. God’s Politics is a must-read.


Wallis argues that values based in faith must inspire American politics, and that this right was guaranteed by our founders when they separated church and state. Wallis feels that the very survival of America’s social fabric depends upon the emergence of political and cultural leaders having a clear vision of justice, peace, environmental stewardship, family, and consistent-value-of-life ethics grounded in the traditions of acceptance, forgiveness, and love preached by the biblical prophets (including, of course, Jesus.) To Wallis, faith cannot ignore poverty, injustice, war, and other attacks upon humanity, nor mean-spiritedly criminalize or marginalize minority voices and choices, nor turn away from those everywhere made in the image of God.


I agree with Wallis that “faith…prefers international community over nationalist religion…” adding my hope that he will consider advocating for respect and support now for the quality of human life everywhere as the highest possible ethical stance (similar to the Catholic doctrine of the value and inviolability of human life.) Acceptance of this stance supersedes patriotism and nationalism, which, however noble, engender polarizing fears that lead to ethnocentrism, hatred, war, injustice, unfriendly competition, and indifference to suffering in other nations.


Wallis offers a wonderful example of a compassionate prophetic voice and life which many will be inspired to emulate. As a rallying cry, though, the concept of “prophetic faith” is not quite universal enough to provide a satisfying ethical framework for political discourse in a multicultural democracy, injecting instead a degree of divisiveness into Wallis' otherwise effective argument, rather than the clarity and commonality he intended. Just deciding which and whose prophets to include would assure a fractious, ultimately irresolvable argument. Furthermore, the words “prophetic faith” unnecessarily threaten many non-religious citizens, while even religious citizens disagree as to which prophets are foundational.


Also, although clearly Jesus spoke with a prophetic voice, many Christians would be confused and offended if Jesus were even temporarily and merely metaphorically reduced to the status of “prophet.”


Does Wallis’ concept of “prophetic faith” embrace the teachings of the wide variety of major/minor prophets from all major/minor world faiths—say, Confucius, Mohammed, “Buddha,” Mao, Marx, the minor biblical prophets, etc? On what basis would he include or exclude prophets?


Will Wallis include other, often controversial, modern-day (dead) “prophets”–Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Billy Graham, Pope John Paul, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and others in the prophetic tradition? If so, whom, and on what basis? What about present-day prophets—all visionary moral leaders fitting Wallis’ definition of “prophet”—such as Jim Wallis himself, Jimmy Carter, Pat Buchanan, Oprah, Jim Carroll, Marianne Williamson, the Dalai Lama, Pope Benedict, George Bush, Gordon Hinckley, Bono, etc?


A promising alternative framework for moral political discourse offering a common unifying vision acceptable to all philosophical and religious bases would be “respect and support now for the quality of human life everywhere,” a belief that Americans already embrace, i.e., “all men are created equal.” The rest of the world would jump at the chance to move in this direction along with the U.S.


No successful political movement would dare reject patriotism; however, a political movement could successfully promote “respect and support now for the quality of human life everywhere” as “the highest moral value,” leaving to individual discussion the various moral implications of this stance.


Wallis‘ argument in favor of choosing a consistent ethic of human life, with its important implications for poverty, injustice, war, violence, etc., fits in perfectly with the above-declared “highest moral value.” His excellent “test” question—“How are the children doing?” also fits well. So too would “Golden Rule Politics” (see other essays on Golden Rule Politics at www.epharmony.com ).


Mr. Wallis is the founder of Sojourners, a network of Christians working for justice and peace. He edits the acclaimed Sojourners magazine, is a powerful and popular speaker, the author of seven books, a Harvard lecturer, and the founder of Call to Renewal.


Please send comments to epharmon@adelphia.net