Humphrey Bogart & Iraq

by ICD

Humphrey Bogart's 'Sirocco' is a 1951 movie set in 1920's Damascus, as the French occupiers battle Syrian insurgent guerillas.

French soldiers are mowed down in a machine gun ambush, and the French commander demands that 5 Syrian hostages be executed for each occupier killed.

Next, a grenade attack follows in a green zone restaurant full of French officers.

Later, we meet the Syrian emir, and he explains that his insurgents know full-well that the uprising will fail. But it will be a victory the French will regret in bloodshed and loss of world prestige.

Bogart plays an American civilian contractor whose only loyalty is to profit.

The similarities between this movie and our misadventure in Iraq-- are perhaps less remarkable than they seem. Because every incarnation of Occupier vs. Insurgent may conjure these same archetypes.

On the other hand, the Middle Eastern setting provides countless specific details that resonate with current events. Much moreso than if the movie were set elsewhere.

And it is highly ironic that the French play the Bush Regime role. If the movie accurately reflects lessons learned by the French, then it also goes far to explain their current reticence.

If all Failed Occupations are somewhat equal, then it is in the details that they can be measured against each other. So how does today's Iraq stack up? Poorly. Shamefully.

In Sirocco, Bogart's private contractor is truly a private & independent douchebag. So his improvised profiteering is an aberration-- a crime.

In Iraq, the so-called private contractors are explicitly doing the bidding of the Bush Regime. They are organized on a grand scale, not improvised. Their craven abuses & venal grubbing are official policy. Your tax dollars at work.

The movie gives a surprisingly non-partisan/non-judgmental portrayal of the Syrian point-of-view; and the French one. This un-Hollywood-like neutrality was only allowed because the movie sought to ride on the coattails of Bogart's success, as the apolitical Rick, in "Casablanca". Luckily, Sirocco's story was improved by not taking sides in the big picture. Instead, just portraying the characters' small-picture predicaments.

This is not to say that the same big-picture apathy is a good policy to adopt in today's reality.

Still-- perhaps apathetic Bogart is the patron saint of American apathy? Non-voters are one group that seems to react to evils being done in their name-- with a blasé Bogart shrug. Bush voters are even worse-- their strained rationales sound like one of those shamelessly rat-like monologues Bogart's characters give/ when justifying ignoble behavior.

Yet even those who did vote-- and voted against Bush--are not exempt from criticism for being too Bogart-like. In "Civil Disobedience", Thoreau says the following; and (out of context) it sounds like a Who Gives A Fuck monologue Bogart would deliver:

"I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail."

But Thoreau continues in a way that Bogart never would:

"A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men."

Since the essay is entitled "Civil Disobedience", it should be clear what, beyond voting, Thoreau advocates.

In the final scenes of 'Sirocco', Bogart (true to form) transcends his previously-demonstrated dishonorable behavior. He puts his neck on the line for a greater good than his own profit. He does Thoreau proud.

It's too little too late. His late heroism can't exceed the momentum of his cowardly resumé. His final dissent is blown to pieces by grenades he himself sold & smuggled to the dueling armies. He dies in vain.

That could be our eulogy, too. It's up to us.