Thursday, September 11, 2008
Why Do We Fight?
September Tapes offers post-9/11 cautionary tale
In the post-9/11 world, many people have developed a fascinating interest in telling people "why we fight".
Many people treat it as a foregone conclusion: "We fight. This is why." Rarely is the matter even treated as a question.
2004's The September Tapes -- think of it as The Blair Witch Project meets Babel in wartime Afghanistan -- presents Don Larson (George Calil) as a documtary filmmaker in Afghanistan intent on witnessing the capture of Osama Bin Laden by American troops. His Afghan-American guide Wali Zarif (Wali Razaqi) leads Larson deeper and deeper into the dangerous world of Afghanistan's ethnic conflicts.
As he does so, Larson is drawn deeper and deeper into the conflict, eventually sacrificing his role as an observer and non-combatant for that of warrior, as he pursues the perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks with a fierce doggedness that quickly escalates into outright obsession.
As the movie progresses, it quickly becomes obvious that Larson has taken the events of 9/11 very personally. It turns out that he actually has ample cause -- something the viewer doesn't learn until the film's conclusion.
But the film offers a cautionary tale about 9/11 and about the war on terror that it has spawned.
The United States and its allies -- including and especially Canada -- cannot allow the war on terror to be about revenge. The United States and its allies cannot allow the war on terror to become about revenge.
It's impossible to argue that the response to 9/11 shouldn't be considered personal. The country attacked on that dark day certainly took the event personally. Frankly, it's hard to blame them.
As Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) notes in 2004's The Punisher, "revenge is not a valid motive. It's an emotional response." Any response to 9/11 based purely on emotion is one that is certain to fail.
Frank Castle is a character incapable of dealing with his own internal (emotional and psychological) problems in the wake of his family's murder. Instead, he focuses his efforts on the destruction of external enemies. When he finally manages to kill the man who ordered his family's murder, he takes to the road in search of other enemies to fight.
Likewise, Don Larson is a man seemingly incapable of dealing with his own (again, emotional and psychological) problems in the wake of 9/11. Instead, he focuses his efforts on witnessing American soldiers bringing the man who masterminded the attacks to justice. When it becomes apparent that this will not happen, he takes up arms and pursues Bin Laden on his own.
The loss of his allies along the way doesn't deter him. In the end, the conclusion of the film is a foregone conclusion. In fact, it's divulged at the start of the film -- Larson disappears, and his tapes are eventually recovered by American soldiers.
Don Larson the man has vanished. He may be dead, or he may be hunting Osama Bin Laden still.
As the world stops to commemorate the seventh anniversary of 9/11, one wonders about the ultimate fate of the country south of the 49th parallel. Has it learned how to deal with its own internal problems (psychological or emotional, or economic or political), or will it continue to hunt for enemies?
Will it focus on the very real enemies that exist -- terrorist organizations such as Al Qaida, the states that choose to harbour them and, ultimately, the conditions that breed them -- or will it again expand its crusade to threats that, if they even exist at all, are far from pressing? (One fears that talks about an eventual invasion of Iran are not as far-fetched as they may seem.)
The question is not if we will fight. The question is why. And, yes, it is a question.
As Canada and other countries continue to ally with the United States in the global war on terror, we must come to grips with the fact that the motives for which the United States fights will, in one way or another, impact upon us and be our motives as well.
We must continue to ensure that the United States is not fighting for revenge, but for the betterment of the world as a whole, and in the promotion of global security. If we witness the United States straying from this path again -- as it did when it chose to invade Iraq to confront non-existent weapons of mass destruction -- we must ensure that Canada does not follow them there.
That is why we fight. Not for revenge, as Don Larson eventually does, but for the betterment of all. For justice. For reason.
But never revenge.