Every war creates its intelligent, sensitive and conscientious critics. Perhaps that is the only good that comes out of a war, more than the ‘lesson of war’ itself, which the short human history of a few millennia has proved by its almost law-like regularity that it is forgotten before the incense starts flickering on the graves of the dead from the previous war.
India Habitat Centre, as part of its Tri-Continental Film Fest, screened Peter Davis’s “Hearts and Minds” winner of the 1974 Academy Award for the best documentary film, on its concluding day. The presenter, who turned out to be a friend, introduced Davis as Michael Moore of the Vietnam War.
Davis has pulled off a majestic masterpiece with the few resources that must have been available in the 70s. But anyway, the point is one could see “Fahrenheit 9/11” or “Hearts and Minds” or possibly “Loose Change 9/11” (Another beautiful documentary I recently saw), in any order, and still come to the same conclusion: People can be made fools once, twice, and all the time. Like a flock of sheep people are led by shepherds (politicians and god-screaming priest) to wherever they want them to. The repeated lessons of war are lost to the flock.
Shakespeare had warned us long back:
“Beware of the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervour, for patriotism is indeed a double edged sword. It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind…And when the drums of war have reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind has closed, the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry. Rather, the citizenry, infused with fear and blinded with patriotism, will offer up all of their rights unto the leader, and gladly so. How do I know? For this is what I have done. And I am Caesar.”
The second film was about the “warlike” Hmong people of northern Laos, who CIA armed and used, almost like a shield, against the Vietcong in 1960s and 70s, and once US left in 1975, Hmong were left behind at the mercy of the new regime in Laos, which naturally turned upon these people. Hmong ran into the deep jungles, with nothing at hand, just a will to survive, which too seems to be breaking down. A heart rending story, but made pedestrian by the director’s frequent sojourns in front of the camera herself, the film connects well into the larger fabric of a coherent critic of war that is emerging in the visual media. The director, Ruhi Shahid (?), at one moment in the film, where a group of around 200 Hmong men, women and children break down in front of her into a collective wailing, a catharsis of suppressed emotion and tears dried by almost 28 years of edgy subterranean life, she turns toward the camera and informs us “They are crying”! Thus she turns a really moving scene into a comical one.