Thursday, September 07, 2006

The War on History

As if we didn't have enough trouble determining what has really happened in our past already, the new version of history of September 11th will be available on ABC shortly.

Pardon me if I have a problem with this (that goes hand in hand, I must say, with my distaste for the Assassination TV, the Uruk-Hai known on our Earth as Michael Moore, media sensationalism, the Nazgul known as Ann Coulter, ad nauseum, ad infinitum....).

This is something that, for me, would be laughable if it didn't follow the 'war on history' pattern that has circulated around the internet for some years now. If you're wondering what I'm talking about, tell me if you've ever recieved the "we attacked Germany in WWII, and they never attacked us" email.

This would be laughable if there was actually a coherent and concrete national belief regarding the lead up to our current state of affairs. There is no serious historical question that the South lost the battle of Gettysburg, for example, and therefore authors like Newt Gingrich and Harry Turtledove can write all the 'what ifs' and 'historical fantasies' they want about the South winning the battle, winning the war and world history based on that outcome. But that stuff is only good reading if you know the real story and can appreciate the distinctions.

Unfortunately, there is little or no consensus among historians and punditry regarding the war on terror, and not much on the events leading up to September 11th. (Perhaps there will be, with the release of the 9/11 Commission Report as a very well done and pop culture accessible Graphic Novel.)

Too many are engaged in "blame the other side" theatrics rather than pointing out true missteps and failings, and addressing incorrect perceptions that led leaders and agents to make the decisions that might have seemed accurate at the time but costly in the long run.

What this kind of thing leaves us with is a wildly distorted view of history, and that is not a good thing for a society facing the challenges of security vs. privacy, civil rights, and policy that we are currently engaged in. You cannot solve a problem if you do not first know what the problem is, what methods have already been tried, and the honest assessments of effectiveness.

And to muddy those already difficult-to-navigate waters by confusing fantasy and histroy for nothing more than political and monetary gain? That's called moving in the wrong direction.

11 comments:

Dante said...

So a comic book is ok but a tv show isn't? What if the TV show were just a series of still images with thought and dialosue bubbles attached? Would that make it ok? Maybe the TV Show could soften the blow a bit by throwing out phrases like "ture believer" and "'nuff said." Maybe Stan Lee could have a cameo.

But a question that weighs heavier on my mind is why you didn't bring this up when the movie "United 93" came out or when "World Trade Center" came out?

Sorry Pat, but when you wait to start throwing out your distaste for 9/11 innacuracies on film until the folks on your political side of the aisle get criticised a bit (along with folks from the Ford, Carter, and Reagan Administrations from what I hear), I have to doubt your stated intentions.

I'll be watching the miniseries. It is a dramatization and I'll keep that in mind. Just like I don't use the placemat at Long John Silver's as a nautical map, I won't use the 9/11 miniseries to gleam real historical information or to gather opinions on how we should fight the war on terror and unlike you I actually trust my fellow Americans to do the same.

"And to muddy those already difficult-to-navigate waters by confusing fantasy and histroy for nothing more than political and monetary gain?"

Or maybe because it makes a good story. Look around you in popular culture. There have been fictional movies, TV shows, comic books, etc. about terrorism for a long time. Look at anything Tom Clancy or GI Joe or even the great Lee Marvin's last movie "Delta Force." Stories about terrorism are big business and are very popular. Why not grab an interesting piece of source material to fill that entertainment need? And this is a fantastic piece of source material.

Patrick Armstrong said...

Well, first of all, the 'comic book' is a graphic interpretation of the 9/11 Report, not a graphic re-interpretation.

United 93 and World Trade Center are based on actual events. Those are dramas produced within the scope of an overall historical event.

No one that I recall ever confused Tom Clancy, GI Joe, or Delta Force for history. Tom Clancy's books are marketed in the 'fiction' section, not the 'history' section.

The difference is important, to me.

The problem with this in not political. If the boat hadn't sunk in Titanic or The Perfect Storm, I'd have a problem. If the South had won at the end of Gettysburg or Stonewall Jackson hadn't died at the end of Gods and Generals, I'd have a problem. If the enemy had been the Russians in Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers, I would have a problem. And if Schindler was trying to save Southern Baptists instead of Jews in Schindler's List, I would have a problem.

And that's where my problem with the miniseries comes from. An attempt to rewrite history, to sell a 'drama' to the public and try to call it a 'documentary.' 24 does not attempt to pass itself off as history.

Dante said...

"United 93 and World Trade Center are based on actual events. Those are dramas produced within the scope of an overall historical event."

And how is this one not? United 93 and World Trade Center took their liberties. They're not entirely accurate accounts. Just like the Path to 9/11 (or is that Road to 9/11?) is not an entirely accurate account. There are liberties taken and the filmmakers are pretty upfront about it.

"If the boat hadn't sunk in Titanic or The Perfect Storm, I'd have a problem. If the South had won at the end of Gettysburg or Stonewall Jackson hadn't died at the end of Gods and Generals, I'd have a problem. If the enemy had been the Russians in Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers, I would have a problem. And if Schindler was trying to save Southern Baptists instead of Jews in Schindler's List, I would have a problem."

I'm pretty sure the planes are still going to fly into the buldings or am I missing something? All of the movies you have mentioned pretty seriously veer off from what really happened as far as we know at times.

"An attempt to rewrite history, to sell a 'drama' to the public and try to call it a 'documentary.'"

What I really want to know is who exactly is passing this off as a documentary? I hate the term I'm about to throw out because it's entirely overused but this sounds like a strawman to me. Can you site some examples of this movie being passed off as a documentary?

Patrick Armstrong said...

Well, I have linked to it before, in my "When the Levees Broke" post from last week.

But today when I click on it, there is no information. Interesting, that.

(I guess the 'boat actually sinking' analogies may be further off base than I intended. Mayhap a better one would be if in Titanic, the boat hit the iceberg because their radar wasn't working properly.)

As far as how much consensus these particular historical events have, you have no further to look than these crazy people.

patsbrother said...

Dante,

I have not seen United 93 or World Trade Center. However, I have read about them, and here is what I know. United 93 is The Perfect Storm in the air: it has to be fiction as we do not know what happened on that plane except the words people spoke to the outside world through their cell phones. WTC is the story of 9/11 from the perspective of two REAL firefighters told from their perspective, with THEIR approval and THEIR imput. Therefore, WTC is likely more accurate and any filmic changes (if any) were likely minor, or else the two men would likely not approve.

The ABC hoo-ha is different from both of these. There is nothing to suggest certain events occurred and, as those involved are still very much alive and kicking, and as those people are vociferous in their denial of such events, those events very likely never happened.

A further distinction is that, when confronted with a situation the producers knew nothing about, the filmmakers in United 93 presented those that were involved positively. No one is going to have a problem with honoring the dead, regardless what really happened. Here, producers certainly had no knowledge of the events presented as they admit to fabricating them entirely; and further, these fabrications were not benign, but were inflamatory and defamatory.

And dante, I'm not entirely sure what you are referring to when you accuse Patrick of partisan whinery. The only analagous scenario I am aware of where a comparable piece of broadcast filmmaking entirely fabricated a defamatory scene about a Republican was in the miniseries on Reagan not too long ago. The miniseries portrayed Reagan as saying a number of contested things, including "They that live in sin die in sin", referring to homosexuals and AIDS. Certainly defamatory, but not quite on the level of fabricating actions and blaming 3000 deaths on those (in)actions, like the ABC miniseries is reported to have done.

And what was the outcome? CBS chose not to air it, and it was relegated to Showtime, that will take anything that's a bit controversial.

Is this what you're using to say Patrick's a partisan whack and that ABC should run whatever, no matter how inflamatory or defamatory?

Fishplate said...

Therefore, WTC is likely more accurate

well, it may be provably more accurate, but I don't know how likely...

The ABC hoo-ha is different from both of these. There is nothing to suggest certain events occurred and, as those involved are still very much alive and kicking, and as those people are vociferous in their denial of such events, those events very likely never happened.

Except that the facts make those very individuals look, in hindsight, very bad. That's a pretty good reason for denying the events happened as stated, especially when it's difficult to prove either way.

Still, I've heard there are some inaccuracies of detail, but the gist seems to be correct. I don't think it's presented as a documentary.

patsbrother said...

Fishplate:

If WTC is based on people's actual experiences, it is far more likely to be accurate than something that is entirely fabricated, like United 93 or The Perfect Storm. There is absolutely no logical misstep to this reasoning. None.

And if you entirely fabricate a scene, and those involved in that scene say those events never happened, it is highly unlikely they happened. Not impossible. But highly unlikely. I could make up some story about you, your prom date, a midget, and some acid. You could deny it. That doesn't mean you simply have an interest in denying the scenario, and your word means nothing in discounting the fabrication. It is not impossible that it happened. But it is highly unlikely, and your denial of events I knowingly fabricated is highly probative of the likelihood that said events never happened.

Happy?

Dante said...

"Is this what you're using to say Patrick's a partisan whack and that ABC should run whatever, no matter how inflamatory or defamatory?"

If by "this" you mean the article Pat linked to, then yes I am using "this" to say Patrick is a partisan "whack." "This" is entirely one-sided. There's important memebers of the Clinton Administration denying what was written into the script without anyone who actually had a hand in writing the script defending what was put in there. There were plenty of balanced stories out there on the issue but this is the one Pat chose to run with. And to make matters worse, there's not a very good defense coming from the folks who had a hand in writing this script so the piece is one-sided without need to be.

And I'm surprised the Reagans movie occurred to you since it was only mentioned in almost every single story coming out about this miniseries. Yes they did move it to cable and I thought it very weak of CBS to do so.

patsbrother said...

I am generally an active reader of the news, which means I generally absorb and remember the news; I am not however a soap opera reader: I don't care about the moment-to-moment developments.

The reason the Reagans miniseries "occurred to me" is that, after the initial story a week ago, I haven't read another story. The one I read did not mention the Reagans. I did not read the one Patrick linked to (a fault, I guess).

I actually remember the news from several years ago. I got the quote not from the news but from wikipedia, when I went looking for it so I would not mis-quote it.

If this is suspect to you, there is not much I can do about that.

Dante said...

"I don't care about the moment-to-moment developments."

Neither do I. However, I do like to read several articles regarding a story because they do tend to leave out what I would consider important information from time to time. I figured most people did that. It was an unfair assumption. If you made that same conection on your own then maybe the connection isn't as contrived and repeated as I originally thought.

Fishplate said...

I could make up some story about you, your prom date, a midget, and some acid. You could deny it. That doesn't mean you simply have an interest in denying the scenario, and your word means nothing in discounting the fabrication. It is not impossible that it happened. But it is highly unlikely, and your denial of events I knowingly fabricated is highly probative of the likelihood that said events never happened.

Yes, but only you and the midget know what really occurred. The general public only sees the pregnant midget and the drunken prom date, and must consider the source of the denial and that person's motives. If you knew me, your opinion of the likelihood of the scenario might change. Hence, it's not as easy to say true or false. Both sides must be considered, and I still haven't heard from one of them. I don't know any of the political hacks on either side of the case, but I can generalize, having learned something of human nature in the last half-century. Just because A says it's true, and B says it's false, there is not a lot more weight to B's position because of proximity. I have to consider where A got their information...after all, B was not the only person in the room.

Happy?

Well, my prom date is...