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Forty Years of the Tet Offensive (David Warren, 2/03/08, Real Clear Politics)

The Tet Offensive was a desperate ploy by the Communist enemy in Vietnam. Tens of thousands of his troops were flung simultaneously at more than 100 South Vietnamese towns, and into the heart of Saigon. The Communists announced a general uprising, but that did not occur. The tide was actually turned within a few days by the U.S. and South Vietnamese armies. As they re-took town after town, they discovered massacres the Communists had committed while in possession. The enemy's real object had been to decapitate a whole society.

My friend, Uwe Siemon-Netto, a German Lutheran pastor and also life-long journalist, was there as a reporter. Entering Hué as the smoke was clearing: "I made my way to university apartments to obtain news about friends of mine, German professors at the medical school. I learned that their names had been on lists containing some 1,800 Hué residents singled out for liquidation.

"Six weeks later the bodies of doctors Alois Altekoester, Raimund Discher, Horst-Guenther Krainick, and Krainick's wife, Elisabeth, were found in shallow graves they had been made to dig for themselves.

"Then, enormous mass graves of women and children were found. Most had been clubbed to death, some buried alive; you could tell from the beautifully manicured hands of women who had tried to claw out of their burial place.

"As we stood at one such site, Washington Post correspondent Peter Braestrup asked an American TV cameraman, 'Why don't you film this?' He answered, 'I am not here to spread anti-communist propaganda'."


In the Iraq of not-too-distant future (2011), a young video blogger becomes the hotshot correspondent for a sensationalistic cable news network. There he covers the conflict between an Oliver Northian Colonel John Crowley and Abu Adallah, the charismatic leader of the insurgent group "The Sword of Mohammed," and becomes something of a disciple to Dan Rather. From the set-up you'll be able to predict, correctly, that the moral confusions are rampant here. Setting up the American soldier and the Islamicist mass murderer as co-equals and Mr. Rather -- who helped create the killing fields of post-war Southeast Asia -- as a voice of conscience is addled enough, but the broader problem is that the author and artist aren't really able to establish the good guys and bad guys they seem to perceive and the constraints of story-telling, especially working in the comic book medium, lead to a fair bit of dramatic incoherence, to go with the political.

The vlogger, Jimmy Burns, is so ignorant of Iraqi history that an old communist activist has to admonish him that:
Before the imperialist invasion, we were the ones speaking the loudest against Saddam. But your so-called peace activists never saw fit to speak with us when they came on their "antiwar" missions.

They were led by the Baathies like dogs on leashes.
Unfortunately, this good Marxist also adds: "The great capitalist experiment is dying here in the cradle of civilization. Marx is dead. Instead you gave us Hobbes. Which would you prefer?" You don't actually need to be especially well informed to realize that what's died a somewhat rambunctious death in Iraq is a thirty year experiment in Stalinism, which we toppled, and faring equally poorly is an attempt to re-impose a Sunni extremist tyranny on the Shi'a majority. The authors may not have thought the politics of the situation through very deeply, but they do have sense enough not to make the guys fighting against "imperialism" or the "capitalist experiment" heroes.

That leaves them with the difficulty of the Americans not actually being bad guys, so they just portray the one Colonel as a kind of unbalanced Crusader. Though, here too, Colonel Crowley ends up sacrificing his own life to preserve that of Burns and Rather, during an attack by the Iranians. He resembles no one so much as the Jack Nicholson character in A Few Good Men, the tough guy whose brutality allows us to sleep soundly a night. Correspondingly, Jimmy resembles the Tom Cruise character, an unworthy foil bent on bringing him down. Jimmy's big moment in the graphic novel comes when he chooses to expose an atrocity the Colonel had committed. But this is left hanging as the thing that makes the entire war wrong. It's like saying we shouldn't have gotten rid of Hitler because the Dresden bombing was unnecessary or the execution of POWs in Italy was a war crime. It's quite fatuous.

The untidiness of war does not make a given war evil and once you've conceded that Saddam's rule truly was evil then you've got to offer more than an imaginary incident if you're arguing we shouldn't have gone to Iraq. The trend in recent years to take on big issues in comic books is all well and good, but if authors and artists are going to raise the bar they have a responsibility to rise to the level of the issues they raise. Mr. Lappe and Mr. Goldman don't come close.


(Reviewed:)

Grade: (C-)

  

Websites:

Dan Goldman Links:

    -BOOK SITE: Shooting War
    -AUTHOR SITE: Anthony Lappe (GNN)
    -AUTHOR SITE: Dan Goldman
    -SmithMag.net
    -INTERVIEW: An illustration of news at war: How a graphic novel paints an all-too-real picture of future journalism, global conflict (Jason Notte, Metro Boston News)
    -PROFILE: Crossover Dreams: Turning Free Web Work Into Real Book Sales (MOTOKO RICH, December 13, 2007, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Shooting War by Anthony Lappe and Dan Goldman (Gary Moskowitz, Mother Jones)
    -REVIEW: of Shooting War (Michael Maiello, Forbes)
    -REVIEW: of Shooting War (Todd Jatras, Wired)
    -REVIEW: of Shooting War (Laurel Maury, LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of Shooting War (Jeff VanderMeer, Locus)
    -REVIEW: of Shooting War (The Austinist)
    -REVIEW: of Shooting war (R.C. Baker, Village Voice)
    -REVIEW: of Shooting War (Nathalie Atkinson, Globe & Mail)

Anthony Lappe Links:

    -BOOK SITE: Shooting War
    -AUTHOR SITE: Anthony Lappe (GNN)
    -AUTHOR SITE: Dan Goldman
    -SmithMag.net
    -INTERVIEW: An illustration of news at war: How a graphic novel paints an all-too-real picture of future journalism, global conflict (Jason Notte, Metro Boston News)
    -PROFILE: Crossover Dreams: Turning Free Web Work Into Real Book Sales (MOTOKO RICH, December 13, 2007, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Shooting War by Anthony Lappe and Dan Goldman (Gary Moskowitz, Mother Jones)
    -REVIEW: of Shooting War (Michael Maiello, Forbes)
    -REVIEW: of Shooting War (Todd Jatras, Wired)
    -REVIEW: of Shooting War (Laurel Maury, LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of Shooting War (Jeff VanderMeer, Locus)
    -REVIEW: of Shooting War (The Austinist)
    -REVIEW: of Shooting war (R.C. Baker, Village Voice)
    -REVIEW: of Shooting War (Nathalie Atkinson, Globe & Mail)

Book-related and General Links:

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