“Shadow World”, directed by Johan Grimonprez, written by Andrew Feinstein, based on his own book (“Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade”) , chronicles the underbelly of corporate contractors (especially defense contractors) which allegedly sell to the enemies of the US and the west.
A highlight of the film concerns Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi, who was kidnapped in 2007 and who had been arrested at least twice by US forces. The scene where he throws shoes at president George W. Bush at a December 2008 press conference in Baghdad becomes a centerpiece of the film, which for the most part is a collage of speakers with short narratives about secret dealings.
The film mentions American support of Iraq and Saddam Hussein during the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war. That caught my attention because Keith Meinhold, one of the early sailors to challenge the gay man the US military (even before “don’t ask don’t tell”), had claimed he was the “best submarine hunter in the Navy” when he served on Orion planes patrolling the Straits of Hormuz – in the days that oil supply really mattered. (It still does.)
The film does cover some of the misleading rhetoric about Saddam’s phantom WMD’s that serves as a justification for the war in Iraq (I remember watching the accounts at the Bryant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis when the “shock and awe” started in March 2003).
There is also coverage of selling arms to Saudi Arabia and to countries who have implicitly supported terror.
But selling arms simply becomes a big business career for a lot of people, making them rich.
The practice is particularly disturbing as it could have contributed to the NSA tool leaks that led to an outbreak of ransomware in some companies and hospitals last spring.
The film aired on PBS Independent Lens on Nov. 20.
“Almost Sunrise”, directed by Michael Collins, written with Eric Daniel Metzgar, aired on PBS Independent Lens and POV Monday Nov. 13. The film depicts a journey of two Iraq war veterans, Tom Voss and Anthony Anderson, on foot, across much of the country (from Milwaukee to Santa Barbara), to raise awareness of veteran PTSD and suicide, and particularly with the psychological issue of “moral injury”. That concept refers to the idea that when in combat soldiers engage in behavior that would be criminal or otherwise morally reprehensible in civilian settings.
But of course one of the points of international terrorism (especially some associated with radical Islam) is to blur or eliminate the distinction and vulnerability between civilian and military combatants.
The men gather support, including from those who find that some veterans’ families don’t get full benefits, as after suicide. There is a home with a family of an affected veteran with a “no media” sign on the front door.
In Colorado they reach an ashram run by an unusual Catholic priesthood. They explore some other forms of spirituality. In Utah, they go through some of the familiar scenery.
The film was funded by Kickstarter.
The film was accompanied by two shorts. One of them, “Voices of Resilience: Insight from Injury”, by Veterans Trek and Pacific Islander. The film presented a support group in Hawaii, where there seemed to be no VA hospital (Pearl Harbor notwithstanding). But there followed panel discussion about the effect of a volunteer Army which almost seemed to beg the question of returning to conscription (including women, and making the now settled question about gays [don’t ask, don’t tell as repealed in 2011] and less settled issue of trans solders morally [aggravated by Trump’s tweets] relevant). The film said we have a warrior class of a small percentage of the people waging a war on terror of unprecedented length. It is also a problem that civilian citizens act as if military and foreign policy should not be their concern.
The program also presented a very short animated film “Tom’s War” where Tom visits the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC.
“A Good American”, directed by Friedrich Moser and based on his book, tells the story of (Bill) William Binney, a former technical director at the NSA, and of the metadata analysis tool he helped develop over several decades, which should have prevented 9/11.
The film opens with a woman calling her family from one of the hijacked planes, already knowing that other planes have been crashed. She may be on Flight 93. The film soon shows us the aftermath of the February 1993 truck bombing in the basement parking garage of the old World Trade Center, which had been intended to take out a load bearing abutment.
The film then gives us a retrospective biography of Binney, who enlisted in the Army into an intelligence program in 1965 to avoid drafting into combat. One of my chess playing friends at GWU enlisted for Army intelligence for four years in 1967, so I remember this. Binney spent some time in Turkey spying on the Soviet Union (near a base that had been surrendered) after the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Over time, Binney worked on tools that would enable the military to predict enemy events based strictly on metadata that did not require identifying people. It was possible to predict the Tet offensive in 1968, although the tool wasn’t used adequately. It was used better in predicting the Soviet action in Czechoslovakia.
The NSA did not do a particularly good job at first in shifting from analogue to digital intelligence (Edward Snowden would not appear for some time). But other terror events, like in 1998, and then the attack on the Cole in 2000, would have made it apparent just how determined Al Qaeda was to undermine secular American life.
During this time, there was a lot of internal politicking to get funds from Congress, and a revolving door of people who retired from the NSA and became contractors at SAIC. Financial gain compromised good judgment, as the metadata tools could have detected 9/11 if deployed properly. Important components of the system were Trailblazer Project and Thinthread.
Binney retired on Oct. 31, 2001, after 9/11 and a horrible sequence of anthrax attacks. But in 2007, the FBI raided his home, claiming he had compromised classified information as a whistleblower after he left.
William Binney has been active recently in retirement on the post-Trump-election and Russia-gate investigations, meeting with Pompeo, NBCNews story here. The details are likely to evolve quickly.
I usually review “YouTube” films on my legacy blogs on Blogger, and the following 25mnute video by “Reality Survival” would normally go on my “Films on Major Threats to Freedom” blog. But I thought that this particular technical explanation of the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) threat so cogent as to need to be brought over here as a significant longer short film that ought to be offered in festivals.
It is titled “17 Misconceptions about the Effects of an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP)” by Reality Survival
He (the presenter) does not list his point, so I trust that his strike count is 17.
He starts out by pointing out that a high altitude nuclear blast from a thermonuclear weapon (hydrogen bomb) who have a “source area” below where the effects are severe, and a “tangent” area surrounding it where they are much less severe.
The most widely touted damage is the “E3” phase, or third phase, lasting perhaps a minute, where Earth’s magnetic field around the event is severely disturbed. This is the phase that overloads transformers and knocks out the power grids (there are three in the U,S.) He says there are about 370 major transformers in the United States that are too large for conventional transportation and have to be built in situ. It could take two to three years to rebuild them all. That presumes that the components could still be manufactured in other parts of the world and shipped. But he says that a solar storm that was severe enough (larger than Carrington in 1857) could envelop the Earth even on the night side and prevent any remanufacturing anywhere, so that rebuilding would take maybe 10 years. We may have had a close call with a huge coronal mass ejection in late July 2012. So from the power grid perspective, the solar storm risk may be greater than what is posed by North Korea (although Russia and China are capable of wiping out civilization for good, as are we).
But the EMP from a nuclear blast has two other components, E1 and E2, where it is much easier to provide some protection. Furthermore, (at least according to Resilient Societies) fission nuclear weapons produce only these first two effects (a fact touted by “EMP deniers”). That is one reason why North Korea’s claim to have a hydrogen bomb is strategically significant.
The HEMP E1 is a fast pulse that destroys magnetic data and personal electronics. These devices might be protected by “nested Faraday cages”. He notes that solid state electronics (like thumb drives) can be destroyed by E1 even though they are not ordinary harmed by household magnets or ordinary magnetic fluctuations in the environment (like by nearby transmission towers). He recommends people back up their data on optical data, like single-sided CD’s. Automobile ignition systems are often touted as vulnerable (as in the book “One Second After”). He says that most cars made before 2003 would probably run, and some newer cars still have the proper shielding. He says that sometimes a car will start if the battery is disconnected and then reconnected. But of course you would run out of gas eventually, and electrical charging stations presumably would not work.
The speaker hints that old-fashioned electronics of early stereo and HiFi enthusiasts in the 1960s might work (when I was collecting classical phonograph records) but some vacuum tube components could be undermined by “selenium rectifiers”.
The E2 pulse is more like what a lightning strike to an existing power line does. Your surge protectors may actually shield from these. The E2 pulse is the easiest to deflect.
It’s noteworthy that the E3 pulse (like from solar storms) does not normally threaten personal electronics.
James Woolsey, as noted before, has warned that North Korea could launch an EMP attack (possibly in retaliation if Trump strikes the DPRK mainland) from one of its “Shining Star” satellites. But it does not appear that it would have a thermonuclear weapon on one of these satellites, but it might be capable of an E1 strike. So consumers need to back up their data on optical data now, even this week? Remember, an E1-only strike would wipe out devices without wiping out the power grid, apparently. As a purely geopolitical matter, I note that some other videos on YouTube suggest that China could actually goad North Korea into a high-altitude thermonuclear E3 EMP strike over the US so that China could then conquer the US. The Domino Theory is back.
There is no information that I am aware of as to whether big cloud companies (Google, Apple, etc) have physical protection of their data with faraday-like covers.
It’s also possible for non-nuclear magnetic flux devices deployed by terrorists in local areas. It is not clear which effects they have, but they might mainly be E1 and E2. This was covered by a now largely forgotten Popular Mechanics issue around Labor Day of 2001, one week before 9/11. The Washington Times wrote about this in 2009. The US Army uses these devices in Afghanistan now, and one is on display in the Ordnance Museum in Aberdeen, MD.
All of this suggests an enhanced kind of cultural hygiene that we have already gotten used to in meeting cyber threats and hackers (particularly, recently, ransomware as well as doxing and release of PII). Protection of personal data with optical devices or with Faraday cages could become part of the culture that people need to learn to deal with. I plan a visit to Best Buy soon to discuss this with Geek Squad. But that seems applicable only against one kind of threat: older fission nuclear weapons.
The larger point is that society has become much more technology dependent than it was, again, say in the 1960s, the time of the last Cuban Missile Crisis. While the Pentagon seems to have protected its own systems, protection of consumer and commercial use of technology seems to have lagged behind the serious threats.
It’s noteworthy that “Resilient Societies” has claimed on Twitter that the power grids could be protected with an investment by the utility industry of about $5 per consumer (about $2 billion nationwide), but I can’t yet find any statement as to what the technology at the transformer protection level would be. However, many utilities (Dominion Power in Virginia for example) have recently announced unspecified security enhancements to their grids against both cyberterror and direct physical threats.
That’s one reason why the “doomsday prepper” and survivalist crowd has developed its somewhat extreme vision of personal morality (that we sometimes associated with the alt-right): that everyone needs to learn to deal with the immediate physical world and participate in a familial social hierarchy to protect others before seeking global fame through modern civilized living.
The Wikipedia article on nuclear EMP is here. Note the 2013 bill proposed in the House.
This article by Motoko Rich and David E Sanger about the geopolitical strategy is quite chilling. The Domino Theory of the Vietnam ear draft (my DADT I book) is indeed back.
I have to ask, also, where is the mainstream media on this? It’s hardly ver mentioned. But Newt Gingrich and others have testified about this threat before Congress as recently as March of this year. It’s not just North Korea, it’s also space climate (which doesn’t change.)
(Posted: Monday, September 4, 2017, at 10:30 AM EDT)
Update: Sept. 5
The filmmaker has sent me the link of his followup:
“How to Build a Nested Faraday Cage: Protect Your Electronics from an EMP”
David Muchod’s political drama “War Machine”, based on the book by Michael Hastings, looks at the ethics of U.S. military policy and of career military officers. Most of it takes place indoors on base in Afghanistan (filmed in Abu Dhabi), or on international “will raising” trips to Berlin and Paris. Toward the end, it explodes into a brutal, personal battlefield scene in a village, worthy of being in “American Sniper”. Otherwise, it’s pure art.
Brad Pitt plays the lifer officer Gen. Glen McMahon, who has been tasked, around 2009, by “Obama’s War” (as Bob Woodward had called it on an NBC documentary) into pacifying and winning back some villages from the Taliban. Unlike his other movies (like “Babel”), this time he does not look or act like Brad Pitt, the role model. Pretty soon, the movie lunges into long discussions where show that a military career like McMahon’s, starting at West Point, needs to justify its own continuation by making up objectives. My summer in the Pentagon in 1968 after Army Basic at Fort Jackson, I used to hear this said; and the Pentagon brass probably didn’t like to hear this from the more privileged, sheltered and well-educated draftees (the “01E20” crowd). Maybe (besides security clearances for a latent homosexual, in the language of the time) that contributed to my own transfer to Fort Eustis.
McMahon spends a lot of time explaining “insurgency”. In one speech, he explains the math or the “group theory” where if you kill two of ten insurgents you suddenly have twenty. In one scene, a reporter in Germany quizzes him about all of this, whether it is indeed self-serving for his own career, Of course, “insurgency” had been a concept in Vietnam, during the time of my own service. There is also some discussion about how 9/11 probably changed military careers a lot more than it did normal life of Americans (although I could contest that idea). The film presents the idea that American occupation on its own may aggravate religious tensions.
McMahon also courts Hamid Karzai (Ben Kingsley), unconvincingly, about “nation building.” How self-serving. But think about what the same idea meant in Vietnam,
With Iraq, of course, it was Obama’s exist that left the power vacuum that allowed ISIS to overrun it, so it gets complicated.
The film comes to a head with the daylight patrol in the Afghan Village. I know someone (NG) deployed there now (really by Obama, not Trump) and I wondered if this is what he could face. It gets brutal. One soldier gets shot in the eye and is blinded. Another (Pico Alexander or Will Poulter) is saved by his steel pot. Then one more goes it alone.
Nicholas Wade (science reporter for the New York Times) created controversy and anger with his 2014 book, “A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History”. Right away, I wonder if this is the conservative-to-libertarian answer to Al Gore’s idea of “An Inconvenient Truth” as a book and movie title.
Let’s go over his basic argument. Mankind originated in Africa (we are all “black”), and a mass migration north split off into two groups: one group, gradually becoming Caucasian, settled Europe, the Middle East, and India. Another, becoming “oriental” settled East Asia, centered on China. More recently further splits led to separate groups in Australia (aborigine), and the Americas (across the Bering Strait).
Mankind started out living in tribal groups with very close association with biological kin, as is common among other primates and many social animals. First in Asia, and later in Europe, as populations increased and faced a “Malthusian trap”, populations had to organize into larger social and political groups (sometimes mediated by religion) to feed themselves. Gradually, as social structures became more complex, society started to reward deferred gratification and individual problem solving. Families who were good at these skills, compared to using short term use of force and tribal violence, tended to prosper, especially as commerce developed. They had more children. So in some parts of the world people are better adapted to modern civilized living than in others.
Africa, by comparison, did not have the population growth and geography that favored the growth of modern states, and colonialism intervened before it had time to catch up. Likewise, smaller populations in the Americas and Australia did not have as much population mass to build modern states, although it seems to me that the Incas and Maya indeed built impressive civilizations.
For other reasons having to do with geography and the relative safety from invaders, Europe went through a second wave of innovation and developed openness to modern science (and balancing the power of the centralized state with other institutions) that led to technological superiority. This is not always connected to “white people”. Muslim populations in the Middle East often maintained tribal ways for geographical reasons, and tended support religious fundamentalism in a tribal context. In China, innovation did not continue as quickly because the state became too centralized and conformist.
Wade has a lot of discussion of genes, alleles, and the statistical nature of how these are distributed. At an individual level race may mean nothing as to innate capacity. But in the aggregate, aggregate small differences in some psychological traits associated with genetics can wind up having profound political consequences.
Some reviewers have criticized Wade’s analysis of genetics (like on a final exam in Biology 101). He gets into the issue of IQ, and notes that by some measures East Asians measure the highest, then Europeans, and then Africans. But the work of others “A Path Appears” by Nicholas Kirstoff, would claim that the relative intelligence of groups in different parts of the world has a lot to do with child medical care and the availability of early learning. But Wade maintains that it is not easy to teach “western values” to tribal populations.
Wade also goes into detail on the relative success of Jewish populations in intellectual and artistic pursuits, and hints why western classical music sounds richer and more nuances than tribal or folk music of many parts of the world.
I think that Wade’s comments on the values of tribal societies are very interesting. Tribal groups (most of all, hunter-gatherer) are both egalitarian within and authoritarian. The values behind some kinds of religious social conservatism (like “The Natural Family” by Carlson and Mero) reflect extended familial or tribal values. In tribal culture the nuclear and extended families develop slowly as social constructs, with many rigid rules about gender. It takes many generations for nuclear families to develop and it may venture toward polygamy, favoring more powerful alpha males; in the beginning, most men interact with women and protect them from rival tribes collectively. Sexual intercourse is strictly about procreation and, when in marriage, is connected to local privilege over the lives of others in the family. Family values evolve from a system where most men had to be good at warrior behavior to protect the women and children in the tribe. The refusal for a man to sacrifice himself when required to do so for the tribe is considered cowardly, and Wade bluntly points this out. That relates to the practice of military conscription of men by more advanced states. It also helps explain “homophobia” (and now “transphobia”) and why modern gay rights seems so recent and so dependent on modern civilization. But the practices of some native tribes would refute that claim. In any case, personal morality is about a lot more than just making wise choices according to consequentialism.
Modern neuroscience does support the idea that various personality traits are influenced by genetics (and for sexual orientation and sometimes gender identity, epigenetics — I won’t get into how traits that seem to hinder procreation remain persistent here). Sometimes these can become pathological or destructive, as in various recent violent events related to mental illness and probably somewhat to genetics. Indeed, the existential “combativeness” of young men in tribal cultures seems hard-wired to a degree shocking to people who have grown used to openness. So it seems reasonable that over time, characteristics that promote individual competiveness in an open society, rather than just following the group, could be favored and become more common in an advanced culture.
There’s one other thing to say “in favor” of tribalism, as it occurs in nature. I think there are reasons that it may connect to “the afterlife” (through genetics) better than a self-directed individual’s own “soul”. I’ve covered this recently on my News Commentary blog. Ponder again, the big cats: lions are social, tigers are not, and in a pride the alpha male lion guards his own lineage first.
“A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History”
“Churchill” (2017), directed by Jonathan Teplitzky, re-enacts four days in Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Chuurchill’s (Brian Cox) life, his retreat to the bottle well handled by his dedicated wife (Miranda Richardson), as he challenges the Allied Command, especially Dwight Eisenhower (John Slattery) and the plans to make a concentrated D-Day attack across the English Channel in early June 1944.
Churchill has been called “the Greatest Briton of all time.” He doesn’t act like it in his personal life in this film, like when he screams at a female typist for double-spacing a memo. It turns out the typist has a fiancée midshipman who will participate in storming the beach.
Churchill doesn’t want all the Allies’s eggs to stay in one basket. He wants another initiative in the Mediterranean at the same time. But the Command says there are not enough resources to do everything. The film script leads one to believe where the real legal authority to order D-Day resides.
Eisenhower calls the troops back once for weather. But then the storm has a lull, after a warm front moves through, leaving a window of calmer weather. Eisenhower says “Let’s go!” My father used to say that Ike ordered “Let ‘em rip!”
What followed, as we know, was like a pawn storm against a castled position in a chess game (where the two sides are castled on opposite sides of the board, like in a Dragon Sicilian). Tens of thousands of men, many draftees, were lost. Churchill has a beach conversation with Eisenhower where Churchill questions the morality of leaders ordering other men to sacrifice themselves when the leaders stay behind in safer quarters or bunkers. Ike says, “It’s their job. It’s not yours.”
The film never shows the actual attack (like “The Longest Day”, by Zanuck based on Cornelius Ryan’s book, 1962).
When I lived in downtown Minneapolis 1997-2003, I lived in a downtown modern highrise called “The Churchill”.
I have visited a D-Day landing site once, near Bayeux, France, in May 1999. “The Cross of Sacrifice” (wiki).
“Risk” (2017) is the latest historical and biographical film about Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange. Director Laura Poitras provides amazing “live” coverage of events in Assange’s life starting in 2011, when he sits in a home in Norfolk, England with journalist Sarah Harrison and talks to a man about leaked State Department cables. Assange says “It is not my problem, but I don’t want it to become your problem.”
One of the most revealing monologues comes at almost the end, when Assange is asked whether he engaged or indulged in his style of journalism to gain “power”. He says that his garden is the whole world, and the only way for him to be effective as a person is to act globally. That is how I feel about my own writing.
Assange also pontificates, a bit earlier, on taking risks, especially when you need to be able to take someone else’s bullets and survive them.
Early on, the film presents another major associate, Jacob Appelbaum, rather handsome (despite the gratuitous upper arm tattoo), and explains his work with the Tor Project. The film makes the interesting point, however indirectly, that refugees and asylum seekers (in the U.S. or any western country) would need access to TOR to communicate safely with relatives back home, an issue that potential hosts would need to heed. There are scenes where Appelbaum appears in Cairo, and later in Tunis, training Arab spring activists to use TOR, as authoritarian regimes quickly turn against political change, especially in the Muslim world.
The film concurrently covers the release of Bradley Manning’s leak “Collateral Murder” in Iraq, and covers his court martial, and gender change to Chelsea Manning, and mentions her release from Leavenworth by President Obama just before the end of the film. As a result particularly of this set of leaks, the US and UK governments start to close in on Assange. There are accusations of sexual misconduct in Sweden, which may very well be a set-up. A riveting sequence in the midpoint of the film shows Assange putting on macho-man gay leather drag (including contacts), and driving his motorcycle (left side in the UK) in bike lanes to the Ecuadorian embassy, where he get asylum in 2012. The rest of the shots of him in the film must be taken in the embassy, even Lady Gaga’s visit.
Poitras herself goes global, interrupting her narrative to show Hong Kong and just a little bit of Edward Snowden (from “Citizenfour”). Sarah accompanies Snowden to Moscow, where he seeks and is granted asylum from Putin.
The film then covers the leaks during the 2016 US presidential elections and how that probably helped Donald Trump (“I love WikiLeaks”) win the electoral vote.
The US Department of Justice announces it wants to consider prosecuting Assange for espionage and getting extradition from Ecuador. Under the Trump administration (and in a scene showing FBI offices in New York City), Wikileaks is now painted as a foreign intelligence service (maybe especially for Russia and China) and less a legitimate journalistic group to “keep them honest”.
Laura Poitras says she herself faces constant legal restraints and disruptions in travel from the TSA, as have Appelbaum and perhaps Harrison. Appelbaum faced sexual misconduct allegations which might well have been trumped up (pun).
“Austerlitz”, by Sergei Loznitsa, provides a curious film concept. In a 94-minute exercise in trolling people in black and white, the filmmaker portrays tourists to visit the museum-exhibits of the Nazi Holocaust concentration camps Dachau and Sachsenhausen.
The first ten minutes of the film portrays nothing but a people-watch of tourists entering the gates near a sign reading “Arbeit macht frei”. We notice many are carrying phone headsets to listen to commentary. Then we do start hearing some tour guide content. One of the most interesting is that the early camps were set up for intelligence purposes: to interrogate possible dissidents against Hitler, and even intercept plots to kill Hitler. Only later did the Jews, as well as gypsies and homosexuals, become recognizable populations.
There is a chilling scene where a guide with a British accent explains how the victims were told to expect a shower, before getting gassed with Zytron. One couple has a picture taken in front of a black crematorium.
As for the tourists, many are attractive, slender, young white males, ironically what you expect in a gay bar. You will see the same people, with recognizable T-shirts, based on companies or sports teams, more than once.
I was not aware of this massive level of tourism. I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau on a Tuesday morning in late May, 1999, having arrived on the night train to Krakow from Berlin, and then taking a taxi to the site (about $60 for the day). I don’t recall that there was any crowd, maybe a few other tourists walking around at some distance from me. I did visit rooms with shoes and skeleton remains, and dorms. I walked along the notorious railroad tracks. I don’t recall having a headset.
In the first chapter of my novel “Angel’s Brother”, a “part time” CIA agent, married and living a normal life of a history teacher in Texas, visits Birkenau the way I did, and in a light crowd, meets a mysterious college student and rides back with him. Why both are there develops with the story. There was one scene in the film of a young man off by himself, on a cell phone, sitting near a wall, who looked like the college student in my novel. There may have been one other person from the US that I recognized, appearing twice with the camera going blurred the second time, a rather strange effect.
“The Promise”, directed by Terry George, and written with Robin Swicord, apparently based on an original story, is a historical epic about genocide, specifically of the Armenians in the early days of World War I by the Ottoman Turks. The film has a bit the style of a modern western, and makes a compelling narrative with many moral points about a historical event that generally doesn’t get that much attention. In fact, even today, the Turkish government (exacerbated by Erdogan’s dictatorial and press-suppressing behavior, which Donald Trump has supported), doesn’t admit that the Turks murdered 1.5 million Armenians (in an area that became part of the Soviet Union) during the period.
The basic story concerns an Armenian medical student Mikael (Oscar Isaac), an American Associated Press journalist Chris Myers (Christian Bale, who had played the Asperger-like doctor Michael Burry in “The Big Short”, helping drive the 2008 financial crisis), and the Parisian-raised Armenian woman Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), whom both men love. The movie really plays down the romantic or erotic potential of the love triangle, to pursue more abstract moral arguments.
For openers, as the film opens, Mikael is a pharmacist in the mountain town of Surin, agrees to an arranged marriage so that the dowry will pay for his medical school. It sounds off-putting to me for a promise of procreation and marital performance to pay for school, but that is how things used to be, where arranged marriages were common and people were expected to “learn to love” their socially assigned spouses. Once in school in Istanbul, the winds or war appear. A friend bribes an official so that he can get a “student deferment” from conscription for being in medical school, an issue that would occur in my own life. Eventually he faces brutality from Turkish officials who view him as a physical coward. But he escapes, in a thrilling train sequence, and gets back to Sirun to find the Turks have destroyed it.
Chris and Ana have wound up in a nearby Red Cross facility, but Chris is captured. The Turks accuse him of being a spy, but his release comes at the cost of the life of the Turk who helped him. Chris repeatedly insists his writing (he has a notebook that looks like a pre-Internet blog) is necessary so that the rest of the world learns what is going on. He even tells a French Captain that his reporting may help get the United States to join the allies in World War I (which would happen in 1917). In the final scenes, where the orphans and some families are recused by the French, Mikael uses his skills to treat civilians wounded in battle (his mother dies), and Chris has to fight like a soldier. But combat journalists often have to be able to handle themselves in battle.