(Promoted from the diaries by susanbhu.) I just bought the new extended edition DVD of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.  If your not a fan of Leone already you might want to consider renting this from Netflix, because not only is it great cinema, but the film has moral and practical lessons sprinkled throughout the basic plot that are surprisingly relevant to our world.

Let’s start with the obvious. (More after the fold)
1. Taking the law into your own hands is not a good idea.

Leone’s West envisioned a world where violence was common and the law was mostly absent. A world of guns and random shootings. A world where people openly carry guns on their hips. It might not be the law and order paradise some claim it will create:

A law letting people in Florida kill in self-defense on the street without first trying to flee an attacker has been passed by Florida politicians.

Florida law already allows people to shoot a potential attacker in their home, place of work or car.

But until now, courts insisted that anyone confronted in a public place should first try to run away.

Critics of the law say it will bring a Wild West attitude to Florida – magnet to hundreds of thousands of tourists.

One critic said all the measure would do is sell more guns and turn the state into a modern version of the OK Corral.

Nor is a land where vigilantes roam dispensing rough edged “justice” the best of all possible worlds:

Since 1999, the Mexican consul in Douglas, Miguel Escobar, has documented 65 cases in which illegal border crossers reported being detained by U.S. citizens in Cochise County.

In at least six reports taken by Cochise County Sheriff’s Department deputies, illegal entrants have reported being kicked, shouted at, bitten by dogs and had guns pointed at them – yet there’s never been a single Cochise County resident prosecuted in these cases.

After all, gun wielding citizens looking to right wrongs at our borders might not include the most savory of characters:

The Minuteman Project is being touted now as a “political assembly” promising to bring 1,022 people to the banks of the San Pedro River for a monthlong protest of border enforcement, starting Friday. But activist groups point to elements within the group and cite a potential for violence.

Last year, one of its leaders, Chris Simcox, was convicted on federal weapons charges. More recently, the white supremacy group Aryan Nation has openly recruited for the Minuteman Project, promoting the monthlong protest as a “white pride event.”

2. War weakens the morality of all who participate in it.

And American soldiers are just as likely to mistreat and/or torture prisoners as those of any any other nation.  Leone’s movie has as one of its setting, a Union prison camp, where confederates are being starved, forced and  tortured for information they may or may not have.  Leone modeled the prison sequence in his movie on research he had done regarding actual Union and Confederate prison camps:

Prisons often engendered conditions more horrible than those on the battlefield. The Union’s Fort Delaware was dubbed “The Fort Delaware Death Pen,” while Elmira prison in New York saw nearly a 25 percent mortality rate. The South’s infamous Camp Sumter, or Andersonville prison, claimed the lives of 29 percent of its inmates.

And the situation was even worse where the racist beliefs of their confederate captors exposed black soldiers to re-enslavement or even mass slaughter:

From the beginning of hostilities, the Confederate leadership was faced with the question of whether to treat black soldiers captured in battle as slaves in insurrection or, as the Union insisted, as prisoners of war. In 1864 Confederate Colonel W.P. Shingler ordered those in his command to take no more black prisoners.

In what proved the ugliest racial incident of the war, Confederate forces under General Nathan B. Forrest captured Fort Pillow on April 12, 1864, and proceeded to wipe out the black troops within; some were burned or buried alive. A Federal congressional investigating committee subsequently verified that more than 300 blacks, including women and children, had been slain after the fort surrendered.

Not surprisingly, after the events of 9/11 and the racial animosity that event stirred up against Arabs, we are seeing similar patterns of mistreatment and abuse of prisoners held by American troops in Iraq:

Aiden Delgado, an Army Reservist in the 320th Military Police Company, served in Iraq from April 1, 2003 through April 1, 2004. After spending six months in Nasiriyah in Southern Iraq, he spent six months helping to run the now-infamous Abu Ghraib prison outside of Baghdad.

. . . Delgado presented graphic images, his own photos of a soldier playing with a skull, the charred remains of children, kids riddled with bullets, a soldier from his unit scooping out the brains of a prisoner.

Delgado, in his own words:

. . . There was a Master Sergeant. A Master Sergeant is one of the highest enlisted ranks. He whipped this group of Iraqi children with a steel Humvee antenna. He just lashed them with it because they were crowding around, bothering him, and he was tired of talking.  

. . . It was a matter of routine for guys in my unit to drive by in a Humvee and shatter bottles over Iraqis heads as they went by. And these were guys I considered friends. And I told them: “What the hell are you doing? What does that accomplish?” One said back: “I hate being here. I hate looking at them. I hate being surrounded by all these Hajjis.”

. . . It was common practice to set up blockades. The Third Infantry would block off a road. In advance of the assault, civilians would flee the city in a panic. As they approached us, someone would yell: “Stop, stop!” In English. Of course they couldn’t understand. Their cars were blown up with cannons, or crushed with tanks. Killing noncombatants at checkpoints happened routinely, not only with the Third Infantry, but the First Marines. And it is still going on today.

. . . Every time our base came under attack, we sent out teams to sweep up all men between the ages of 17 and 50. There were random sweeps. The paperwork to get them out of prison took six months or a year. It was hellish inside. A lot of completely innocent civilians were in prison camp for no offense.

. . . The prisoners were housed outside in tents, 60 to 80 prisoners per tent. It rained a lot. The detainees lived in the mud. It was freezing cold outside, and the prisoners had no cold-weather clothing. Our soldiers lived inside in cells, with four walls that protected us from the bombardment. The Military Police used the cold weather to control the prisoners. If there was an infraction, detainees would be removed from their tents. Next, their blankets were confiscated. Then even their clothing was taken away. Almost naked, in underwear, the POWs would huddle together on a platform outside to keep warm. There was overcrowding, and almost everyone got TB.

. . . The food was rotten and prisoners got dysentery. The unsanitary conditions, the debris and muck everywhere, the overcrowding in cold weather, led to disease, an epidemic, pandemic conditions.

. . . The attitude of the guards was brutal. To them Iraqis were the scum of the earth. Detainees were beaten within inches of their life.

. . . The enemy around Baghdad randomly shelled our base. Under the Geneva Conventions, an occupying power cannot place protected persons in areas exposed to the hazards of war. More than 50 detainees were killed because they were housed outside in tents, directly in the line of fire, with no protection, nowhere to run.

. . . The worst incident that I was privy to was in late November. The prisoners were protesting nightly because of their living conditions. They protested the cold, the lack of clothing, the rotting food that was causing dysentery.

. . . One demonstration became intense and got unruly. The prisoners picked up stones, pieces of wood, and threw them at the guards. One of my buddies got hit in the face. He got a bloody nose. But he wasn’t hurt. The guards asked permission to use lethal force. They got it. They opened fire on the prisoners with the machine guns. They shot twelve and killed three. I know because I talked to the guy who did the killing. He showed me these grisly photographs, and he bragged about the results. “Oh,” he said, “I shot this guy in the face. See, his head is split open.”

. . . “I shot this guy in the groin, he took three days to bleed to death.” I was shocked. This was the nicest guy you would ever want to meet. He was a family man, a really courteous guy, a devout Christian. I was stunned and said to him: “You shot an unarmed man behind barbed wire for throwing a stone.” He said, “Well, I knelt down. I said a prayer, stood up and gunned them all down.” There was a complete disconnect between what he had done and his own morality.

3. War destroys the souls of its combatants.

In the film, there is a sequence where Clint Eastwood (‘Blondie”) and Eli Wallach (“Tuco”) come across the Union Army and the Confederates camped on opposite sides of a river, endlessly fighting over a bridge that neither can destroy (orders from distant commanders) and neither can take.  The two gunslingers are presented to the commander of the Union side, who is clearly drunk.  When they offer to volunteer (to avoid being made prisoners) he says they have to pass a test, and hand them each in turn the bottle of wine from which he has been guzzling.  When Blondie takes only a small drink the officer shakes his head in disapproval, but when Tuco gulps down the wine the captain praises him as real soldier material because wine is what gives a man  the spirit to fight.  

This is all said sarcastically, and it’s clear that the officer has lost any desire to engage in the grotesque slaughter that is played out each day between the Union and Confederate fortifications and on the Bridge where soldiers charge and attack daily, most to their doom, while cannons blast and rifles fire.  Only his drunkeness inures him to the absurdity and horror of his situation.

As Blondie says later, commenting on the futility of the constant attacks and counterattacks:  “Never have I seen so many good men wasted so badly.”

This about sums up how I feel about our troops in Iraq.  They are being wasted, and their lives are being stolen from them.  It should come as no surprise that for many of them their minds are being stolen as well:

A number of veterans’ advocates say signs of widespread mental problems among soldiers from Iraq shock them — one in 10 soldiers evacuated from the war on terror to an Army hospital in Germany were sent solely for mental problems.

* * *

“This type of war – insurgency warfare – where you don’t know whether you’re going to be the next victim of a car bomb or roadside bomb or (rocket-propelled grenade). . . it’s like fighting in Vietnam.”  . . .  According to the New England Journal of Medicine, 15 to 17% of Iraq veterans suffer from major depression, generalized anxiety, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Link.

* * *

Homeless Iraq vets showing up at shelters  U.S. veterans from the war in Iraq are beginning to show up at homeless shelters around the country, and advocates fear they are the leading edge of a new generation of homeless vets not seen since the Vietnam era.

“When we already have people from Iraq on the streets, my God,” said Linda Boone, executive director of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. “I have talked to enough (shelters) to know we are getting them. It is happening and this nation is not prepared for that.”

* * *

Soldiers are returning from combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan with a wide variety of mental health problems, yet few are seeking help or thinking about seeking help.

That’s the conclusion of new research, which also found that the combat veterans suffer from such problems as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and major depression, but decide to soldier on without professional assistance once they’re stateside because of the fear of being stigmatized.

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