I've been meaning to write something about Jeffrey Wells. He's a fairly nutty veteran film critic/journalist with a regular spot
on the internet. He's got bizarre taste and is often pushing the next big film that no one will care about (e.g., Blue Crush
, Man On Fire
, The Mothman Prophecies
I don't care that I disagree since I'm not gonna agree with any critic all the time anyway. The point is he's lively, up on the latest, and not afraid to state his opinion, so I check out his stuff. If he has a flaw, which was very obvious this year, it's he's a dogmatic blue-stater--not especially well-informed and thus easy prey for every crackpot documentary coming down the pike ("Bush And The Devil
is a significant, though-provoking film corralling the evidence the President has literally sold his soul to Satan"). No matter how childish or overheated the argument is against Bush or America (and that's pretty much what documentaries are these days), he's a willing audience.
The latest doc that has him taken in is a virulent anti-neocon and anti-war piece funded by the BBC, The Power Of Nightmares
, with the all-too-usual condescending and even outrageous arguments one gets from the European Left. Rather than rationally discuss the war, and the people who are behind it, it mindlessly demonizes them, avoiding any real debate. For this, Wells calls their argument deep and revealing.
So I emailed him a letter. Perhaps he'll publish part of it, but it's too long to reprint completely, so let me do that here. Mind you, I tried my best to keep it as short and simple as possible. By the way, I suggest you read his piece on the documentary before you read my reply:
Re: The Power Of Nightmares
The word "neocon" has apparently become a catch-all pejorative used against those who favor the war in Iraq. According to your piece, this BBC-funded documentary about "neocons" attacks people like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, neither of whom are real neocons--they're both old-school conservative Republicans. In fact, when this doc was made, there wasn't a single neocon in Bush's Cabinet
But the word at one time had some meaning--even if neocons never all marched in lockstep--and it sure seems this documentary is clueless.
You write that according to The Power Of Nightmares
, neocons are "enemies of liberal thought and the pursuit of personal fulfillment" and, in the director's own words, "believe that the main problem with modern society is that individuals question everything." This is vile garbage.
Neocons, for all the mysterious nonsense one hears about them, are not hard to understand. They are old-style liberals who, some years ago, split with the left, though they may feel the left split from them. (How liberals have split into different strains through the years is a lengthy story I don't have time to get into.)
What do neocons believe in? Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the universal franchise, free trade, equality of the sexes, due process, open scientific inquiry, that sort of stuff.
The neocons strongly believe, in other words, in freedom and democracy. In fact, they think democracy and liberty are such wonderful things that everyone should be given a chance to enjoy them (or at least freely reject them). And they don't object to America using its influence (sometimes--though rarely--to the point of war) to help spread these things.
But what do you hear from certain crackpots who hate the dreaded neocons? That they have a weird, anti-freedom creed, and pray at the altar of Leo Strauss who secretly taught them to take over the world. It's very much like those who believe in the conspiracy of The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion
. And I use the comparison advisedly--"neocon" to the European Left, and even moreso in the Middle East, has become another useful code word to cover one's anti-Semitism. It is true, by the way, that neocons are disproportionately Jewish and strong supporters of Israel--yet another reason for the European Left to mindlessly despise them.
It's quite ironic you state we should "act like good reasonable Gregory Peck-styled liberals" and avoid clannish fights like in The Big Country
. I personally can't think of an icon better than the Gregory Peck of The Big Country
and To Kill A Mockingbird
to symbolize the virile strand of liberalism that neocons represent. He's a guy who believes in doing what's right, including protecting the weak, and does it no matter what the rest of the community thinks, no matter how much he's misunderstood, even at the point of putting himself in danger. And, when all is said and done, he isn't afraid to kick a little ass if required.
To compare the "fundamentalism" of the neocons, who believe in a basic liberal society, to that of fanatics who want to inflict the exact opposite on hundreds of millions of people, is sickening. There are plenty of serious arguments against the War on Terror. Unfortunately, the documentaries you seem to favor, with dark conspiracies and cheap demonizing, rarely make them. I guess it's just a lot easier to label someone, and attribute to them everything you hate, than to actually take on their arguments.