DODGING THE BULLET VII: WHO BENEFITS?

In the films and tv shows I’ve seen, when the detective arrives at the scene of an unsolved crime, he or she usually asks the question, “Cui Bono?” He/she may not have asked it in Latin, but the meaning was, “Who benefits?”

When a great war crime is committed, it’s even more worth asking, “Who benefits from this?”

In the case of the greatest crime of all, the stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons, there are surprisingly few beneficiaries. In the US the development and maintenance of nukes has been a great boon to a tiny handful of big companies: Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and General Dynamics. Between them, these five scooped up one third of all Pentagon nuclear weapons contracts.

There’s a good discussion of the enormous money made by a handful of big nuclear war companies, their army of lobbyists in Washington DC, and the political inertia which leads to endless spending on nukes, here.

Of course, many other corporations profit from nuclear weapons tech: high on the second-tier list are the Carlyle Group (which took over UC’s nuclear programs and has had former President George W. Bush and Prime Minister John Major on its board), Honeywell, General Electric (until recently the owner of NBC and Universal Pictures), and Halliburton, Dick Cheney’s company.

Most of these beneficiary companies have shareholders, and so their shareholders, whether individuals or pension funds, might be said to benefit, if the share price rises. In this way many people participate in taxpayer-funded preparation for nuclear war. But in the wider world beyond the stock exchanges, most humans don’t have shares in anything, and gain nothing from the trade.

Do individuals benefit? Some do. Werner Von Braun was a Nazi scientist who fired rockets at London and the Netherlands. He ran his own concentration camp, Dora, where prisoners were worked to death, and hung. It would have made sense for him to be tried with the other Nazi war criminals. But Von Braun was no fool. He fled the advancing Russian troops and surrendered to the Americans. The US military swiftly brought him to the States, acquired him citizenship, and put him to work designing and building ICBMs — long range missiles which could carry nuclear warheads to Russia. Von Braun become something of a celebrity in the US, promoting rocket ships and nuclear platforms in space and being declared Time’s “Man of the Year”.

Another beneficiary, apparently, is Michelle Obama, the former First Lady. In August 2016 she “christened” a General Dynamics Virginia-class nuclear submarine. The boat was named Illinois, in honour of her home state. What did Ms. Obama think she was doing? Has this presumably intelligent person no imagination? No moral compass? One US nuclear submarine carries enough warheads to kill pretty much everybody in the world: just a couple of nukes could render her home state uninhabitable. Yet there was no outcry. In the “floating world” which professional politicians and opinion-formers inhabit, there seems no downside to promoting genocide: no horror or repulsion at the thought of what the boat she “christened” has been designed and equipped to do.

And another beneficiary of the nuclear-industrial economy was Sam Cohen, a physicist who worked with Edward Teller at Los Alamos. Sam was most famous as the designer of the Neutron Bomb – a radiation weapon designed to kill everyone in the vicinity, with minimal physical destruction. As the character in REPO MAN observed, “It kills people but leaves buildings standing.” The notion of a bomb which destroys life but respects property is entirely hideous, but to Sam it was not so. He was proud to be thought of as the “father” of the Neutron Bomb, which he insisted was a humanitarian weapon for which he had received a Peace Medal from the Pope. This last was absolutely true: Sam showed me his award, and left to his daughter in his will.

Are nukes really worth this nonsensical eccentricity? Profits for a small number of rich companies? Sam with his medal, Michelle “christening” a holocaust boat, Werner avoiding the gallows and going to work for Walt Disney?

Fortunately, there is an alternative.

If you live in the US, or England, or France, or Russia or China, or one of the other nuke nations, you might despair and think there’s no way out: your politicians are too stupid, too hooked on power and “credibility”, too fearful of their own military and intelligence agencies…  But for most of the planet, this is not so. Most humans live in countries which don’t have nuclear weapons. Somehow, lacking even the most modest nuclear deterrent, they all manage to survive. Most nations don’t have nukes, and don’t want them. Entire continents – South America and Africa – are nuclear-free zones.

Narcissistic politicians backed/dominated by generals armed to the teeth with hydrogen bombs are neither desired nor respected by the people of the wider world, and so, this year, the United Nations will debate and vote on a proposal to outlaw nuclear weapons.
The negotiations will take place at UN headquarters in New York from 27 to 31 March and from 15 June to 7 July 2017. In the UN General Assembly, 113 nations have already voted in favour of the resolution that established the mandate for the negotiating committee. The treaty, which will almost certainly be passed by a massive majority, will likely prohibit a range of activities relating to nukes, including their use, development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention and transfer, as well as assistance, encouragement or inducement of anyone to engage in any of these prohibited activities.

Now, I’m as cynical as the next poor fool, and I know this sounds like pie-in-the-sky. The US, Russia, Britain, France, and most of the other nuclear powers oppose the treaty and can be expected, initially, to ignore it (promisingly, China has welcomed the treaty negotiations and has abstained rather than vote against them). These countries also opposed treaties banning land mines, poison gas, cluster bombs… at the outset. But the world-wide rejection of these devilish devices, codified in international treaty form, has had an actual effect. Russia and America have destroyed their substantial inventories of nerve and poison gas. Land mines have been outlawed, world-wide. And the US is increasingly isolated in its production and export (to that haven of democracy and women’s rights Saudi Arabia) of cluster bombs.

Even if the “great powers” don’t sign up for the treaty, they will be influenced by it, and by the world opinion it clearly conveys. We who live in the nuclear weapons states must not let our “leaders” forget that they are under an obligation – Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty – to act “in good faith” to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

A year before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King said, “a nation that continues, year after year, to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

The US government currently gives 54% of federal discretionary spending to the Pentagon. This is almost half the entire world’s military outlay. President Trump intends to give the Pentagon and military contractors even more, and to continue with President Obama’s trillion-dollar nuclear “upgrade.” In America, genocide has always been a bi-partisan affair. In 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War, Dr. King described the US government as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” With the US currently bombing several other countries, occupying Afghanistan and Guantanamo, and maintaining a web of 800 military bases around the world, things are even worse today.

I live in rural Oregon near three towns which the local paramedics call the “Crankster Triangle.” Unemployment is high, wages are low, and nutrition is terrible. Meth and heroin (from far-off Afghanistan!) are readily available. And there are for-profit jails in neighboring poor rural towns, ready and waiting.

This beautiful country is falling apart, abandoned by elites who don’t give a damn about any place without a private airport and a ski resort.

Can it be turned around? Yes. I think it can. It will be a tall order and will take a lot more than the abolition of nukes – only a fraction of the huge American military budget, but still an enormous saving of taxpayers’ money which could be applied instead to…

Environmental clean-up and remediation.

Infrastructure.

Writing off student debt.

A guaranteed minimum wage.

Single-payer health care.

If you’re a hardcore libertarian or conservative you may oppose all of the above. In which case, why not abolish nukes and simply lower taxes?

One of the smartest people I know is an English lawyer who lives outside Cambridge. In all his life he has only voted Conservative, or Green. He believes in conservative principles, which for him include actual conservation. Conservation. Beyond that, the differences he and I might have don’t matter very much. We both think that conserving and protecting the environment is humanity’s obligation, and most important goal.

Yes, global warming is real and disastrous. But – as Marianne Faithfull observed – nuclear war could come at any time, and there’s no point worrying about global warming if the climate change we’re looking at is a nuclear war-based ice age. And that’s what’s on the agenda this year, at the UN.

If the nine nuclear nations can come to their senses, and be shamed, or flattered, into reducing their hideous stockpiles, then there may be a foreseeable future. Only then will it make sense to prepare for the consequences of a warming climate change.

If you are a British citizen or resident, you can add your name to a petition instructing Parliament not to boycott the United Nations vote here.

(Ms. Faithfull’s Broken English video was directed by Derek Jarman, a wonderful man and a moral film director. He is greatly missed)

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THE REPO MAN BLU-RAY

Michael Nesmith, executive producer of REPO MAN, played here two nights ago. I didn’t get to see him since his show began at the Boulder Theater at 6.30pm (rock’n’roll shows seem to start earlier and earlier) and I teach screenwriting till 7.30pm. Which is a pity (not the screenwriting part — it’s a great class and my students are more literate and inventive than you could possibly imagine) because I wanted to hand him a copy of the Criterion Collection BluRay disk of REPO MAN, which had arrived that day.

First let me praise the package! Criterion’s artwork is simply lovely, particularly the cover art. This is the very best graphical representation of the film I have ever seen: even better than the old English poster of the smoking boots. The illustration is by Jay Shaw:

Image I don’t need to go into the contents of the box, since they are described in amazing detail at the DVD Beaver site, which compares the original Anchor Bay NTSC DVD with the Universal NTSC DVD, with the Masters of Cinema ‘Region B’ BluRay, with the new Criterion ‘Region A’ release.

The original Anchor Bay was sparse in additional elements, inevitably, since Universal Pictures had refused to create any. Instead, Jay Douglas of Anchor Bay paid for an audio recording in which Nesmith, I, Sy Richardson, Zander Schloss, Del Zamora, and  Vicky Thomas all participated. He offered us each a $2000 bonus if Harry Dean Stanton came to the recording session! But Harry declined to attend. Still, the Anchor Bay DVD was popular, so popular in fact that Universal demanded the rights back — terminating their contract with Anchor early, and giving them the DVD rights to EVIL DEAD 2 in return.

Universal, well aware how much money Anchor Bay had made, wanted a piece of that REPO DVD action. But now they faced a problem. Other than the audio recording we had made there were no additional elements. All but eight of the production stills we had delivered had been lost. A solution came in the form of Rick Finkelstein, formerly Nesmith’s attorney and, suddenly, CEO of Universal Pictures. I contacted Finkelstein and suggested Universal bring out a decent DVD of REPO MAN, rather than a vanilla one. Thanks to Rick’s intervention, Universal gave me a budget to create elements for the DVD: I shared the dosh with the film’s producers, Jonathan Wacks and Peter McCarthy, and we created three new elements — Peter’s interview with Harry Dean Stanton, Jonathan’s round-table chat, and the “missing scenes” interviews with Sam Cohen and Zander Schloss.

Rolling Stone magazine decreed the result their DVD of the year. At which point Universal should have swallowed their pride, contacted Nesmith, Wacks, McCarthy and me and offered us $20 million to make a sequel. Unfortunately they didn’t: instead they re-branded one of their unreleasable flops as “REPO MEN” and sent a letter threatening to sue me if I ever made a movie with the word REPO in the title.

Charming, aren’t they? I talk a bit about Universal’s weird threats and the studio’s attempts to own the word REPO on the Masters of Cinema BluRay: for some reason, this element doesn’t make it onto the Criterion Blu-Ray disk which is, otherwise, entirely complete. The DVD Beaver site goes into extraordinary detail comparing the visual aspect of the two Blu-Rays. Both look damn good to me. In any case, which one you watch has already been decided for you, depending on where you live, thanks to the MPAA’s regional censorship and profit regime.

Thanks very much to Criterion for this lovely new release. And under no circumstances should you watch the outrageously-offensive, almost certainly untrue hidden additional element created by a pair of Colorado cowboys named Hafnor and Powers. I have no idea who these varmints are, but they’d better watch out, telling such subversive stories about the real origins of REPO MAN. As Hanging Judge Jeffreys said, the fact that the libel may be true, just makes it worse!

By the way, the rights to the original screenplay of REPO MAN revert to me in just a few years’ time. If anyone wants to remake the original script, or do a sequel to it, get in touch with me in early 2015…

UPDATE

The Blu-Ray got a very nice writeup from the LA Times but when I tried to post a comment I was unable to (it seems you have to sign up for a subscription first, which is a bit extreme. Or maybe my browser’s broken…) so here is the comment I wanted to post:

Thanks for that very nice analysis of my film REPO MAN. I do have to correct one misapprehension, though. REPO MAN is not a critique of Reagan policies, because these policies, sad to say, were systematic, whatever party was in power. It’s true that we saw a massive increase in the homeless on our city streets when Reagan came to office (I’d seen the same thing happen in England when Thatcher’s government took power). But it’s wrong to ascribe agency to either politician.
It was generally assumed that George H.W. Bush ran the show during the Reagan years. Bush was a highly intelligent man, fluent in Mandarin, and the former head of the CIA. Reagan was… an actor.
In terms of international politics, the Central American holocaust and the disastrous blowback of Islamic terrorism in Afghanistan were the invention of Jimmy Carter, as CIA chief Gates observes in his memoir, From The Shadows.
So REPO MAN isn’t a critique of any individual, no matter how detestable. Its analysis is systematic: it’s a little clearer in WALKER, which perhaps explains why the studio expended more efforts to suppress that film.