Tuesday, May 29, 2007


In 1936 Adolph Hitler used the Olympic Games to showcase his master race and supposed 1000-year empire. The following years brought terror and destruction to the world never before seen, beginning with Germany’s control and oppression of religion. With the world watching Hitler reoccupied the Rhineland, and who was to complain? The Treaty of Versailles was cruel and harsh. Germany had lost the few colonies, in comparison to other world powers, that it had possessed and the Nazis were bringing prosperity back to a devastated economy. Appeasers won the day under a pseudo righteousness blind to well-stated goals of world domination behind the Nazi worldview and call for living space, not to mention their incredible military expansions in open violation of existing treaties.
In 1938 came the annexation of Austria and the Sudetenland all labeled as internal matters of state. The following year as Germany invades Poland war is declared among the major European powers leading to a battle of words rather than real metal. That all changed as Germany took the European low lands and France. Over-run French and British forces were miraculously saved at Dunkirk, ferried successfully to the island nation of Great Britain; the true horrors of combat to engulf the globe beginning in the sky above. In other parts of the world Italy was expanding its influence in Africa and Japan was consolidating its power over China through domination of the railroads.
China is anxiously awaiting the 2008 Olympic Games to parade before the world its new status as super power and the spectacular economic advances it has achieved over the last several decades. The world closing its eyes to the governments iron fist and oppression of true religious freedom. It hopes, as always, to realize the reunification of Taiwan, which China has been proclaiming (shouting) is an internal matter of state. China remains under the communist ideology of world domination and what about living space for the most populous country of the world? China’s no growth policy has created tens of millions of male citizenry under 30 with no female counterpart, or what the Europe of old called cannon fodder.
As China builds a vast military beyond its needs for national defense, much of it done in secret off the books, one wonders what’s next? China failed miserably in its attempted invasion of Vietnam in 1979 and surely wouldn’t risk going to war 'now' with the United States by invading Japan or Korea. Well, what about Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Tonga, the Solomon Islands, Samoa, the Republic of Marshal Islands, Papua New Guinea, Palau, Niue, Nauru, Kiribati, Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Cook Islands and other small island nations? Were the Chinese navy to park itself over one, some or all of these sovereign nations, who would be willing to go to war over these former colonies in this age of relativism? Was not gunboat diplomacy part of the Colonial Power’s control of China in the past? Pay back is a bitch and many in the western media would gleefully point that out. If Russia, another colony deprived historic power, joined in the acquisitions would the United States, let alone the U.N., be willing to go to war over such apparently insignificant, at least to the public, land grabs? Of course all these Island States have defense pacts but so did Czechoslovakia and Poland.
Will the Philippines become our Poland, over which we declare war, and New Zealand and Australia (Liechtenstein could create a beachhead in Australia) where the real combat begins? Will South Korea be our Dunkirk and the island nation of Japan saved by a massive air defense? Will the Chinese dominate the vastness of Africa with their railroads? Will Russia be China’s Italy? And let’s not forget Cuba and Venezuela.
Several things are certain. China is far from ignorant of history, studiously taking its lessons to heart. They are well versed in ‘The Art of War", far more patient than Nazi Germany, and would not simply bomb the Hawaiian Islands. One must wonder what kind of combat would take place between super powers over far distant isolated tracts of land and what a Chinese Al Quida alliance would produce (and some worry about more nuclear power plants).

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

"Prepare For Glory"

Several Spartans walking over layers of fallen bodies with oversized spears thrust, as if spear fishing, at unseen wounded with vivid audio enhancement. They stroll to and fro continuously returning to the same seemingly undead as one Persian atop the pile struggles for life unnoticed in their midst. With shades of his movie “Dawn of the Dead” (2004) Zack Snyder infuses “300”, an adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel, with a comic moment to accentuate the tragic. A tactic reminiscent of Hong Kong films fails in this historic action drama genre.
Acclaimed for its cinematography and dedication to Frank Miller’s portrayal of the infamous battle what is or was Sparta, one of many Greek cities of diverse origin, is lost as hundreds of years of Greek history and philosophy (Spartans were not big readers) are infused into a single lunar cycle. From the oracle being bribed to deceive the Spartans, an event a generation earlier that brought democracy to Athens, to the phalanx meets mounted elephant, reflecting the days of Alexander the Great, visuals take precedent over comprehension of unwavering self sacrifice. The true oracle, proclaiming the utter destruction of Lacedeamon (Sparta and its lands) or the death of its King, is ignored. Their devotion to the spiritual further negated in Leonidas’ philosophical exaltations against the gods, a thought originating in the Athens of the future.
Some alterations play well. The portrayal of Ephialtes, played by Andrew Tiernan, born to Sparta deformed and saved from death by the flight of his parents, evince a fate for innocence disparaged. Xerxes played by Rodrigo Santoro, towering over all with godlike self-acclamations fits the bill of nemesis, creating a superb though simple backdrop in this good versus evil conflict. Gerard Butler as Leonidas, Lena Headey as his wife Gorgo and Nathan West as Theron, your classic Judas, all put in excellent performances where the script doesn’t become painfully predictable and cliché. Closer scrutiny of dialogue is one of many opportunities the producers missed to create a true epic.
The opening battle sequence is truly spectacular and overwhelms. The following battle scenes play like a video game (game previews available before the movies release) more than the story of a people fighting for their way of life. With the movie closing in a ruse to make a ‘god-king bleed’, the final day of fighting ends in mere moments. Trying to draw out the Persian Emperor and deception was a likely part of the Spartan strategy. However, reducing a highly committed yet doomed force fighting for their freedom and beliefs in a battle that shaped history to mere moments fails to understand the extent of Spartan abilities and convictions. A lifestyle admired still today and embodied in modern military disciplines that continue to influence the world for the better.
According to “The Histories” Leonidas died in the midst of that final day spurring a fight over his body that caused Xerxes to fear for his entire army despite the 50-1 advantage (if not 1000-1) some modern historians calculate. Falling back behind a defensive wall the remaining Spartans met the immortals advancing from the rear at a small rise as other Greeks and helots manned the ramparts. Spears turned to splinters, shields mangled and torn entangling rather than blocking Persian weapons, short swords broken and battered into glorified stones, Persian soldiers battering the wall with their bodies in fevered frenzy, the fighting turning to ‘teeth and nail’ before Xerxes ordered ‘missiles of every sort’ to end the melee. Obviously the software to create a true portrayal to enjoy from ones couch has yet to be developed.
The same in death as in life the 300 keep and defended hard-earned traditions and values, their sacrifice undeniable in any adaptation. The discipline, denial and faith in a way of life that gave them purpose, unity and a shared identity known the world over, elements required to maintain any civilization, are diminished in the artistic adventure. The comments of Richard Roeper on “Ebert and Roeper” summing it up best with; “Severed heads have never looked so pretty on the screen.”
And then we wonder why?

Greek Battles