Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Waterloo – Battle, History, Film, Book



Author Frederick E. Smith, was a veteran of the cycle of novel to film and vice versa after his own “633 Squadron” turned into a film several years before he was asked to write this novelized version of the script for the epic film “Waterloo” about the battle fought by Napoleon against the Duke of Wellington’s army and the Prussians under Marshal Blucher.  The film was a major release in 1970, a joint Italy/USSR production directed by Sergei Bondarchuk, whose previous film hand been the almost eight hour long 1966 “War and Peace” (1966).  (I once saw this shown in 16mm format on a series of 10 minutes reels!).  Like that previous film,”Waterloo” was shot on location in the Soviet Union with thousands of Soviet Army personnel as extras to recreate the sweeping battle scenes.
There are persistent rumors of a four hour long Russian language version of the film, but I suspect that that was the rough cut version that was then edited down to the final release version.   During four years living in Moscow, I was never able to find any recorded version (VHS or DVD) that was other than a Russian version of the regular release.  Nor could I find reference to a 4 hour long version in any of the Russian language film catalogs I was able to access.

I read this novel very much as ‘the shooting script’ for the film and looked especially for elements that were consistent with or not consistent with the released version of the movie.  The narrative arc of this fictionalized battle is reasonably close to history, with only minor touches of Victor Hugo or Tolstoy inserted here and there probably as dramatic flourishes.  I preferred the Napoleon presented in these pages to Rod Steiger’s Napoleon in the film.  I don’t know whether the differences arose from the actor or the director’s interpretation, but this novel’s Napoleon matches up better with my conception of the historical Emperor I know from decades of reading and study.

The other characters in the book also follow the film’s lead as they consolidate historical characters into one film personage or attribute historical dialogue from one character to a different film character.  Another difference between page and screen are the Duke’s interactions with the 27th Inniskilling Fusiliers (a favorite regiment of mine) – and in my opinion the film’s version successfully ‘improves’ on the novel’s account for entertainment purposes.  The book includes an expansive list of the cast and crew involved in making the film.

The research done for the film also inspired another book by the film’s Costume Designer  Ugo Percoli and Michael Glover, “1815, The Armies at Waterloo” which presented a history of the battle and pages of color plates and drawings of how they were believed to have appeared at the battle.  Frederick Smith acknowledged “his debt” to a list of ten then significant works addressing Napoleon’s life, the ‘hundred days’ campaign leading up to the Battle of Waterloo, and his principal opponent the Duke of Wellington.  These include “Napoleon” by Felix Markham (which I’ve also read and reviewed), David Howard’s [sic] “A Near-Run Thing” – which I’ve also read and enjoyed.  The cited works cited were, in 1970, among the standard works on the subject.  However, they and thus Smith’s work here has been overtaken by subsequent research and scholarship.

I do recommend this book, especially if you are a fan of the film and interested in the insights it might give into the process of translating words into screen images.  Until someone writes a history of how this movie came to be made, this book plus Percoli’s, are the nearest thing.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Now Is the Time for All Good People to Rally to Each Other



To borrow the classic nautical metaphor, the American ship of state is in distress and facing the direst dangers in my memory.  I have spent a lifetime studying the history and analyzing the politics and projecting the future of nation states.  I have seen and even witnessed the disappearance of governments, regimes, states, and nations.  Yes, this could happen here.  It is already evident that the United States of America that emerges from this crisis will be very different from the United States of America that has reached this point.  The Democratic and Republican parties which have aided and abetted the development of this crisis will either fade into history or emerge dramatically, possibly radically altered.

Specifically, the victorious insurgents have occupied the capital.  Their leader is ensconced in the presidential palace and his minions are trying to settle into their new lives as rulers and adjusting to life in the capital.  They’re finding this harder than they expected.  It seems that actually governing a country requires more than just sitting in an office and writing decrees.  Those who have made the government function are cycling through the fight or flight – or collaborate – reflex.  History tells us that insurgents make lousy bureaucrats (who are the folks you need to run things) but which if any of the bureaucrats they now find around them are friendly?

What do you do after the capital has fallen and you’re out of power?  That’s easy and very hard at the same time.  Clausewitz talked about that, and others talked more precisely about what you do next.  The first step has already begun with the mobilization onto the streets, into the cyber world, to the phones, and to the mailboxes, the new grass roots rebellion against the insurgent regime is already emerging.  This energy needs to be united into the broadest coalition that can gathered together.  Issue by issue, person by person, find out what motivates them, what do they want to change, what do they really want or need, and determine how many people want the same thing or something similar enough that they can work together.  The focus must be on issues and solutions that bring people together rather than drive them apart; disagreements need to be broken down to the smallest working parts and, wherever possible, reassembled into agreement on possible solutions.  This is not work for the capital.  This is work for the “provinces” – street by street, neighborhood by neighborhood, and community by community.  Hard, street pounding, shoe leather consuming, face to face work done one on one at first and then group on group, all the time focusing on bringing people together rather than driving them apart.

Among the issues that must be addressed are changes that will take the power away from those with a vested interest in continuing the current political stagnation and back into the hands of an active, committed citizenry.

End Gerrymandering by taking redistricting away from legislators and placing it in the hands of nonpartisan panels, commissions, etc. with access to the best statistical, demographical, and topographical techniques.

Support the greatest possible franchise by protecting access to voter registration and to polling places – fight voter ID laws and other restrictions on voter eligibility and access and where necessary initiate programs to help obtain required IDs for legal voters targeted by restrictive measures.

Campaign finance reform – support measures that curtail or eliminate corporate campaign donations or compel such donations to be identified publicly.

This kind of grass roots mobilization, activism, and organization will take a long time and a sustained effort.  Groups across the country can help each other with ideas, share experiences, coordinate their efforts on specific issues, and share funds and resources.  The Democratic Party is too burdened by old ideas and has been too slow to respond to this altered political scene to be the source of this local activism.  Where it has a presence it can and should be included in the coalitions that need to emerge but the repair, reconstruction, and rescue of that party should not be the first concern of the population – their job is to organize and fight to preserve the nation.

What both the Democratic Party and those Republicans who recognize the danger can do is to be democracy’s rear guard in the capital.  They must resist the ‘new normal’ and the related radical changes in any way they can using the powers of incumbency and their roles as the wheels and gears of representative democracy.  In the capital the Democratic Party will have to carry the banner while the real coalition is being built across the country, to emerge at some point in the future as a cohesive resistance that can point to a proven track record of governance at the village, township, county, district, town, city, and state levels – and present the body of new ideas that have been proven in those locations.  And these local and state governments will represent the growing power and support needed for the final push on the capital and the true taking of the government by and for the greatest number of people.

The people united can never be defeated.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

From the Military Philosopher's Bunker to Those Entering the Political Trenches


Some advice for those trying to resist The Donald tide as it rolls in, reflecting a life spent in the study of war, warfare, peace, and policy.

Students of warfare talk about “The Center or Gravity”, the decisive point or the decision point, etc. but it generally means the same thing referring to the person(s) or point in time and space that you must control in order to determine what happens next.

In the ongoing political contest the center of gravity, the point of decision, is in the hearts and minds of your fellow Americans.  But remember that you are not fighting, defeating, or beating them you are persuading them to share some common ground or common viewpoint with you.  Whatever it may seem they are a NOT foreign “other” but fellow Americans with an amazing variety in origins, background, experiences, but a common commitment to this country.  Most importantly remember that just because someone has been silenced does not mean that they have been convinced.

You will have to pick your fights. You can't fight everywhere all of the time, you need to focus on the most important issues where you can win and then go all in.  This is called concentration of effort or mass.

Never interrupt your opponent when he's in the middle of making a mistake. You will not win this fight by constantly screaming and shouting and yelling in order to persuade people who voted for Donald that they made a mistake. Leave that job to the Donald.  Otherwise, you will find that your audience quickly tunes you out as mere background noise.

Don't confuse outrage with passion. The forces of chaos, fear, and division would like nothing more than for those with heart and vision to become numbed and exhausted by the outrage-du-jour and a false sense of needing to defend against every perceived disrespect or slight or to counter every lie. It is our passion for the best that we can be that will carry us through the long haul -- especially if it can be combined with shared passions of people from other ethnic, cultural, religious, and political backgrounds.  And whether you're feeling outrage or passion, channel it and keep a clear head.

In this contest the moral high ground is every bit as important as and perhaps even more important than the tactical high ground.  In modern politics transparency is invaluable so always be prepared to show your work.

Remember, you are not fighting for the future of the Democratic Party or any other party, you are fighting to protect those who are vulnerable and cannot protect themselves and depend upon the people they vote for to do that for them. A tradition in American politics is that if you look out for the people they will look out for you. Whatever you might think of Jesse Helms (and Ian Paisley for that matter) a close examination will show you that they were brilliant constituency politicians who looked out for the people in their district.

Finally, this will be a long struggle over years. It will not be decided quickly or easily so pace yourselves (and as noted, pick your fights, no need to pound your head against a brick wall with no promise of any return on the effort).