Thursday, March 27, 2008

Historically Inaccurate Movies

For the obvious reason of being a historian, I am a nitpicker when it comes to historical movies. I get it from my dad, who was a history buff. It is so bad that no one will see a historically based movie with me any more - but I am always the first consulted if something needs clarification/verification! Needless to say, I was excited to come across 10 Most Historically Inaccurate Movies.

I love the fact that Braveheart makes the list, as I always cite it for the historical fallacies outlined in the article. Do not get me wrong, it is one of my favorites for its story and overall entertainment value. I also find it interesting that two other Mel Gibson movies – Apocalypto and The Patriot – make the list. However, there are two - 300 and 2001: A Space Odyssey - that I feel do not deserve the distinction. Stylized for a comic book audience based on another historically flawed movie (The 300 Spartans) that inspired him as a kid, Frank Miller stated that his graphic novel upon which the movie 300 is based is not accurate. It is meant to be entertaining, not history. Likewise, to include 2001 would be to include every futuristic movie that has not panned out; it is meant to be science fiction, not science fact.

I understand that movies are for entertainment, constantly chastising those who use movies as their sole reference source. As Maximus asks in Gladiator, another to make the list, "Are you not entertained?" Indeed, I am. Granted, good or bad, movies are a mass means for exposing people to a subject. Nevertheless, I often find that the true history is just as exciting, if not more so, than Hollywood’s version – and sometimes it is also truly stranger than the fiction. I just want people to be more critically aware to which version they are being exposed by taking the time to learn more about it. 

©2008 Steve Sagarra

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Bushwhacked: The Prosecution Of A President

Voters in two Vermont towns – Brattleboro and Marlboro – voted, symbolically, to indict President George W. Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. The vote would authorize local police to arrest the two, or extradite them for prosecution elsewhere, if either ever visits the towns, should they not face impeachment first. There is just one problem, whether symbolic gesture or not:  while a sitting Vice-President, like all other federal civil officers, can face criminal prosecution, a sitting President cannot. Two famous examples are that of Vice-Presidents Aaron Burr and Spiro Agnew. The Department of Justice, in accordance with several court rulings, states that “…the indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting President would unconstitutionally undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions.”  Further, only the Congress has the authority to impeach a President while in office, and only later upon leaving can they be indicted and criminally prosecuted.

Impeachment is not a simple matter either, as a majority of the House of Representatives must agree to a resolution that alleges the President committed any of the offenses outlined in Article II of the Constitution – “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”  Ambiguity of the latter has perplexed legal analysts and scholars since inception. What exactly are “high crimes and misdemeanors”? With no explicit definition of what constitutes an impeachable offense, impeachment has been inherently more political ploy than a true legal process “ . . . regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.” (Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers, no. 65, 1788).

It is not a slight to say that the majority seeking the indictment/impeachment of President Bush and Vice-President Cheney are fringe leftists and politicians with an agenda. There have been many reasons offered for indicting/impeaching the President, but the two main arguments include the constitutionality of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and federal electronic surveillance programs. The invasion of Iraq is a moot point for several reasons, but mainly because the entire Congress – Republican and Democrat alike – overwhelmingly approved giving President Bush the right to prosecute the war. Manipulation or not of the intelligence, as proponents of impeachment contend – and who is to say who may have manipulated it, if at all – Washington would be emptied if the sole case for impeachment were lying to the American people. Is it criminal to protect this country against those who are a threat to it?

Incidentally, President Clinton faced impeachment for lying to a grand jury about his relationship with an intern. Yet, a better case could have been made for involving the U.S. in the war in Kosovo under false pretenses – the still dubious and undetermined claim of genocide – without Congressional approval and against the United Nations’ mandate of non-interference. Yet, no such proceedings ever occurred. Lest it be forgotten as well, Clinton signed into law the “Iraq Liberation Act” in October 1998, which stood as an official statement of policy calling for regime change in Iraq. Less than two months later, he authorized Operation Desert Fox, a four-day bombing campaign designed to weaken Saddam Hussein's grip on power – with the stated goal of hindering Iraq's ability to manufacture and use weapons of mass destruction. Five years later, the very same policy under the Bush Administration became an impeachable offense in conjunction with Democrats’ anti-war argument that Saddam Hussein never had WMDs.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Control Is An Illusion

I am tired of stories like this one - Firefighter Shot, Killed Exchanging Kid's Meal Toy

On the same day that Los Angeles faced a fatal, multi-victim shooting, St. Louis was confronted with the same tragedy. Unfortunately, it is not a new or isolated phenomenon. Large cities and small towns across the country are becoming less and less strangers to such incidents. St. Louis itself has seen more than its fair share just over the last few decades. On top of the daily dose of vile acts seen during the nightly news, places once considered sacrosanct, like schools and churches, have become increasingly preyed upon by those seeking recourse through violent means. Naturally, there always exists the disconnect anesthetizing us in the belief that it only happens there rather than here. Clich├ęd as it is, we know now that if it can happen in the quaint, tranquil community of Kirkwood, it can occur in Anywhere, USA.

The problem stems from the idea of gun control. Throw the term out, because it is bogus. There is no such thing. Government can institute an infinite amount of laws to control this or that, but there is one irrefutable factor that can never be accounted for – the person holding the gun. People kill people, not the guns and bullets. The latter is only the means, and certainly not the only one, by which the former is able to occur. Therefore, the only way to have true gun control is by doing one of two things: take away the guns or take away the human beings, or at the very least their instinctual aggressive behaviors. At present, neither is realistically likely to happen. There are those who see more guns as the answer, specifically in the form of concealed ones. Certainly, it would alleviate the need for gun control with everyone in control of a gun, hidden as it may be. Yes, let's have every citizen on the streets armed as they go about their daily lives! While it might be an answer, it is the wrong answer – and a misguided legacy for future generations. Having the capacity to stop violence through aggressive means, even in the name of safety and security, is not the answer needed for ending the violence. It only perpetuates it.

Obviously, the Virginia Tech shooting is the worse incident in recent memory, despite occuring in an era touted as the strictest in terms of gun control legislation. But just look at three of the major ones to occur this year alone - and only two months into it - and try to argue that something does not need to immediately change about "gun control":

6 Dead In Shooting Rampage At Kirkwood City Council

5 Dead In Strip Mall Shooting; Gunman At Large

Former Student Guns Down 5 In Attack At Northern Illinois University; Kills Self

We consider our society a civil one, in spite of every day proof further illustrating that present-day man is just as barbaric as any of its ancestors. Perhaps we are even more so because we are collectively aware of it, only enacting rhetorical legislation that gives us a sense of control and safety – a false one at that. The United States, like a majority of countries throughout the world, was born from conflict, our forefathers using the force of arms in the name of liberty. By right under the Second Amendment, over two hundred years later the nation is still a gun culture – with no apparent end to it in sight.
Nevertheless, how many senseless shootings and innocent lives will it take before we change that culture, to the betterment of a truly civil society? Or can it not be done without sacrificing our principles, let alone our nature? The answers may come too late if we do not begin to make those changes now. Otherwise, we will continue to face similarly repeated tragedies in years to come before we have even healed from the present ones.

©2008 Steve Sagarra