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Iraq war as Greek tragedy

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Film: Tony Blair is no Brad Pitt, but he too has an Achilles heel, says Tansy Hoskins
Issue 1902

I WAS relieved that Troy is not a film that glorifies war. Amid the sumptuous costumes, it is a film full of human sadness, of people caught up in a war that they do not want and have no control over. As well as showing opposition to war through sympathy with characters who face death and destruction, it draws striking comparisons between Homer’s Iliad and Iraq today.

Agamemnon is the all-powerful King of the Mycenaeans. He creates a coalition of the willing, through bribery, special relationships and threats. Then he sets sail for Troy on the pretext that Troy has broken international honour law by seizing Helen of Sparta, truly a Weapon of Mass Devotion. A vast army thus heads east and encamps itself in the sands outside the city of Troy.

Agamemnon declares that Helen is merely an excuse for this war and that his real motive is the power that control of Troy will give him. In the midst of the occupation Hector tells Helen that even were she to give herself up she would not stop the Greeks, just as a lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq makes no difference to the continuing occupation. Troy depicts a war fought for the gain of the few and paid for in the blood and tears of the many.

In his anger at Agamemnon, Achilles remarks, “Imagine a king who fights his own battles-wouldn’t that be a sight?” The siege of Troy is for a long time unsuccessful-the Trojans are too good at resistance.

However, there is a quandary for the Greeks. You may think you are hearing things when Nestor tells Agamemnon that withdrawal would destroy Mycenae’s credibility, because it sounds so much like the US’s leaders today.

Finally, as the war of attrition becomes too much for the Greeks, Odysseus, who is cast as a Colin Powell in the UN character, devises his infamous horse plan. The rest, as they say, is history. Except that it isn’t really, not in this film.

The scenes of the brutal carnage of the sacking of Troy is disturbingly timely. Throughout the film characters obsess over how history will remember them, just as Blair obsesses over how history will remember him. For Blair there will be no glory for his participation in the sacking of Iraq. Clearly Tony Blair is not Brad Pitt but there is one similarity.

Blair has in Iraq a terrible Achilles heel. It is his undoing. All speed to the Respect arrow that will be sprouting from his foot on 11 June.


Politics at the scene of the crime

LIKE MANY socialists I know, I have always been slightly embarrassed by my love of TV cop shows. After all, most of them have a simplistic view of good and evil, overstate levels of crime and-perhaps worst of all-glorify institutions such as the FBI and the police.

But things are not always what they seem at first glance. The sheer number of cop shows and their popularity means there is space for programmes that bring out many political, social and ideological views that strike at the heart of law and order in a class society.

There is a world of difference between the reactionary, anti working class themes of The Bill and the fantastic BBC2 series The Cops-sadly, but unsurprisingly, pulled after two outstanding series.

In the last few years, there has been an explosion of TV cop shows, mainly from the US, which tread ground of interest to socialists. The Shield, Homicide: Life on the Streets and NYPD Blue throw up questions of police corruption and highlight the often massive gap between law and justice.

Their central characters are usually cops we like and loathe in equal measure. There is none of the moral certainty of Columbo or Starsky and Hutch. One of the sheer pleasures of this new breed of cop shows is the high production values. Every episode is like a mini-film, full of clever camera angles and expensive actors and sets.

Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) epitomises the excitement of the latest developments in the genre. We are sucked into what is essentially an old-fashioned detective format by the programme’s artistry and pace. Its characters offer human frailties, weaknesses and moral dilemmas that draw us in.

The simplistic structure of crime, investigation and solution in CSI is seen by some as a step backwards from the messy, gritty realism and lack of neat endings of NYPD Blue and others.

Yet CSI also reflects some of the deep cynicism about law enforcement agencies on both sides of the Atlantic-its one “good cop” is often hampered in his efforts to help our forensic heroes by the ignorance of his fellow officers. And the FBI is seen as a destructive force in some of the episodes. Whatever the weakness of the latest twists in the genre, one thing’s for sure-we’ve come a long way since Dixon of Dock Green…

  • Moira Nolan
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