Is Paris burning? That was the title of the epic 1966 film about the liberation of Paris from the Nazis – an earnest extravaganza with every major star of the day. Kirk Douglas was George Patton and Glenn Ford was Omar Bradley, and look, there was Jean-Paul Belmondo, and Charles Boyer, and Leslie Caron and George Chakiris and Anthony Perkins and Simone Signoret, and Orson Welles too. This should have been a hit. It was directed by René Clément, from a screenplay by Gore Vidal and Francis Ford Coppola. You can’t do much better than that, but the film is largely forgotten now. It pops up on basic cable now and then, usually in the middle of the night. It’s filler now.
The whole thing was pretty lame – Paramount’s sorry answer to Twentieth Century Fox’s more successful 1962 The Longest Day – the one with John Wayne as Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin H. Vandervoort, CO, 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, on D-Day. He was still John Wayne. Those were the days when celebrities won wars. That’s what people went to the movies to see, because history itself is always complicated and ambiguous – and the heroes, if there are any, are hardly glamorous. The Paramount movie was spoofed in Mad Magazine in their September 1967 issue – “Is Paris Boring?”
Maybe it was, and telling the story in little vignettes with celebrities playing versions of themselves, not really the actual historic figures, didn’t help all that much – but it did make the history go down easy. And it was seductive. Maybe if we had celebrities running things, even B-list celebrities, we’d win all our wars. That may be why we elected Ronald Reagan president, twice. We got confused, or we were seduced. That may be why Donald Trump is doing so well at the moment. Celebrities are cool.
But on Friday, November 13, 2015, Paris really was burning:
The Paris area reeled Friday night from a shooting rampage, explosions and mass hostage-taking that President François Hollande called an unprecedented terrorist attack on France. His government announced sharply increased border controls and heightened police powers as it mobilized the military in a national emergency.
French television and news services quoted the police as saying that around 100 people had been killed at a concert site where hostages had been held during a two-hour standoff with the police, and that perhaps dozens of others had been killed in apparently coordinated attacks outside the country’s main sports stadium and four other popular locations in the city. But estimates on the total number of dead varied.
The current count is 153 dead, but that will rise, but this seems to be over:
News agencies quoted Michel Cadot, head of the Paris police, as saying early Saturday that all the assailants involved in shootings or bombings were believed to be dead, and the Paris prosecutor’s office said that eight attackers were dead, according to The Associated Press.
That’s good, unless this is just the first wave of what may turn out to be an endless series of coordinated attacks by ISIS, or their rivals, al-Qaeda. It may not be both, because they hate each other, or it might be both. When the United States jumped into the Middle East, to transform the place, lots of folks were pissed off, and France eventually joined us in some of that. Now they’ve paid the price. The name of the bad guys hardly matters – and we may be next, with the worry is that it may not be ISIS or al-Qaeda for us. The Boston Marathon bombers were two guys who had no direct connection to either organization but were sympathetic to both, and good at building small but deadly bombs from spare parts from this and that. They were freelancers. What can we do about that? This is a puzzle.
Straight-talking guns-blazing John Wayne isn’t going to help – he’s dead and his real name was Marion Morrison anyway – and he was an actor, only an actor – but of course he was a celebrity too. People listened to him. Celebrities know things, as least people think they do, and Donald Trump is counting on that. The night before the Paris attacks he launched into an epic ninety-five minute rant, all full of John Wayne straight talk that was supposed to settle matters. It wasn’t John Wayne addressing the troops before D-Day, but it was in Fort Dodge, Iowa, and had that same sort of cut-the-crap feel:
He scoffed at those who have accused him of not understanding foreign policy, saying he knows more about Islamic State terrorists “than the generals do.” He took credit for predicting the threat of Osama bin Laden and being right on the “anchor baby situation,” a position he says “these great geniuses from Harvard Law School” now back. He uttered the word “crap” at least three times, and promised to “bomb the shit” out of oil fields benefiting terrorists. He signed a book for a guy in the audience and then tossed it back at him with a flip: “Here you go, baby. I love you.”
Trump called Republican rival Carly Fiorina “Carly whatever-the-hell-her-name-is,” accused Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton of playing the “woman’s card” and said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is “weak like a baby.” He then devoted more than 10 minutes angrily attacking his chief rival, Ben Carson, saying the retired doctor has a “pathological disease” with no cure, similar to being a child molester.
That was classic, but this was his foreign policy:
Trump described traditional politicians as “stupid” and told the crowd that he is “competent.” That’s why he got so angry when journalists forced him to share his strategy for fighting the Islamic State, even though he wanted to keep such plans secret so as not to tip off the enemy, he said. Journalists, he said, are “scum” and “garbage.”
“I know more about ISIS than the generals do,” Trump said. “Believe me.”
Trump said he would go after the oil fields in Iraq and Syria that he says nets the terrorist group “millions of dollars a week.”
“I would bomb the shit out of them,” he said to raucous applause. “I would just bomb those suckers. And that’s right: I’d blow up the pipes. I’d blow up the refineries. I would blow up every single inch. There would be nothing left.”
And then things turned sour:
The applause was nowhere near as strong as Trump launched into a lengthy critique of Carson, who is well-liked in Iowa and has at times beat Trump in polls here. The Iowa caucuses are often dominated by evangelicals, many of whom have been captivated by Carson, who talks endlessly about his faith.
Carson wrote in his autobiography that as a young man he had a “pathological temper” that caused him to violently attack others — going after his mother with a hammer and trying to stab a friend, only to have the blade stopped and broken by the friend’s belt buckle. In recent days, those accounts have come under scrutiny, and Carson has had to clarify or correct some of the details.
Trump said Carson has a “pathological disease” with no cure, comparing it to the incurable mental conditions of child molesters.
“A child molester, there’s no cure for that,” Trump said. “If you’re a child molester, there’s no cure. They can’t stop you. Pathological? There’s no cure.”
With his voice growing louder and louder, Trump questioned what sort of person would attack his mother. He questioned how a belt buckle could stop a blade, stepping away from the podium to demonstrate how such an attack might happen and how his own belt buckle wouldn’t stay in place long enough to stop a knife.
“Anybody have a knife?” Trump asked the audience, which was screened by Secret Service agents who began protecting him this week. “You want to try it on me?”
Then he insulted his audience:
Trump was flabbergasted: “How stupid are the people of Iowa? How stupid are the people of the country to believe this crap?”
And Trump said he doesn’t believe that after just a few hours of reflection, Carson found God and overcame his violent temper.
“He goes into the bathroom for a couple of hours, and he comes out, and now he’s religious,” Trump said. “And the people of Iowa believe him. Give me a break. Give me a break. It doesn’t happen that way. It doesn’t happen that way. … Don’t be fools, okay?”
David Kurtz, the Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo, wonders what Trump was thinking:
Here’s my question: Is calling the people of Iowa “stupid” while at a campaign rally in Iowa the sort of break-all-the-rules move that finally pushes Trump over the edge? Or is that not substantively any different from calling America a bunch of pitiful losers who need a strong man like Trump to make them winners again? Because that message – you’re a chump, but I can lift you up and make you more than a chump – has been the core resonance of the Trump message (along with the dark undertone of a promised revenge against the people – Mexicans, elites, media, Wall Street – who’ve been treating you like a chump.)
Something odd is going on here:
It’s true that when you watch the snippet of Trump fooling around with his belt to cast further doubt on Ben Carson’s stabbing story… it does give you pause. But more than anything, the Trump shtick – I’m a winner and I can make you a winner again! – doesn’t resonate the same way when Trump himself is losing to a Mr. Magoo like Carson. That’s just a hard sell, even for the “stupid” people of Iowa.
At Mother Jones, Keven Drum adds this:
I remember a lot of people wondering how Trump would handle things if the time came when he was no longer leading in the polls. I guess now we know. It’s too much for his ego to stand, and the phenomenal self-discipline he’s been showing recently is utterly shattered. Can you imagine what Trump would be like if he ever had a genuinely stressful job, like, um, you know?
And there were interesting responses like the one from Carly Fiorina on Facebook:
Donald, sorry, I’ve got to interrupt again. You would know something about pathological. How was that meeting with Putin? Or Wharton? Or your self-funded campaign? Anyone can turn a multi-million dollar inheritance into more money, but all the money in the world won’t make you as smart as Ben Carson.
And there was this:
Ben Carson hopes Americans pray for Donald Trump after his GOP presidential rival compared him with child molesters. “When I spoke with Dr. Carson about this yesterday about how we should respond, you know, he was so sad about it,” Armstrong Williams, Carson’s friend and business partner, told CNN Friday.
“He said: ‘Pray for him’ – he feels sorry because he really likes Mr. Trump. To see him just imploding before our very eyes – it’s sad to watch.”
And there was this:
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling said Donald Trump’s strategy to “bomb the shit out of” ISIS, is “not only immoral but illegal,” and said it would lead to “mass resignations” across the military.
Hertling criticized Trump on “CNN Newsroom with Carol Costello” Friday.
“I’m trying to remain apolitical in this, but it’s increasingly difficult to do that when you hear these kinds of statements of individuals who have not been there, who don’t know more than the generals do, and in many cases, don’t know more than the privates do,” he said.
That was cold, but then CNN played the full clip from Trump:
I know more ISIS than the generals do, believe me. I would bomb the shit out of them. I would just bomb those suckers. And, that’s right – I’d blow up the pipes. I’d blow up the refineries. I’d blow up every single inch. There would be nothing left. And you know what? You’ll get Exxon to come in there, and in two months – have you ever seen these guys how good they are – the great oil companies? They’ll rebuild that sucker brand new. It’ll be beautiful. And I’d ring it, and I’d take the oil.
The bit about Exxon was odd, but understandable from a businessman, but the rest was a celebrity playing a general:
Hertling, a CNN military analyst, suggested that Trump “might want to take a visit to Iraq or some of the combat areas and see how things work on the ground. It’s now getting into the scary category.”
“He is talking about things that he knows very little about. It’s not only a little bit scary, but it’s also dangerous, and it’s also immoral. You just don’t do that. Americans don’t fight wars by carpet-bombing nations,” explained Hertling. “And I think if he was on the ground in Iraq or Syria, and he would see the population that is in dire fear of ISIS and how they are intermingling with the population, I think he would have a better perspective. I think it might also be interesting to get him into that country when other organizations like Mobil or Exxon have attempted to try and repair some of the oil works. Because I was there when that occurred, and it’s very challenging, truthfully.”
“I’d remind folks that less than one percent of the American population has served in the military,” he continued. “And even a fewer percentage of the population has served in these kind of areas, so you just don’t know what it’s like. When other countries are under conflict, under siege like this, it’s hard, extremely hard, to re-establish both their economic and their industrial capacity once they are bombed.”
“There are people living there. There are 11 million people in Iraq where the oil fields are, and not all of them are ISIS supporters. In fact, very few are,” said Hertling. “When you’re talking about dropping bombs, first of all, you have got to have targets to drop bombs on. It’s an applause line for people who have never been there and have never seen what it’s like.”
The general doesn’t like celebrities who like to play general in some imaginary movie and would set Trump straight:
“I would react by first of all trying to inform him of the laws of land warfare and Geneva Conventions that are involved in this and how it’s not only immoral but illegal to do that,” Hertling insisted. He continued, “I would not be a partner to these kinds of things, because it would put me as a commander before the Hague Courts.”
“And if he persisted in saying ‘bomb it,’ I think what you would eventually have in the military across the board is mass resignations. And that’s a tough stance to take, Carol, but truthfully, that’s what would occur,” explained Hertling.
“Because the American military studies these kinds of things. They know the moral and the values implications associated with these kinds of decisions. They will attempt to persuade their leaders the right approaches to take and the various options available. But they won’t do things illegally or immorally.”
Of course Trump will now say this general, like all generals, is full of shit. Wait for it. It’s coming, but Ben Carson knows better too:
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson fired back Friday at the White House for dismissing his claims that China is moving into Syria, saying his sources are clearly better than those of the U.S. government.
Carson said his campaign would release “some material on that” before the end of the weekend when asked about National Security Adviser Susan Rice saying there’s no evidence to support his claims that the Chinese are involved in Syria.
“I have several sources that I’ve got material from, I’m surprised my sources are better than theirs,” he told reporters after a town hall event.
Every intelligence agency in the world is now waiting to find out what they, with all their resources, missed. Carson has no resources, but he found out, and yes, both these guys are in their own old war movies from the sixties, when celebrities won our wars, and then there’s Paris:
Ben Carson stumbled Friday evening while responding to a question about how he would respond to the terror attacks in Paris if he were president. Carson said he would employ “things that they don’t know about resources” against terrorists, but struggled to specify what an American response under his leadership might look like.
“I would be working with our allies, using every resource known to man: in terms of economic resources, in terms of covert resources… military resources… things-that-they-don’t-know-about resources… not to contain them, but to eliminate them, before they eliminate us,” Carson told reporters at the Sunshine Summit, a gathering of Republican leaders.
Okay. Donald Trump would bomb the shit out of ISIS in Syria, and then bring in Exxon and take all the oil, and then, presumably, Paris would be safe again. But to be fair, he said all that twenty-four hours before the terrorist attacks in Paris. Would he change his mind now? He never changes his mind, and Ben Carson, who knows amazing things that no government on earth knows, now says we should use our things-that-they-don’t-know-about resources and wipe these guys out, right now – or something. No one knows what the hell he’s talking about, and these two want to be president? Yes, they do.
Perhaps we should wait to see what’s best to do next. The attacks just happened. It’s midnight here in Los Angeles, nine in the morning in Paris, the morning after. Give it time, but don’t give it to celebrities. Paris may be burning, but this isn’t a Hollywood movie. Celebrities aren’t going to fix this. The boring ugly people will. That’s the way real history works.