Yesterday's War of Tomorrow, and more!

  • Posted on
  • by
Just an overview of some books, movies, and music that I've experienced lately.I may end up fleshing some of these out with full reviews eventually...
  • Red Army by Ralph Peters : Known more to me for his perceptive political essays, Peters shows a similar aptitude for fiction here... This military procedural depicts the theoretical invasion of West Germany by Soviet forces in the late eighties. The choice of telling this story solely from the Soviet perspective was a daring one, as you cannot help but root for those whose viewpoint you are reading (Nevertheless, I found myself rooting for the British or the West Germans at times). This also allows Peters the opportunity to humanize the faceless mass of the Soviet military. Peters himself gives a good description of the book in his Author's Note:
    My fundamental goal in writing this book was to attempt to bring those men to life in their rich human variety, to see them as a bit less faceless and enigmatic, in the context of modern battle.
    While Peters is quite adept, if a little graphic, at describing the modern battlefield he does not go to absurd lengths describing the technical details of battle. He does not focus on gadgetry or technology, like others of this genre, but rather on behavior. The book isn't really about the hardware or even the war; its about the men behind the guns. As he says:
    When asked what the Soviet military is "really like," I have often joked that it's a lot like sex: Much that you've heard about it isn't true; when its good it can be amazing; but when it's bad, it's inexpressibly embarrassing.
    There are some steriotypes in action here, but for the most part Peters' characters are compelling, believable, and, most importantly, sympathetic. From the lowly foot soldier to the MIG pilot to the tank commander to the general in charge of the attack, Peters leaves no perspective unturned.

    Also worthy of note is the bitter critique of NATO that fills the pages, and particularly the ending. I won't say how it ends, but given some of his recent writings, his thoughts and feelings obviously haven't changed much.

    Peters has a new collection of essays called Beyond Baghdad: Postmodern War and Peace which looks promising (it comes out October 1st). He is also writing fiction under the pseudonym Owen Parry (I haven't read any of them, but they look like Civil War era mysteries, which sounds sufficiently interesting enough for me!)
  • Watchmen by Alan Moore (writer) and Dave Gibbons (illustrator) : A fine example of how a comic book can be considered artistically valid literature, Watchmen nevertheless contains many of the mainstays of the medium. For instance, Watchmen has "superheroes" as characters, but they don't even remotely resemble the superheroes we are all familiar with. It's a tale of cold war paranoia, set in the eighties just before a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (the world portrayed in Watchmen is not exactly the same as our own, due to the influece of "superheros" on society). (Spoiler alert!) Interestingly enough, its ending in which a shrewd businessman/superhero engineers a massive tragedy in New York to look like an alien attack, is an unflinching and horrifying example of how human beings go to extraordinary efforts not just to achieve superficial goals, but as an engine for social progress (albeit, in this case, the massive undertaking is somewhat less benign than the pyramids or space flight were.) This ending has some rather profound moral implications, and I was left very conflicted...
  • Kukushka (The Cuckoo) : An oddly ambitious film from Russian director Aleksandr Rogozhkin, this movie tells the story of 3 unlikely companions towards the end of WWII. A Finnish sniper, chained to a rock and left for dead by the Germans, eventually escapes and finds his way to a farm which is run by a Sami woman named Anni. Anni has also found an injured Russian captain who had been condemned for writing anti-Stalinist thoughts in his diary. For her, they are not enemies; just men. Complicating matters considerably, none of this trio speaks the same language. Of course, we in the audience can see everything they're saying, which makes for an interesting dynamic that Rogozhkin is thankfully able to pull off... If you can find it, its worth taking in...
  • Donnie Darko : An odd but interesting little film which tells the story of Donnie Darko, a teen who has a chronic sleepwalking problem, and who starts to see things. Its a time travel story, but a rather odd one, and I'm not sure it makes perfect sense. It is, however, an ambitious and thought provoking effort. Not a brilliant movie, but this is adventurous filmmaking. The writer/director Richard Kelly shows promise with this effort...
  • Keep it Together by Guster : Guster's latest album is a departure from their normally unique sound. Eschewing their definitive instrumentation in favor of a more traditional sound, they have crafted a decent album, but one which does not distinguish them from many other similar sounding bands. I find myself feeling that I've heard several of the songs before, though I can never place the original source (the "hidden" track sounds disturbingly like the Christmas Vacation theme song). The real shame here is the downgrading of the bongos in the percussion. In several of the songs, the bongos are completely absent, replaced by extremely lame and simplistic drum beats. Everything seems toned down, and in that vein, the music is less distinctive than their previous entries. Its a disappointing listen, though ther are a few moments of livelyhood...
Update 9.16.03 - Added some info on Ralph Peters' other books... Thanks to Lex for reminding me...