Brazil and Bush's War on Terror

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We
are living in Brazil. The future as foretold by Terry Gilliam's
1985 rich and multi-layered film masterpiece Brazil
is upon us. First released fifteen years ago, Terry Gilliam's Brazil
was astonishingly accurate in forecasting political trends. In a
previous
essay
, I examined the film as a critique of socialist central
planning. In this piece, I will discuss how Brazil portends
Bush's War on Terror.

The
world of Brazil shows a totalitarian society in which freedom
has been forfeited for a false promise of protection from terrorist
attacks. Gilliam shows how the threat of terrorism is manipulated
by the state as a means of political control over the population.
The threat of terror is created by the internal security police
in order to generate public acceptance of totalitarian police powers.

Gilliam's
exposition raises some important questions: Is the terror created
by the power of the state in the alleged pursuit of terrorism worse
than the terrorism itself? And are they really any different?

The
ministers of state in Brazil have succeeded in creating a
society organized around a continuous response to the threat of
terrorism. Random bombings occur regularly. The protagonist Sam
and his mother must go through a security check in order to enter
a restaurant. And then during their meal a large explosion blows
out the back of the dining room; they continue eating while bodies
are dragged away.

As
in modern America, there is some doubt about whether Brazil's "War
on Terrorism" is really working. At the opening of the film
Minister Helpmann, the Deputy Minister of information (the internal
security agency), appears on TV immediately after a bombing takes
place:

INTERVIEWER:
Do you think that the government is winning the battle against
terrorists?

HELPMANN:
Oh yes. Our morale is much higher than theirs, we’re fielding
all their strokes, running a lot of them out, and pretty consistently
knocking them for six. I’d say they’re nearly out of the game.

INTERVIEWER:
But the bombing campaign is now in its thirteenth year.

HELPMANN:
Beginner’s luck.

Now
in the US, we are told by the Bush administration that the war on
terrorism will become a more or less permanent state of affairs.

U.S.
war may last decades
Military pushed to think broadly

By
KAREN MASTERSON

WASHINGTON
– The U.S. war on terrorism may rage for decades and has
forced Pentagon strategists to think more broadly than they’ve
had to since World War II, a top military official said Sunday.

“The
fact that it could last several years, or many years, or maybe
our lifetimes would not surprise me,” Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday on ABC’s This Week.

The
film has been reissued on DVD with commentary by the director in
which he states that it was his intention to convey that there were
so many government plants, double agents, agents provocateurs,
moles, infiltrators, etc. that at some point even the government
did not know for sure whether there were any real terrorists or
whether all of the terror was fabricated by the police as part of
their anti-terror campaign. 

In
a conversation between Sam and Ministry of Information office Jack
Lint, Lint reveals how he — as a key member of the internal security
department – understands the events that are taking place:

SAM:
You don’t really think Tuttle and the girl are in league?

JACK:
I do. Goodbye.

SAM:
It could all be coincidental.

JACK:
There are no coincidences, Sam. Everything’s connected, all along
the line. Cause and effect. That’s the beauty of it. Our job is
to trace the connections and reveal them. This whole Buttle/Tuttle
confusion was obviously planned from the inside.

As
the audience of the film, we know that the Tuttle/Buttle confusion
was caused by a computer error within the department, and that "the
girl" (Jill Layton) became involved as a concerned citizen
trying to investigate a wrongful arrest. The irony here is that
a random chain of events kicked off by the Ministry's own error
is seen from inside ministry as further evidence of a terrorist
conspiracy.

Revisionist
historians have suggested that many wars and other events are staged
or at least allowed to happen and then used by the government to
manipulate public opinion in the direction that they want it to
go. Michael Ruppert
has provided voluminous researc
h suggesting that the US intelligence
agencies had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks and chose to allow
them to occur, much the way that Roosevelt
knew about Pearl Harbor and did not prevent it
. And there is
the tradition of US enemies having once been funded by US intelligence
agencies.

Bin
Laden comes home to roost
His
CIA ties are only the beginning of a woeful story

By
Michael Moran
MSNBC

NEW
YORK, Aug. 24, 1998 – At the CIA, it happens often enough
to have a code name: Blowback. Simply defined, this is the term
that describes an agent, an operative or an operation that has
turned on its creators. Osama bin Laden, our new public enemy
Number 1, is the personification of blowback. And the fact that
he is viewed as a hero by millions in the Islamic world proves
again the old adage: Reap what you sow.

[...]

What
the CIA bio conveniently fails to specify (in its unclassified
form, at least) is that the MAK was nurtured by Pakistan's state
security services, the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or
ISI, the CIA's primary conduit for conducting the covert war against
Moscow's occupation.

[...]

Yet
the CIA, concerned about the factionalism of Afghanistan made
famous by Rudyard Kipling, found that Arab zealots who flocked
to aid the Afghans were easier to "read" than the rivalry-ridden
natives. While the Arab volunteers might well prove troublesome
later, the agency reasoned, they at least were one-dimensionally
anti-Soviet for now. So bin Laden, along with a small group of
Islamic militants from Egypt, Pakistan, Lebanon, Syria and Palestinian
refugee camps all over the Middle East, became the "reliable"
partners of the CIA in its war against Moscow.

Brazil
shows a world of meek and helpless people, devoid of any artistic
or aesthetic pleasure. There are two heroes in the film: Tuttle,
the renegade heating repair engineer, and Jill Layton, a woman who
takes it upon herself to fight the wrongful arrest of her neighbor's
husband. The protagonist, Sam, is a happy cog in the great machine,
content to waste away his life shuffling papers within a vast bureaucracy.

Social
life is dominated by suspicion and fear. And who is behind this?

INTERVIEWER:
Deputy minister, what do you believe is behind this recent increase
in terrorist bombings?

HELPMANN:
Bad sportsmanship. A ruthless minority of people seems to have
forgotten certain good old fashioned virtues. They just can’t
stand seeing the other fellow win. If these people would just
play the game, they'd get a lot more out of life.

Compare
this to President
Bush’s Address on Terrorism to Congress
:

Americans
are asking, ”Why do they hate us?”

They
hate what they see right here in this chamber, a democratically
elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate
our freedoms, our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech,
our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.

The
utter irony of this is that Bush and Helpmann depict terrorism as
primarily a sort of arrested emotional development by those who
did not learn in grade school to be good losers. The little boy
who took his ball and went home became a terrorist when he grew
up. This rhetorical tactic forestalls any inquiry into the religious
or political movements that the terrorists might be seeking to advance
or whether they have any real case against the American foreign
policy. An irony here is that the moral virtue claimed by both Bush
and Helpmann is undermined by their own terror game.

The
use of propaganda is another tactic used by totalitarian regimes
to generate support for their program. In Brazil as in Orwell's

1984
, this takes the form of euphemisms.

KURTZMAN:
I’ve tried that! Population Census have got him down as dormanted,
the Central Collective Storehouse computer has got him down as
deleted, and the Information Retrieval have got him down as inoperative,
Security has him down as excised, Admin have him down as completed.

SAM:
Hang on…he's dead.

KURTZMANN:
Dead?

Besides
being used to hide unpleasant meanings, euphemisms are also used
to portray falsehood as truth. The sinister internal security division
is darkly named the Ministry of Information Retrieval. They
"retrieve" information from citizens by torture. In a
visual motif reminiscent of Soviet era propaganda, posters with
banal slogans appear on buildings and in offices. In case you can't
read them all as they go by during the film, I have copied them
from the excellent Brazil
FAQ
:

  • “Be Safe:
    Be Suspicious”
  • “Suspicion
    Breeds Confidence”
  • “Trust
    in haste, Regret at leisure”
  • “Don’t
    suspect a friend, report him”
  • “Who can
    you trust?”

This
is not so different from modern America. In case some American suspects
a friend of theirs, Bush will make it possible for you to report
him:

Operation
TIPS Trips Up?

August
8, 2002

(CBS)
In the aftermath of Sept. 11, President Bush laid groundwork for
“Operation TIPS," a program which would organize a volunteer
army of citizen lookouts to report “suspicious” activities to
the federal government.

Under
“Operation TIPS," transportation workers, utility crews and
letter carriers could sign up to snoop on members of their communities.
Attorney General Ashcroft argued such vigilance could thwart terrorists,
CBS News Correspondent Bob Orr reports.

“You
have the ability of people who have a regular perception, who
understand what’s out of order here, what’s different here, and
maybe something needs to be looked into,” Ashcroft said.

The
plot of Brazil is driven by a series of accounting errors
that are initiated when the Ministry of Information arrests and
tortures the wrong man. The arrest scene is a terrifying exhibition
of police state tactics: several black-garbed troopers simultaneously
burst through the walls and doors of the Buttle's apartment. They
are followed a paper-pushing official who reads the banal statement
of arrest to Mr. Buttle as he is about to be dragged off in a canvas
sack and tortured to death:

OFFICIAL:
I hereby inform you under powers entrusted to me under Section
47, Paragraph 7 of Council Order Number 438476, that Mr Buttle,
Archibald, residing at 412 North Tower, Shangri La Towers, has
been invited to assist the Ministry of Information with certain
enquiries…

The
accounting problems stem from the wrongful arrest of Mr. Buttle
because they charge torture victims for the cost of their own torture.
These charges are necessary for efficiency, according to the Deputy
Minister.1

INTERVIEWER:
And the cost of it [i.e. the Ministry's campaign] all, Deputy
Minister? Seven percent of the gross national product…

HELPMANN:
I understand this concern on behalf of the taxpayers. People
want value for money. And that's why we always insist on the principle
of Information Retrieval Charges. It’s absolutely right and fair
that those found guilty should pay for their periods of detention
and the Information Retrieval Procedures used in their interrogation.

Later,
when the Sam is arrested for a long list of crimes and brought back
to Information Retrieval for processing, the Ministry even offers
him a consumer financing plan to that they provide to help torture
victims bear the cost:

OFFICIAL
C
: Now, either you plead guilty to say, seven or eight of
these charges, which’ll bring the costs down to within your reach,
or you can borrow a sum to be negotiated, from us, at very competitive
rates.

OFFICIAL
D
: We can offer you something at say, eleven and a half per
cent, over thirty years. But you will have to buy insurance to
qualify for his scheme.

This
type of plan brings to mind Paul Craig Roberts' critique of current
US judicial proceedings in which people are charged with a long
list of related offences for a single crime then encouraged to plea
bargain by pleading guilty to only one of them. Also, compare Sam's
travails to a trial balloon that was floated by the Bush administration:

Officials
consider tapping Iraqi oil to pay war costs
Some in Bush administration consider oil funds to be ‘spoils of
war’

WASHINGTON
– Bush administration officials are seriously considering
proposals that the United States tap Iraq’s oil to help pay the
cost of a military occupation, a move that likely would prove
highly inflammatory in an Arab world already suspicious of U.S.
motives.

In
another amazing parallel, the interior spaces of the rooms in Brazil
are overrun with ugly meandering heating ducts. And as US citizens
we are told to stock up on duct tape.

How
could a film produced fifteen years ago have foreseen these developments
in such remarkable detail? Perhaps because they are not new: they
are recurring patterns in the way that states use and manufacture
the threat of warfare in order to control their own citizens. State
power tends to grow during wars because citizens become more willing
to trade liberty for the security that states are willing to promise
them. But when a war ends, the pendulum swings back at least partially.
So why not manufacture a permanent state of war during which freedoms
can be indefinitely suspended? Gilliam was writing history as well
as foretelling the future. By creatively retelling the past as a
work of fiction about the future, he exposes the totalitarian impulse.

Note:

  1. My own thoughts
    on this were augmented by points made in the
    FAQ, part 9
    .

Favorite
Brazil Sites

  1. FAQ.
  2. Script.
  3. Buy the
    new DVD release
    featuring a documentary about the film and
    Gilliam's commentary.

May
28, 2003

Robert
Blumen (send him mail)
is an independent software consultant based in San Francisco.


     

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