Thursday, April 20, 2006

Holy Crap

Hey, I just noticed something.

I know the new Mr. Terrific has been around for a while. I haven't read too many stories with him in it, but he seems to be that rarest of rare specimens, an ethnic character in comics who isn't defined by amorphous connections to drugs or gangs or a poverty-stricken inner city youth (I mean, for all I know he could be, but those cliché don't seem to define him the way they do Luke Cage, the Falcon, Black Lightning, Storm [thief in Cairo, remember?], et al). (I admit that I read JSA for a couple years because it was, in the beginning, partially hyped as a Starman spinoff [does anyone else remember that?], and I loved Starman enough to give the book a try. Fairly standard superheroics but it kept my attention until I basically decided I could live the rest of my life just fine without ever buying another issue.)

But Jesus H. Christ on a pogostick, looking at that Perez cover for the final issue of JSA which I posted the other day, it suddenly hit me that MR. TERRIFIC IS WEARING BLACKFACE. Has no one ever seen that before? I mean, seriously, I guess you could just naturally overlook it if you weren't specifically looking for it, but when I saw it it really struck me. I can't look at the character any other way now, it seems obvious.

I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt in saying that I seriously doubt they intended to make a blackface character. But dammit, they most certainly did!

EDIT: Check the comments - I was apparently very wrong about the modern Mr. Terrific's origins. I guess it's to DC's credit that they were able to -- >ahem< -- whitewash the character's origins so thoroughly. I didn't even remember that he had first appeared in the Spectre, I recall encountering him in JSA and thinking it must have been his first appearance. Which I guess it was, for all intents and purposes . . .

Anyone who doesn't already pick up the magazine is strongly encouraged to purchase this month's issue of The Atlantic, featuring a cover story on the Desert One debacle (available here, I believe -- you might need to be a subscriber to read it but I can't tell for sure).

For those who came in late, the Desert One mission was the Delta Force's ill-fated attempt in April of 1980 to rescue the 53 hostages taken by Iran during the very early days of the Islamic Republic. I had known, obviously that the mission had been a colossal failure but not until I read the article did I realize just how bad of a clusterfuck it was. The article is presented as an excerpt of a forthcoming book on the subject by Black Hawk Down author Mark Bowden. That book became something of a phenomenon, attracting a large audience outside the usual military history geeks, and even inspiring a movie of the same name.

It will be interesting to see if a book on the hostage crisis has the same resonance. The story behind Black Hawk Down was also a major debacle on the part of the US military, but the crucial difference is that while the Battle of Mogadishu was a tactical and strategic disaster at least partially exonerated by the heroism displayed by the troops on the ground, the Desert One operation was only an absolute failure, and the Marines who lost their lives in the Iranian desert did so because of gross stupidity and sheer chance, surely among the most banal and pointless deaths in military history. Watching people burn to death in a DC-13 because a sand-clogged helicopter accidentally brushed its rotor against the fuselage -- that is not the stuff of stirring Hollywood blockbusters.

But I think it makes perfect sense that the Iranian hostage crisis is being brought to public attention again. Obviously, as current events continue to unfold the region remains the focal point of a great deal of anxiety. But perhaps more importantly, the Iranian revolution and subsequent hostage crisis represents a crucial turning point in the history of the last fifty years. It's debatable whether or not Jimmy Carter would have been able to defeat Ronald Reagan under the best of circumstances, but the unmitigated failure of Desert One was an extremely public humiliation for Carter that probably did as much as anything to sink his reputation in the run-up to the election. What would have become of Reagan's subsequent "Conservative revolution" if Carter has won another term? And whereas the American media had spent the last decade focused on the turmoil in Southeast Asia, the Iranian crisis would prove, in hindsight, to be a bellweather for the shift in American foreign policy that followed the end of the cold war -- with a focus on the regrettable aftereffects of colonialism (Iraq, sub-saharan Africa, Israel and Palestine) and the collapse (or instability) of Cold War client states (Iran, Yugoslavia, North Korea, Central and South America) which had previously been held intact or in check by their patrons' detente, if not ignored entirely. So yeah, it makes perfect sense that Iran would want to continue to stick it to us in whatever way possible -- they've all got long memories over there, much longer than most Americans, who find it hard to remember further back than the last election cycle. So I sincerely hope, if Bowden's book is as well-written as The Atlantic's excerpt, that it gains a wide audience, if for no other reason than that the idea of people actually thinking about the root causes and distant origins of our myriad Middle Eastern dilemmas -- instead of merely wringing their hands in bewildered, uninformed frustration -- is a good one.

While we're on the topic of politics I should point out that, despite my best intentions, I am consistently impressed by the level of commentary over at Unqualified Offerings. This is not to say that I agree with all of Jim Henley's take on the world -- oftentimes, left-libertarian / anarchist ideas just seem painfully naive, but I realize that's my realpolitik bias. (To wit: I wish I had the luxury of believing in anarchism as anything more than a fairy-tale; even under the best prognosis we're hundreds of years away from being able to feasibly construct a utopia along either anarchist or communist lines, with lots and lots of capitalist stupidity in the intervening years.) But when it comes to foreign policy he makes more sense more often than almost any commentator I regularly read this side of Seymour Hersh. I honestly can't imagine where he finds the time to amass all the evidence he does -- I barely have time to keep up with all the current affairs publications to which I subscribe (at least four by last count), let alone scour the internet for the requisite alternative viewpoints.

In any event, his posts on the administration's current Iran war drum-beating (including this most recent post) are simply wonderful in their concise encapsulation of what appears to be the most sensible reaction to the current Iranian proto-boondoggle: sheer, unadulterated panic tempered by cynical detachment. I've talked to a few smart people lately who believe there is no way the administration could possibly get away with military action against Iran. Which, honestly, seems little more than specious wistful thinking, considering that off the top of my head I can easily list a few dozen things that I and most sensible people believed the President couldn't possibly get away with but which he very easily did. If they want to go to war with Iran they will do so regardless of the fact that most sane people would long ago have folded; as Henley so eloquently puts it: "George W. Bush . . . [responds] to bad bets by doubling down". He's never met a problem that couldn't be solved by more of the same; whatever didn't work in the past (which only didn't work on account of his critics' lack of faith) will succeed in the future if only it is done with more vigor and energy. If I can't push a square peg into a round hole by pushing hard, maybe this jackhammer will do the trick . . .

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