Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. -- Thomas Paine, The Crisis.
Now that I'm home I can be plain about where I was since Monday. My womenfolk plotted a vacation (our first in years) without my input and hijacked me to the Panama City beaches for three days more or less of decompression. It was wonderful. Both my daughters were on spring break at the same time, so it was a rare family get together. It was great.
With my diabetic hamburger feet (which although much improved over last year still are not healed), I was not able to walk on the beach (and the temperatures were such that swimming was out of the question). So, during the times that the girls were out on the sand, I watched cable.
Now cable has been absent from my house since, oh, many years anyway. We had it disconnected to preserve the girl's moral education from cultural contamination and it worked out quite well. After the conversion to digital, we elected not to spend any of our slender resources on even a box, so nowadays we have no television whatsoever, using it only to watch tapes and DVDs. It'll probably be another decade before we bother with Blu-Ray. ;-)
Anyway, being a vacation I only occasionally watched the news channels, preferring the old movies of AMC and TCM. Thus it was that I came to watch an Akira Kurusawa movie I had never before seen, The Bad Sleep Well.
Seven Samurai and Yojimbo are two of my all time favorite films and I have both in my collection on VCR. As far as the bare bones of the plot of The Bad Sleep Well, I refer you to the Wikipedia reference linked above.
A better analysis of the film can be found here by Chuck Stephens, entitled The Bad Sleep Well: The Higher Depths.
He writes, in part:
A gray flannel ghost story in which the living haunt the dead, The Bad Sleep Well (1960) remains the least appreciated of Akira Kuro-sawa’s midperiod collaborations with Toshiro Mifune—a fate for which we have only the other Kurosawa-Mifune films to blame.
Outswaggered by Yojimbo’s rambunctious ronin, who skulked into the imaginations of audiences the following year . . . (t)he Bad Sleep Well has kept to the shadows of the director’s oeuvre. A fitting place, perhaps, for a film whose bitter intent—to throw open the windows of Japanese corporate corruption and air out the stench—is staged as a series of haltingly revealed motivations, haggard resurrections, and harrowing defeats. Fitting, but hardly fair. . .
What rendered Kurosawa’s contribution to the shakai-mono so distinctive was his transformation of the lone-hero paradigm of the American western in ways that demanded of his heroes a sense of personal responsibility for the social ills of their era, even as they complicated and contradicted that demand by questioning, and finally despairing entirely of, the possibility that even the most enlightened individual crusaders might somehow triumph over the indifference of institutionalized inhumanity and corporatized moral disdain. Born of the most heroic mannerisms and impulses, Kurosawa’s cinema increasingly came to describe a world where heroes weren’t allowed, and the more one struggled toward righteousness, the farther one would inevitably fall. . .
Fueled by personal anguish, a man called Nishi (Mifune) concocts an elaborate plan to bring down a cabal of upper-echelon construction company men—led by the implacable Iwabuchi (Masayuki Mori)—with apparent ties to the inner circles of Japan’s highest government officials. Nishi’s motivation: to avenge the murder of the father he never knew, a midlevel executive driven to “suicide” to preserve his superiors’ positions. His method: infiltration by matrimony, as Nishi marries Iwabuchi’s daughter and becomes his father-in-law’s apparent right-hand man. . .
Typically Kurosawan, however, is the degree to which, beneath that opening babble of whispered insinuations and whiskey-lubricated screeds, the film’s moral core waits coiled in all-too-telling silence; and though he is mute for the first thirty minutes of the movie, it is Mifune’s stoic Nishi who will soon be shown as the poker-faced pivot around which the film’s every action and reaction will revolve. The straight man behind an ever-tightening noose of clever manipulations and manic reaction shots, in a comedy as black as a hanged man’s tongue, Nishi bides his time in silence, waiting for the moment when the movie’s mottled mirth will be written on the faces of the middlemen through whom he plans to topple Iwabuchi . . . Mifune’s vengeful Nishi redefin(es) the ronin as a shaved, showered, and freshly bespectacled samurai without severance pay, and the three corporate stooges he’ll sacrifice in the course of his plotted vengeance as ripe for redirection as any of Rashomon’s relativity-challenged and easily bamboozled bush boobs. Yet, in their dressed-for-boardroom-success finery, that ill-fated threesome come across as even greater buffoons—especially Nishimura, who gives the panicked performance of a lifetime—and Kurosawa exaggerates the trio’s hypertheatrical descent into the maelstrom with a fistful of greasepaint and a succession of -loaded locales: shadow-choked suburban lanes, demolished munitions factories, cryptlike bunkers, and a construction site that seems to have opened a direct portal to hell.
The moral question at the heart of the film is this: do Nishi’s ends—exposing the evil that company men do—justify his means? Is his merciless exploitation of Iwabuchi’s daughter, the haplessly handicapped Yoshiko, warranted to avenge his father’s death and strike a blow against institutionalized corruption? Shatteringly, the film admits no solutions, climaxing only in Nishi’s ultimate admission of failure—“I guess I don’t hate them enough”—and in this, it remains the most bleakly modern of Kurosawa’s black-and-white shadow plays: a pulverizing vortex of midnight phone calls and offscreen murders that ultimately swallows the valorous and smothers the innocent, while forever masking the faces of the mighty and the malign. . .
These, finally, are the real meanings of The Bad Sleep Well: a wide-eyed accumulation of symbolic subversions and devastating widescreen distractions from what are perhaps the director’s darkest conclusions about the efficacy of individual heroics in the faceless modern age. Ikiru or Ikinai—to be or not to be? No, that’s not the question. What Kurosawa means to ask us—even as he asks it of himself—is, how do you topple a sleeping giant when you’re shackled to the very shadow upon which it surely will land?
I have written before of my suspicion and disdain of individual crusaders and super heroes.
Tyrannies especially cannot be undone by even a gang of "super heroes" but must be overcome by thousands upon thousands of CITIZENS fighting in common cause. Unless the political continuum is transformed by these people who fight for principle not for party, the result of elite vs. elite conflict for the rest of us is always "meet the new boss, same as the old boss."
Iwabuchi's arrogant yet easily rattled henchmen, who Nishi plays each off against the others to come within an ace of bringing down the whole rotten structure, resemble nobody else so much as the hapless Harry Reid, the Botox-frozen Nancy Pelosi and the faux-tough Rahm "Dead Fish" Emanuel.
Following The Dead Sleep Well, I flipped over to FOX news, breathless with its presentation of the "Demon Pass" maneuver. I dropped off to sleep thinking of "One Hundred Heads" as applied to the corrupt tyranny of both The Bad Sleep Well and the "Slaughter solution."
And in my slumber, I ran into Simo Häyhä.
White Death: the Sniper Who Killed 700 Soviets in 100 Days
Wed, Mar 17, 2010
Ensconced in the snow, his white camouflage suit rendering him invisible to the invading Soviet soldiers he stalked, Simo Häyhä steadied himself to fire. During the 1939–1940 Winter War, in temperatures as low as –40 °C, the Finnish sniper undertook a killing spree that saw him single-handedly take the lives of at least 700 men in less than 100 days. Over 500 of these he shot using a standard, bolt-action rifle with non-telescopic sights. Is it any wonder he earned the nickname The White Death among his enemies? Meet the man who would take Rambo to the cleaners.
The sharpshooter who would later be credited with the highest number of confirmed kills in any war in history came from humble rural beginnings. Born near the present day Finnish-Russian border, Häyhä was a farmer and hunter before entering combat, though it’s no shock to learn he already had his share of marksman’s trophies. His skills sharpened by the sort of training only life can offer, this tough little outdoorsman was always going to be a handful, and when the Red Army invaded Finland three months after the outbreak of WWII, Häyhä heard the call of duty.
Little was the operative word. Häyhä stood just 5 ft 3 in (1.6 m) tall, which was one basis for his choice of weapon, an M/28 or M28/30 Soviet Mosin-Nagant rifle that suited his small frame. He also rejected a scoped rifle in favour of basic iron sights for other reasons: it meant he presented less of target as he could keep his head lower; it negated the risk of his position being exposed by sun glare in a telescopic lens; and lastly open sights were not prone to fogging up or breaking which was a concern in the snow and ice of the Winter War. Häyhä was a professional.
Of course an iron-sighted rifle also made aiming more difficult, but with 505 confirmed kills as a sniper – the other 200 he shot using a sub-machine gun – Häyhä clearly had a keen eye. Another tactic this greatest of gunmen used to conceal his own position from the enemy was to compact the snow before him so that his shot would not disturb the snow, and in true commando fashion he also kept his mouth was full of snow so that his breath did not give him away.
Despite such measures, Häyhä’s fearful reputation preceded him, and the advancing Soviets tried several strategies specifically designed to dispose of this deadly lone menace. Teams of counter-snipers and artillery units were deployed with the sole purpose of eliminating The White Death, but the snow-covered forests of Finland were his hunting grounds, not theirs.
Eventually, however, the Finnish sharpshooter’s exploits caught up with him. On March 6 1940, he was shot in the face while on the frontline by a Russian soldier. The exploding bullet went through his jaw and blew off his left cheek, with the soldiers who picked him up and brought him back to base reporting that “half his head was missing”. Yet Häyhä – said to be a quiet, affable man – was still able to survive, awakening from his coma on March 13, the day peace was declared.
The heroic stand taken by Simo Häyhä and his fellow Finns against Soviet forces that outnumbered them by as much as 100:1 is often referred to as The Miracle of Kollaa. When the war had ended, Häyhä was promoted straight from corporal to second lieutenant. He went on to become a successful moose hunter and lived to the age of 96. When he was asked about his service, he stated, “I only did what was ordered, and did it as well as I could.” Asked what the key to his success was, his short answer was, “Practice… and clear days.”
1. Wikipedia entry.
2. Brief Background On Simo Häyhä
3. Simo Häyhä: The White Death - World's Greatest Sniper
In my sleep I wandered back and forth, fragments of past and future, fiction and history jumbling together and caroming off into gray clouds was the question: What would Simo Häyhä (or was it Nishi with a rifle?) do if he could have done it all over again? What could a hundred of him do? What indeed could a thousand do, motivated in an open source insurgency, striking again and again at the "domestic enemy" command structure until it collapsed?
Simo Häyhä took 700 Soviet heads in 100 days. My unknown Marine Corps scout-sniper promises 100 heads in an unspecified time, but a hundred heads nonetheless. Certainly he has the skills to do it.
Yet Simo Häyhä targeted Soviet pawns, and his country, although nominally retaining its independence, became a Soviet pawn itself as the Winter War gave way to World War II gave way to the Cold War. They are still not fully free of the claws of the Russian bear.
My Marine Corps scout-sniper, I am confident, will not make the attrition warfare error. He will, like Kurusawa's Nishi, go straight for the guilty parties with maneuver warfare precision -- instead of working undercover within the corrupt organization, he will begin making involuntary personnel decisions for the enemies of the Constitution from 800 meters, as Häyhä said, "on a clear day."
Had Häyhä been able to go after high-ranking Soviet functionaries -- the Queens, Rooks, Bishops and Knights on the game board -- Stalin, even mighty murdering collectivist Stalin, would have resigned the game earlier and more decisively than in 1940 and the Finns, like the Swiss, would have secured their complete independence from outside interference for generations.
Nishi, an essentially good man who falls in love with his enemy's daughter, ultimately fails because, as he confesses, "I guess I don't hate them enough." Yet, if there are merely ten Marine Corps scout-snipers like my anonymous friend or even one modern American Simo Häyhä motivated by the principles of 4th Generation Warfare, our present day would-be tyrants would quickly hide, run away or die, for there are no emotions to cloud this very real battlefield.
Kurasawa is right, the bad do sleep well. They lose no rest whatsoever over the innocents they victimize, rob or kill with their insatiable appetites for more money, more power, more control.
There is, however, more than one kind of sleep. Simo Häyhä provided the sleep of the grave to 700 Soviet pawns. Pelosi and her ilk, the self-anointed royalty of our modern American chess board, are secure in their arrogant tyranny because they think they have a whole lot of pawns in front of them, shielding them from direct accountability for their depredations of liberty and property.
My, won't they be surprised?
"Involuntary personnel decisions." If you are playing chess for your life and liberty, screw the pawns. Go after these guys.