The Wind That Shakes the Barley
Ken Loach is an unapologetic lefty socialist Brit who is much more popular in Europe than in his own country or in America. It’s not hard to see why many Brits don’t like him and accuse him of hating his country; his portrait of the British occupying forces in Ireland in 1920 is about as brutal as it gets. But it’s one thing to hate your country, and quite another to hate its government, its policies, its history. All the things he shows are true, and the Irish don’t come off all that well, either. I am not historian enough to take you through the tangles of this plot, how brother is set against brother in the Irish Civil War, something I was only vaguely aware of. But the basic situation we see at the end of this film still prevails today, after partition, with the Republic of Ireland in the south and the Brits still very much in the north. (There is one small bit of sweet revenge, though. For maybe the first time in its troubled history, Ireland is much more prosperous than England. Irish are actually moving back to Ireland!)
There are many things to think about in this film, including how revolutions always go too far, or how compromise can lead to defeat, and how to tell what is the right path and the right time—which we, as fallible humans, seldom get right. But the thing that will stand out in your mind is torture. It is displayed more vividly here than in any film I can recall, except possible The Battle of Algiers.
In the last six years we have become a torturer nation. There’s no way to soften that sentence. We do it … and if we don’t, we kidnap people and send them to countries who will do it for us, which is the precise moral equivalent … no, I take that back, it’s worse. If you are going to sin, if you feel your end justify this means, it is cowardly, in addition to wrong, to farm the job out. What, Dick Cheney, too prissy to get your own bloody hands dirty? This six years has soiled our nation’s soul, just as it soiled the Brits in 1920, and it will take a lot of expiation to make it right. (We could make a beginning by putting Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and all the others on trial for war crimes as soon as their criminal regime is repudiated.)
Oh, wait, I hear someone say. Waterboarding is not really torture. We waterboard our own boys, in the Navy Seals and Army Rangers and all those ultra-tough-guy cadres who flatter themselves that they are “warriors,” as training for when they might fall into enemy hands. That says a lot right there, don’t you think? That we’re now doing what we trained our boys to expect when they were captured by our evil enemies? Well, if you don’t think it’s torture I’d like to invite you over here for a short course. Say, a month of continual waterboarding. I’m sure I can rig something up in the bathtub. I’d like to see how long it takes before you beg me to rape your mother …