The Interview: a new Pueblo’s story again?
A film that, according to some critics, ‘is not a film I would normally rush to see’, is becoming a real representation of the present superficiality and lack of culture, first of all, and, secondarily, of the neo-situationism of the existing politics (btw, the neo-situationism is the theory/philosophy which denies that there is a border between truth and untruth).
Let us get things in the right order: A) Sony Pictures presents a trailer of The Interview; the story is about two journalists going to the capital of North Korea, Pyongyang, to interview the leader Kim Jong-un. The CIA enlists them to assassinate Kim Jong-un. B) Some unknown hackers (SUHs) attack Sony’s information system and penetrate it successfully. C) SUHs release Sony’s emails, which reveal – for example – that Angelina Jolie is “a minimal talented spoiler brat” and that Barack Obama is mainly interested in films that focused on black characters. The emails show the bad habits of some journalists too, something between lack of transparency and corruption (I declare that I cannot believe it), etc. D) SUHs, or rather ‘Guardians of Peace’ in their press releases, threaten terror in case Sony would confirm the release of The Interview on 25 December. E) Barack Obama says that there is no evidence of such attacks to the cinemas and pushes cinemagoers to show the film without fear – and the audience to go to see the film without fear. F) Sony and the cinemagoers don’t trust Barack Obama; Sony pulls the film from its scheduled release. G) FBI says that SUHs are North Korean terrorists (NKTs). H) Pyongyang denies that SUHs are NK(Ts), but praises the attack itself as a “righteous deed”. I) A great debate explodes in the States: some opinion leaders say that they understand Sony’s and cinemagoers’ decision, who are responsible for the safety of people at their cinemas; other opinion leaders (like Georges Clooney, who is paving his path to the White House) strongly say: “Today the US succumbed to an unprecedented attack on our most cherished, bedrock principle of free speech by a group of North Korean terrorists who threatened to kill moviegoers in order to stop the release of a movie.” Barack Obama says that Sony made a mistake cancelling the release and adds: “We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship in the US.” J) Sony Pictures says that it is looking at different ways to release The Interview. Sony’s CEO Michael Lynton says: “We have not caved, we have not given in, we have persevered and we have not backed down.” However, sotto voce he adds: “The majority of the nation’s theatre owners choosing not to screen the film.” K) The former speaker of the White House says that the action against Sony is an act of war and that Barack Obama is planning revenge against North Korea.
Now, let’s take breath and strongly think that all that is not the plot of some movie. I repeat: this is not a movie. I know that this synopsis could be of a splendid film indeed (and think about the sequel!), but all these things happened. Or rather, we are told that they happened, who knows. Maybe there is a film into a film, and everything is designed and made by Sony Pictures, which wanted to demonstrate that: A) CIA is used to enlisting naive people to assassinate dictators (someplace – I cannot believe it); B) North Korea has a scarce sense of humour (I cannot believe it); C) Angelina Jolie is “a minimal talented spoiler brat”, Barack Obama is mainly interested in films that focused on black characters, and Georges Clooney never fails to shut up; D) journalists are often opaque and embedded; E) ordinary people, powerful cinema bosses and cinemagoers don’t trust Barack Obama (maybe the latter is the real hidden message, which Sony wants to convey!). The happy end is still to come, but inevitably it will concern the First Amendment, the freedom (our freedom) to speak against the others, Voltaire’s phrase – I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it – which is quoted by armies of hypocrites, the US 7th Cavalry and Custer’s Last Stand, Star Wars, etc. etc.
I didn’t see The Interview and so I cannot judge it (the film is the missing point of the whole story, think about that!), and I’m worried about the happy end, because the lack of culture and the loss of memory are the worst advisers.
Do you remember the story of the ship Pueblo, for instance? In the 1960s, the Pueblo and her sister ship Banner had to patrol the seas one in response to Navy tasking and then one in response to NSA tasking. It was an agreement wanted by the Navy, since the NSA oceangoing programme had disappointed the expectations of the Navy. In 1967, the Navy determined that the Pueblo ought to operate off North Korea. Its mission was codenamed Ichthyic, which means having the character of a fish.
North Korea, “a mysterious volcano sending out increasingly violent tremors after a decade of lying dormant (*)”, had showed little tolerance for electronic eavesdropping attacks, from sky and sea. For several times now, Pyongyang had been broadcasting warnings in English about US ‘espionage boats’. The last message was released on 20 January 1968.
In the meantime, NSA had released a strong message of warning/action too.
In the Pueblo there were one of the most modern cipher machines, intercept receivers, typewriters and an incredible amount of secret documents. Twenty-eight specialists, who worked behind a locked door, managed all that.
On 22 January, as Body of Secrets says, “the Pueblo lay dead in calm waters. A short twenty miles to the south and west was Wonsan”. And the vessel received the first visit from a pair of North Korean fishing boats. On 23 January, the Pueblo was 15,8 miles west to the island of Ung-do, thus within North Korea territorial waters. In short, North Korean subchasers and motor torpedos surrounded the Pueblo, and forced her to surrender using their machine guns. Korean officers and a civilian pilot boarded the Pueblo. In the evening, the ship was berthed at a pier about then miles northwest of Wonsan.
Soon, President Lyndon Johnson planned for war, trying not to affect the existing war in Vietnam, which was already condemned to the failure. “Known as Operation Combat Fox, what followed became the largest strategic airlift in U.S.A. Air Force history. More than 8,000 airmen, hundreds of combat-ready aircraft, and millions of pounds of bombs, rockets, ammo, and supplies were flown in to support selective air strikes against North Korea… At the same time, the Pentagon began planning still another trumped-up ‘pretext’ war, this time using the vessel Banner to spark a full-scale conflict with Korea. They wanted to provoke the North Koreans into doing something so they could get back at them.” – Body of Secrets.
In short again, by reading the compelling pages of Body of Secrets, “In the end, despite the thirst for retaliation back in Washington, diplomacy won out over military action in the efforts to gain the release of the Pueblo crew. But for nearly a year the cumbersome talks dragged on… On December 23, 1968, Major General Gilbert Woodward signed a North Korean-prepared apology admitting to the espionage and the intrusion. However, before it was signed, Woodward denounced the papers as false. “I will sign the document,” he said, “to free the crew and only free the crew.” Nevertheless, the North Koreans accepted the fig leaf, and later that day all the Pueblo crewmen crossed the bridge between North and South Korea.”
Of course, back then nobody knows about these behind-the-scenes and the background of the Pueblo’s story. It was only a Manichean story of ‘good versus evil’ or ‘dark versus light’, which, by the way, is one of the most mythological dualities ever known. Only now, more than forty years later, and thanks to James Bamford, an American investigative journalist author of The Puzzle Palace too, it is possible to understand the ins and outs of that dramatic event, and to judge the grey zones of it. Grey zones that are still present today, be careful: America is happy to hack its allies’ phones and snoop on our emails, but is outraged when it gets hacked, as we can see.
It is easy to make parallels and comparisons between the two events, The Interview and the Pueblo’s capture. And it is easy to make mistakes. However, I think that the greatness of the U.S. lies in its ability to examine its conscience and to wonder about everything, trying to sees the truth, to get at the truth; instead of dealing with foreign cultures and tough international issues using a Texan-like, muscular and arrogant approach. Body of Secret is a courageous book, and it witnesses America’s greatness much more than Barack Obama’s hypocrite complaints and threats.
Contrary to what superficial people think, history is not made in Hollywood.
(*) Body of Secrets, Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency, by James Bamford, published by Doubleday.