I just finished watching ”Sand Pebbles” which stars Steve McQueen, and it’s a brilliant, intricately subtle anti-war movie that has excruciatingly painful relevance to the present day absurdity of the continued occupation of Iraq by the U.S. “Sand Pebbles” chronicles the tribulations of Jake Holman, an engineer in the U.S. Navy assigned to a gunboat patrolling the Yangtze. The setting is China during the tumultous revolutionary era, as Chiang Kai-shek attempts to oust the warlords whom the western powers support. The specter of Soviet involvement looms large, and so the U.S. characteristically sticks its nose into something that they probably shouldn’t have. Getting involved in other nations’ civil wars seems to be a pretty bad idea if you ask me.
Steve McQueen plays a cynical, somewhat anti-social engineer, who cares for nothing except for taking care of his machines. But the politics and racial dynamics quickly interposes itself into his life, starting with his interactions with the hired Chinese labor, and soon encompassing the tenuous political situation in which the captain of the ship is obsessed with how America looks to the world, caught between the rock of preserving American lives and the hard place of not providing fodder for the Communists to use as propaganda against the U.S.
This movie was released in 1966, anticipating the fervent anti-war movement in the U.S. against the very parallel American involvement in a civil war in Vietnam. The last lines of the movie capture the painful absurdity of American lives lost for causes not our own. “What happened?! What the hell happened?!?!”
The Domino Theory was bullshit in my parents’ day, just like the Unending War on Terror™ and the Fly-Paper Strategy is in ours. And so we grease the wheels of Global Capitalism™…