HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

August 6, 2007
From the Editor

John Turner


I went to see The Bourne Ultimatum on the first day it came out, and as I expected, enjoyed it.  I suppose the main point of a movie review -- which this is not -- would be to describe why it's a good adventure film. But, when I see a movie like this one the principal fascination for me is how Hollywood melodrama relates to the reality of life. The common thing to say is that there's not much relation at all. But when we're seeing stories about the CIA, or other big spy outfits, I wonder.

The villains in this film are zealots who have convinced themselves that when they're dealing with enemies of the United States, or anybody who might, even inadvertently, be helping those enemies, there are no restraints that need to be observed, none whatsoever. Given the way the movie is set up, it's pretty clear these guys are bad. But, in so-called real life, would they be seen as bad? I've noticed many politicians over the past six years who have praised behavior of the kind carried out in this movie by Jason Bourne's opponents. And I have known quite a few people who would applaud it.

There's now a series on TNT, titled The Company, about the early days of the CIA, which is presented more somberly than I had expected. It too deals with the notion that if you join an operation like a national intelligence service, the rules of ordinary life are over. Having seen just the opening episode, I can't say how seriously that concept is going to be examined. So far the program has been devoted to showing that following the code of the service does involve tension with common humanity. But the worth of abandoning humane behavior in the interest of something supposedly greater hasn't yet been much explored. I, myself, would like to see it analyzed. The notion of being involved in something so important it places one outside all bounds strikes me as adolescent nonsense. And, I'm afraid that is indeed a self-deception which drives far too much behavior within spy outfits.

Speaking of adolescent nonsense, I tried to pay attention to the Republican debate in Iowa but I found my attention wandering. I continue to be besieged by the questions, where did these guys comes from? and what books did they read when they were growing up? Paul Krugman has a column arguing that not one of them is putting forward any policies at all. Their campaigns are devoted to posturing about what tough guys they are. Somebody must have told them that looking tough is the main feature to impress American voters. I wonder if that can be true.

It seems I'm going back to Chicago quicker than I thought. This time it's not a PH. D. defense, it's a baby, one who seems to be a bit more ready to encounter the world than we had expected even two weeks ago. So, next week, I'll let you know about that, and anything else in Chicago I think would engage your attention.


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