Thursday, September 5, 2013

Rick's Dilemma -- The USA and its Syrian Decision


"You must remember this, a kiss is still a kiss..."

Rick Blaine runs the Café Americain in Casablanca.  He has escaped from Nazi-occupied France to Vichy-controlled Morocco which is a hotbed of intrigue.  He now poses as a friendly publican, a simple man of business.

At first it seems that Rick, reflecting the views of most Americans prior to December 7, 1941, is a committed isolationist.  He seems to be a selfish man who repeatedly says "I stick my neck out for nobody." When the authorities inquire about his nationality he replies, "I'm a drunkard."

"Here's Looking at You Kid."
Ilsa, played by the luminous Bergman, and her noble husband Victor Laszlo, both anxious to flee to the United States, arrive in Casablanca disrupting Rick's slow self-destruction.  "Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine."

We ultimately learn that there is much more to Rick than what first appears.  He has run guns to the Ethiopian rebels who were resisting Mussolini's invasion of their homeland.  In 1935-36 Mussolini, perhaps much like Syria's Assad today, did not hesitate to use several hundred tons of mustard gas on the Ethiopians.  Italian General Graziani said, "The Duce will have Ethiopia, with or without the Ethiopians."

Rick has also volunteered to fight on the Loyalist side in the Spanish Civil war.  Was he perhaps in the Abraham Lincoln brigade?  Did he meet Hemingway, Orwell, or even Errol Flynn ( while in Spain fighting against Franco?  The screenplay does not tell us.

In spite of his personal heartbreak, it turns out that Rick has a heart after all; he is a humanitarian.  He rescues a Bulgarian beauty who is considering selling herself to the lecherous Captain Renault by letting her husband win at roulette. "Boss, you've done a beautiful thing."

Rick's response is, "Get outta here, you crazy Russian!"  Was he thinking of Putin?

The Bulgarian newlyweds had fled their country in 1942 hoping to make their way to America.  She explains to Rick that in her country, "Things are very bad there.  The devil has the people by the throat...We do not want our children to grow up in such a country."  Today about 2 million people, including many children, have fled Syria looking for safety from their civil war.  The devil surely has Syria by the throat today; such a pity that the Syrian rebels do not seem to be led by Victor Laszlo!

In the summer of 1941 most Americans had doubts about sending American boys to die in a "European" civil war.  Sending arms to Stalin who had made a pact with Hitler, invaded Poland in 1939 from the east, annexed the Baltic Republics, attacked neutral Finland in 1940 and slaughtered his own people seemed to be a crazy notion.  Hitler and Stalin seemed that summer to be like two scorpions in a bottle that America had no business touching.  FDR, with a generosity of spirit similar to Rick Blaine, supported Soviet Russia with lend lease anyway.

The question of the hour is, "Which way does the wind blow now in the Café Americain of 2013?"  Many Americans are weary of war.  Rick felt deceived by Ilsa in Paris, but viewers learn that it is a bit more complicated than that.  Many Americans, mistakenly in my view, believe that we were lied into intervention in the Iraq war (See...  Many Americans are, quite justifiably, sceptical about their own government.

Given our own frayed emotions over divisive issues of war and peace, "Who is going to do the thinking for us on this Syrian decision?"  The U.S. Congress?  It seems rather doubtful that the 535 Solons in Congress will match Humphrey Bogart's understated heroism?  Most members of Congress bear a greater resemblance to opportunists such as Sidney Greenstreet (Signor Ferrari) or Peter Lorre (Ugarte).  Do Americans really have a coherent plan to "do a beautiful thing" in Syria?  Is that, in any sense, even possible?

An answer begins, perhaps, to form.  If Obama and Putin, working together, could remove WMD from Syria without resort to violence that would indeed be a "beautiful thing."  One can only hope.

Will we follow Senator Rand Paul in our determination not to "stick our neck out for nobody"?  Or will we follow President Obama and risk taking a perilous action (shooting Major Strasser / launching cruise missiles) that could have dramatically negative consequences for us and the world?

Commander Kelly must ask, "Will the fundamental American things (love of freedom, compassion for suffering humanity and willingness to act) "still apply" in our decision over Syria next week?"

At the conclusion of Casablanca, Rick and Captain Renault walk off into the distance saying "Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."  One of the few bits of good news to emerge from the Syrian conundrum is that the United States and her oldest ally, France, seem to have re-established a "beautiful friendship" that was sorely tested by Chirac's intransigence over Iraq.  Francois Hollande is now Obama's poodle and best friend.

1 comment:

Jon Shields said...

Great post: well written, entertaining analogy. Keep up the good work and damn the torpedoes, Commander!