Thursday, March 27, 2008

"What do you want?" "We want our freedom!!!"

I have this little annual ritual I've done since March 2003. I sit down with a stiff drink and watch "The Battle of Algiers." And every year it makes me a bit sadder when the French officers near the end congratulate each other on having killed all the leaders of the FLN, thus believing that they had killed the Algerian rebellion. The movie immediately fast-forwards 2 years, to the surreal nightmare of the last scene, when it is finally over for the French and the entire Algerian nation is on the streets and ready to drive them out. It is one of the most incredible scenes every filmed, because a riot scene is incredibly difficult to enact, and this last scene looks like a real riot. A massive haze of tear gas and gunsmoke washes over the Algerians, obscuring them. They become invisible, a looming presence behind the smoke. It becomes very quiet. A French officer, his nerves clearly gone, steps forward and shouts into the smoke:
"What do you want?
The camera lingers for several seconds on the blank white wall of gas and smoke. And then one voice, echoed immediately by a thousand others, screams:
"We want our freedom!!!"
And then the Algerians -- men, women, children -- come pouring out of the smoke and wade into the French.

I fear that the endgame in Iraq will be something very much like this. I fear it will make the iconic footaqe of the evacuation from the embassy roof in Saigon look benign by comparison.

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