November 20, 2019

Movie Review: "Escape from Zahrain" (Paramount,1962)

Escape from Zahrain is a 1962 American action film directed by Ronald Neame. It starred Yul Brynner, Sal Mineo, Jack Warden, Madlyn Rhue and Anthony Caruso. The film is based on the 1960 novel Appointment in Zahrain by Michael Barrett.

I remember watching this movie shortly after it was released, and it was oddly interesting. Around that time, I had been given a book by my grandfather to read - it piqued my interest in the Middle East, and the movie just added to my fascination with the area. The book was With Lawrence in Arabia by Lowell Thomas.

Okay, it was a B movie, never intended to be a major motion picture - but it clicked with audiences. Of course, names like Yul Brynner and Sal Mineo were sure to attract viewers, but in 1962, the Middle East was hardly a venue of interest. The Arabs, mostly stereotyped as oil-rich desert sheikhs, were normally portrayed as backward, uneducated, and corrupt, driving expensive vehicles and basically squandering the wealth available to them.

This movie, produced in 1961 and released in 1962, was different. Although it takes place in the oil-rich fictional state of Zahrain - which could be construed as many of the Gulf Arab countries - it was the first movie to address the conflict between the autocratic or monarchical rulers of the oil-rich states and the people who believe that the wealth actually belonged to the people of those states. The film was ahead of its time.

As far as the cinematography goes, and I am not an expert, it has its weaknesses. The Jack Warden character adds nothing to the film, and the cameo appearance of James Mason actually detracted from the story. However, with stars like Yul Brynner and Sal Mineo, you know it will be well-acted. Madlyn Rhue did a nice job on the Arab/Muslim female angle. To those of us who have served in the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula, the scenery of the Bakersfield (California) desert works pretty well.

I can't not remark on the Arabic language aspects of the movie. Most of the minimal Arabic dialogue was by native Arabic speakers using Modern Standard Arabic. The non-Arab actors' efforts were mediocre at best. That is not a criticism of the movie, just my observation as an Arabist.

Unfortunately, the movie is not free, but is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video for $3.99. Pay the four bucks and watch - it's 92 minutes of how the world should have viewed the Middle East (specifically the Arabian peninsula) 57 years ago. If more people had seen it, it may have prevented a lot of misunderstandings about oil wealth.

November 17, 2019

Caring (or not) for our veterans - a national disgrace

A sampling of veterans support organizations

"To care for him care who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan." 

That is the motto of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (more commonly just called "the VA"). The phrase is taken from President Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address, delivered on the steps of the Capitol on March 4, 1865.

Here is the full context of the closing remarks of the address: "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

We just celebrated Veterans Day - a tribute to the men and women who have worn the uniform of America's armed forces. Unfortunately, I think we as a nation have failed in living up to President Lincoln's advice, at least as it applies to how we treat those "who shall have borne the battle." Warfare has changed since the President's address - today's battlefields encompass land, sea, air, and probably space in the not too distant future. In fact the term battlefield is giving way to the more modern term "battlespace."

Today's battlespace, while far more lethal, is also served by tremendous advances in combat medicine, coupled with increased capabilities in medical evacuation from the field to a treatment facility. The chances of surviving battle wounds have gone up exponentially - surgical care in combat hospitals and care in the subsequent evacuation chain back to the United States has advanced to such a degree that 98 percent making it there alive will go on to survive their wounds.

That is a great statistic, but places an additional burden on the Department of Defense medical system and the Veterans Administration, in other words, the continuing care required while wounded troops are still in the military medical system, and the long-term care required after discharge from the armed forces. As medical care and the costs of caring for combat disabled veterans increase, budgets need to be refocused to maintain an acceptable standard of living.

Are we doing that? That's and easy answer - it's a resounding NO.

How do we know that it's an easy negative response? The mere fact that we as a nation, as a society find it necessary to create the veterans support organizations to provide things DOD and the VA should be providing is a national disgrace. All of these organizations are trying to address real needs of our men and women who have "borne the battle" - they deserve our gratitude, as do the tens of millions of Americans who contribute to provide what our government should be providing already.

Here's an example - The Freedom Alliance requests donations for the purchase of customized tracked wheel chairs to provide mobility for veterans who had suffered amputations or paralysis. These chairs cost an average of $15,000 - they are not provided by either DOD or the VA. They are all provided by donations.

Personally, as a veteran, or more importantly, as an American, I find it unacceptable and a disgrace that we do not provide the funds for these types of medical devices, that we don't cover the costs of retrofitting homes to allow our combat disabled veterans to live in a decent manner. The fact that these well-meaning organizations find it necessary to exist is insulting to the service of our wounded.

We as a country need to take a harder look at how we spend our tax dollars. Instead of the political parties arguing over whether or nor to extend free medical care to illegal aliens, or wasting money on the ridiculous pet-pork-projects of our elected representatives, we start meeting our obligations to our veterans as President Lincoln admonished us.

Put these charities out of business - in a good way. Make them redundant.