Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Another Cindy Sheehan Analogy

Chap has taken issue with my analogies (below), inspired by his post and Edmund Morris's recent column describing Cindy Sheehan as an "emotional predator." He prefers the comparisons offered by Carl Stephenson's 1938 short story, Leiningen versus the Ants.

Leiningen is the decidedly Anglo-Saxon master of a sizable Brazilian plantation who is warned that he, his Indian laborers, and his plantation are about to meet a certain and horrible doom at the hands of a twenty-square mile regiment of army ants. Leiningen refuses to yield his calm to panic and his plantation to the "elementals" and sets out to win the impending battle with the insects through his superior intellect and fortifications, including a moat and a ring of fire. Leiningen further relies on his calm deportment to lead his emotional "peons" to victory.

Leiningen and his workers fight the army ants valiantly and creatively. They hurl their efforts into keeping the moat current swift to prevent the equally wily ants from crossing in mini-rafts made from tamarind leaves. They use petrol sprinklers to soak and drown the ants in oil as well as using the oil to create a fire wall. But the ants keep on coming. In one last brave attempt, Leiningen dons knee-high boats, gators, and other protective clothing soaked in oil and an ant-repelling salve in order to make a dash for a dam valve, which, if turned by the heroic Leiningen, will flood the plantation, kill the entire company of ants, and save the remaining workers, as well as saving himself. As he makes his way to and from the valve release, the ants tear into his flesh, "etching acid into his eye", and other nastiness, but Leiningen succeeds in his rescue mission and just makes it back to the plantation house, bones exposed from the carnivorous ant attack. Bloodied, as it were, but unbowed by "acts of God" and the "elementals" offered by the jungle.

I guess we are to take from this fascinating analogy, that Cindy Sheehan is the lead army ant in this story, with other lieutenant ants (say Michael Moore) providing discipline in the ranks and George W. Bush is Leiningen at the plantation in Crawford, with the "Mainstream Media" playing the role of the alarmist Brazilian District commissioner. I find all this weird but entirely illuminating. Illuminating, because I believe that so many of W's supporters do in fact, view him as a protector of the plantation and Cindy Sheehan as an opportunistic carnivore who has legions of nasty co-conspirators, and the MSM as enabling said carnivores and/or providing unnecessarily alarmist and negative portrayals of the situation in Iraq. Some passages from the story are in order:

"The Brazilian official threw up lean and lanky arms and clawed the air with wildly distended fingers. "Leiningen!" he shouted. "You're insane! They're not creatures you can fight--they're an elemental--an 'act of God!' Ten miles long, two miles wide--ants, nothing but ants! And every single one of them a fiend from hell; before you can spit three times they'll eat a full-grown buffalo to the bones. I tell you if you don't clear out at once there'll he nothing left of you but a skeleton picked as clean as your own plantation."

"Leiningen grinned. "Act of God, my eye! Anyway, I'm not an old woman; I'rn not going to run for it just because an elemental's on the way. And don't think I'm the kind of fathead who tries to fend off lightning with his fists either. I use my intelligence, old man. With me, the brain isn't a second blindgut; I know what it's there for. When I began this model farm and plantation three years ago, I took into account all that could conceivably happen to it. And now I'm ready for anything and everything--including your ants."


" Moreover, during his three years as a planter, Leiningen had met and defeated drought, Hood, plague and all other "acts of God" which had come against him-unlike his fellow-settlers in the district, who had made little or no resistance. This unbroken success he attributed solely to the observance of his lifelong motto: The human brain needs only to become fully aware of its powers to conquer even the elements. Dullards reeled senselessly and aimlessly into the abyss; cranks, however brilliant, lost their heads when circumstances suddenly altered or accelerated and ran into stone walls, sluggards drifted with the current until they were caught in whirlpools and dragged under. But such disasters, Leiningen contended, merely strengthened his argument that intelligence, directed aright, invariably makes man the master of his fate.

Yes, Leiningen had always known how to grapple with life. Even here, in this Brazilian wilderness, his brain had triumphed over every difliculty and danger it had so far encountered. First he had vanquished primal forces by cunning and organization, then he had enlisted the resources of modern science to increase miraculously the yield of his plantation. And now he was sure he would prove more than a match for the "irresistible" ants."


"Leiningen mounted his horse, which at the feel of its master seemed to forget its uneasiness, and rode leisurely in the direction of the threatening offensive. The southern stretch of ditch--the upper side of the quadrilateral--was nearly three miles long; from its center one could survey the entire countryside. This was destined to be the scene of the outbreak of war between Leiningen's brain and twenty square miles of life-destroying ants."


"Hadn't this brain for once taken on more than it could manage? If the blighters decided to rush the ditch, fill it to the brim with their corpses, there'd still be more than enough to destroy every trace of that cranium of his. The planter's chin jutted; they hadn't got him yet, and he'd see to it they never would. While he could think at all, he'd flout both death and the devil."

Even as it was, it could hardly be described as rosy, though the planter seemed quite unaware that death in a gruesome form was drawing closer and closer. As the war between his brain and the "act of God'' reached its climax, the very shadow of annihilation began to pale to Leiningen, who now felt like a champion in a new Olympic game, a gigantic and thrilling contest, from which he was determined to emerge victor. Such, indeed, was his aura of confidence that the Indians forgot their stupefied fear of the peril only a yard or two away; under the planter's supervision, they began fervidly digging up to the edge of the bank and throwing clods of earth and spadefuls of sand into the midst of the hostile fleet."


"No, there was only one thing for it, he'd have to make the attempt himself; he might just as well be running as sitting still, anyway, when the ants finally got him. Besides, there was a bit of a chance. Perhaps the ants weren't so almighty, after all; perhaps he had allowed the mass suggestion of that evil black throng to hypnotize him, just as a snake fascinates and overpowers. The ants were building their bridges. Leiningen got up on a chair. "Hey, lads, listen to me!" he cried. Slowly and listlessly, from all sides of the trench, the men began to shuffle towards him, the apathy of death already stamped on their faces.

"Listen, lads!" he shouted. "You're frightened of those beggars, but you're a damn sight more frightened of me, and I'm proud of you. There's still a chance to save our lives--by flooding the plantation from the river. Now one of you might manage to get as far as the weir--but he'd never come back. Well, I'm not going to let you try it; if I did I'd be worse than one of those ants. No, I called the tune, and now I'm going to pay the piper."


"Leiningen lay on his bed, his body swathed from head to foot in bandages. With fomentations and salves, they had managed to stop the bleeding, and had dressed his many wounds. Now they thronged around him, one question in every face. Would he recover? "He won't die," said the old man who had bandaged him, "if he doesn't want to.''
The planter opened his eyes. "Everything in order?'' he asked.
"They're gone,'' said his nurse. "To hell." He held out to his master a gourd full of a powerful sleeping draught. Leiningen gulped it down.
"I told you I'd come back," he murmured, "even if I am a bit streamlined." He grinned and shut his eyes. He slept."

As far a W being the latter day Leiningen, I don't think it works. I don't think he's experienced a scintilla of self-doubt and he certainly has never played the role of a latter-day George Washington, who put not only his fortune, but put his life on the line for his country. I don't think you have to put either on the line to demonstrate your patriotism but you do have to put them on the line if you want the legitimate respect due Washington and the fictional Leiningen.

And Cindy Sheehan as an army ant who wants to metaphorical destroy the Bush fortune and tear into his flesh....? No sale. She was one of many grieving mothers of the fallen, who several months ago started to make her views on the war known in a loud way. She originally received very little attention -- the Nation magazine put her face on their March 28th issue, four months before there was an inkling of Camp Cindy. But then the zeitgeist changed. There were the 27 fallen servicemen in the first three days of this month. And the President wasn't offering any reason not to expect 27 casulties in the first three days of next August and the August after that. And he wasn't offering an explanation as to why the present and future sacrifice was needed. How did offering young men to Mars, the God of War protect their families and fellow citizens. Was Iraq truly flypaper for Al Qaida? How so? When will our soldiers come home -- you said this war would be short -- you declared "major combat operations" were completed over two years ago?

Those questions, the changed zeitgeist, an anti-war movement with no spokesman, an opposition party with no leader possessing a spine, and a press corps with no missing white woman nor sex scandal to cover, all congealed around the person of Cindy Sheehan -- the personification of the Reagan Democrat/Irish Catholic if ever there was one. The mother of an altar boy, Eagle Scout, a soldier who re-enlisted -- a mother whose son demonstrated the bravery of Leiningen.

Where did that bravery come from?
Did any of that bravery, that courage, come from his mother? The easy thing for Cindy Sheehan to have done, would be proclaiming unflagging support for the President and his policies. She wouldn't be the object of ridicule, she wouldn't be in Crawford, in a ditch, having to deal with the likes of David Duke on one hand and Michelle Malkin on the other. She wouldn't have her personal life splashed on Drudge and cable news. But she believes in the righteousness of her cause every bit as her son did the cause he died for and she shows the same tenacity he apparently demonstrated his whole life. And so she stayed in the ditch until her mother's stroke and shows every sign of returning to the ditch or the White House. The tree lies not far from the apple.

Cindy Sheehan seeks not to tear the flesh from the President, nor destroy his fortune. She seeks answers, explanations, and promises of an exit strategy. That is the request of 60% of the electorate, some of whom, tangentially, may wish to tear the flesh from W's bones and see his financial and political fortunes come to ruin. But the dominant point of overlap, the critical mass, is asking, "When can the soldiers come home?"

And the supposed Leiningen, President Bush's response: "I need to get on with my life", and the cryptic, "When Iraqis stand up, America will stand down." Now, Leiningen did sleep soundly in between rounds with the ants, but he was back at the ants the next morning. He rallied his workers with his calm demeanor, forceful exhortations, and promises of higher wages (rather than privatizing their pensions). But most importantly, he rallied them with his plan, his vision.

He had a plan for dealing with the ants. And the plan was transparent, detailed, and logical. And there was a fallback plan. And, Leiningen's ingenuity was so obvious, so present, that if those plans were circumnavigated by the ants, the workers knew that he would come up with a third one (which he did). Leiningen never said things were going well when they weren't. He didn't announce to his workers on the evening after the first round, "Mission Accomplished."

This was the first I had read the Leiningen story. It was adapted into a radio play and in 1954 it was made into the Charlton Heston movie The Naked Jungle which I recall watching (quite terrified of the ants) on a Sunday afternoon as a child. The plot summary:

"Joanna Selby travels deep inside the South American jungle to meet for the first time Carl Leiningen, a man she has married by mail order and the owner of a vast plantation that covers 200,000 acres. But once there she is shocked at the savagery of life among the Indians that work on the plantation. And then Leiningen rejects her when he finds that she has been married before, not wanting to take "another man's pickings." But they are forced together in the face of an army of marabunta ants that enters the estate, devouring everything in their path."

I did a little more Googling and found this surprise -- apparently the former chairman of the Pentagon's
Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee, Richard Perle, is working on a remake of The Naked Jungle, tentatively titled The Naked Jungle II: Leiningen versus Gold Star Mothers & Fat Leftists. The buzz on the internets is that Perle has approached filmmaker Mel Gibson to both produce and direct this movie. Details are still sketchy but one cult site provided me with this plot summary as well as the poster Perle used in the pitch meeting with Gibson:

"Ahmed Chalabi travels deep inside the Washington bureaucracy to meet for the first time, George W. Leiningen, a man he would like to marry but whom the local customs forbid to do so. He convinces Leiningen to invade his homeland to displace the ruling thug. But he is disappointed that he doesn't immediately get to take the thug's place as Leiningen had originally assured him. Heart-broken, he cultivates al-Sadr, the Shia clergyman whose militia the US Army was trying to destroy in an ironic plot twist. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Leiningen is confronted by scores of protesting ants who are in legion with a crazed driver ant named Cindy who has a fat ant friend named Michael. All these ants are unable to do any real harm to Leiningen's person, but he is determined to demonstrate his courage by going to Idaho."