To the Shores of Tripoli

One thing you have to give Film 4 is that it does ring the changes. Almost back to back, it ran the 1957 black & white classic “The Yangtze Incident” with 2016’s “13 Hours“. Other than being takes of derring-do in foreign climes, they seem worlds apart, certainly more than the half century that actually separates them. Yet, closer examination reveals them not only close to a remake but a study in how little the western world has learned from its domination of the last two centuries.

The Yangtze Incident“is pure post-war, stiff-upper-lip morality, complete with patriotic soundtrack and populated by unflappable officers leading phlegmatic salts-of-the-earth to glory against impossible odds. It dates from a time when a bankrupt British Empire was about to implode and the UK film industry saw itself as the cheerleaders trying to shore up the belief this was not the case. The plucky crew on HMS Amethyst save their ship from the clutches of uniformly fiendish Chinese Communists and their shore batteries. Why any British servicemen, let alone a Royal Navy frigate, two destroyers and a cruiser have any business in Chinese waters—let alone 100 miles up the Yangtze River in the middle of a civil war is never explained. At the time, the British had served 150 years as the world’s policeman, so the Admiralty having its fingers stuck in someone else’s pie would have needed no justification to British audiences. None of the British crew spoke Chinese. It was “Zulu” with ships.

Seen from a similar—if updated—perspective, “13 Hours” actually appears rich in parallels. The half dozen tough, bearded mercenaries protecting the secret CIA compound in Benghazi circa 2012 are as indistinguishable by their looks, cammies or terse special forces slang as the BBC English of the officers aboard HMS Amethyst. As far from a chick flick as it is possible to get, “13 Hours” doesn’t disappoint shoot-’em-up aficionados. Unfortunately, ever since The Governator hit Hollywood, they a kill ratio for the good guys over 100:1 is part of any such script. These heroes charge all over a blazing compound with no confusion, wasting “tangos” as they go. Ignoring basic infantry defensive tactics costs only one casualty. An early effort to distinguish friendly Libyans from hostile soon vanishes in the firefight to save the US ambassador, making any peaceful settlement impossible; none of the mercenaries or CIA staff speak Arabic. Despite interference from the CIA station chief, the delay before F– 18s can pave-bomb the baddies, and the delay before Chinook-fuls of US marines can descend from the nearest MAF, our plucky boyz have it under control.

Both films really tell the same story. What is tragic is the latter reflects current US public and political thinking: that there is nothing strange about having covert CIA compounds in war torn hellholes like post-Gaddafi Libya and then justify significant military presenve in the region and the right to use it in support. At no point does anyone see the need to justify the presence of any Americans in such a chaotic, dysfunctional country in the first place.

Which pretty much says we are now 50 years into the USA’s stint as self-appointed World Policeman and that the Imperial drive on Victorian Britain that led to the Indian Mutiny, Omdurman and Isandlwana has outgrown the hemispheric reach on the Monro Doctrine and is now globally alive and well in Washington.

If America’s military and intelligence diaspora spoke the local language and understood the local culture (as the Inca Empire or the French in 8th century Canada did), this might not be all bad. But when, in the late 1950s, a US embassy was established in the new Republic of South Vietnam, nobody there spoke Vietnamese.

And then look what happened.

One thing you have to give Film 4 is that it does ring the changes. Almost back to back, it ran the 1957 black & white classic “The Yangtze Incident” with 2016’s “13 Hours“. Other than being takes of derring-do in foreign climes, they seem worlds apart, certainly more than the half century that actually separates them. Yet, closer examination reveals them not only close to a remake but a study in how little the western world has learned from its domination of the last two centuries.

The Yangtze Incident“is pure post-war, stiff-upper-lip morality, complete with patriotic soundtrack and populated by unflappable officers leading phlegmatic salts-of-the-earth to glory against impossible odds. It dates from a time when a bankrupt British Empire was about to implode and the UK film industry saw itself as the cheerleaders trying to shore up the belief this was not the case. The plucky crew on HMS Amethyst save their shit from the clutches of uniformly fiendish Chinese Communists and their shore batteries. Why any British servicemen, let alone a Royal Navy frigate, two destroyers and a cruiser have any business in Chinese waters—let alone 100 miles up the Yangtze River in the middle of a civil war is never explained. At the time, the British had served 150 years as the world’s policeman, so the Admiralty having its fingers stuck in someone else’s pie would have needed no justification to British audiences. None of the British crew spoke Chinese. It was “Zulu” with ships.

Seen from a similar—if updated—perspective, “13 Hours” actually appears rich in parallels. The half dozen tough, bearded mercenaries protecting the secret CIA compound in Benghazi circa 2012 are as indistinguishable by their looks, cammies or terse special forces slang as the BBC English of the officers aboard HMS Amethyst. As far from a chick flick as it is possible to get, “13 Hours” doesn’t disappoint shoot-’em-up aficionados. Unfortunately, ever since The Governator hit Hollywood, they a kill ratio for the good guys over 100:1 is part of any such script. These heroes charge all over a blazing compound with no confusion, wasting “tangos” as they go. Ignoring basic infantry defensive tactics costs only one casualty. An early effort to distinguish friendly Libyans from hostile soon vanishes in the firefight to save the US ambassador, making any peaceful settlement impossible; none of the mercenaries or CIA staff speak Arabic. Despite interference from the CIA station chief, the delay before F– 18s can pave-bomb the baddies, and the delay before Chinook-fuls of US marines can descend from the nearest MAF, our plucky boyz have it under control.

Both films really tell the same story. What is tragic is the latter reflects current US public and political thinking: that there is nothing strange about having covert CIA compounds in war torn hellholes like post-Gaddafi Libya and then justify significant military presenve in the region and the right to use it in support. At no point does anyone see the need to justify the presence of any Americans in such a chaotic, dysfunctional country in the first place.

Which pretty much says we are now 50 years into the USA’s stint as self-appointed World Policeman and that the Imperial drive on Victorian Britain that led to the Indian Mutiny, Omdurman and Isandlwana has outgrown the hemispheric reach on the Monro Doctrine and is now globally alive and well in Washington.

If America’s military and intelligence diaspora spoke the local language and understood the local culture (as the Inca Empire or the French in 8th century Canada did), this might not be all bad. But when, in the late 1950s, a US embassy was established in the new Republic of South Vietnam, nobody there spoke Vietnamese.

And then look what happened.

domination of the last  c.

The Yangtze Incident” is pure post-war, stiff-upper-lip morality, complete with patriotic soundtrack and populated by unflappable officers leading phlegmatic salts-of-the-earth to glory against impossible odds. It dates from a time when a bankrupt British Empire was about to implode and the UK film industry saw itself as the cheerleaders trying to shore up the belief this was not the case. The plucky crew on HMS Amethyst save their shit from the clutches of uniformly fiendish Chinese Communists and their shore batteries. Why any British servicemen, let alone a Royal Navy frigate, two destroyers and a cruiser have any business in Chinese waters—let alone 100 miles up the Yangtze River in the middle of a civil war is never explained. At the time, the British had served 150 years as the world’s policeman, so the Admiralty having its fingers stuck in someone else’s pie would have needed no justification to British audiences. None of the British crew spoke Chinese. It was “Zulu” with ships.

Seen from a similar—if updated—perspective, “13 Hours” actually appears rich in parallels. The half dozen tough, bearded mercenaries protecting the secret CIA compound in Benghazi circa 2012 are as indistinguishable by their looks, cammies or terse special forces slang as the BBC English of the officers aboard HMS Amethyst. As far from a chick flick as it is possible to get, “13 Hours” doesn’t disappoint shoot-’em-up aficionados. Unfortunately, ever since The Governator hit Hollywood, they a kill ratio for the good guys over 100:1 is part of any such script. These heroes charge all over a blazing compound with no confusion, wasting “tangos” as they go. Ignoring basic infantry defensive tactics costs only one casualty. An early effort to distinguish friendly Libyans from hostile soon vanishes in the firefight to save the US ambassador, making any peaceful settlement impossible; none of the mercenaries or CIA staff speak Arabic. Despite interference from the CIA station chief, the delay before F– 18s can pave-bomb the baddies, and the delay before Chinook-fuls of US marines can descend from the nearest MAF, our plucky boyz have it under control.

Both films really tell the same story. What is tragic is the latter reflects current US public and political thinking: that there is nothing strange about having covert CIA compounds in war torn hellholes like post-Gaddafi Libya and then justify significant military presenve in the region and the right to use it in support. At no point does anyone see the need to justify the presence of any Americans in such a chaotic, dysfunctional country in the first place.

Which pretty much says we are now 50 years into the USA’s stint as self-appointed World Policeman and that the Imperial drive on Victorian Britain that led to the Indian Mutiny, Omdurman and Isandlwana has outgrown the hemispheric reach on the Monroe Doctrine and is now globally alive and well in Washington.

If America’s military and intelligence diaspora spoke the local language and understood the local culture (as the Inca Empire or the French in 8th century Canada did), this might not be all bad. But when, in the late 1950s, a US embassy was established in the new Republic of South Vietnam, nobody there spoke Vietnamese.

And then look what happened.

About davidsberry

Local councillor, tour guide and database designer. Keen on wildlife, history, boats and music. Stood for the Scottish Parliament 2011; lost by 151 votes.
This entry was posted in Politics and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to To the Shores of Tripoli

  1. Isabel Morais says:

    Great article. I am on the way to Lisbon. Best wishes, Isabel

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