Gangsters Cha! Cha! Cha!

by Daniel Shea

2006 Digital Painting by Daniel Shea

A Marine’s Reaction to The Act of Killing – the movie

By Daniel Shea September 20th 2013

2012 documentary film, directed by Joshua Oppenheimer. It is a Danish-British-Norwegian co-production, presented by Final Cut for Real in Denmark, produced by Signe Byrge Sørensen, co-directed by Anonymous and Christine Cynn, and executive produced by Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, Joram ten Brink, and Andre Singer. It is a Docwest project of the University of Westminster.

See Wikipedia for Synopsis of film

I want to explore my reaction or feelings after seeing this film. I think this is an important, unique original and artistic film as it documents an oral history in visual scenes re-enacted by the Monsters of death themselves. It will – I am sure – enter the lexicon of film buffs, film school academics, critics of all kinds, struggling to define a language to categorize it into to some genre that does not yet exist.

Will it be a one of a kind film like the racist Jim Crow film “Birth of a Nation”? Who knows but anthropologists, psychologists, sociologists, criminologists and historians, from every field of the social sciences will construct and deconstruct studies and theories abundant enough to keep librarians employed for some time to come, as they attempt to explain the meaning one gleans from the film and the men in it who kill.

What makes monsters?

It is a good question, as a veteran of Viet Nam, a marine, a machine gunner, a trained killer, I have asked myself this very question, was I or am I a monster? How could I let myself become a man who could and would kill another human being? All the excuses fall flat, except I do find some solace in the fact that I can’t remember if I ever fired my weapon and if I did wouldn’t it have been because someone was firing at me or my platoon?. There is this one time when we entered a village set with booby traps, men died yet there is a black hole in my memory, redacted, in the twilight zone of another dimension. It is an amnesia that I welcome but if it ever reveals that I was a part of a massacre I am not sure I could live with myself.

If ever I remember and find my fears unwarranted still what right would I have to relinquish my guilt, I still participated in war I had no right to enter, if I wasn’t resisting the war then my very presence was a violation of Internationals Laws Against Wars of Aggression and a direct assault against the Vietnamese.

I was told we were at war against a people so evil, they would destroy our freedoms as they are doing to their own people who we have come to protect and liberate from the shackles of communism. “Communism” I didn’t even know what that “C” word even meant and I didn’t even take the time to find out. I knew nothing about the Vietnamese or their history, culture, language nor the geography I would trample beneath my jungle boots.

In the Act of Killing we hear the word “Communism” over and over, we must crush all the communists, we killed the communists and there are no communists here because we have killed them all.

The main interviewee and main character is Anwar Congo, a handsome older man, looks of African descent and reminds me of my Cuban brother-in-law and one of his friends Juan an Afro-Cuban now long deceased. Anwar like these Cubans in my life, hated the communists but on a day to day level I found them gentle loving men whose families were at the center of their experiences. They were kind to old ladies and would go out of their way to help anyone in distress. I would argue with them about the better side of the revolution as compared to the dictatorship of Batista, another man they had no love for. Our conversations were heated but always civil and we parted as friends at the end of every debate.

It is hard not like Anwar when you see his interaction with his nephews or grandchildren (I can’t remember which) as he gently admonishes one for injuring a duck. He instructs him to pet the duck gently and to say he is sorry to the duck. To tell the duck it was an accident he didn’t mean it any harm.

I am struck by the contradiction and wonder what caused him to suppress this nature of goodness that resides in him, it must have been there all along or where else would it have come from? Was Anwar making excuses for his own violence, does he mean to say all his killings were an accident? Accidents of history? of ignorance? of youthful ideological passions? I don’t think it entered his mind but it did mine.

From this film my mind dances from contradiction to contradiction like Anwar doing the Cha Cha after slaying a victim, I try to put into context how we as a nation, as people can suppress our humanity, dance with death, twisting truths into lies and shouting patriotic slogans to our youth to egg them on to war, to kill or die for those who beat the war drums and make profit from music of guns, bombs and screams of the innocent caught in the chaos.

How can we stand by and say nothing, are we not guilty if we do nothing to lift a finger to stop the machine of war that kills everything that stands in its path? Is this silence not monstrous and criminal?

This film triggers much anxiety in me, these stories of murders and the men who tell them fill me with anger and memories of my own violence. I do not hate them but I do not understand them. I have rejected violence in my life and thus hate has no place in my heart, but I find it hard to forgive them for their crimes. They do not ask for it and most continue to perpetrate forms of extortion, by their very presence which instills fear in the people they encounter.

Anwar Congo describes himself as a “gangster” which he and his comrades define as meaning “free men”. I think “free men?” free to kill? free to rape? Free to do whatever you want without consequence? This is the meaning of freedom?  Anwar goes on to demonstrate the efficiency of killing with wire, how it digs into the skin so the victim can’t get their fingers in between to resist, also less blood, less to clean up.

Anwar watches replays of their enactments, their making of a movie and his face is intense, he watches himself as though looking into a mirror of the past and he is not sure of himself. He and the director revisit the place where many of the killings take place and Anwar begins to convulse as if to vomit up the evil that has possessed him all these long years, such a guttural sound is coughed up, you feel as if he might vomit his inner demons, hounds from hell which will in turn devour him.

I have never seen anything like this film before nor been so frustrated to make sense of it all, because it does make sense of insanity and yet reason is elusive. It is a must see film and I hope it will help us all understand how a society, politics, and ideology can prompt such violence in human beings and thus help us find a way to prevent it.

These monsters who call themselves “Gangsters” must be held accountable for their crimes, that is our responsibility least we be monsters ourselves.


A Review


Billy Moon author Douglas Lain

Review by Daniel Shea of Veterans For Peace Chapter 72

September 16th 2013


“Billy Moon was Christopher Robin Milne, the son of A. A. Milne, the world-famous author of Winnie the Pooh and other beloved children’s classics. Billy’s life was no fairy-tale, though. Being the son of a famous author meant being ignored and even mistreated by famous parents; he had to make his own way in the world, define himself and reconcile his self-image with the image of him known to millions of children. A veteran of World War II, a husband and father, he is jolted out of midlife ennui when a French college student revolutionary asks him to come to the chaos of Paris in revolt. Against a backdrop of the apocalyptic student protests and general strike that forced France to a standstill that spring, Milne’s new French friend is a wild card, able to experience alternate realities of the past and present. Through him, Milne’s life is illuminated and transformed, as are the world-altering events of that year.”

I just finished this excellent book by Mr. Lain – the timing for publication couldn’t have been better as in Paris of 1968 when a growing opposition to U.S.A.’s War in Vietnam was spreading across the globe, an opposition that recognized the loss of one’s own freedoms in a world seized in the grip of an iron fist of fascism.

Today people here in the U.S. & everywhere in the world have been speaking out against US military strikes against Syria. A revitalization of the anti-war, peace & justice movements are growing. There is much to be gleaned from this fictional look back at our broken history, what inspired, what worked, what didn’t.

There seems to me the story leaves us with lingering questions – why didn’t it set the world rightside up? Maybe the answer is, there are more chapters to this story than anyone ever expected. Life is always just a beginning, there is no end, the end of an actor in the play of life dies and leaves the stage but the stage & the play continues, each act just another beginning. Are we looking for the end or a utopian theme? What is our goal, how would we write the script, what characteristics would we ascribe to ourselves?

These are the same questions that faced the students and workers in Paris of 1968 and Mr. Lain takes us through the streets of Paris with Christopher Robin Milne, two activist students Gerrard and Natalie and a bear named William in a surrealistic, magical realism fantasy of dreaming a revolution while living in and making a revolution.

Who are we, what would we do if fascism creeped into our everyday lives? Would we be revolutionaries, zombies or collaborators? Well believe it or not fascism is on your doorstep, it is time for you to decide what actor/character you will bring to the stage.

Open Letter to our Congress and the People of the United States

Open Letter to our Congress and the People of the United States
by Daniel Shea of Veterans For Peace
September 4th 2013

My major concern is the possibility that president Obama will employ a military solution against Syria which I am adamantly opposed to.

I have heard the arguments over Assad’s gassing his citizens, the statements that claim we have evidence but none have been presented nor been verified by credible sources.

We do not need another cry of WMD wolf but even if true the idea that bombs, bullets, grenades and mortars are any less atrocious, nor no less criminal is to me absurd.

I am glad that congress has asked the president to make his case before them – it is as it should be. If congress does the right thing and opposes intervention then the world may gain some faith that in the USA, democracy lives. That is does work and that the people of the United States have no ill will against the people of Syria and that we believe a political solution is possible as a bridge to peace.

Thus we need all our representatives to oppose any military strike no matter how limited. Two wrongs – do not make a right! Though if they approve the strike against Syria only more deaths will occur. Which begs the question in what universe is our killing any less evil than theirs?

Both sides in this civil and now sectarian war are culpable for murdering the lives of innocent men, women and children. Both sides accuse the other of using chemical weapons, crying foul by the other. There are no good guys in this conflict, a conflict we need not enter into, for it is for Syrians and Syrians alone to solve.

WE as a nation have no credibility in the Middle East, nor do we in much of the rest of the world and if we should again stick the noses of our missiles into this fight, I am afraid that it will only get worse. No one can predict that it will not escalate, maybe even into a world war, a nightmare that could equal an apocalypse.

I am a Viet Nam combat veteran, an Agent Orange victim of our military’s use of chemical weapons and know the pain this has caused me and so many other veterans and their families thus we are all opposed to these poisons but have no stomach for making things worse. Just so president Obama can save face for drawing a red line he really had no right to make all on his own.

There are more courageous alternatives, first wait for the United Nations inspectors report, second encourage the UN to call for a truce to discuss a path to end the conflict, third let the so-called rebels (many now who are outsiders even more detrimental to democracy) that we will not arms them and will only support them in UN peace process.

If we really want to make a difference we will work to make all weapons sales to other nations an international crime and hold those individuals and manufacturers accountable for war crimes.

If president listens to our people and not the war profiteers (who are salivating over the possibility of their products of death filling their coffers with blood money galore) then I will applaud him, for it takes more wisdom and courage to walk the path of peace than one of war.

The UK has said “NO”! And, we say NO! Peace be with You!