The Siege of Jadotville

Some time ago, in the early sixties, Belgian Congo, located smack bang in the middle of Africa, moved towards independence. Not everyone was thrilled with the idea. For one, a sizeable group of people living in the mineral-rich province of Katanga(uranium) wanted independence from independent Congo, while  the original colonizers, the Belgians, wanted no independence at all. Both being the enemy of their enemy, they went for one of those curious alliances that defy logic and Katanga was declared independent. To make sure it retained it’s independence Katanga was supplied with an army of mercenaries. French ones, given by De Gaulle, so the movie tells us.

The new government of Congo under Lumumba tried to conquer the state of Katanga by force. Since the west and the UN seemed lackluster in their support, Lumumba turned to the Soviets for aid. With the cold war edging towards a new high Congo seemed to become a battle ground where east and west could fight the cold war by proxy. So the United Nations stepped in with the aim to prevent this from happening or to control the damage.
(which it did in hindsight).

 

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In this complicated political scene a company of Irish soldiers gets ordered to take control of a place called Jadotville as part of their UN Peacekeeping mission. Unfortenatly, we are not informed why that particular place. It gets hinted at that it is an important location, but what are the orders?

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What orders?

The movie does spend some time on the background of the incident, but when it comes to the main part of the movie, we are clueless. What are these guys doing there anyway?

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The compound consists of a few buildings. Wisely enough the commander has his men dig trenches. Which is following the sage advice: dig in dammit!

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After some preliminaries, we get to the meat of the movie, which consists of an hour of battles scenes. There is little time for anything else but explosions and shooting. Character development is the first victim in this movie.

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The French dude. He is the honorable enemy. Who is he anyway? 
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Allrighty.. I just killed like three hundred of your men with no loss of my own. No hard feelings, right.
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That is the enemy. Figures in a landscape.

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The second victim is, of course, the truth. Politicians are not to be trusted and leave noble soldiers to fend for themselves.Reality is probably more complex and given that the movie spends some time on background, but not enough to flesh out the characters  we are never given an insight into the complex  political background and motives of the persons involved. In fact, the movie would have done better with leaving this part out entirely and not painting those involved in this tense complex political situation in a bad light with such rough brushstrokes. It is easy to point the finger at them politicians.  A more noble and heroic movie would have shown how hard the job actually is.

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O’Brien being appointed by the UN Secretary. O’Brien’s career as an international politician was broken in Congo/Katanga incident.
He is the bad guy.

 

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And there you have it. Katanga’s prime minister Thombe doesn’t think well of the UN.

 

.The siege of Jadotville isn’t really a good movie. Its main flaw is a lack of character development. Except for the commander, everyone is forgettable. But even as a historical insight into the events it leaves much to be desired. The same old story can be found here: untrusty politicians are selling out the noble soldiers. There is simply no time taken to delve into the complex world of cold war politics, but just enough to lay the blame with the usual suspects. The issue isn’t that there is someone to blame, the issue is that a good movie would show how a person choose his path, not because he is an untrusty bad person, but because that was his best choice, according to him at that time.

But even as a war movie it lacks the quality of say: Karthoum, Zulu, The Alamo, The lost battalion, Saving Private Ryan or the defense of Arnhem bridge by Frost in A bridge too far.
It is just a boring sequence of heroics that get to be unbelievable.

The siege of Jadotville rightly salutes the  company of Irish soldiers who ended up in a bad situation at a bad time, but it dishonors them at the same time by making a complex situation easy by laying blame by the politicians for betraying them. I know this is a hugely popular thing, but you can’t just do away  history because you dislike politicians. It would have been a better movie if it had just not taken that path but had given the politicians their due.  Politicians are people and they sometimes have to make hard choices. It would be a great movie that takes that into account.

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Henry and Kristl held their breath for Thirteen Days

 

Thirteen Days
Thirteen Days
Nuclear wars sort of ruin the day

“Nothing can ruin the carefree  mood of a  football game so much as an  imminent nuclear holocaust.” Henry folded his hands behind his head and stretched his body as to make full use of the couch.

“Blimey, we actually saw a movie that was on the good side of the average divide…”  Kristl said and she handed Henry a beer. She had walked into the kitchen that was at the end on the adjoining corridor of their garage-turned-movie-theater.

“Beer…?  Blimey..? A positive mood? What has gotten into you?” Henry quickly secured the offered beer before something sudden would happen, like a nuclear war or a mood swing.  You never knew when Kristls mood would  take another turn.  Women, so Henry thought,  were highly unpredictable.. especially to men..

Another game, with less at stake.

” I really liked the movie. It was a good political thriller. Strange actually, considering that I knew what was going to happen: it still had me on the edge.  I  liked it  that they never showed what the other people were thinking or doing: the Soviets, the Cubans, even their own people: the US military. And although I had to get adjust for a moment, it was a good thing that  Kevin Costner did not play the president but his adviser.  It sort of made it more human.  “

What are they thinking?

“Yeah,  funny… Our military was as much to be trusted as not. I can imagine that some people will not like this image of some military dudes gung ho-ing for a nuclear war.  Perhaps somewhat unfair too? The russians were the bad guys, no?” Henry mused. He savored his beer.

and what is he thinking?

“Soviets. Not Russians. Let’s call them Soviets.  And the answer: maybe.. maybe.. at least they were unknown baddies.. That makes the movie unnerving. You have no idea what they are thinking. Just like the president and his staff must have been experiencing. What are they up to? How far will they go?”

“And what if they don’t stop?”

“Yeah. How did you like the intro.. how it flows from the introduction into the movie.  Other than that the movie was not a cinematographic high movie. Not spectacular shots. But well played and well written.” Kristl added.

“I actually was amazed myself that I liked it.. I mean,…” Henry made a vague gesture.. spilling some beer.

“No damsels in tight suits shooting up legions of evil guys?” Kristl smiled.

“Yeah.,, no action.. yet  the movie scares the shit out of you.  They were so hovering on the brink of a nuclear war. If the Russians had not given in..  If they had not turned those ships around..” Henry made a sudden gesture with his hands making him spill beer all around, “BOOM!”

“That is true.. but than we never know if president Kennedy would have backed down himself. Or that they would have ignored the ships being there. This is of course another thing. That this issue got to be a big issue was because the US made it into a one. They were prepared to go to war over nuclear missiles stationed on Cuba not because it meant that the US could  now be nuked -the Soviets could do that already- but because the US could be nuked far quicker then before.  Not hours.. but minutes. It sort of evened the score in their opinion  because that same threat hung over the heads over everyone else. It sort of give you pause to think why this thing was played up. Why was Kennedy prepared to let it get this far?”

Where do you think you are going?

“Well.  In the end the Russians backed down.. so the US won.” Henry said.

The president and his adviser. Saving the world over a cup of coffee.

Or

The president and his adviser. Endangering the world over a cup of coffee.

“Won?”  Kristls face became thoughtful, “Won. Maybe. But at that point in time I wonder.. was it really necessary to drag the world towards a nuclear war over some missiles placed on Cuba? I mean really.. the Soviets could already nuke the US back into the stone age so placing missiles on Cuba was not actually changing the balance in the world by much. Maybe it was more to save the presidents prestige than anything else. Which makes you wonder… and scared. “

“Let’s not fret over things that are in the past. We are talking about a movie, not about some political historical discussion. I liked the movie even if there was not one action scene in it.”

“Uhmm. Touchy subject no?”

“Let us just say that it ended in a positive mood. Red lost…”

“And blue won?”

“Right.”

“Only not sure who was red and who was blue.”  Kristl said to herself.

That is what beaches are for. Even on Cuba.