Table of contents

Zero Dark Thirty

A note on the ugliness of war

The people working for the politicians sound like cowards trying to avoid responsibility. They cannot understand much about war or espionage. Their expertise, or the extraordinary efficiency of the political system, ensures that the story of the hunt for bin Laden does not involve politics. We hear Mr. Obama’s moral assurance that America has never or ought never to torture people, because that diminishes her moral stature. We know he decided to attack the compound where the terrorist was hiding.

The story quietly destroys all moralism, & its self-importance by showing us the woman-spy who chased that terrorist with the determination of a captain Ahab, & far greater resources. The dreaded Leviathan has met his match in the American federal government… The woman, aside from professionalism, seems vengeful.

Spy-craft is easily underestimated & of doubtful necessity. To approve of espionage is to approve of murder & every crime known to man, except perhaps incest & cannibalism. But is it not necessary? We see several of the major national security failures since September 11, 2001, in places ranging from Times Square in NYC to isolated CIA facilities in Afghanistan. No comment is passed on these astounding failures; nor on their minimal fallout, dwarfed by the comparison with 9/11. The CIA’s farcical behavior in preparation for the Iraq war is however mentioned: The spies want to protect their reputation.

So a great political discussion emerges: Ought America to be defended at its borders or throughout the world? The alternatives assume that another attack on the homeland would be a political disaster. But they cannot be implemented together; confusing them is dangerous, but politically necessary, because war depends on public support, as well as political arguments about torture, for example. Spies cannot work worrying about being betrayed by their political masters in the name of morality…

The story shows the terrorist’s assassination. It does not suggest it worth the doing. It shows those who were involved, who seem satisfied that they did what they needed to do; this happily marries justice & necessity; the spy herself cries, perhaps relieved, after she satisfies her need to see the corpse. Now she knows with certainty that she excelled at her job – morality is no substitute for success.

The spy explains herself only once: She implies God or providence intervened to save her life when terrorists killed her fellow agents. God wants her to kill the terrorist. When her long chase finally starts to look promising, she becomes increasingly confident. In the end, the CIA director’s advisers all give probabilities that slightly support her opinion, whereas she is utterly confident. They are worried about looking bad in public. She is only thinking about killing her enemy.

A very long & very dull movie about how depressive espionage can be.