Monday, 16 October 2017

Little Baghdadi Sat In A Wadi

Little Baghdadi sat in a wadi
Eating his Kurds by the way
Along came a Russian plane
And the SAA came
And the Kurds jumped up to say

"How dare you try to take my spoils
Baghdadi is my hero too
And I'll gladly ally with this bugger
Before I settle with you.
And if you think I'm alone
Look over there and think again
Those tons of arms from Trump's closet
Didn't just come up through the drain.

"ISIS, Kurds, America, we're together
When it comes to you,
We'll take Raqqa and the oilfields
And we'll keep Kirkuk too."

But the roar came slamming
From the Syrian lion here
And the Iraqi lion shook his mane
Bared fangs and rose up there.

And now Baghdadi and Kurds alike
Will be eaten by the way
Nobody knows, where this story goes
But we're finding out, day by day.


Sunday, 15 October 2017

Harvest

Fast ran the car through the night. The highway was empty, the sky clouded over, devoid of moon and stars. The only light came from the twin headlights, painting the road with a pale wash of yellow – and the tip of the driver’s cigar, glowing red like an inflamed eye.

The driver was in no hurry. He had far to go, but the night was long, and he did not have to be there before morning. He could even have a bath, a shave, a snooze and breakfast before presenting himself to the underboss at his office.

Yes, the police might know that he was coming. The police might track him, and might even try to find some excuse to search him. But they wouldn’t get anything. They never had, and they never would.

Especially not this time. This time he was on the most important mission of his career. By this time tomorrow night, billions would have been made – and he, Robby the Mook, would have earned enough to be a millionaire himself, several times over.

No longer would he be a lowly bagman and gambling runner. By this time tomorrow, Robby the Mook would be among the rich and mighty, the hardships and dangers of his life all behind him.

In his head, buried where no policeman could get to it, were the details of every single bet placed over the past week in the Great Big City – every single bet riding on the results of the Grand Election tomorrow. Robby the Mook, who had a brain cursed by a literal inability to forget figures, had long ago found a way to make it work for him. And not just for him, but for the Organisation.

The Organisation was not ungrateful.

But this time it was more than this. Robby the Mook had placed discreet bets this time, carefully spread out among the Great Big City’s illegal bookies, in many false names – each a small bet in itself, nothing to draw any attention, but together they would pay out a massive sum if he won.

And he would win. Careful work over the years, payments made and contacts sedulously cultivated, had all finally borne fruit. Robby the Mook knew exactly who had been selected to win the Grand Election tomorrow. He even knew exactly by how many votes, within the nearest thousand, the final total would be.

Oh, Robby the Mook would be a rich man indeed.

Puffing at his cheap cigar, contentedly reflecting on the fact that by this time the day after he could afford better smokes and a better car, he roared on through the darkness, and switched on the car radio to listen to some music.

He’d have to keep it quiet for a while, of course. The Organisation would have no mercy if it discovered that he’d known what was about to happen and not tipped it off. But after a few months had passed, he could arrange to disappear, change his name, and turn up with false papers in a South American country. It would not be hard, when he had money. He might even get plastic surgery to change his appearance. He’d always disliked his nose...

But he would not delay in buying a better car and better cigars. And new shoes. He loved new shoes. Black, gleaming, with pointed toes and that leather smell.

His dreams of the future were so absorbing, and so comforting, that he did not notice until it was too late the brilliant light lowering through the clouds above him.

*****************************************

The caab-ship from Glnthorr had passed the orbit of the moon before the captain summoned her second in command to the control tub.

“Senior Lieutenant Vicious Rimmer,” she snorkled, moving her tentacles in the tub’s green and purple liquid. “How was the harvest this time?”

Senior Lieutenant Vicious Rimmer opened his voice flap. “Excellent, Most Honourable Caab-Captain,” he bloggered back at top volume. “We have never had a better one.”

“Really?” Caab-Captain Lindispercy thrashing around her tentacles in confusion. “I thought you’d said that it was shaping up to be a really poor harvest this time.”

“That was true enough, O Honourable Caab-Captain,” Vicious Rimmer blooted.  “The first collections were severely stunted, almost useless. As you may recall, I decided to make one last attempt. And we struck, as the apes on that planet call it, gold.”

“Gold.” Caab-Captain Lindispercy’s left front upper tentacle flicked some of the fluid so high that it splashed on the ceiling. A crawling tiktiki lizard instantly slurped it down before it could dribble back into the tub. “That heavy yellow metal. Oh yes, I remember that these apes like it. So it went off well?”

“Most well, O Delicious and August Mistress Caab-Captain,” Vicious Rimmer gnokked, his voice-flaps distended at full opening. “This last collection was better than all the rest put together. The harvest collection tanks are filled to brimming, and the memoworms and mathafungi are already seeded and growing.”

“Very good.” Caab-Captain Lindispercy smacked her beak appreciatively. “It’s been a long time since we could eat our fill of memoworms and mathafungi. With full tanks we will all get medals and promotion. Set course for home.”

Lying back in the tub, she watched the tiktiki on the ceiling and dreamt of the honours to come.

*****************************************

Reports of UFO activity have increased over the last few days,” the radio said. “People have reported seeing strange lights in the sky, and some of them have alleged that their vehicles stopped working, after which they remember nothing.

“Scientists have explained away these as mass hallucinations arising from anxiety over the results of tomorrow’s election, which has been stated to be the most significant in a generation. In political news, the candidates...”

Robby the Mook blinked. The car radio blattered meaninglessly. He looked out blankly through the windscreen at the empty highway, and at the steering wheel in front of him. There was the burnt end of a cigar on the dashboard. He looked at it, picked it up, bit it, and threw it away.

He was still sitting there when the police car stopped beside his and a torch shone in through the open window. “You,” a voice said. “Who are you? What are you doing sitting in your car in the middle of the highway? Are you ill, or drunk, or trying to cause an accident?”

Robby the Mook stared at the torch. “Blub?” he inquired.      

“I said,” the policeman repeated, his voice rising in exasperation. “Who the hell are you and what are you doing?”

“Glop,” Robby the Mook said. He raised his hand and grabbed at the light, surprised when he couldn’t catch it. “Brok?” he asked. “Brok dok mok?”And then, with an effort: "Who are you? Where am I?" He frowned. "Who am I?"

And it was at that point that the policeman began to scream.



Copyright B Purkayastha 2017

[Image source]

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Movie Review: Purple Sunset

China, August 1945.

Two days after the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and in accordance with the Yalta agreement, the USSR declared war on Japan and invaded northern China, the Japanese puppet state of “Manchukuo”, and Korea. This act, it has been persuasively argued, was far more devastating to the Japanese war effort than the two atom bombs, and was the single precipitating factor that forced Japan’s surrender.

The vaunted Japanese Kwantung Army – the largest and most prestigious of all Japanese army groups – shattered like porcelain before the Soviet onslaught. As the Japanese forces in China dissolved, and the world war ended, two other wars began. One was the Chinese Civil War, which had been interrupted by the Japanese invasion a decade earlier but now broke out again in full force. The other was the Cold War, which – as anyone knows, and all pretences otherwise notwithstanding – is still going on to this day.

That is history. But there is much more to history than just the headlines.

The Japanese war crimes in China and Korea are among the most astonishingly underreported and unknown things about the Second World War. As the Japanese advanced through China in 1937, raping, killing, and destroying (not necessarily in that order) everything in their path, they began an odyssey of sadistic violence which far exceeded in cruelty and numbers anything achieved by the Nazis in Europe outside the USSR. A quarter of a million civilians were massacred in Nanjing after the Chinese capital had fallen. The entire Korean peninsula was turned into a source of slave labour for Japan, administered by Korean turncoats. The Japanese medical experiment centre, Unit 731, murdered more people, in more depraved ways, than the German Nazi doctors like Josef Mengele (“the Devil Doctor of Auschwitz”) ever did – and got away with it, in fact being rewarded with positions in US universities in return for handing over their experimental data.

There is an excellent reason why to this day if there is anything China and the two Koreas agree on, it’s their mutual hatred of Japan and their determination that Japanese militarism must never be allowed to raise its head again.

And yet to this day Japan, while acknowledging its war crimes against Western prisoners of war* does not admit or acknowledge what it did to its fellow Asians. And for some reason that undoubtedly has absolutely nothing to do with Cold War imperatives and anti-Korean/anti-Chinese strategy, the West has never attempted to compel it to.

[*In The Other Side Of Tenko, his memoir of life as a Japanese prisoner of war from 1942 to 1945, Len Baynes specifically mentions that while the Japanese were bad, if “half the tales told by some of our men about the way they treated the ‘wogs’ were accurate, British colonial policy between the wars was as bad as the Japs at their worst.”]

Acknowledged or not, the war crimes were real enough. And as the Soviet tank divisions slashed across the plains of Manchuria in August 1945, crushing the Kwantung Army under their tracks, the Japanese army turned on the Chinese in one last orgy of violence. Civilians of all descriptions were swept up, casually murdered, and their corpses dumped in rivers; machine gun squads massacred entire villages before the Soviet forces could reach them; and young Japanese, many of whom had absolutely no desire to participate in this war in any way, were jammed into uniforms, informed that it was their duty to die for the Emperor, and sent off to do their share of killing.

This is the story of three people during those days of August, seven decades ago.




Yang is a Chinese peasant in his late twenties or early thirties. When we first see him, he is among a mass of Chinese civilians, roped to each other and being marched along to be slaughtered by a Japanese machine gun squad in front of a wall. The rest of the civilians are murdered, but before Yang himself can be killed, Soviet forces which have broken through the Japanese lines arrive and annihilate the Japanese. Yang, the only survivor, is put into an armoured personnel carrier along with Soviet wounded and a female medical officer, and packed off to the Soviet headquarters somewhere along the shifting frontline.

As we see later in flashback (the backstory of all the three main characters is revealed in flashback) Yang is in this position because his home was invaded by Japanese troops on one of these murderous missions.  All they found were Yang himself, and his aged mother, whom they tied to posts. The officer in charge ordered one of his young troops (a bespectacled schoolboy scarcely taller than his rifle) to bayonet the old woman, and beat him until, face covered with blood and tears, he complied.




While other Chinese dead were being tossed into a river in sacks – or being burned alive for sport – Yang and other survivors were marched off to be shot. As the only survivor of his village, Yang literally has nothing left.

The armoured personnel carrier has, as I said, a female medical officer. This is Nadia, whose Russian is so clearly enunciated that I could understand almost all of it without needing subtitles. Her flashback reveals that her son was killed in a Nazi air raid when a shot down German plane crashed into the playground he was in. And that is it for her family as well.

As the armoured personnel carrier tries to look for the headquarters among unmarked roads in the North Chinese plains, the driver takes a wrong turn and blunders into a Japanese base. In the ensuing firefight, all the Soviet troops are killed except Nadia and the driver. They and Yang manage to escape into the forest, and decide to try and find their way back to the Soviet lines. In the middle of unknown territory, this is easier said than done.

Walking through the forest, they come to a bridge, on the other side of which is a guardhouse. It’s apparently deserted, but as the driver crosses, someone inside throws a grenade at him. He retaliates by riddling the guardhouse with submachine gun fire, and kicks down the door to find...two Japanese schoolgirls. One of them commits suicide at the sight of him with a bayonet, but he captures the other. And, deciding that she can be their guide out of the forest, they take her with them, gagged and at the end of a rope. Her name is Akiyoko.

Flashback: Lines of young people in the rain, girls on the left, boys on the right, listen as a Japanese officer screams at them about how they are all “soldiers” now, not students, and their only duty is to kill their enemies and die for the Emperor. Akiyoko, whose father has been conscripted and likely dead, and her lover, Onishi, are in different lines, listening. Shortly after, he is taken away along with other recruits while Akiyoko, slipping and sliding in mud, runs after them, crying. But the lorry vanishes in the distance, leaving Akiyoko standing in the mud, and soon afterwards it’s her turn as well.

As the four march through the wilderness, they get into a minefield, and the Soviet driver is killed. Nadia and Yang, suspecting Akiyoko of having deliberately led them into the minefield, nearly kill her, but finally decide to spare her for the moment. At this point they all speak to each other in different languages: Russian, Mandarin, and Japanese, which create further confusion. They save her again, when she falls into a quagmire, and then, when a crashing Japanese aircraft starts a forest fire, she saves them by creating a firebreak – and reveals in the process that she speaks fluent Mandarin. It seems that she’s lived in China since the age of four and does not even know for certain that Japan is across the sea.

In a Western film, the plot would be straightforward from this point. The two older people, Yang and Nadia, would fall in love, and they’d adopt Akiyoko, and the three of them would live happily ever after. This is not a Western film, and the story is much more complicated than that. It is full of tender moments, as suspicion wavers and recedes, but never goes away; and spots of hope - but whose hopes are they? Can a Japanese girl have the same hopes as the Chinese her nation has massacred, and can a Soviet soldier have the same hopes as the two of them? 




No, it's not a Western film, and so it marches inexorably towards a dramatic and tragic conclusion. What that is I won’t tell you, but the film is right here, so you can watch it for yourself:



I love this film. I think it is superb, and almost as good as the Soviet film Come And See, which I rate the best war movie ever made. I find it incredible that it is not famous. I can only speculate that this is because it’s a Chinese movie about Japanese war crimes, which means that it’s dead on arrival as far as the Western media are concerned.

The acting is excellent from all three main leads, with nuance and expression. Most of the Japanese soldier parts are overacted, but given the film that is excusable. The direction is good, and the scenery is indescribable. There are a few historical inaccuracies – while there was one last Japanese kamikaze attack after the surrender, the planes were flown by volunteers and never hit any target, much less an American aircraft carrier – and Japanese hand grenades of the period did not work in the way depicted in the movie. These are not important quibbles.

I strongly recommend that you watch it.

[Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5. I never give 5 out of 5 because nothing is perfect.]