Sunday, February 18, 2007

Geaghan: Sunday snippets

From the back pages of today's newspapers or online news sources...

Humvee RIP?

Has the Marine Corps in Iraq given up on the Humvee? Even the "up-armored" versions, which are often improvised by American troops from scrap metal, are highly vulnerable to IED's that are becoming ever more powerful. The flat undercarriage of the Humvee is especially vulnerable to bombs planted in the road. About two-thirds of the 700 Marines killed in Iraq were riding in Humeees. According to a news report by David Wood, the Corps now plans to replace all its Humvees, at a cost of $2.8 billion, with MRAP's (mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles). Crews are "four or five times more likely" to survive an IED attack on MRAP's compared to armored Humvees (though no comparison is available between the MRAP and unarmored Humvees). The basic problem, Wood writes, is that "insurgents can invent different and more lethan bombs faster than the Pentagon and American industry can provide protection." For beleagued Marines in Iraq, the MRAP will not offer much relief since "it will take years to complete the replacement" of the Humvee. For exactly how many years does this administration think the U.S. will be occupying Iraq? Bush has already informed us, of course, that any such decision will have to be made by his successor.

GRAPHIC: The Humvee in which Marine Sgt. Mark Chafin was injured in Iraq.

No regrets, no remorse

In France, Maurice Papon died at the age of 96, four years after his release from prison due to "failing health." Papon was convicted of crimes against humanity in 1998 but served only three years of a ten-year sentence. As director of "Jewish Affairs" in Bordeaux, Papon played a prominent role in the deportation of 1,690 Jews, including 223 children, from the area during World War II. He was the highest-ranking French official to be convicted of crimes arising from collaboration with the Nazi occupation (1940-44). His record of collaboration had no effect on his "brilliant" career in the French government, which assigned him to important positions during and after the war, including: police supervisor, director of Algerian affairs (!), Paris police chief (1958-67), and French budget minister (1978-81). The legal case against Papon was in limbo for sixteen years before he was finally brought to court. His two main defenses: he was following orders, and he didn't realize that the Nazis were exterminating deportees at Auschwitz. In 2001, he wrote that he had neither "regrets nor remorse for a crime I did not commit and for which I am in no way an accomplice." And, as his lawyer says, "he died a free man."

GRAPHIC by Serge Smulevic, artist and Auschwitz survivor. The French caption reads: "I was only following orders."

UPDATE: The Papon case

In today's news from France, Maurice Papon's demand to be buried with his Legion of Honor medal is causing predictable controversy. He was forbidden to wear it during this lifetime, but his lawyer is determined to fulfill his desire to wear it in the grave.

Of the 75,000 French Jews who were sent to the Nazi concentration camps, only 2,500 (3%) survived. One of the victims was Russian emigré and writer Irène Némirovsky, whose excellent novel Suite Française was recently published (2005) when it was uncovered by her daughter some sixty years after it was written. Three-quarters of French Jews survived the war, partly due to the aid given them by their fellow citizens. Such was the subject of Louis Malles' powerful film, Au Revoir, Les Enfants (1987). If you see Malles' film, be sure to balance it with a viewing of Marcel Ophuls' phenomenal documentary The Sorrow and the Pity
(Le chagrin et la pitié, 1969, 4 hours and 11 minutes long), which presents the collaborationist environment in which Maurice Papon achieved such prominence. Regarding the fate of Papon's victims and millions of others, Claude Lanzmann's Shoah (1985, 9 1/2 hours) should be required viewing.

Maybe she overlooked the Twinkie defense

In a Virginia road-rage incident, a young woman tossed a cup of McDonald's soda into the car of someone who, she says, cut her off in heavy traffic. The "McMissile"—as it inevitably became known—contained mostly ice, but a "gooey" substance splattered onto the interior and occupants of the other car. The young perpetrator was accompanied by her three feisty children and a pregnant sister who was experiencing early contractions. A jury convicted the woman of "maliciously throwing a missile into an occupied vehicle," a felony under Virginia law, and several misdemeanors. She has already served one month of a mandatory minimum of two years in prison, though it's theoretically possible that a judge could still reduce her sentence. She is unemployed and her husband is on his third tour of duty in Iraq.

Sure, it was a stupid thing to do and her behavior should have some legal consequences. But two years in jail for a first offense? An anger management program, some community service and probation seems about right.

Revenge of the Blue Meanies

At the beginning of Cool Hand Luke (1967), the classic rebel film, a drunken Paul Newman is caught by police late one night as he staggers up the town's main street, systematically removing the tops of parking meters with a pipe cutter. Something similar is going on in Lewes, England, where 180 parking meters, costing $6,000 each, have been destroyed by someone knowledgeable in the use of plastic explosives. The unpopular meters are administered by NCP, a private company known locally as the "Blue Meanies" for the color of its uniforms. A task force, named after the American Carl Magee, inventor of the parking meter, has been formed to catch the perpetrators. So far no one has been injured by the late-night demolitions, which have cost the town over $1 million.

GRAPHIC: City of Peoria, Illinois

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