“Blows that don’t break your back make it stronger.”
- Anthony Quinn in Omar Mukhtar, Lion of the Desert
For years, I’ve been working either in the journalism realm or as an antiwar veteran activist expressing the core idea that the United States of America is an “empire,” that its militarist foreign policy is “imperialistic” and that many of our perennial and current problems are rooted in the reality that, as an imperial nation, like many empires in history, we’re overextending ourselves and destroying something that is dear to all American citizens who love this country.
When I wrote guest opinion pieces to the Philadelphia Daily News, a good-natured debate developed between me and the paper’s regular columnist, Stu Bykofsky. Stu’s position was classic. He would say, since US troops didn’t look like Roman legions and he felt Americans were good and interested in helping the benighted peoples of the world -- not like the Brits, exploiting the wogs while they played cricket and drank gin and tonics on the verandah. Of course, he was right that the nature of empire has evolved with the times. But for me this was all semantics and not a valid refutation of my point, that the United States had become an empire -- and that it is now facing overextension to the detriment of citizens at home.
The other night, I stumbled on the 1981 film epic Omar Mukhtar, Lion of the Desert. Mukhtar was a simple village teacher of the Koran in Libyan who turned out to be a natural military genius who brilliantly fought an occupying Italian army from 1911 to 1931. Italy had taken Libya from the declining Turkish empire. Once Benito Mussolini rose to power in 1922, the occupation became a powerful drive to establish “the fourth shore,” the name given to Italy’s ambitions to re-create a new Roman Empire in North Africa.
Anthony Quinn plays Mukhtar in the three-hour film, which to my surprise is a magnificently written, acted and filmed cinematic gem. Like The Battle Of Algiers, the film offers serious insights for a western audience. When the film was released, following the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the Iranian hostage crisis, it bombed. It only recouped $1 million in box office receipts on the $35 million it cost to make. The fact the $35 million was put up by Muammar Gaddafi also contributed to the film’s doom. As one commentator noted, this was only five years after the demoralizing end of the Vietnam War, and most Americans would tend to identify with the fascist Italian imperialists, not with the insurgent heroes...
For the rest of this article by JOHN GRANT in ThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent Project Censored Award-winning online alternative newspaper, please go to: www.thiscantbehappening.net/node/1345