‘Amer­ica at a Cross­roads’ Cuts No Cor­ners

The Washington Post Sunday - - Arts -

dren, one them Osama — stud­ied Amer­i­can cul­ture, he came away “ ap­palled” at sub­ur­ban Amer­ica’s ob­ses­sion with lawns, of all things — the metic­u­lous and fas­tid­i­ous care and feed­ing thereof. Per­haps tak­ing spectators lit­er­ally, he re­port­edly shrank in hor­ror at cries of “ Kill him!” dur­ing a pro­fes­sional box­ing match, and he gen­er­ally con­sid­ered Amer­i­cans to be cor­rupted by the sorts of things the rest of the world en­vies.

View­ers who’ve oohed and aa­hed over the scenic and nat­u­ral won­ders cap­tured in high­def for Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel HD Theater’s eye­bog­gling “ Planet Earth” will find the vis­ual approach of “ Cross­roads” to be nat­u­rally aus­tere by com­par­i­son. But al­though var­i­ous pro­duc­ers and dif­fer­ent creative teams worked on the var­i­ous “ Cross­roads” seg­ments, there are strik­ing con­sis­ten­cies — chief among them a way to zoom out from one spot on the globe and then zoom in, way in, on an­other. At their most ba­sic level, th­ese zooms, from a van­tage point in space, give you a wel­come per­spec­tive on just where things are in re­la­tion to one an­other. It’s also a gee- whiz ef­fect for its own sake.

“ Gangs of Iraq,” the seg­ment air­ing Tues­day night, was co- pro­duced by the “ Cross­roads” team and the pro­duc­ers of “ Front­line,” one of the last of the cur­rent- events top­i­cal se­ries on pub­lic TV. “ Gangs” looks at the mas­sive U. S.- spon­sored train­ing ef­fort to get Iraqis to stand up for them­selves in the de­fense of their coun­try and its mod­er­ate, or at least non- rad­i­cal, cit­i­zens. Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, the coali­tion- trained forces have them­selves been in­fil­trated by ex­trem­ists — thus in­creas­ing the chal­lenge fac­ing ad­di­tional U. S. troops on their way to Bagh­dad.

Also on Tues­day, “ The Case for War: In De­fense of Free­dom” is largely a profile of for­mer as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of de­fense Richard Perle, a one- man cam­paign on be­half of the U. S. ef­fort in Iraq and the mis­sion as he sees it — sharply con­trasted with the views of Richard Hol­brooke, for­mer U. S. am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions.

“ Se­cu­rity vs. Lib­erty: The Other War,” one of the two con­clud­ing hour- long seg­ments air­ing Fri­day night, was co- pro­duced by ABC News, an­other sign of the mag­ni­tude of the pro­duc­tion. Writ­ten, pro­duced and di­rected by Ed­ward Gray, “ Se­cu­rity vs. Lib­erty” asks whether Amer­i­cans have been “ far too will­ing to sac­ri­fice our ba­sic lib­er­ties” in the name of “ home­land” safety. Those ba­sic lib­er­ties were in peril within hours af­ter the air­planes hit the twin tow­ers of the World Trade Cen­ter on Sept. 11, 2001, and this part of the re­port gives the im­pres­sion that only the ACLU is do­ing much to pre­vent the fur­ther ero­sion of rights.

The hour in­cludes case stud­ies of Amer­i­cans whose pro­files, as com­piled in FBI com­put­ers, seemed to in­di­cate pos­si­ble ter­ror­ist ties — among them a Mus­lim pizza shop owner sus­pected of ped­dling mis­siles as well as pizza pies. Brave and in­dig­nant li­brar­i­ans in Con­necti­cut stood up and protested when they re­ceived so- called “ na­tional se­cu­rity let­ters” that re­quested pa­trons records.

The FBI not only makes its ac­cu­sa­tions in se­cret, but also of­ten im­poses a “ gag or­der” on those charged so that they can’t seek the le­gal pro­tec­tions that are sup­pos­edly the right of ev­ery U. S. cit­i­zen.

So many is­sues and co­nun­drums arise dur­ing th­ese re­ports on the war and its ef­fects that the ques­tion of “ what the ti­tle should be” keeps ris­ing from the com­plex­i­ties and con­fu­sion. What’s the plu­ral of “ cross­roads”? The so- called war on ter­ror has stranded us not at one cross­roads but at many — in­ter­linked, en­twined, per­plexed.

Six nights of ex­am­in­ing the in­tri­cate is­sues and mad­den­ing dilem­mas of the con­flict might not “ solve” any­thing, but we ought to at least come away with a clar­i­fied sense of how con­fused it has all be­come.


In a scene from the doc­u­men­taries, Arab Amer­i­cans at a New Jer­sey mosque pray for vic­tims in the af­ter­math of the World Trade Cen­ter and Pen­tagon ter­ror­ist at­tacks. Many of the wor­shipers then do­nated blood.


A can­dle­light vigil is held in Las Ve­gas on Sept. 12, 2001. The PBS se­ries aims to clar­ify a com­plex ar­ray of re­li­gious and geopo­lit­i­cal is­sues that have emerged from the at­tacks.


Robert MacNeil hosts the se­ries, which be­gins with “Ji­had: The Men and Ideas Be­hind Al-Qaeda.”

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