The Clare Spark Blog

September 23, 2012

HOMELAND and the idea of the Fifth Column

Tonight September 23, 2012 will attract a world-wide audience as the Emmy Awards are handed out. It is likely that the Showtime series HOMELAND will walk away with the trophies, for this was not only a well-written and acted thriller addressing the War on Terror, the theme of the Fifth Column taps into the psychology of the viewer who suppresses the critical faculty, what I would call the inner rebel that all societies struggle to suppress in the interest of social stability. We ourselves tamp down the inner Fifth Column every day, often suppressing thoughts and feelings that could conceivably irritate families, employers, and all others with power over our future welfare. (For a narrower definition of the term, see

Although the Wikipedia entry on the Fifth Column starts its usage with the Spanish Civil War, citing Hemingway’s play The Fifth Column (1940), in effect suppressing Hemingway’s loyalty to the Soviet line that Trotskyists and Anarchists were a “fascist” Fifth Column, and secret enemies to the Spanish homeland that the Republicans and its foreign brigades were defending, the same sort of argument was deployed by Stalin in his notorious purges of the old Bolsheviks during the mid-1930s. Whether or not Ernest Hemingway transferred his loyalty to the U.S. to communist countries (first the Soviet Union, then Cuba) is hotly debated among Hemingway scholars. (For my take on the fight, see

But this blog is not about Hemingway’s conflation of masculinity with the aims of the country he believed was best defending Spain, Spain being his adopted homeland. Rather, this blog continues the theme of my recent essays, that of populist demagoguery and the widespread reluctance to get to know our deepest thoughts and impulses, to the detriment of our own capacities for free thought. It is the contention of this blog that demagogues harness our own unspoken and unacknowledged, possibly divisive, thoughts and feelings, directing them instead to a designated enemy who must be defeated to purify ourselves of contaminants, contaminants that would infect the Good Mother(land).

First, a few words on the text and subtext of HOMELAND (see . The thriller was ostensibly inspired by Hatufim, an Israeli television series shown in 2010, treating the hitherto neglected subject of returning prisoners of war, whose adjustment to family life was often fraught with difficulty, not to speak of some suspicions of their continued loyalty to the homeland. I find a more persuasive precursor to HOMELAND in the American series 24, that dealt with counter-terrorism, with some questioning the morality of its chief character “Jack Bauer,” whose methods subordinated means to ends.

Similarly, the chief argument of HOMELAND is that Americans, while ostensibly fighting the war on terror, committed atrocities (i.e., “collateral damage”) that were covered up by highly placed officials such as the Vice-President (obviously linked to Cheney and his advocacy of American power and a militant response to 9/11) and his confederate, a highly placed officer in the CIA, who obliterated the record of a drone attack that took the lives of 82 children in the attempt to kill a major figure in Al Qaeda, “Abu Nazir.” Nazir’s adorable 10 year old son Isa is one of the casualties, and this tragic loss leads Nazir to wreak revenge by attacking the entire U.S. defense establishment, using “turned” POW Nicholas Brody as his fifth column.  Season one ends with Brody’s suicide bombing attempt undermined by his own “Achilles heel” (i.e. Fifth Column): his attachment to his 16-year old daughter who pleads with him to come home to his true homeland, where he is needed as a loving and protective father.

One of the virtues of the HOMELAND series is the moral ambiguity it attaches to the actions of each of the major characters, but make no mistake: taken in all, it is a strong antiwar, anti-Republican Party statement on current controversies regarding the use of “American power” that puts “America First” rather than respecting the good Muslims who are sprinkled throughout, and who would suppress the terrorists given a more internationalist approach of the U.S. in the wake of 9/11.

[Added 9-24: Backstage after accepting her Emmy Award, Claire Danes assured reporters that the show was not “political” but was simply a “psychological thriller.” Either Danes is undereducated, or she is under orders to transmit that safer line. For a critique that nails the series for “negative images” of Arabs, see We are back in multicultural territory that demands positive images to defeat “racism”–always perpetrated by Jewish Hollywood. The reviewer didn’t understand the show.]

Bouguereau’s The Motherland

September 11, 2012


Terry Malloy, bloodied but unbowed

While looking up prior descriptions of 9/11, a day remembered on Fox News as best treated as remembrance of the dead, owing to the “tragedy” of the event, I found myself getting more and more appalled at the rhetoric. As Mark Steyn pointed out years ago, 9/11 was not a “tragedy” [i.e., aimed at catharsis and healing as a theatrical event] but a military  “attack,” and I would add, a strike at finance capital/the city of the Jews by radical Islamists who were able to achieve their lethal goals because of outright negligence during the 1990s during the Clinton administration and/or longstanding Arabism in the State Department, not to speak of the mostly deaf response to the findings of Steve Emerson from the 1980s on,  namely that we had been infiltrated, and that no one with the power to stop them was paying attention. (See  And the DNC had the nerve to summon President Clinton to support President Obama, who, we are told by Vice-President Biden “killed” bin Laden–as if that event marked the completion of whatever liberals call “the war on terror.”

At the same time, Chicago teachers are out on strike, reportedly owing to their disdain of government testing and other evaluations that would separate the wheat from the chaff. Clearly, these teachers are proud of their tactics, and imaginatively line up with exploited labor in the bad old days before unions and collective bargaining became legal during the New Deal. Reminder: strikes have always been a violent tactic, but strikes have been endlessly celebrated by the anti-capitalists as heroic acts that do not hurt “the community” but rather that strikers are forced to use the only weapon at hand. You will not find a labor historian or social historian who disagrees with this assessment, and who does not revel at every sign and symptom of defiance by the “exploited” class. (I will gladly retract this statement if I am proven wrong.)

Chicago teachers on strike

(Reminder: one of the great movies of my youth: On The Waterfront (1954), was not about a strike, but about standing up to crooked union bosses and their thugs. Critics on the Left hated it, and attacked  Elia Kazan and Budd Schulberg for ratting on their ex-comrades while pretending to purify the labor movement.)

We no longer use words such as “tragedy” with precision or with regard to their multiple and changing meanings in the past. But we do pretend that traumas of every kind can be healed. For many, September 11 is a day for meditation, remembrance, and healing. I understand that impulse for unity and solidarity with the families of the victims of 9/11. But we fool ourselves if we fail to trace the precursors, selfish interests, and corrupt, incompetent  practices that brought down the Twin Towers, and that threaten to bring down the Republic if not forthrightly and fearlessly addressed by us all, each and every one. We need to emulate Terry Malloy.

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