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CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews on TV last night: Apocalypse Iraq


CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews on TV last night: Apocalypse Iraq – how the hell of war brought Nate to the dark side

Once upon a time in Iraq

Rating:

Beethoven

Rating:

Former US Army colonel Nate Sassaman appeared to be tied to his chair with raw nerve endings tied to his chair with one leg bouncing on the ball of his foot, sitting on his hands, or wiping the palms of his pants.

After returning from a one-year business trip to Iraq, he felt that his children didn't know him. He was so alienated from civilization that when a driver who overtook him on the highway greeted him with a finger, Sassaman reached for the pistol he was no longer carrying.

He told the camera that he had ordered men to be beaten and to terrorize their families Once upon a time in Iraq (BBC2) for less.

This five-part series, which tells of the allied fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and its aftermath, is a lively but conventional documentary. Pictured: witness Alaa Adel

This five-part series, which tells of the allied fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and its aftermath, is a lively but conventional documentary. Pictured: witness Alaa Adel

The opening sequence of this five-part series last week, which told about the fall of Saddam Hussein by the Allies in 2003 and its aftermath, was a vivid but conventional documentary. With contributions from a dozen eyewitnesses, including Iraqis who were teenagers during the invasion, things went quickly without breaking new ground.

The second part was shockingly different. Most of it focused on Lt. Col. Sassaman's testimony, with different perspectives, provided by two journalists he encountered in the field – New York Times writer Dexter Filkins and war photographer Ashley Gilbertson. At first Sassaman seemed a decent, personable figure – an idealist who was tormented by the things he saw. He tried to emphasize that all he ever wanted was to consolidate peace and democracy in the Middle East.

It took 40 minutes for the full horror of what he became to be apparent to the viewer. After a close friend was ambushed by Iraqi insurgents, Sassaman surrounded a village with barbed wire and threatened to shoot anyone who tried to leave. The men were rounded up and put in cages.

His battalion not only searched each house once, but repeatedly and inflated the compound's doors at night with highly explosive material.

"I didn't mean to resist," he said, his legs still pounding. "We were the law."

Sparkler of the Week Costume:

Gloria Hunniford's necklaces, worn in her new morning series Food: Truth Or Scare (BBC1), are a real glory. With pearls like tennis balls and amber-sized chunks of amber, it's a miracle that she can turn her head.

The resulting portrait of a good man corrupted by war felt closer to a character in a film than to a documentary. Sassaman seemed to be the living echo of Marlon Brando's crazy Colonel Kurtz in the Vietnam film Apocalypse Now. He realized that the Allies' failure to control the murderous chaos in Iraq after a regime change and what he called "pure evil" of "war as an institution" had caused immeasurable suffering.

But he couldn't say that everything he did was wrong. The closest he came to another movie, this time about Star Wars: "Focused on combat," he said, talking about his last months in Iraq. "I'm clearly on the dark side now."

Ludwig van Beethoven also lived on the dark side, despite the musical genius that survived when he died of cirrhosis. His treatment of his nephew and adoptive son Karl drove the young man to attempt suicide.

Beethoven (BBC4), the three-part life story of a man who is considered by many classical musicians to be the greatest of all composers, has not missed these glaring passages.

Beethoven, who had never married, loathed Karl's mother so much that he couldn't bring himself to say her name to Johanna. Instead, he referred to her as "the Queen of the Night" and accused her of all kinds of immorality.

The string quartets and speaking heads have been continuously provided with impressive images – including recordings of gorgeous sunsets that are almost as beautiful as the music.

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