13 September 2019

A Man With a Gun

I have a friend who’s a security expert in Jakarta. He’s in his early forties. After high school he got a security job and today he provides security for events and people. The events can be as large as an international convention or local festival or as small as a private meeting of corporate VIPs.

For as long as he's been in the field, he's taken specialized training courses from private-public academies. The topics cover things like crowd control at demonstrations or events, interior architecture analysis from a security/prevention perspective, and what's known in the trade as CQB (close quarter battle). He's been licensed to carry a gun since his early twenties. He's provided protection to politicians, the famous and sometimes infamous, wealthy foreign visitors, etc., accompanying them 24/7 and sometimes staying in an adjoining room at their hotel, like in the movies, when overnight protection is required. I can’t mention his name or the names of the academies or the people he protected because for security reasons, they’re confidential.

The last training course he took — or I should say the last five training courses he took because he failed the first four times — was about guns. The reason he failed was that he could not answer the final exam's single question, “What is a gun made for?”

His only comfort was that most of his colleagues failed too. Many never took the course again, but he and others did. They thought highly of their teacher/trainer and were determined to find the answer to the final exam's question. They wrote pages and pages giving explanations, but each time they got an F.  They asked the trainer to tell them what the answer was, offering every inducement they could think of, but he wouldn't budge. He said if f I tell you, you will not have learned anything. You have to find out for yourself. But he gave a hint. He said read the question carefully. It doesn't ask what is the purpose of a gun.

When my friend took the course the fifth time, he couldn’t sleep. He kept reviewing every encounter he’d been in where a gun was used, where people were killed or wounded, every training course he’d taken, every incident he knew about, looking for a sign of what the answer might be. One night, after falling asleep, he woke up early, knowing he had the answer. A few hours later he called his teacher and met with him that afternoon. He said, “A gun is made to kill.”

His teacher nodded yes. My friend did not return to finish the course to get his certificate. He didn’t need to. But he explained what the answer meant.

“Having a gun changes you. As soon as you have a gun, you think you’re all-powerful. You walk differently. You swagger. (He got up from his chair to show me.) You even sometimes want people to challenge you because you know you will win. You forget who you are. You stop relating to people. You can’t. You can't empathize or understand a person or a situation because the only thing you can feel is your gun. You become your gun.

"You have to train yourself to act like you can’t count on your gun. You use every other possible way to diffuse a situation. (As a second to last resort I carry a knife.) Whenever those feelings arise, you learn how to ignore them. It’s all about yourself. Not letting the gun take your self away from you."

08 April 2019

The Human Heart

Last summer there was an astute obituary by a Harrison Smith in America’s “Washington Post” about the acclaimed screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto who had passed away at the age of 100.* It was Hashimoto who collaborated with Kurosawa in the writing of the cinema classics, "Rashomon", “Ikiru” (“To Live”), “The Seven Samurai”, and others. Always as a collaborator, he wrote over 80 scripts in his lifetime.

Smith summarizes “Rashomon” neatly, explaining it as ”a tale of rape and murder told from four different perspectives. Flashbacks recount the film’s central act of violence from the point of view of a bandit, a woodcutter, the dead samurai and his wife; the truth, however, is never fully revealed.”

He reports an incident from Kurosawa’s autobiography, recounting how “Three of his assistant directors told him they couldn’t understand the story. He tried, then, to explain his and Mr. Hashimoto’s ambitions” , quoting from how Kurosawa responded:
Human beings are unable to be honest with themselves about themselves. They cannot talk about themselves without embellishing. This script portrays such human beings — the kind who cannot survive without lies to make them feel they are better people than they really are . . .  You say that you can’t understand this script at all, but that is because the human heart itself is impossible to understand. If you focus on the impossibility of truly understanding human psychology and read the script one more time, I think you will grasp the point of it.
The words brought back the fear I felt after seeing the film in the early 1960s. A blurred image like this appeared in my mind's eye with several shadow-like men floating above and behind her.

I remembered wandering out of the Waverly Place Theatre in New York's Greenwich Village in a daze of confusion. “The poetry of the images.” as Smith puts it, had melded into a maze and I couldn't get out of it. It was days before the fear lifted.

As the years passed I had the opportunity to see it again at revivals, or in later years on tape or DVD, each time avoiding it.

Kurosawa’s words explained why. Why it put me into such a daze and why I'd avoided it. I was terrified. Terrified of the fear that was in my heart.

My heart is quieter now. I will see it again.


A Man With a Gun

I have a friend who’s a security expert in Jakarta. He’s in his early forties. After high school he got a security job and today he provide...