“The decision to go to war is one that defies a nation, both to the world and, perhaps more importantly, to itself. There is no more serious business for a national government, no more accurate measure of national leadership.”
- Bob Woodward
As SEA... opens, a former President of the United States is about to go on trial at the World Court in The Hague. There’s a sea change for you. How on earth…..?
A character can be explained by nothing less that his entire history. That said, it would behoove me to bone up on the causes, justifications, and prosecution of Iraqi Freedom and its aftermath. Bob Woodward is a real go to guy in my opinion; he’s shared two Pulitzer Prizes and has written about a dozen best sellers, he doesn’t shy away from his own part in the Valerie Plame incident, and I just think he writes a very clear, precise, and straight forward book. Not to mention Robert Redford played him in the movie. So I got all four volumes about Dubya’s presidency: Bush at War, Plan of Attack, State of Denial, and The War Within. As of this writing, I have worked my way through the first three and am about halfway through The War Within.
They are all excellent. Each volume stands alone, the sum total is extraordinary. There are also companion books I have glanced through or plan to do so; some I already had because when I worked the NY streets raising money during the ’04, ’06, and ’08 campaigns I wanted to really know what I was talking about. These include Chain of Command, Hubris, Fiasco, and Cobra II. There are plenty of others out there as well. And I also had a copy of A Matter of Principle, a collection of humanitarian arguments in favor of the war, so that I’d understand the opposing point of view. That I must get to before I go to Philly.
The New York Public Performing Arts Library has an archive of theatre on film and tape, so I went up one afternoon to watch the Public Theatre’s brilliant production of David Hare’s STUFF HAPPENS, a stark look at the run up to the war. The title comes from Donald Rumsfeld’s famous quote regarding the looting of Iraqi museums, and yet also serves as a summation of how, in Hare’s opinion, the war came together. It is an extraordinary production, magnificently directed by Daniel Sullivan, and I had the added pleasure of watch Jay O. Sanders’ fine performance as Dubya so that I could pilfer as much as I could.
And then about a week ago, I realized there was a massive leak in my preparation. The Justice Department issued its finding that John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and others would not face legal action for their extraordinary conclusions re: enhanced interrogation practices. I mentioned earlier in this blog that a flurry of emails sailed across the internet between Paul Meshejian, my director, and me. I started to think about what the actual charges in the court room would be. Granted, it is enough to be accused of starting a war on false premises, but what about Guantanamo Bay, enhanced interrogation, and rendition? Paul sent a copy of 'The Elements of Crime' in the Court. That was interesting. I admit my knowledge of the law consists of playing a criminal lawyer and a judge on "Law & Order," but I could see an argument for five Crimes against Humanity and up to 15 or 16 War Crimes. Some of those are absolutely a stretch, such as destruction and appropriation of property, but I figure if you’re going to throw the book at a former President of the United States, you might as well throw the Unabridged Oxford English Dictionary. So now my bookshelf is graced with The Dark Side, The Terror Presidency, The Torture Team, and War by Other Means by John Yoo himself. Thank goodness I have an account on Amazon.com. I had seen John Yoo on “The Daily Show,” and it was strange to see that ‘The Torture Guy’ has a very wry sense of humor. I cherry picked my way through a couple of chapters of his book, and again, I have no legal expertise whatsoever; yet it seems to me that his arguments hinge on the fact that “Congress also only prohibited ‘severe physical or mental pain or suffering.’” Ooooh. Now that rehearsal is about two weeks away, I don’t have time to read everything, so what to pick? I opened The Terror Presidency by Jack Goldsmith, Assistant Attorney General, Office Of Legal Counsel, for nine months in Dubya’s first term. His preface opened with a story that it is customary for senior officials in the Justice Department to hang portraits of former Attorneys General in their offices. When Goldsmith went to claim his, all the ’good’ ones were gone, and Goldsmith had very little to choose from. He wound up with Elliot Richardson, much to his disappointment. Two months into his job, he says he found he was thinking about Mr. Richardson a great deal. I liked the story, so that’s the one I picked. The first task Goldsmith was given was to ascertain whether or not Iraqi terrorists were protected by the Geneva Convention. After much legal analysis, he decided the terrorists were in fact under the protection of the Fourth Geneva Convention. He was to report his finding to Alberto Gonzales and David Addington. His superior in the Justice Department warned him, “They’re going to be really mad. They’re not going to understand our decision. They’ve never been told ‘no.’”
This treasure trove of information and insight has helped me establish a time line for the events and justifications that led Dubya, the nation, and the world up to the second the curtain rises for WHEN WE GO UPON THE SEA. I give great thanks to the Theatre Gods for the luxury of Time afforded me on this production. I was cast in mid-December, three months before rehearsals started. Lord knows I needed all of it.
- Conan McCarty
Read past entries of the Icarus Chronicles: Parts I & II, Part III
Find out more about InterAct's World Premiere of Lee Blessing's WHEN WE GO UPON THE SEA