Director’s Note: Palace of the End

Oct 30, 2008

One of the first things I read about Palace of the End, included this statement from Judith Thompson:
“I don’t think any socially responsible person could turn away from what’s going on in the Middle East. The play is very shocking, although compared to what people really do, it’s actually very mild.”
And thus began my research, falling through the ‘looking glass’, down the ‘rabbit hole’, and into the vast abundance of disturbing reports, documentaries, and articles about the atrocities that have happened in Iraq, and those who are responsible for them. Judith Thompson has stated that her three monologues were inspired by actual events and news stories, but the personas or characters came from her imagination. What results are three very different perspectives on the War in Iraq.
My Pyramids was inspired by the media explosion that happened after photographs were released showing American soldiers – including Lynndie England – participating in the torture and humiliation of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib. Harrowdown Hill was inspired by the events following the death of British scientist and weapons inspector David Kelly. Instruments of Yearning was inspired by the true story of Nehrjas Al Saffarh, a young mother and member of the Communist Party of Iraq, who was raped and tortured during the Baathist Coup by Saddam’s secret police, and died when her home was bombed in the first Gulf War.
On writing the story of Nehrjas Al Saffarh, Thompon says: “The reason I wanted to include it is because I think we’ve got to look at the whole truth. I’m very much against the occupation, but we can’t pretend that everything in Iraq was OK. Saddam was truly a monster.”
If you control the images that modern technology now affords the global world, can you control public opinion? After 9/11, the American Government seemed to have control over the images it put out, concerning the War in Iraq. But according the documentary “The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib”, the photographs that were released in September 2003 damned the US Military, and the American soldiers in the photos were punished – not because of what they did, but because of the embarrassment they caused. Government officials described their behavior as ‘a few bad soldiers engaging in animal house acts’, and asserted that the sadism was not authorized. But the pictures clearly illustrated that the kinds of torture being inflicted on the detainees were very ‘precisely prescribed techniques’ implemented at Guantanamo, and must have been taught, in order to have been inflicted. The US, once a model for the humane treatment of prisoners of war, had become renowned as a ‘principal expositor of torture’.
If David Kelly did find weapons of mass destruction, where is the evidence? If he did, why would he commit suicide? If the conspiracy theories are true, who would want to murder him, and why?
The Geneva Conventions – international laws that prohibited torture, outrages upon human dignity, and degrading treatment of detainees, were signed by the US in 1949, and put in place to protect soldiers of all nations. After 9/11, the US decided the Al Queda did not follow any of these rules, and in 2002, deemed they would not follow the GC when interrogating detainees from Iraq, at either Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib.
Judith Thompson is interested in exploring the theme of culpability. So who is accountable? George Bush? Tony Blair? Saddam Hussein? On the war front in the Middle East or in our own playgrounds in North America, how do we stand up against the command of a malevolent authority in any form? Judith Thompson has this to offer:
“Two hundred people are dying every day in Iraq. [Canadians] have to do something about it, in terms of aid or accepting more refugees. Here we are as privileged Westerners, living on the tip of this iceberg that’s in an ocean of blood. We can see the iceberg and the blood, but we’re just dancing on the tip.”
Consider this from the documentary “The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib”:
“In 1961, an experiment was conducted by Dr. Stanley Milgarn, a psychologist at Yale University. Participants responded to a newspaper advertisement. The purpose of this ‘obedience study’ was to observe an individual’s willingness to inflect pain when ordered to do so. The participants did not know that the ‘victim’ was an actor and that the shocks were not real. All of the subjects administered shocks.
The majority did so at the maximum level: 450 volts.”
Dr. Milgarn’s conclusion:
“The results as I observe them in the laboratory are disturbing. They raise the possibility that human nature cannot be counted on to insulate men from brutality and inhuman treatment at the direction of malevolent authority. A substantial proportion of people do what they are told to do irrespective of the content of the act and without limitations of conscience, so long as they perceive that the command comes from a legitimate authority. If in this study, an anonymous experimenter could successfully command adults to subdue a fifty year old man and force on him painful shocks against his protests, one can only wonder what government, with its vastly greater authority and prestige, can command of its subjects. ”
“In October 2006, President Bush signed the Military Act further eroding the rights of prisoners guaranteed by the Geneva Conventions.”
In Palace of the End, Thompson gives us the opportunity to CRASH through ‘the looking glass’, and bear WITNESS. And her ‘persona’ of David Kelly pleads:
“It’s a terrible thing to ask, I know. But I am asking, because I don’t want to be alone.”
Marianne Copithorne