In 1957, Marilyn Monroe starred in The Prince and the Showgirl. In the movie’s most memorable scene, Monroe (as Elsie Marina, an understudy in The Coconut Girl in 1911 London who is soon hobnobbing with the royals) overhears a telephone conversation (in German — but Elsie is from Milwaukee so she’s bilingual as well as gorgeous) about a plot against the Prince Regent of Carpathia, played by Laurence Olivier.
“It is most unfortunate that you should have heard that,” the dastardly Balkan plotter snarls. “It might prove exceedingly dangerous for you!”
“Dangerous?” scoffs Elsie. “Oh, don’t give me that. I’m an American citizen. Nobody can do anything to me!”
This ideal of an America that is strong, unafraid, and certainly doesn’t let its enemies get away with murder was not just a Hollywood conceit. The Prince and the Showgirl was made at London’s Pinehurst Studios. It was written by Terrence Rattigan, a distinguished dramatist, a graduate of Harrow and Oxford, who would be knighted by the Queen in 1971. Olivier, in addition to starring, produced and directed.
Fast forward to the 1980s. Journalist Peter Theroux is a guest at a small palace in Riyadh along with Saudi princes and wealthy businessmen from several Middle Eastern countries. After supper, they screen The Prince and the Showgirl, and, as recounted in Theroux’s marvelous travel memoir, Sandstorm: Days and Nights in Arabia, when Marilyn Monroe delivers the line quoted above, “every Arab in the room” shouts in unison: “Eiri fik, ya gahba!” (“F*** you, b****!”)
Fast forward to the present. Last week, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told members of the Pentagon Press Association: “Iran is very directly supporting extremist Shiite groups which are killing our troops. There is no question they are shipping high-tech weapons in there . . . that are killing our people. And the forensics prove that. . . . And there’s no reason . . . for me to believe that they’re going to stop that as our numbers come down.”
Did I miss the uproar over this? Did the cable-news shows break away from the wall-to-wall Casey Anthony coverage to at least take note of the fact that a top American official has now confirmed what only a few analysts — e.g. Michael Ledeen, a scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies — have long alleged: that Iran is not just threatening America — Iran is waging war against America and has been for decades? Iran sent its terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, to slaughter U.S. Marines in Beirut in 1983, collaborated with al-Qaeda to mass-murder Americans at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996, facilitated attacks on the American troops who brought down Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and is now again targeting Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan as well.
Why didn’t George W. Bush, when he was president, make Iran pay a price for spilling American blood? Why isn’t Barack Obama doing so now? I’m guessing that advisers to both counseled against “widening” the conflict.
Elliott Abrams, who was an adviser to President Bush, and whose advice — I’m guessing again — often was not taken, blogged last week that
soon we will have a new Secretary of Defense and a new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and one can only hope that we will also have a new policy: that neither Iran nor any other government can kill Americans with impunity. The least we owe servicemen and women who risk their lives for our country is the certainty that when we know a foreign government is trying to kill them, we will act to stop it. If we adopted such a policy, we would never again have to hear a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs reveal such a set of facts and suggest as an American response#…#well, nothing.
And, by the way, the response need not be boots on the ground in Iran. We could go much further than we have to cripple Iran’s economy. And imagine if, any time American servicemen in Iraq or Afghanistan were killed by an Iranian-manufactured rocket, roadside bomb, or explosively-formed projectile (designed to penetrate armor), one of the factories where those weapons were being produced was, without fanfare, reduced to rubble. America-haters would yell what was yelled at Marilyn Monroe/Elsie Marina. But they’d get the message that, as a matter of both principle and policy, Americans don’t let their enemies get away with killing them.
I can’t leave you without recalling how The Prince and the Showgirl ends. In what might be seen as a democracy-promotion effort, Elsie foils the plotters and persuades the prince — who, until he met her, had no patience for “nonsense about political freedom and democratic rights . . . When will these crazy Americans grow up?” — to return to Carpathia and hold a general election. Rattigan and Olivier leave the audience wondering: Will the prince and the showgirl marry? And will there be a Balkan Spring? Perhaps it’s time for a sequel.
—Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism and political Islam.