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Hollywood leaps on war bandwagon

By Kirstin Roberts | February 15, 2002 | Page 9

DAYS BEFORE the U.S. bombed Afghanistan, a Bush adviser met with Hollywood executives to enlist them in a Second World War-style propaganda offensive. And the Hollywood elite, most of them Democrats, raced to show just how willing they were to grease the wheels of Bush's war machine.

The hurriedly released Black Hawk Down, about the 1993 U.S. mission to Somalia, has already grossed more than $75 million. This will certainly increase the confidence of studio execs to release more tales of U.S. war glory replete with flag-draped heroes and swarthy enemies of "our" way of life.

In the works already are more tales of bravery and self-sacrifice by American soldiers in Vietnam, Africa and the Philippines. Mel Gibson is slated to star in We Were Soldiers, in which he leads an elite group of soldiers, "against all odds," in Vietnam.

Of course, anyone who looks beyond the silver screen for the histories of these conflicts will find a record of atrocities and oppression on behalf of U.S. interests. But Hollywood won't let the truth stand in the way of a movie that makes you feel good about the U.S.A.

Hollywood has always been a willing promoter of imperial adventures, especially when it sniffs a profit to be made from a slicked-up production starring the latest "it" boy. Joe Roth, head of Revolution Studios, which is making Man of War--where Bruce Willis plays a special forces soldier in the middle of African tribal warfare--explained that patriotism didn't drive him to make the movie. The sense that money could be made did.

"Movies are their own reality," Roth told the Washington Post. You can say that again.

With the theaters filling with an orgy of patriotic lies, here are some film recommendations that strip away the gloss and expose the true horror and causes of war. All of these are available on video and should be shown by antiwar groups seeking to involve new forces in the movement against Bush's war.

Two films by one of Hollywood's most gifted directors, Stanley Kubrick, are must-sees for the war-weary. Paths of Glory is his 1954 masterpiece about First World War soldiers caught in the insanity of a general's war. Kubrick's 1964 black comedy, Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb should be required viewing for anyone who thinks Bush's Star Wars weapons program is a good idea.

With Iraq topping Bush Jr.'s list of "evildoers," two films look at Bush Sr.'s Gulf War in 1991. David O. Russell's Three Kings is so clear that the Gulf War was for oil profits at the expense of millions of lives that if released today, it would certainly be lambasted for anti-American bias. Documentary filmmaker Gerard Ungerman's Hidden Wars of Desert Storm portrays not just the misery that U.S. military and sanctions policy produced for Iraq's people, but also examines how U.S. soldiers suffering from Gulf War syndrome were neglected by the government that sent them to fight.

Two films dealing with Vietnam can help to teach a new generation of activists what that war was really all about. Hearts and Minds, a 1975 Academy Award-winning documentary, depicts U.S. involvement from the point of view of the Vietnamese and the American grunts who fought. Coupled with The War at Home, an uneven but still exciting documentary about the protest movement against the war, these movies provide a glimpse of why the U.S. ruling class still works to rid itself of the Vietnam syndrome.

U.S. wars on the people of Latin America have been chronicled in several good and important films. Missing, a Constantin Costa-Gravas film about the CIA-backed coup in Chile; Ken Loach's Carla's Song, about a survivor scarred by torture during the El Salvadoran civil war; Saul Landau's documentary Target Nicaragua: Inside a Covert War; and Barbara Trent's Panama Deception, about the 1989 U.S. invasion and massacre are some, but not all, of the powerful films detailing U.S. crimes in its own backyard.

This list would be incomplete without mentioning two films, which in their simplicity and honesty, say more about the horror of war than the gruesome opening scene of Saving Private Ryan ever could. Both are set in the First World War, the "war to end all wars."

Peter Weir's Gallipoli, starring a young Mel Gibson, shows the reality of trench warfare, where millions gave their lives for territory gains measured by the foot. And All Quiet on the Western Front--which exists in many versions, but look for the one from the 1920s--shows that, no matter what the generals and politicians claim, it's ordinary people who will suffer and die and who have no interest in their masters' wars.

These films serve as a much-needed antidote to Hollywood's march to war.

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