Telling truths that can’t be said

May 20, 2008

A look at John Cusack's satire War, Inc., and why we desperately need more commentary like it today.

IN THE Orwellian world of U.S. politics, often, it takes artists to say the truth that otherwise can't be said--or heard.

Stanley Kubrick brought home the reality of militarism and the madness of U.S. nuclear doctrine in Dr. Strangelove as no nonfiction work of the time could. Sidney Lumet's Network did the same for the corporate takeover of our culture.

Today, John Cusack's War, Inc. fires a similar shot across the bow of our tortured political discourse.

War, Inc. is a Swiftian allegory of the world not as it might be in some possible future, but as it is today, with a performance from Ben Kingsley as memorable as Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove. (It also features a deconstruction by Hilary Duff of her own fame and our twisted, sexist culture that has to be seen to be believed.)

The film is scathing, farsighted, bold and truer than nonfiction. Cusack and the stellar cast of War, Inc. don't blink. War, Inc. takes inside the world of war profiteers, war makers, embedded journalists, mercenaries, entertainment moguls and "disaster capitalists" (as Naomi Klein has called them) who form the interlinking military-industrial-media-entertainment-political complex.

Set in fictional Turaqistan, the film tells us more about Iraq--and U.S. politics--today than anything on offer from the establishment media, with its 24/7 barrage of abuse of our intelligence.

Without the complicity of the corporate media, as even many journalists will now acknowledge, the invasion of Iraq could never have happened. But few have commented on the fact that the occupation could not have continued for so long--with the prospect of lasting for years to come--without the media's continued subservience to power.

The people who got it so wrong on Iraq are the "experts" we hear from constantly, while those who predicted the disaster of this occupation--and those who worked to prevent it--are rarely, if ever, heard. And now, we hear from the same politicians and pundits who led us into Iraq why we cannot leave.

IN OUR Orwellian media landscape, every word of political discourse has two meanings: its actual meaning and its political meaning.

Take, for example, the simple word "withdrawal." If you asked any person on the street what it would mean to "withdraw" from Iraq--something that a significant majority of the country wants to take place immediate--they would likely say "removing all military personal from Iraq." Ask a follow-up question, and they'd likely agree that this would also mean removing all mercenaries and military bases, as well.

John Cusack and Joan Cusack in the antiwar satire War, Inc.
John Cusack and Joan Cusack in the antiwar satire War, Inc.

But read any article in the New York Times or listen to National Public Radio, and "withdrawal" means something entirely different: redeployment of some U.S. troops from our overstretched military, while keeping tens of thousands in Iraq, alongside perhaps an even greater number of mercenaries, as well as the largest embassy of any government in the world, and military bases, at least until the year 2013, and probably well beyond (not to mention likely escalating the air war against Iraq, while keeping tens of thousands of troops nearby in position to re-invade).

That is, "withdrawal" means continuing the occupation.

The debate around Iraq today is as specious as the case for the war in the first place. It is over the tactics of the occupation, or at best the strategy, not the fundamental immorality of it.

What cannot be said is that we have no right to be in Iraq in the first place. That we have destroyed the country, not rebuilt it. That we have fueled civil war, not prevented it. That we are opposed to genuine democracy for the Iraqi people, not "bringing democracy." That we are there for our own interests, and by "our," I mean the interests of the handful of people who benefit from this war--the people held up to examination in War, Inc.--not the interests of the Iraqi people, who more and more we hear politicians blaming for the problems we have created.

In times such as these, the role of filmmakers, musicians, poets and playwrights is vital. And that's why we should be encouraging everyone to see War, Inc. and the other important films that this war has generated, including Paul Haggis's powerful In the Valley of Elah and Cusack's heartbreaking Grace Is Gone.

John Cusack has proven himself to be one of the most thoughtful, intelligent and risk-taking filmmakers of our time. In the upside-down world we are in today, we need more films like War, Inc., and more artists like Cusack, if we are going to set it right.

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