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U.S Cinema

Or How To Promote Your Wars


Text: Alain Petit, Montreal


Perhaps you’ve already seen the propaganda film clips shown in cinemas during World War II. In them, the “war effort” was uplifted, our valiant soldiers were praised, and idle youth were encouraged to sign up with our brave soldiers. We see these clips now and smile, tell ourselves that that was another time. And yet, no. History is repeating itself yet again, and at what a price?


In late 2001, the US movie industry put out a three-minute trailer extolling the US war effort in Afghanistan. Directed by Chuck Workman and produced by Michael Rhodes, the trailer showed patriotic scenes taken from legendary moments of the US cinematic repertoire. The Mary Pickfords, Charlie Chaplins, Tom Cruises and Ben Afflecks appeared, heroic, to spur on the American spirit of spectators in some 10,000 theatres where this Hollywood product was shown.


The goal? Who knows? At first glance, it seems inoffensive and it even provokes tears from Mrs. Smith while Mr. Smith contains himself to keep from brandishing his fist and crying out "Let's go guys!” At this time, the US army and its loyal allies rain down bombs and chemical products on desert land where the bad guy is supposedly hiding. Forget about civilians, cut to the chase: eliminate the enemy.

For some years, we’ve been outraged by the rise of extremist right-wing groups with neo-nazi tendencies, especially in Europe but in the US as well. The gravity of youth identifying with a movement and taking from its violent and heinous history. It is thus the epitome of chic to go hunting for nazi artefacts and anything that represents or makes us think about that shameful period, and let’s put this clearly, with reason. The slaughter of the holocaust still defies reason and nobody can imagine that such horrors are repeated.


So while this witch hunt that takes us back 50 years goes on, our cinemas are showing Black Hawk Down, Amen and other such types of movies. These two examples are definitive. The first, directed by Ridley Scott, the second by Costa-Gravas, are two examples of success and talent.


A French journalist stated earlier in 2002 that he had proof showing that Black Hawk Down was produced under the auspices of an order from the US Department of Defence. Even though the evidence hasn’t been clearly revealed, the film in question nonetheless recounts the epic story of US commandos dispatched to Somalia during the 90s to restore order in this country overrun by anarchy: a quintessentially anti-American concept.


The Somali drama culminates in a country ravaged by years of civil war. The result is more than 300,000 victims of under-nourishment and a countless number of civilians killed during armed conflict, and so the landing of allied forces. Since then, no more news of Somalia. All we know is that there’s been a clean up. Westerners have restored order there, and all that’s left to do is count their dead. As for facts, how many Somali were killed? No official numbers have ever been given. All that’s remembered is the image of the body of a US soldier dragged in triumph through the streets of Somalia’s capital, Mogadscio. There is also the moving death of 18 of Uncle Sam’s soldiers, and as for the rest . . . a Ridley Scott film will serve to bring us full circle and make us forget about the devastation of the real situation.


In 2002, Costa-Gravas came out with Amen. He’s the creator of Z (an incisive film that denounced the dictatorship of the colonels in Greece during the 60s), State of Seige in which he criticized American imperialism, and Music Box in which he bashed fascism and racism. Amen thrilled critics. The film denounced the silence of the Catholic Church and western diplomats even though they knew about the Jewish holocaust. An Italian priest takes offence and tries to get the Pope to react, to no good. Our priest dies, an indignant German officer comes out a hero, and the Jews once again get our sympathy. Okay. Now we’re in 2002. We’re chasing Arab terrorists throughout the world.

The hot spot on our planet is Palestine and Israel where Jews and Arabs and killing each other. We hear a lot about US Jewish lobby groups, we denounce the impoverishment of Israeli authorities and we hate suicide bombers. Nothing is coming out of this conflict without end. And at this moment, Costa-Gravas, the man for all social causes, directs a big budget Hollywood movie that takes us back to a time in history fifty years past.


There will be some who will maintain that to forget a grim present, it’s best to look to the future or sink into the past. Let’s forget about the present and remember the past. Is this healthy? Do we only have the right to still ask this question? The propaganda of US cinema will answer for us. The messages are shifty and illusion, effective.