Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Anti-War Movies Don't Have to be Anti-The-War-They-Are-About

by Robert H.

The non-controversy about whether American Snipper is pro-war trickles on.  Spoiler: it isn't, except in the sense that all war movies are pro-war.

But one argument for why it is pro-war strikes me as particularly bad: "You can't set an anti-war movie in Iraq and not show the horrors of the Iraq war," the argument goes.  "Since this movie glosses over civilian casualties, the bad reasons for going to war, etc., it is pro-war."

The problem with this is that most of the best anti-war movies throughout history have not been anti-the-war-they-depict movies.  They have been anti-war movies.  This makes sense.  A movie that criticizes war generally shouldn't focus on why one war particularly is bad.

Examples: MASH heavily sanitizes and lightens what it was like to work at a MASH, and totally ignores any atrocities or strategic blunders the UN forces committed more broadly.  The Deer Hunter isn't about the massacre at Mai Lai or operation rolling thunder or the invasion of Cambodia or the US's bad strategic decisions or etc.  Same with Full Metal Jacket.  All Quiet on the Western Front (the film) doesn't have much that is explicitly "this is why the war shouldn't have been fought and these are the atrocities committed by the Germans."  Etc.

No one has a problem, now, reading these movies as anti-war films that just happen to be set in certain eras, not as anti-war films with a moral responsibility to correctly show the horrors of that particular war in that particular era.  Only in partisan politics mode does reading the movies that way makes sense.  For example, when the Deer Hunter was released, lots of pro-peace or pro-communist types complained about how ridiculous the movie's presentation of the NVA was.  "Right, uh huh.  They all forced their prisoners to play Russian Roulette or face torture.  Sure.  Way to apologize for American imperialism, Hollywood."

Forty years later, no one gives a shit.  The movie is obviously a broad story about innocence lost in war, and it could just as well be set in the Sepoy Mutiny with vicious Indians (or British) bad guys, or set in Iraq with vicious American (or insurgent) bad guys, or etc.  Who cares?  The point of the movie is the toll war takes on combatants, not that the Vietnam War was justified because the North Vietnamese were monsters.

The same thing happened with Army of Shadows.  The movie is about a resistance fighter who works for and meets De Gaulle.  Unfortunately for it, it was released in the last months of the De Gaulle presidency, when he was an extremely controversial figure.  So the movie gets panned as Gaullist propaganda, something it clearly, to modern eyes is not.

All quiet on the Western Front was perceived as anti-German specifically, not just anti-war, and banned in Axis countries.

And now it's American Snipper's turn.

Don't fall for the same trick all those Fascist and Communist and French (but I repeat myself) film critics did!  American Snipper may only be a mediocre movie, but it's a mediocre anti-war movie.  The fact that it isn't an endless procession of Americans killing civilians and not finding WMD does not change that fact.

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