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An Oscar for America’s Hubris

Posted on Mar 10, 2010
AP / Amy Sancetta

What a shame that the one movie about the Iraq war that has a chance of being viewed by a large worldwide audience should be so disappointing. According to press reports, members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences finally found a movie about the Iraq war they liked because it is “apolitical.” Actually, “The Hurt Locker” is just the opposite; it’s an endorsement of the politically chauvinistic view that the world is a stage upon which Americans get to deal with their demons no matter the consequence for others. 

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It is imperial hubris turned into an art form in which the Iraqi people appear as numbed bystanders when they are not deranged extras. It is a perverse tribute to the film’s accuracy in portraying the insanity of the U.S. invasion—while ignoring its root causes—that the Iraqis are at no point treated as though they are important. 

They never have been, at least in the American view. No Iraqi had anything to do with attacking us on 9/11, and while we are happy to have an excuse to grab their oil and deploy our bloated military arsenal, the people of Iraq are never more than an afterthought. Whatever motivates Iraqi characters in the movie to throw stones or blow themselves up is unimportant, for they are nothing more than props for a uniquely American-centered show. It is we who matter and they who are graced by our presence no matter how screwed up we may be.   

Indeed, the only recognition of the humanity of the people being conquered comes in a brief glimpse of a young boy, a porn video seller, the one Iraqi whose existence touches the concern of the film’s reckless soldier hero. The American cares deeply about the quality of the sex videos he purchases, but, as it transpires, he is indifferent to the quality of his own family’s life back home. Even that depressingly sad commentary on life in America is mitigated by the fact that it produces even more dedicated warriors. Maybe a deeply unsatisfying home life is a necessary prerequisite for being all you can be in the Army.

Yes, it is true, as Chris Hedges is quoted in the beginning of “The Hurt Locker”: “The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” That’s from his book “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning,” and the most positive thing to come out of this film might be that some people will be encouraged to read his brilliant book. But the film itself is otherwise an enlightened Rambo story: War is hellish but entertaining, and real men are those who will rise to the task no matter if its larger aim is absurd.


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But the real addiction to war is not that of hapless soldiers, those troops that the filmmakers insisted on applauding as they clutched their Oscar statuettes. Rather, that addiction lies in the lust for power and profit among those who sent the soldiers to Iraq to kill and be killed in a war known to our leaders to have been undertaken for false purposes. Invading Iraq became the obsession of the Bush administration after 9/11, as opposed to dealing with Afghanistan, where, as then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld put it, there were no good targets. The Taliban hardly provided as worthy an adversary as Saddam Hussein in our quest to replace the Soviet empire as a reason for our massive military expenditures. And there was the wan hope that the oil in Iraq would pay for it all. That oil hasn’t paid for any of it, but while U.S. taxpayers get stuck with the bill, the multinational corporations swarming over the place will do very well.
Bringing up such crass motives presents an inconvenient truth for those who believe that American foreign policy is driven by higher goals. For them I would point to the example of Clinton-era Ambassador Peter Galbraith, who became a cheerleader for George W. Bush’s war. His hawkishness was supposedly based on concern for Iraq’s Kurdish population even though that group was living outside of Saddam Hussein’s area of control. After the U.S. invasion Galbraith was an active adviser on the writing of Iraq’s constitution and lobbied to include language that gave the Kurds control over the oil in their region. Galbraith was at the time advising a Norwegian company that secured oil rights from those same Kurds, and he, in turn, received 5 percent of one of the most promising oil fields, worth an estimated $100 million.

Don’t you think at least one of the soldiers in “The Hurt Locker” would have known that kind of stuff was going on? If so, it’s disrespectful to our troops to have censored such innate GI wisdom.

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By Tobysgirl, March 10, 2010 at 6:02 am Link to this comment
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Maybe a deeply unsatisfying home life is a necessary prerequisite for being all you can be in the Army.

Robert Scheer brings up a subject I have thought a lot about. Not simply deeply unsatisfying home lives, but parents who teach their children NOTHING about the world. A vet I know—who joined up to go to Vietnam—told me that the Army likes nothing better than mama’s boys, kids who call home every night. The last thing they want are independent, self-confident men and women. I know two kids who joined up; their father had rejected them, and their mother lived with a partner who abused them. And they were stupendously naive, a seeming prerequsite for joining up.

And to JoeThe Plumber: Think about it! Many, many people watch TV shows and movies and believe they are real. If you asked them, they’d say, “Oh no, I know it’s TV,” but when asked about America’s role, they’ll say we’re helping the Iraqis, helping the Afghanis, and we were helping the Vietnamese. No comprehension that these are real people who suffer just as Americans do, just the comforting belief that our military is busy fighting for everyone’s freedom, especially our own.

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By libertyville, March 10, 2010 at 5:52 am Link to this comment

It’s sad that this group is so opposed, much of America and the world were gladdened by this movie winning the Oscar.  It has a sense of reality as compared to Avatar and a sense that we can overcome adversity.  It also gives overdue respect to our military men and women who give their lives so we can sit and comment.

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By elwoodpdowd, March 10, 2010 at 5:42 am Link to this comment
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I have three great antiwar films for you-  ” Paths of Glory”  ” Casualties of War”  and ” Born on the Fourth of July” And there are several great antiwar documentaries   :  “The Ground Truth”  ” Sir!  No Sir”  and ” War Made Easy” is quite possibly the best I’ve ever seen.

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By Jerry Elsea, March 10, 2010 at 5:42 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

You needn’t go back to 1930’s Best Picture Oscar winner, “All Quiet on the
Western Front,” to find an anti-war movie. “Paths of Glory” (1957), not
packed as eloquent an anti-war message as can be put on film.

But let’s keep the discussion modern. For a scathing indictment of war and its
effects, catch “In the Valley of Elah” (2008), also nominated for Best Picture,
though Tommie Lee Jones received a much-deserved nomination. While not
focusing on the Iraq War’s origins, it shows how war can destroy troops
mentally and spiritually as well as physically. And it ends alluding war’s
devastating effects on children of an invaded land. In war, children always get
the worst of it.

“In the Valley of Elah” did not do well at the box office, probably because it is
unpleasant. But it is as strong an anti-war film as any you will find
on the video store shelves (anti-war documentaries not counted here). Its
setting is entirely stateside. except for nearly fried images captured on film. (For mystery buffs, it also offers a pretty good police procedural.)

One critic said the message is “war is hell and the Iraq War was heller than any
other.” Others panned “In the Valley of Elah” for not being political enough. But
when the overriding theme is that war-making has put this nation in Big Trouble, the message is
clear enough.

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By bogi666, March 10, 2010 at 4:48 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

With few exceptions Hollywood’s war films are focused on the anguish of the American troops r the effect on theri families. The movie Platoon was financed outside the USA because Hollywood and other American producers wouldn’t finance it because it showed the truth about Nam. Oliver Stone was stationed there so he writes from experience. I met a former soldier who was in the “Platoon” with Stone. He was able to document this with news articles about their reunions. Apocolypse Now was anti war amnd for some reason it seems to have been fianced by U.S. producers. Both films met with criticism here.

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By hueman, March 10, 2010 at 4:48 am Link to this comment
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Got to say, I thought it was a damn good movie, partly because it wasn’t political or didactic. Yes, it was a mistake to go to Iraq, yes we mistreated the people there and flouted the international community in the process, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are still those in Iraq who were trying to kill Americans (and Iraqi civilians by the score) and all too often succeeded.

This is a movie about soldiers in combat, and how addictive it is to some, as it is with the main character.  But Robert Scheer fails to look beyond his own politics to recognize one of the best war movies of the past 20 years, regardless of the what got us into this mess.  “Black Hawk Down” is another.  These soldiers don’t see themselves as imperialists, nor should they. 

I’m glad it won the Oscar.  Maybe now the American public will reconsider the costs before we send our boys and girls into combat for greed or the hubris of our leaders.

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By JoeThePlumber, March 10, 2010 at 4:41 am Link to this comment

I must be missing something. I thought ‘The Hurt Locker’ was a brilliant film.

This doesn’t mean I advocate the invasion of Iraq and the loss of over a million lives, but I have to say that when I watch a film I want to be entertained.
John Pilger wrote of how it completely ignores the Iraqi population who have had to suffer this hell but he’s missing the point of the film. It’s just a film about a guy who loves his job, and I can relate to that, because I hate mine.

I’ve watched harrowing documentaries such as ‘Death In Gaza’. But by the same token I’ve also watched, and enjoyed, films like Platoon.

Surely most people in this tech savvy age are aware that a film like The Hurt Locker is not a documentary and is not based on a true story?

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By thebeerdoctor, March 10, 2010 at 4:27 am Link to this comment

On this wretched subject, Robert Scheer is speaking the truth.

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By diamond, March 10, 2010 at 4:24 am Link to this comment

All I can say is that the Academy made the House UnAmerican Activities Committee look like a beacon of democracy and objectivity. ‘The Hurt Locker’ makes me so angry it’s difficult to find words to express it and that it has been given an Academy Award is a disgrace. So conformist, so dishonest, so banal. To watch this movie is to think that the Iraq war came from outer space and landed on Iraq like a flying saucer and that the insurgency was just a form of psychosis that hit the Iraqis for no good reason at all. Can Kathryn Bigelow even spell ‘imperialism’? Can she spell ‘lie’? As John Lennon said: gimme some truth. Just don’t go looking for any in this jingoistic fantasy that manages to blame the soldiers, the Iraqis, goats, cats, dogs and boys who sell DVD’s for the war but not the Pentagon and not the CIA and absolutely not the Bush administration. Bah, humbug to the fifth raters who didn’t give Meryl Streep an Oscar, yet again, as they don’t give her an Oscar every year but instead gave it to Sandra Bullock and her wonder bra and her character’s habit of praying at the dinner table. It’s rare for a movie to demean both blacks and whites but ‘The Blind Side’ managed it. Pardon me while I vomit.

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By jacklemxh, March 10, 2010 at 3:10 am Link to this comment

This oscar gift is so beautiful ..who star Nomnee in Awards function he get this awards..Lovely and nice awards gift…

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By EJH, March 10, 2010 at 2:57 am Link to this comment

It is very difficult to find an anti-war war movie. 
All’s Quiet on the Western Front is the only one that
comes to mind.  Not even an America could come out of
that one thinking there is anything glorious about war. 
Unfortunately, few people watch 80-year-old films, not
even great ones. 

Mr Sheer makes some excellent points here.

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