Monday, June 4, 2012

Our Unsympathetic Military

Is it just me, or do American soldiers come across as basically unsympathetic in certain film portrayals, even when they’re not really supposed to be, like Jarhead, The Hurt Locker or Black Hawk Down? Those movies aren’t attempting to portray them negatively, they just sort of come across that way, particularly in Black Hawk Down. This is partly a result of the fact that military culture is so unappealing to me, but their behavior is still unseemly. US forces in Somalia explicitly flouts the UN and goes all John Wayne in search of Mohammed Aidid. They blow that, get ambushed, and have to beg the very same UN to save their arrogant asses.

Their own cocky officers got them into the mess completely on their own. They went traipsing blindly right into downtown Mogadishu without bothering to tell anyone or enlisting any back up support. UN help? We don’t need no stinking UN help. We’re God’s own Americans. Then when their goose is nearly cooked they become rude and demanding. Get in here and get us the hell out, you incompetent UN ninnes!

The glaringly obvious moral to draw from Black Hawk Down is that imperialist wars are usually bad news for everyone involved. But the director doesn’t go there. No political statement, just soldier love. I also found the film to be racist: hordes of wild-eyed black barbarians, some of them mere children, satanically shooting at our brave American boys, who are just there to help the folks. You know.

I just have a hard time rooting for a bunch of well-fed, video game playing Americans shooting poor brown people. I’m sorry, it just doesn’t feel right to me.

The main character in the Hurt Locker is a demented war lover. You try to feel sorry for him, but when you remember the context of the Iraq War you just can’t. It was one of the most nakedly venal conflicts this country has ever engaged in. He is a victim of war, to be sure, but the fact is he has absolutely no business being in that country. No Iraqi harmed any Americans until we invaded. It was a grievous war crime.

The Iraqis, of course, are portrayed as wicked others. One of the main characters in Jarhead throws a temper tantrum when he is forbidden to assassinate one. The movie itself is quite good. Again, though, there is just something innately unlikeable about the main characters. They yell “get some” and boo-yah and are openly blood thirsty. At one point they’re watching Apocalypse Now and they cheer at the scene where the helicopters start strafing Vietnamese women and children. It should be pointed out, though, that Jarhead does take a fairly dark view of military subculture.

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