CAPSULE: Norman Solomon's 2005 book (of the same title) comes to the screen as a 72-minute documentary. Solomon's subject is the almost formulaic approach that the US Government has used to sell wars to the American people. Particular emphasis is placed on parallels between the Vietnam War and the second Iraq war. Solomon is on-screen explaining his thesis and off-screen Sean Penn narrates. Solomon makes a strong, if not always convincing, case. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Much more than it ever was in the 20th century, the feature documentary film is becoming a major venue for political argument. Cinema has proven to be a very effective medium for political argument. Perhaps more than arguments in books or newspaper editorials the medium of the film documentary is ideal to hold the attention of the recipient. Why is documentary film so effective? With written text the reader has control over the speed of the reading and has time to stop and to question points. A film, particularly one seen in public, gives the viewer no opportunity to pause the presentation and to think about the implications of the argument he has been presented. A live lecture also carries the audience along without their control, but it rarely engages the eye at the same time so it does not so much engulf the viewer. Documentary film can be a powerful medium for persuasion. Its main drawback is that if the film is released as a feature film it generally requires a paid admission so to a certain extent it is preaching to the converted. It perhaps can reach a wider audience on television, but that returns some control to the viewer.
In general the political left is holding the high ground in political documentaries with the most visible practitioner being Michael Moore, though he is far from the most accomplished in the medium. Charles Ferguson's NO END IN SIGHT and Molly Bingham's and Steve Connors's MEETING RESISTENCE are really very much better film examples. WAR MADE EASY: HOW PRESIDENTS & PUNDITS KEEP SPINNING US TO DEATH is a fast-paced comparison of some of the wars the United States has fought over the past fifty years and in particular how they were presented in Presidential Press Conferences and by the media. The film is narrated by actor and activist Sean Penn and has Norman Solomon putting for the major arguments. The film is actually based on Solomon's book of the same title.
As the film demonstrates, one of government's first responsibilities in waging war is selling that war to its own people. It is imperative to motivate the soldiers to risk their lives in the fight and to convince the general public to support the war effort. Solomon suggests that in the last fifty years the United States has been in more conflicts than it was in the more distant past and that the United States has provoked many of those conflicts. (Solomon never seems to consider the possibility that our decisive victory in WWII may have shown us to be the strongest world power and left the perception that with that power comes the responsibility to fight when need be for peace. Solomon ridicules the notion of fighting for peace after the Second World War, but avoids criticizing that interpretation of WWII.)
Solomon draws parallels between the Gulf of Tonkin "Incident" (which is now generally acknowledged to have not involved Vietnamese participation at all) and the Bush administration claim that Iraq prior to the second Iraq war was accumulating weapons of mass destruction. That assertion is now generally believed to be at best unproven and is assumed by Solomon to be false. Solomon shows how many dissenters in the media, in Congress, and the public are intimidated into silence to avoid the possible accusation of being disloyal to the troops who are risking their lives. Once the war begins dissenters are accused of supporting a policy of not supporting our troop and of wanting to "cut and run." We see examples of this across wars. As is demonstrated, frequently an enemy head of state will be compared to Hitler. That can be used to provoke a predictable reaction. (I do not remember, however, Ho Chi Minh ever being compared to Hitler, but that would be a bit of a reach.) Solomon criticizes both Fox News and about equally CNN, which is usually considered more liberal.
One weakness of the film is that Solomon does not examine alternate explanations for the similarities from one war to the next of governments' and media's handling of the war. Solomon's case that the government and media follow a formula is not rock solid, but there is more than a little truth to it. There is some difficulty determining whether it is the government intentionally follows a proven formula for selling wars. It may be that similar circumstances are likely to elicit similar reactions. And the similarities may not be all that significant. It may be that Solomon's case of parallels between how the government sells is true, but not necessarily a profound one.
In any case the arguments seem worth considering and the film makes for provocative viewing. I rate WAR MADE EASY a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt1015246/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2008 Mark R. Leeper