Monday, October 16, 2006

Celluloid Illusions of War

By Kanrei

Clint Eastwood is a Republican. He is the Republican ex-mayor of Carmel California and has never been one to be known as a hippie or a peace activist. It is basically assumed that Eastwood is one of the more pro-war people of the Hollywood sect, but that is apparently a very wrong thing to assume. It is also basically assumed that his new movie Flag of Our Fathers is a pro-war tale of bravery and heroism. That is how the ads make it look anyway.

Flag of Our Fathers tells the story of the picture from Iwo Jima of the six soldiers raising the flag after a 35 day battle. Three of those in the picture died in the battle and the other three were brought home to perform publicity tours while the fighting at Iwo Jima continued. It is a photo used to inspire pride in the American fighting forces and a very powerful image.

One cannot help but feel pride in seeing these battle weary soldiers straining to raise the flag as a symbol to all the others fighting that progress is being made. I can imagine the adrenaline rush those on the ground looking up must have felt seeing Old Glory in the midst of the carnage. It would seem a similar image is needed in today’s growing discontent with the wars in the Middle East, but do not look to Eastwood’s new film to provide the 21st century Iwo Jima moment because that is not what his new film is about.

I have not seen the movie yet, but am only going on interviews with Clint Eastwood and reports on the movie for this point of view. He sees comparisons between Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman with the soldiers at Iwo Jima and how they were used. He tells Newsweek that "That poor girl. She was just a teenager. The military and their publicity people decided she had to be Wonder Woman, gunning down tons of people with her machine gun, when she didn't fire a shot. They desperately wanted her to be that."

He tells Newsweek that he does not support blindly using war to spread democracy either. "I'm not one of those idealistic people who think democracy has to be for everyone…That's naive on our part. I don't know if they want democracy." This is not the pro-war movie everyone seems to think it is because the director does not seem to be very pro this war.

And I thought about that movie, asked if it was that way
He just shook his head and smiled at me in such a loving way
As he thought about some friends he will never see again
He said "I never saw John Wayne on the sands of Iwo Jima"
-Sands of Iwo Jima by the Drive-By Truckers

The soldiers whose lives he follows in his movie, John Bradley, Rene Gagnon, and Ira Hayes, had to live with the fiction created about them for the rest of their lives, long after the country forgot their names and the government forgot their deeds.  They are heroes for certain, but they never wanted to be the face of the war.  This movie reminds us that the images last longer than the truths and the images are only illusion. When we think of Iwo Jima we think of the flag being raised and not the 30,000 people who died there.

Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman and everyone else fighting is doing their jobs and trying to survive. We discard them when they appear to do bad (Abu Ghraib) and we promote them when they help sell the war regardless of the realities. It is ironic that a movie is reminding us of the difference between reality and what we see on the screen. I think Clint Eastwood wants to remind us that the soldiers are not public relations tools to be used to sell a war regardless of how just the war may be.

7 comments:

Serena Joy said...

Your last sentence says it all. The illusion is rarely the reality.

Kanrei said...

They are advertising this film in the exact manner that this film is protesting. True irony.

RexZeitgiest said...

Soldiers are not public relations tools......Not for the right OR the left....and we see so many on the left trot out the memory of fallen soldiers to prove whatever their point is....Same with some on the right...

As someone who once was a soldier, I know that our fighting men and women don't have the luxury of questioning the tactics or overall strategy of what is going on in the geo-political world...

A solider fights for their (our) country....PERIOD.....

I saw War Stories with Olvier North about the 'drunken Indian' (named after the famous song about him) who helped raise the flag....it was heart wrenching....What he saw at in war drove him insane.....War is never easy, pretty, or bloodless.....

Kanrei said...

Amen.

Soldiers do. Their job is horrible, but needed. They are not tools yet every government and leader seems to use them and we buy it every time. Myself included.

Serena Joy said...

You're right, soldiers aren't tools. A lot of war movies tend to glorify or romanticize war, don't you think? If they're going to tell it, they should tell it like it is.

Kanrei said...

I think Saving Private Ryan was close, but a movie can never capture it correctly. The John Wayne movie "Sands of Iwo Jima" got it as best they could then by killing John Wayne. It was not done so the fact that even the Duke can die in a war was an attempt to show the horrors.

Serena Joy said...

I haven't seen that many war films, but I did see 'Private Ryan.' I suspect it was pretty heavy on realism. Soldiers should have everyone's complete respect and gratitude.