America’s Wars as Bloated Hollywood Productions

Age of Extinction, indeed (Source: Wikipedia)
Age of Extinction, indeed (Source: Wikipedia)

W.J. Astore

Like so many bloated Hollywood movies nowadays, America’s wars may bomb, but they always produce their own sequels.

Look at the latest news from Iraq and Afghanistan.  These wars have persisted for more than a decade, with several re-releases to include “surges” and repeats.  The latest from Iraq is preparations to retake the city of Mosul from ISIS, which promises a repeat of the level of destruction visited upon Fallujah in 2004.  In this there are echoes of Vietnam: in Mosul, we may have to destroy the city to save it.  Five Iraqi brigades, most likely supported by American airpower and some American troops on the ground (air controllers and Special Forces), are poised to strike as early as April.  Doubtless they’ll prevail, at least for the moment, as the city and its civilians pay a price so dear as to be indistinguishable from defeat.  Mosul will be “liberated,” but just look what happened to Fallujah, which after the American “victory” in 2004 is now a devastated city retaken by elements of al-Qaeda in 2014.

(As an aside, it’s interesting that the New York Times uses the word “epic” to describe the Battle of Fallujah from 2004.  Surely a better word is “catastrophic.”  What is epic about a battle that destroys a city, a battle that is ultimately inconclusive?  Check out Bing West’s book about Fallujah, whose title, “No True Glory,” captures the frustrations and contradictions of that battle, mainly from the American perspective.)

Moving to Afghanistan, the latest is that American troops may stay longer than expected (surprise!).  Despite all the talk of “progress” in Afghanistan, the takeaway is the following section, from Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s recent visit to Afghanistan:

“Despite the aid of American air power, 2014 was the deadliest year for Afghan forces since the start of the war in 2001, and many Afghan and Western officials in Kabul believe that 2015 will likely be worse, particularly with less support from Western allies. That has begun to change the conversation about the possibility of slowing down in the [American] withdrawal.”

In other words, expect more micro-surges of American troops and assets in the coming years, as well as more reports of “progress,” however temporary or illusory (at least America’s best and brightest learned from Vietnam not to talk of seeing light at the end of tunnels).

America’s wars are much like the “Transformers” franchise of movies: thrilling and seemingly conclusive at first, with much talk of missions being accomplished, followed by sequel after sequel of repetitive battles, increasingly loud and destructive, signifying vapidity and intellectual bankruptcy even as a few profit greatly from them.

And no one (certainly none of the producers at the Pentagon) seems to be able to pull the plug on green-lighting ever more sequels to these wars.  Even when they bomb.

(For a different perspective on how recent Hollywood movies support American warmaking through myth-making, see Peter Van Buren’s insightful article “War Porn” at

7 thoughts on “America’s Wars as Bloated Hollywood Productions

  1. Regardless of how many serious-minded film critics bemoan the cheesiness of these lame sequels (and the movies in question, after all, are geared for 12-year-old boys, yes?), Hollywood will continue to grind them out as long as they do better than break-even at the Box Office. And The Powers That Be (TPTB) will continue to grind out sequels to these wars-based-on-BS as long as the general public is willing to “buy” them. (the all-tabloid-style sequel to what used to proclaim itself The Most Trusted Source In News) recently “reported” a poll finding that 75% of Americans favor taking an all-out war (i.e. war of extermination) to the so-called Islamic State. The latter organization has recently apparently produced some spectacular sequels, with “high production values.” I don’t lend the dignity of my eyeballs to their brand of war porn, just as I deny same to “American Sniper.”

    I read Mr. van Buren’s article on TomDispatch, linked to above. Two movie-related notes on that subject: 1.) the European (multiple nations involved in the production) film of fairly recent vintage, “Joyeux Noel,” is about the spontaneous fraternization that broke out among French, British and German troops in “no man’s land” during the first Christmas of World War I. It begins with a sequence that is stunning, because based on fact. That war was anticipated on all sides (it didn’t erupt “just” because of the assassination of an Archduke), and the populations of all the future combatants were being prepared by domestic propaganda campaigns. So we see a British grade-school boy standing in front of his classmates, reading an official government statement. It declares that the German “race” is so barbaric that to make the world safe it will be necessary to exterminate those people, right down to every last child, lest they mature to take up arms in future!; 2.) Stanley Kubrick’s 1957 “Paths Of Glory,” I maintain, is the greatest of all anti-war movies. No war profiteers are on screen; all the action takes place at the French-German front, and in a military courtroom behind the lines. The story concerns a true incident in the French Army in World War I, which led to France banning this film for decades. Two conniving French generals, played by George MacReady and Adolph Menjou, dreaming of earning additional stars for their epaulets and personal “glory,” send their men on a suicide mission to take “the Ant Hill,” a nest of German machine gunners overlooking no man’s land. With the failure of the impossible mission, scapegoats must be found to deflect blame from the generals. Col. Dax (Kirk Douglas) will attempt to defend the men put on trial for “cowardice.” For the benefit of readers not familiar with this movie, I will reveal no further details. You MUST see this film!! It paints the demarcation between the comfortable Powers That Be behind the lines and the men shivering, bleeding and dying in the trenches more clearly than any other.


  2. “So here’s a question: if the core propaganda messages the U.S. government promoted during World War II are nearly identical to those pushed out today about the Islamic State, and if Hollywood’s war films, themselves a particularly high-class form of propaganda, have promoted the same false images of Americans in conflict from 1941 to the present day, what does that tell us? Is it that our varied enemies across nearly three-quarters of a century of conflict are always unbelievably alike, or is it that when America needs a villain, it always goes to the same script?” Last paragraph from P. Van Buren’s War Porn article

    As a WW II veteran I have to raise a question about this statement. Peter is correct in pointing out the similarity of today’s war propaganda to that of WW II. But for those who did not live in those times they may interpret this as implying that those propaganda films were as untrue as the copy cat films today. Let me point out that there is a fundamental difference between WW II and all of the wars we have indulged in since 1945 starting with Korea. In none of those subsequent wars were we attacked , including the Saudi supported 9/11 attack.

    Not only were we attacked at Pearl Harbor with a good part of our Pacific Fleet sunk but the alliance between a massively armed Germany and Italy meant that a formal war with Japan also involved Germany and Italy. The propaganda films describing the atrocities of both Germany and Japan were not fictitious. They were attempts to show , as best as possible at that time, the lack of human regard of both nations who , in the case of Germany was involved in industrial scale genocide, and in the case of Japan’s behavior in China, were atrocious.

    Our ‘bipartisan’ politicians have tried successfully since WW II to leverage our costly yet necessary victory in WW II into a cover story of our “goodness” for all of our catastrophic wars of choice that seek hegemony since then. I did not spend my youth in the US Army Air Corps for these wars and certainly not for the absolute insanity of Obama’s recent redux of Iraq2.0 and Ukraine.


    1. I learned from another source (Veterans For Peace) that Sen. Inhofe of Oklahoma (US Senate’s current most vehement Bible-thumper/climate change denier) attacked Obama for not proposing an essentially open-ended renewal of his “war powers” against the “Islamic State” or anyone else designated the enemy. This is pure GOP political grandstanding, for IN PRACTICE it is already US policy that anything goes, against any target, anywhere on Earth, for as long as deemed “necessary.” Insanity this policy surely is: every failure is used to justify the next failure, and the next, and the…


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