War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death [VIDEO]
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
What's changed in the rhetoric of war since the 1960s? A new film, War Made Easy, explores how media and government spin from the Vietnam era to today has kept America at war.
The film has been adapted from the critically acclaimed book by Norman Solomon, "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death," which was published in 2005.
Norman Solomon is a nationally syndicated columnist on media and politics. He has been writing the weekly "Media Beat" column since 1992. AlterNet spoke with him about the film.
Q: How exactly did this project get off the ground?
A: I'm a writer who's done a lot of radio and occasionally TV, but I'm not a filmmaker. The experience of writing this book was a pretty mind-blowing process for me, and when it was published, I thought about the dimension of archival footage and the media onslaught in favor of war, both past, present and future, for that matter. I'd really admired the Media Education Foundation for a long time. For instance, their film -- Hijacking Catastrophe -- I thought was superb on the neocons' global agenda. So when I talked with people at MEF, they decided to make a film based on the War Made Easy book, and I was thrilled. Eighteen months later, the film is launching this summer, and I'm just really excited about how the analytical, the informational, and the emotional are accessed in this documentary.
Q: How has the response been to the film so far?
A: My hopes have been largely fulfilled during the several screenings I've been to on both the East and West coasts. People are leaving the movie with grief and anger but also motivation to stop the war in Iraq and to prevent the wars that are gleams in the eyes of top officials in Washington.
Q: Why do you think there's so much resistance amongst the media to draw parallels between Iraq and Vietnam?
A: Any geographer will tell you Iraq isn't Vietnam. But the United States is still the United States. The overwhelming issue is how our country continues to drag itself and so much of the world into one horrific conflagration after another.
The pundits and reporters who have the highest profile in this country tend to be eager to see every discredited war as an aberration, and they did the same thing during the Vietnam War. When it became incontrovertible that the war was based on a series of mendacious maneuvers, the response was, "Well, yeah, but that's not what we're like. This is an anomaly." And we're still getting that. It's because "Bush is weird, and Cheney's weird." You even get that from some liberal pundits.
Q: President Bush has said that history will ultimately judge whether of not the Iraq War was a success or failure. Do you believe we'll one day hear people saying this war was a success (as some have with Vietnam) or will people universally deem this a failure?
A: Well, both. It is one of the most horrific war choices ever made out of Washington. There will always be people in Washington and in the media who try to justify the war, or they will say if it had been done differently it would've been potentially a good use of U.S. military power. One of the key points of the film is that the whole argument against a quagmire is a very narrow one, because it begs the question of whether a war based on imperial assumptions and presumptions of empire can be justified? And how can you competently execute an immoral war? How can you do a better job of managing a war that should never have been launched in the first place?
Those kind of questions are not popular amongst the elite media. Quite frankly, if this war had resulted in a military triumph in the middle of 2003, you wouldn't have the July 8 editorial in the New York Times saying it's time to pull the troops out. They would be celebrating this war along with the rest of the media. I think War Made Easy really draws a thread across the last 50 years of U.S. foreign policy and the American warfare state, to find the patterns that have inflicted so much suffering. It's what Martin Luther King Jr. called "the madness of militarism," and it hasn't stopped yet.
Q: How has the way the mainstream press covered war changed or not changed since the Vietnam war?
A: The style has changed but not the substance. There's still a reliance on official sources, an echoing of the White House's rationale for war, a reluctance to challenge the prerogatives of empire. These have been virtual constants.
In terms of content, beyond style and technology, the changes have been implemented more in response to grassroots pressure. In other words, the anti-war protesting that people have done from 2002 until today has had a cumulative effect on our society, and while the news media are slow to react to grassroots pressure against the war, they are still within shouting distance. There is a huge disconnect between anti-[war sentiment in the grassroots and what we get from the likes of not only Fox, but CNN, NPR and PBS.
Q: What do you make of the analysis of President Bush's state of mind with regards to war? It is widely believe that LBJ was at least privately tortured about his leadership and the war's toll.
A: For people in Vietnam or for people in Iraq, or for U.S. soldiers who are sent to those countries to kill and be killed, it really didn't matter whether LBJ or George W. Bush felt remorseful or gleeful as the war went on. It's really about policies that affect peoples' lives. The media spin has been refined and of course adapted to changes like the advent of cable television. But one of the really stunning things about the archival footage that's been unearthed and put together for the War Made Easy film is the continuity of the propaganda messages to justify the morally and logically unjustifiable.
From the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964 to WMD in 2002 -- the rhetoric that Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon used against withdrawing troops from Vietnam is often word for word the same catch phrases and code words that George W. Bush has been using. "You can't cut and run," "You must stay the course." These are ways of vilifying the opponents of the war in no uncertain terms.
Q: Why is it that so many Americans can fall for the same rhetoric that gets us involved in imperial wars, when it is often so transparent?
A: George Orwell said it well, "Those who control the past, control the future. Those who control the present, control the past." The arguments over Vietnam have not only been about a war in the past, it's been an argument over a war in the present and prospectively future wars as well.
The so-called Vietnam syndrome is something we talk at length about in the film because it's a catchphrase that's used in a negative way by media and war advocates in Washington to try to justify continuing an insane war that's so destructive. It's basically a way to say, if you're against the war, you're a wimp and you don't have fortitude. As one TV pundit said, "You're a weenie." The epithet of the Vietnam syndrome is based on a series of myths that we unpack in the film.
Q: What makes your film unique and worth seeing?
A: You'll see a panorama of techniques from Lyndon Johnson to George W. Bush, from Walter Cronkite to Bill O'Reilly, that show how we're being scammed in the same ways from one war to another, from one decade to another. I think it's the scope of the film, which uses unarguable TV footage and historical film segments to show just how pernicious and how deep these patterns are.
It's really, for a lot of people, mind-blowing when it's laid end to end from 1964 to 2007. The film, I think, in its unique way conveys not by talking at people but by showing people that we have been subjected to a colossal scam. The results have been so terrible that we better get wise to it and find ways to resist, or the future that we want for the future generations is gravely imperiled.
Adam Howard is the editor of PEEK.