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Why <i>War, Inc.</i> Is Must-See Political Filmmaking

John Cusack's bold new film <i>War, Inc.</i> is an antidote to Pentagon spin and the corporate punditry who continue to get the war in Iraq so wrong.
 
 
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In the Orwellian world of U.S. politics, often it takes artists to say the truth that otherwise can't be said -- or heard.

Stanley Kubrick brought home the reality of militarism and the madness of U.S. nuclear doctrine in Dr. Strangelove as no nonfiction work of the time could. Sidney Lumet's Network did the same for the corporate takeover of our culture.

Today, John Cusack's War, Inc. fires a similar shot across the bow of our tortured political discourse.

War, Inc. is a Swiftian allegory of the world not as it might be in some possible future but as it is today, with a performance from Ben Kingsley as memorable as Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove . (It also features a deconstruction by Hilary Duff of her own fame and our twisted, sexist culture that has to be seen to be believed.)

The film is scathing, farsighted, bold, and truer than nonfiction. Cusack and the stellar cast of War, Inc. don't blink. War, Inc. takes us inside the world of war profiteers, war makers, embedded journalists, mercenaries, entertainment moguls, and "disaster capitalists" (as Naomi Klein has called them) who form the interlinking military-industrial-media-entertainment-political complex.

Set in fictional Turaqistan, the film tells us more about Iraq -- and U.S. politics -- today than anything on offer from the establishment media, with it's 24/7 barrage of abuse of our intelligence.

Without the complicity of the corporate media, even many journalists will now acknowledge, the invasion of Iraq could never have happened. But few have commented on the fact that the occupation could not have continued for so long -- with the prospect of lasting for years to come -- without the media's continued subservience to power.

The people who got it so wrong on Iraq are the "experts" we hear from constantly, while those who predicted the disaster of this occupation -- and those who worked to prevent it -- are rarely, if ever, heard.

And now we hear from the same politicians and pundits who led us into Iraq why we cannot leave.

In our Orwellian media landscape, every word of political discourse has two meanings: its actual meaning and its political meaning.

Take for example the simple word "withdrawal."

If you asked any person on the street what it would mean to "withdraw" from Iraq -- an idea that a significant majority of the country supports -- they would likely say "removing all military personal from Iraq." Ask a follow up question, and they'd likely agree that this would also mean removing all mercenaries and military bases, as well.

But read any article in the New York Times or listen to NPR, and "withdrawal" means something entirely different: redeployment of some U.S. troops from our overstretched military, while keeping tens of thousands in Iraq, alongside perhaps an even greater number of mercenaries, as well as the largest embassy of any government in the world, and military bases, in Iraq, at least until the year 2013, and probably well beyond. (Not to mention likely escalating the air war against Iraq, while keeping tends of thousands of troops nearby in position to re-invade.)

That is, "withdrawal" means continuing the occupation.

The debate around Iraq today is as specious as the case for the war in the first place. It is over the tactics of the occupation, or at best the strategy, not the fundamental immorality of it. What cannot be said is that we have no right to be in Iraq in the first place. That we have destroyed the country, not rebuilt it. That we have fueled civil war, not prevented it. That we are opposed to genuine democracy for the Iraqi people, not "bringing democracy." That we are there for our own interests, and by "our" I mean the interests of the handful of people who benefit from this war -- the people help up to examination in War, Inc. -- not the interests of the Iraqi people, who more and more we hear politicians blaming for the problems we have created.

In times such as these, the role of filmmakers, musicians, poets, playwrights is vital. And it's why we should be encouraging everyone to see War, Inc. and the other important films that this war has generated, including Paul Haggis's powerful In the Valley of Elah and Cusack's heartbreaking Grace Is Gone .

John Cusack has proved himself to be one of the most thoughtful, intelligent, and risk-taking film makers of our time. In the upside down world we are in today, we need more films like War, Inc. and more artists like Cusack, if we are going to set it right.

War, Inc. opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, May 23rd.