Iraq, The Movie: What's the motivation, guys?
12 November 2004
Is Iraq Vietnam? The parallels are obvious. A technologically superior superpower battles a guerrilla army, while the American public grows sceptical about a distant war as the body bags pile up. They're even using the same military hardware: Cobra attack helicopters, M16s and AK-47s. Throw in some dope, hippy chicks and a grunt shouting 'They call me Animal Mother!' as he rapes a 12-year-old girl and you've practically got Generic Nam Movie #546.
But there are a few crucial differences that make it hard to envisage Iraq as a movie. Although this is probably not a problem if you're Independence Day director Roland Emmerich, who's no doubt furiously two-finger typing at an expensive laptop even as we write...
'IRAQ MOVIE PITCH, DRAFT 1.
TITLE: Freedom Apocalypse 9/11 [new title???] An original idea by R. Emmerich.
The War on Terror gets personal when NYPD officer Brett Chisel (Bruce Willis) loses his loyal dog and family in 9-11 [Note to self: Saul at Hoffer Casting says dog from Lethal Weapon available as of Dec 04. ALSO: terrorists should have 20 planes, not 2. Planes should be 747s or Concordes. Maybe experimental nuclear super jets??? Do lunch with Bob at Industrial Light and Magic to discuss.]
The bad guys are led by Osama Bin Hussein [Note: Alan Rickman available end June 05] who lives in an underground base in a volcano (space station???) where he's cloning a race of alien warrior mutants from the Roswell crash - and a Space Godzilla...' etc.
But Iraq looks like unlikely material for a classic war movie in the style of Apocalypse Now or Full Metal Jacket. The imbalance in firepower is too great to be dramatically interesting. The soundtrack wouldn't be as cool. The US troops are too disciplined* to frag each other. And there are no prostitutes.
No Nam film is complete without a pretty Vietnamese girl coming out with toe-curling dialogue like 'I suckee fuckee you, big GI man?' then performing a vital rite of passage for a sensitive member of the platoon who's a virgin. Somehow this doesn't translate well to Iraq. Sluttish Muslim babes in hot pants probably wouldn't play well in the Middle East.
But what Iraq does have in common with Nam is that most Nam films present morality as a distinctly grey area. Vietnam is the moment when US idealism and patriotism give way to cynicism and ultimately a moral vacuum. Think of Joker in Full Metal Jacket.
'I live in a world of shit, but I am alive and I am not afraid,' he concludes, solipsistically. If we were Vietnamese, we'd be tempted to reply: 'So what?'
Less subtle film makers like Oliver Stone have hammered home the loss of moral certainties more obviously. In Born on the Fourth of July Ron Kovac is a good American jock who firmly believes in the rightness of the war. Then he loses use of his cock. Whether this has some metaphorical significance, ie. the impotence of the US military in Nam, isn't clear. If Stone's other films are anything to go by, it's probably more likely that Stone just likes the idea of having a big, macho, fully-functioning knob. Either way, the message is clear: Vietnam Was Bad.
Thus it's probably time to make Iraq: The Movie. If you're looking for a confusing moral void, Iraq fits the bill perfectly. The war was based on lies (about WMD and Iraq's links with terrorists) and cynical politicking, ie. Bush the war president. On the ground the US has inflicted massive civilian casualties on the people it claims to be liberating. Hovering in the background are business interests waiting to clean up on oil contracts and re-arming the US military.
If that wasn't morally dubious enough, from a UK perspective there's also the fact that our troops' presence is a token gesture. Harold Wilson famously refused a request by Lyndon Johnson to put Brits in Vietnam for precisely that purpose, but Tony Blair has religiously done what Bush has asked him to, including putting Black Watch troops in the 'triangle of death' or 'kill box' or whatever military jargon buffs call it. The Suicide Shape?
Blair keeps coming out with earnest guff about our responsibility to the Iraqi people and 'getting the job done', as though we invaded to insulate the Iraqis' lofts. But the fact of the matter is that UK forces are in Iraq primarily to show support for Bush and give some spurious international credibility to the idea of a coalition. Can you imagine a more dubious reason for going to war? To shore up an imaginary special relationship between Britain and the US? It's a reason that doesn't even connect with conventional morality or logic. It's not even a stupid reason. It's just weird.
And herein lies a problem for the potential producers of Iraq: The Movie. They'd approach a studio with their script and the studio bosses would turn around and say:
'Loved the script, guys, but it kinda doesn't make sense. Sure, we get the bit about Halliburton and all the conspiracy stuff, but we've got a problem with these British guys. They go to war as a token gesture? It doesn't add up. What's their motivation?'
And unless Blair has brokered some amazing behind-the-scenes deal with the US - maybe we get to keep what's left of Iran after the next set of hostilities is over - then it's a question that's going to continue to puzzle us. Why exactly are we in Iraq? It would be nice if Tony could tell us, but we've got a feeling he
doesn't know either.