Monday, May 17, 2010

ties that bind

battle cry 1955 militaryI.

It was reported months ago that The Hurt Locker producers may have hired Blackwater mercenaries (now called Xe) while filming in the Middle East. This story got me thinking about Hollywood and the military in more general terms. The large majority of war films featuring high-tech weaponry are made with the cooperation and endorsement of the military. If in some instances the military isn't paid for their collaboration (when they are paid, films that utilize their services cannot be said to be neutral, and they certainly cannot be considered anti-war), it's because they know that a film featuring their products -- tanks, helicopters, planes, battle ships, guns, the sexy stare of a sexy woman meeting the eyes of a sexy man in uniform as he passes her on the street -- works as the perfect form of advertising. (This, of course, is the same reason other companies pay movie studios to feature their products in films, regardless of the context.) With this kind of cooperation there often comes an implied agreement.

I was recently sent the following excerpt from Tab Hunter's autobiography, Tab Hunter Confidential, that shows the relationship more explicitly:

"I returned home to more distressing news. First, Warners was under pressure to push back the release date of Battle Cry, from February to as late as April or May. Those were the months enlistment was lowest, and the Marine Corps hoped the movie would inspire a wave of fresh recruits. Considering that the picture had already been six months in postproduction -- an incredibly long time in those days -- I wondered if Battle Cry would ever be released.

Even more disturbing was scuttlebutt that the Marine Corps had problems with the script -- specifically the affair between Dorothy Malone and me. An internal studio memo said: 'The Corps feels that Danny Forrester represents an idealistic type of boy... the type of youth they hope to appeal to. Showing him as an 18-year old humping a married woman twice his age will have many detrimental aftermaths.'

battle cry tab hunter
Tab Hunter, Dorothy Malone, and Uncle Sam in Battle Cry (1955)

There was already anger in Washington about how the military was depicted in Columbia's big hit From Here to Eternity. Jack Warner had probably assured the Marines that any 'humping' would be trimmed in Battle Cry's book-to-script translation. If the affair was cut -- there went the basis for my character. My 'breakthrough' would litter a cutting-room floor, my career derailed by government intervention!"

* * *


                                    I went down to the market where all the women shop
                                    I pulled out my machete and I begin to chop
                                    I went down to the park where all the children play
                                    I pulled out my machine gun and I begin to spray.

                                                                                   --training chant used by US Military

"Josh Stieber enlisted in the army after graduating high school. He was deployed to Baghdad from February 2007 to April 2008 with the military company shown on the ground in the Collateral Murder video. He was granted conscientious objector status upon his return home from Baghdad."

Below, excerpts taken from an interview with Josh Stieber by Real News Network senior editor Paul Jay (slightly reordered).

JAY: Start from the beginning. Why did you join? And you told me off-camera you joined knowing—hoping to be sent to Iraq. Why?

STIEBER: I grew up very religiously and very patriotic, in a selective sense that, you know, I only wanted to hear things that I wanted to hear and only things that I thought would make my country look better and make my beliefs look better, and I wasn't very interested in understanding other perspectives. And the vision I had of my country was that, you know, we were going all throughout the world doing, you know, all this great stuff and helping people in need. And, you know, after 9/11 I was obviously affected by that and wanted to protect the people that I cared about, and, from everyone I trusted, was told that the military would be a good way to do that, and then was also told, you know, there's this country Iraq that's getting oppressed by this horrible dictator who's also a threat to us, and if we can get rid of him, not only will we be keeping ourselves safe, but we'll also be helping this other country in the process.

JAY: How interwoven were your beliefs in America and what America stands for and your religious beliefs?

STIEBER: They were pretty closely intertwined. I went to a religious high school. And one example is, in a government class that I was in at this religious high school, we read a book called The Faith of George W. Bush. And people like that were held up as, you know, these—these are people that are fighting for God's will here on Earth. So religion was very interwoven with a sense of nationalism.

JAY: So you go to Iraq. You join, you go through boot camp, and you're sent to Iraq, and you're still more or less the same mindset. Tell us a little bit about boot camp and the kind of training that takes place to prepare you for war. I mean, your religious training is supposed to be about love thy neighbor, and then you're sent to war. So how do they get you ready for that?

STIEBER: Yeah, I guess that's where I started to see, maybe, some of these contradictions, just by the kinds of things that we did on a regular basis in basic training, whether it was the cadences that we sang as we were marching around, some that even joked about killing women and children.

jesus gun military
"Hello, is Mohammed home?"

JAY: That's got to be shocking for you to hear the first time.

STIEBER: Yeah. The common mindset that I would say was coming towards Iraqis were, one, just kind of, you know, how they were referred to. They were always referred to "Hajis", you know, similar to "Gooks" in Vietnam or other phrases and other words. So there was that mindset, combined with this mindset, that if you don't do everything you're trained to do and if you're not being the best soldier that you can be, then these Iraqis, you know, at some point or another, are going to attack you, or, you know, if you're in a combat situation and you're not doing everything that you were taught, then you're exposing yourself and your friends to being open to attack. So that was very much fear mongering, from that point of view. And so I started writing home to religious leaders at my church, saying what I'm being asked to do doesn't really line up with, you know, all these religious beliefs I had. And I would get letters back with explanations that I needed to have more faith in God, or this is just how the military works.

JAY: They would write back and defend a chant like that, that it's okay to go down where the kids are playing and start to spray? They would defend that?

STIEBER: They would either defend it or say that ends justify the means or say, you know, maybe you personally don't say chants like that and just march silently, but you still go along with the whole system. And so I adopted that mindset that even if there were particular things that troubled me, which there definitely were, then you can calm that discomfort by saying, well, you know, even if I'm uncomfortable with these certain practices, in the long run we're still getting rid of the bad guys, and we're still keeping our country safe, and we're still spreading freedom and democracy around the world, so you shouldn't focus on the smaller things.

JAY: So at this point, to what extent do you start to question your faith? 'Cause it's all about faith, and faith is about not questioning. So once you start to question, it leads you to places you haven't been before. So does that—and does it begin in boot camp?

STIEBER: Yeah, I would say that it definitely did. And kind of the more I saw the things that seemed like they were in contradiction, I would kind of have less and less faith in my faith and just start doing things less—that—I guess that idealism or that religious motivation started to fall away, and it became more about doing things to either fit in with the crowd or to take on this nationalism that, yeah, we're still a good country, you know, even if I don't like these particular things, and we're still spreading freedom and democracy around the world.

iwo jima flagiwo jimaiwo jima


Hectocotylus said...

I was going to use a still from Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers (of the flag raising) to tie it all together, but the real photo taken on Iwo Jima was staged anyway, so what's the difference?

Paupertas said...

“Flyin’ low and feelin’ mean, Find a family by the stream. Pick off a pair and hear’em scream, Cause napalm sticks to kids...”

Hectocotylus said...

Excellent article/book review - thanks for the link.

This part reveals something particularly insidious (getting to young minds before they have time to think and reflect):

"It is well known that overtly militaristic and patriotic films with Rambo-like heroes boost military recruitment. According to the navy, recruitment of young men into naval aviation increased by 500 percent after the release of Top Gun. Such was the military’s enthusiasm for Top Gun that it even established recruitment booths inside some of the cinemas screening the movie. “These kids came out of the movie with eyes as big as saucers and said, ‘Where do I sign up?’” declared Major David Georgi."

Take [Their] Breath Away... (perhaps literally!)