Oct 01

(To read the entire "COIN is Boring” series, please click here.)

As I writer, I think about mediums. Not psychics, but art mediums, wondering which ones will survive into the future. I ask myself, “If someone wants to write something that will affect the most people, what should they write?” In the 1300s, great writers wrote epic poetry. In the 1600s, plays. In the 1800s through the middle of the 2000s, novels.

In the 1950s, film became the most important art medium in the modern world. More people see films than read novels. More importantly, more people respect films than respect novels. I could discuss The Godfather or Pulp Fiction with almost anyone; good luck finding someone who’s actually read DeLillo’s Underworld. Few novels change the world these days. A few films do just that every year. (As far as other modern mediums go, TV came into its own in the early 2000s and video games are far, far too immature in content to even consider them.)

Which brings me to the series we’ve been writing for four weeks now: how do films handle counter-insurgency?

Not terribly well.

How do I know? Because we’ve already written about how Hollywood ignores counter insurgencies. In “The "Battle Mentality" of Hollywood”, we describe Hollywood’s focus on the “decisive battle”, using Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and the most recent Alice in Wonderland remake as examples:

“Movies are only two hours long. With the occasional exception, a film can only depict a single battle, or a handful of battles, never the war. Also, the three act structure of Hollywood scripts--ingrained in the minds of Hollywood executives--does not have much flexibility. Executives, screenwriters and directors must deliver a climax, and the decisive battle is a tremendous climax.”

Most insurgencies last decades; most films--chronologically--last a couple of days. Insurgencies rise and fall on the success of dozens of groups and actors; a film can only follow a few individuals. Counter-insurgencies most often end with a whimper (for example, the Iraq War); Hollywood films end with a bang. It’s why Return of the Jedi chronicled the final climactic destruction of the Empire while ignoring the Ewok insurgency that raged for years on the forest moon of Endor.

Which doesn’t mean there are no films about counter-insurgency. The guys at Kings of War made a fine list a few years ago, but take another look at their selections. Those films aren’t popular. And some of the movies--Spartacus, Full Metal Jacket--are technically about insurgencies, but not really about coalition building or coercing populations. And yes, The Battle for Algiers and Lawrence of Arabia depicted counter-insurgency masterfully, but how many Americans have actually seen those movies?

You could argue that Hollywood made a whole bunch of cinematically great, popular films about the Vietnam War--which was an insurgency--like Platoon, Deer Hunter, Full Metal Jacket, We Were Soldiers, and arguably Apocalypse Now (It’s a great film; I just don’t think it’s really about Vietnam.)

But those Vietnam war films perfectly illustrate what I’m talking about. First, most of those films depicted the experiences of soldiers, not the Vietnamese. Second, America stopped making Vietnam War films.

That’s right. Hollywood no longer cares about Vietnam. The last two major films about Vietnam were We Were Soldiers, released in 2002, and Rescue Dawn, released in 2006. World War II has so many films still being made about it, Wikipedia divides the article up by decade. George Clooney and Matt Damon have another WWII movie coming out this winter.

The absolute failure of most post-9/11 war movies proves the case. After wave and wave of failure, even the most successful film about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, The Hurt Locker (net box office gross: less than $50 million) suffered at the box office...and it didn’t really cover counterinsurgency. Sure, filmmakers will someday make films--good, successful, accurate films--about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; I doubt they’ll cover counterinsurgency. They won’t have the time. (Lone Survivor touches on some of those issues, but I think you know how we feel about that.)

And like the Vietnam war, we won’t be making films about either war in forty years.

I wouldn’t make a film about an insurgency either. If Michael C and I had the opportunity, we’d make a film about Afghanistan, but it would depict a battle. Films can depict battles, not wars. The complexity of counter insurgency--virtually every insurgency--just can’t be covered in a two hour film. I’m not blaming Hollywood; I’m blaming the medium.

Sep 24

(To read the rest of our posts on the 2013 Oscars, please click here.)

Last month at a small get together during a trip down south to Orange County, I got stuck in the kind of conversation I hate, a conversation about rape.

I hate talking about rape, because 90% of the time the conversations turn to victim blaming, and this one was no different. In this case, we were discussing the military and rape. First, someone pointed out that the military got their statistics via anonymous surveys; that’s why the number of rapes were so shockingly high. Then the conversation turned to female soldiers not wanting to press charges, which must mean that they are lying. Or that they just got drunk--which violates UCMJ--then said they were raped to avoid getting in trouble.

After staying quiet for most of the conversation, I jumped in and explained why women don’t report the vast majority of rapes (listing off embarrassment, victim blaming, shame) but in the future, I know what I’ll do instead:

I’ll tell everyone to watch the documentary The Invisible War.

It is the most powerful, important, impactful and saddest documentary I’ve ever seen. The Invisible War literally brought me to tears numerous times. As a writer, it’s the most infuriating kind of thing to write about, because all I can do is hurl compliments at it. It’s so good, I literally can’t talk it up enough.

Watch it. Now. (It’s on Netflix)

If you have any doubt that rape in the military is a problem, you won’t after you see this film. (We’ll address some critiques tomorrow.) Based on extensive interviews with victims of rape, the film first proves that rape is a constant for women in the military (it backs up those interviews with the government’s own statistics), explains why the problem persists (a culture that refuses to address the issue and a command structure that cannot successfully investigate or prosecute rape charges), and closes by offering a solution to the problem (take rape cases out of the chain of command).

I mentioned above that it was one of the most impactful films I’ve ever seen. It didn’t just affect me; it also affected Capitol Hill. The Invisible War forced the issue of rape and the military onto the front pages, and, thank God, it seems to have stayed there.

I have to mention that this entire review may seem hypocritical. When I reviewed Restrepo and Exit Through the Gift Shop, I wrote, “Whatever the reason, I just don’t trust documentaries as a medium anymore.” I still feel that way. Most documentaries, whether liberal (Michael Moore), conservative (Dinesh D’Souza) or extremist (Loose Change, Zeitgeist), are incredibly misleading, almost designed to misinform. Even mainstream, issue-based documentaries use dubious statistics and editing tricks.

I don’t feel this way about The Invisible War. For one, all statistics provided in the film come from the U.S. government, which has repeatedly tried, and repeatedly failed, to address this issue. And when the government releases politically embarrassing statistics, that makes them more likely to be true. (Plus, the documentary takes the time to explain the methodology behind some of the statistics.)

Second, most of the film is just women--and men--describing their experiences. They put the facts out there, for you to judge.

It’s the best, most honest type of film. See it already.

Sep 19

(To read the rest of our posts on the 2013 Oscars, please click here.)

We’re against torture. Eric C and I happen to believe that nations or religions which allow their soldiers, intelligence agents, clergy or police forces to torture violate a core human right. Holding that position, we couldn’t watch Zero Dark Thirty without commenting on its portrayal of torture, because it matters. (And the issue of torture is not “morally ambiguous”; it’s unambiguously immoral.)

As Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal have explained, hunting down Osama bin Laden took ten years, involved hundreds of people and required thousands of manhours of work. Some scenes, people and facts had to be left out. Yet their decisions on what to leave out and what to put in created a specific narrative. The filmmakers can't defend themselves by saying they left stuff out because of time; they have to defend why the choices they made tell the most accurate story, especially if they want to say that it’s “based on a true story”.

I pointed out a number of mistakes yesterday in Zero Dark Thirty not related to torture. Today, I lay out the misrepresentations of their representation of torture. Bigelow and Boal really missed the mark.

Myth 1: There are only a handful of torture scenes in Zero Dark Thirty. Before I saw Zero Dark Thirty, I read a lot of the coverage about its portrayal of torture. Based on this, I thought that torture played a small but controversial part in the film, maybe appearing in one or two scenes. I didn't expect the entire first hour to feature repeated torture sessions or interrogations of detainees immediately post-torture. This portrayal alone makes torture look like the primary method U.S. intelligence used to find Osama bin Laden, which isn’t true. (By the way, the movie picked up after the first hour when it became a spy thriller.)

Myth 2: America only tortures bad people. Again, this is a decision Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow made. They only showed the CIA agents torturing known, 100% guilty terrorists. We’ll never know how many innocent people the CIA renditioned to black sites. Considering how many innocent people were taken to Guantanamo, I have a feeling that a fair amount of misidentified or innocent people made it to our black sites as well. Torturing an innocent Pakistani farmer would tell a much different story to the audience, wouldn't it?

Myth 3: "Everyone breaks; it's human nature." I understand why an interrogator torturing a suspect would tell that suspect, “Everyone breaks; it’s human nature”, as one operative did in Zero Dark Thirty. In Army interrogation manual terms, it’s called "pride and ego down". Crush their hopes, make the situation seem dire, then give the tortured man a way out by talking. Still, the actual statement--”everyone breaks”--isn’t true and most of the audience won’t understand that.

To be perfectly clear, torture does not always work. Same with waterboarding. Often, suspects who "break" mislead, lie or deceive their interrogators...especially if they don't know anything. As Matt Taibbi writes:

“The CIA waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times, and throughout this "enhanced interrogation," the former al-Qaeda mastermind continually played down the importance of Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, the man who led the CIA to bin Laden. But the CIA was so sure KSM was telling the truth under torture – so sure waterboarding was a "magic bullet," as Gibney put it to me – that they discounted the lead. So torture may have actually delayed bin Laden's capture.”

Myth 4: Torture provided good intelligence. As Steve Coll points out, we just don’t know, because everything is secret:

“The first problem in assessing Zero Dark Thirty’s fealty to the facts about torture is that most of the record about the CIA’s interrogation program remains secret, including the formally sanctioned use of waterboarding and other brutal techniques between roughly 2002 and 2006. So does the full record of the CIA’s search for bin Laden after September 11. Documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups, as well as work by investigative journalists such as Dana Priest of The Washington Post, Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, Mark Danner in this journal, and Adam Goldman of the Associated Press, have brought forward some details about the CIA’s interrogation program. Yet the record remains riddled with gaps and unanswered questions...

...The result of such secrecy is that what is often described as America’s “debate” about the use of torture on al-Qaeda suspects largely consists of assertions, without evidence, by public officials with security clearances who have access to the classified record and who have expressed diametrically opposed opinions about what the record proves.”

But torture does work in Zero Dark Thirty. They choose, intentionally, to show torture working, instead of showing it misleading or delaying the mission.

Myth 5: The U.S. government punished Americans who tortured inmates. President Obama appears exactly once in Zero Dark Thirty, and in that scene he condemns the use of torture in an interview on 60 Minutes. In another scene, one operative tells the main character to be careful, because someone will be left “holding the bag” on torture. It turns out--thanks to one man's willful destruction of evidence--that no one will be held accountable.

Myth 6: All the intel agencies supported torture. They didn’t. The FBI in particular (and parts of the U.S. military) had deep misgivings about the ethics and legality of “enhanced interrogation”. Some people briefed on the in-depth intelligence have even reported that most of the best intelligence had actually been gleaned before the CIA started waterboarding.

Zero Dark Thirty didn’t include any of this doubt or skepticism. They chose to leave it out. Bigelow in particular has defended her narrative as hewing to the truth. In her words, leaving out torture out of Zero Dark Thirty wouldn’t have told the full story. True, but we think Matt Taibbi perfectly rebuts this point:

“Here's my question: if it would have been dishonest to leave torture out of the film entirely, how is it not dishonest to leave out how generally ineffective it was, how morally corrupting, how totally it enraged the entire Arab world, how often we used it on people we knew little to nothing about, how often it resulted in deaths, or a hundred other facts? Bigelow put it in, which was "honest," but it seems an eerie coincidence that she was "honest" about torture in pretty much exactly the way a CIA interrogator would have told the story, without including much else."

If a film, in search of a better narrative, doesn't tell the most accurate story, then the filmmakers can’t say it is "based on a true story", especially when it comes to a morally complicated issue like torture. They especially shouldn’t refer to it as reportage, and critics shouldn’t praise it for its “honesty” or “accuracy” if it is--as Boal and Bigelow have defended themselves--fictional. In those cases, the film isn’t “based on a true story” but simply a fictional story using real people.

Sep 12

To keep last week’s media post short and readable, we cut a lot of the concrete examples of the media focusing on politics instead of policy, using the WSJ example as a synecdoche of the coverage. We also decided to run our examples of the good coverage today, because good options do exist, and we never want to complain without offering alternatives.

We start with the bad examples...

- The Sunday talk shows. For two successive weekends, the major network’s Sunday talk shows debated Obama’s legacy, not the Syrian civil war. Two Sundays ago, David Gregory on Meet the Press previewed two different segments by describing Syria as “...what may be the biggest challenge yet for the presidency of President Obama.” George Stephanopoulos on This Week asked, “Can his presidency survive a defeat?” Yes. Now, give us some policy implications, not politics.

- Politico. Obviously Politico covers politics, but like this? One article was titled, “United States of Weakness”. They also said a failure to go to war would “cripple his presidency.” Then Politico followed up its coverage by labeling the Obama administration’s secret briefing on Syria a “flop”. The Syria briefing honestly laid out the ways attacking Syria could go wrong, and presented the unvarnished intelligence, instead of hyping it. If it sounds like we are making an Iraq comparison, we are. Politico shouldn’t label President Obama as soft or weak or incompetent for delivering honest briefings to Congress which lay out the complexities, uncertainties and difficulties of military action.

- Political pundits. CNN, in particular, got blasted when it invited Van Jones and SE Cupp to debate Syria. As Andrew Exum tweeted, “@jaketapper You know I am a huge fan of yours, but Syria as analyzed by @secupp & @VanJones68 is why I don't watch @CNN.”

- The push for war even as Syria vowed to give up its weapons. Even as Syria volunteered to give up its weapons, media outlets started reporting that Obama was losing support for an intervention in Congress, then hyperventilated that this could end his presidency. Later in the week, some pundits--especially conservatives--praised Putin’s leadership to criticize Obama. Really?

- On The Media. Though we love this show, we feel their coverage two weeks ago really missed the mark, defending the media’s Syria debate. As their summary put it on the website, “Coverage of the proposed military intervention in Syria is attracting inevitable comparisons to the run-up to the Iraq war, which began 10 years ago. But this time around, with Iraq still fresh in the country's collective memory, the media seem to be more careful.” Nope.

Not everything was terrible. Here’s what we liked:

- The Economist had two pieces arguing for an intervention that focused primarily on the actual conflict, not politics, along with suggestions for what to read online to follow the conflict, a detailed outline of the current war, and then Immanuel Kant’s take. That’s how you cover a possible intervention, even if we disagree with their conclusions.

- The Atlantic’s Conor Friederdorf brilliantly showed how the news coverage of most major media outlets skewed pro-war. In one piece, he describes how inside-the-beltway pundits/experts make this possible; in the other, he writes the news article he wants to read.

- All In with Chris Hayes invited anti-war guests on his show, which helped to balance out the parade of generals on most of the other networks. He also called out the pro-Iraq War pundits who are still “experts” on the Middle East, despite missing the mark in Iraq.

- Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, appropriately slammed the media on his first week back, as we linked to last week.

- Stephen Walt and Andrew Sullivan. We also weren’t the only people who wrote an open letter to their congressman. Stephen Walt wrote one here. And Andrew Sullivan kind of wrote one here.

- Fareed Zakaria, GPS. Finally, though Fareed invited Paul Wolfowitz on his show as an expert on the Middle East, we agree with his take here, analyzing the policy missteps that got the Obama administration embroiled in Syria.

Sep 04

(To read the rest of our posts on the 2013 Oscars, please click here.)

While I write about a lot things as On Violence’s resident arts commentator, I write most about inaccuracies. Distorting the truth. Changing the facts. Mostly, this has meant writing about war memoirs and films which alter the facts to improve the narrative.

Ben Affleck’s Argo changed a lot of facts.

Aesthetically, some of the changes are beneficial, like making the last act more nail-biting by increasing the sense of danger. Some of the changes are detrimental, like making Tony Mendez estranged from his wife. (In real life, this never happened.) To me, this took reality (”devoted husband and spy”) and changed it to a cliched character we’ve seen a hundred times before, “the troubled spy”.

On the most basic level, changing the facts fundamentally distorts what actually happened. Since most Americans don’t have Ph.Ds in international relations, factual errors will chronically and irreparably misinform everyone who sees Argo, the only time most Americans will read or learn about this mission.

But let’s move past facts. Art is about truth (with a capital “T”), “Truths” that explain to us the way the world works. In the same way that historians don’t memorize dates but study how and why things change, artists don’t tell stories; they reveal larger truths about the world. The real problem with changing the facts is that it can fundamentally distort the viewer’s understanding of the world. Argo changed the facts to make a better story, and lost grasp of truth in very serious and important ways.

Frankly, this is a criticism I haven’t read anywhere else. Here are three specific distortions, and the problems with them:

Other countries don’t get the credit they deserve (or: America is the bestest!) In particular, Canada and the Canadian ambassador get the shaft. From former President Jimmy Carter:

“The other thing that I would say was that 90 percent of the contributions to the ideas and the consummation of the plan was Canadian. And the movie gives almost full credit to the American CIA...And the main hero, in my opinion, was Ken Taylor, who was the Canadian ambassador who orchestrated the entire process.”

I have no idea why Affleck did this, except that he played the main character. This change gives American viewers the impression that we can go it alone on most things in international relations. Oh, and the CIA is incredibly, incredibly competent.

Those “mean” British and New Zealand embassies never turned away the American diplomats. The British actually briefly housed the diplomats. They moved the embassy workers to the Canadian Ambassador’s house when they felt the situation got too dangerous.

Why make the above changes? Ben Affleck wanted to make the plight of the embassy workers seem more hopeless.

Aesthetically, I guess you could defend that change. Thematically, it’s propagandistic. Affleck, probably unintentionally, makes America the hero. We view the rest of the world as cowardly and ineffective.

Michael C, editing this post, offered another equally valid interpretation: this film makes Americans feel alone in the world. We can't rely on other nations; we just need ourselves. Ironically, this seems to be what’s happening with Syria right now.

The White House didn’t delay the mission. Of all the changes in Argo, this one is the most troubling.

Americans, led by Milton Friedman, then William F. Buckley and Barry Goldwater, and now Limbaugh, Hannity and the conservative media, have pushed a narrative that all government is incompetent. It can’t do anything right...except for the military and national security establishment.

Affleck plays right into this stereotype. He actively changed the reality--the Carter administration helped the CIA--to make the White House, and by extension, federal government look inept and downright harmful. In Argo, a slow-moving, behemoth bureaucracy nearly gets the six embassy workers killed. In reality, the White House approved the mission before Mendez even landed in Iran and the Canadians bought the plane tickets. In Argo, the intelligence community succeeds where the government fails. In reality, this never happened.

Americans, seeing this film, will trust the CIA and intelligence community more than they should while distrusting the government more than they should.

And that’s just not real.

Aug 22

At the end of Argo, after the embassy workers have been saved, amidst an American media victory dance and the cheers of thankful Americans, Jack O’Donnell (played by Bryan Cranston) speaks with Tony Mendez (played by Ben Affleck). O’Donnell gives Mendez the greatest news an intelligence agent could receive; he’s been awarded an “Intelligence Star”.

But there’s a caveat: it all has to be secret.

As O’Donnell explains:

O’DONNELL: He wants to give you the Intelligence Star. You’re getting the highest award of merit of the Clandestine Services of these United States. Ceremony’s two weeks from today.

MENDEZ: If they push it a week, I can bring Ian. That’s his winter break.

O’DONNELL: The op was classified so the ceremony’s classified. He can’t know about it. Nobody can know about it.

MENDEZ: They’re gonna hand me an award, then they’re gonna take it back?

O’DONNELL: If we wanted applause, we would have joined the circus.

And that’s what’s so unfortunate about this story. The CIA--as Michael C will go into much greater detail next week--never celebrates its successes. The public never hears about the hundreds of thousands of millions of success stories conducted by CIA operatives and analysts every year to keep us safe.

They keep it all secret.

Take this awesome, amazing, heroic story of a lone American heading into Iran and rescuing his fellow citizens. Wired will never run a feature article about it. Tony Mendez? He’ll never be able to write an autobiography and use this story as the basis for chapter nine.

Because this story is secret, Hollywood will never find out about it, so a film version will never get made. Because the film won’t get made, hundreds of media outlets won’t write thousands of articles about it during that very successful film’s Oscar run. And Lord knows, because this operation is a secret, it’ll never win an Academy Award for Best Picture.

Because the CIA does its work in the dark. We never hear the success stories.

(Remember, if they wanted applause, they’d join the circus.)

Aug 20

Shocking confession alert: I just started watching Homeland. (In related news, my wife and I just decided to stop watching Homeland.) I get it, I’m a year late to the “Homeland is (or was) awesome” party.

When I bring Homeland up in conversation, I get one question over and over, “So...is it accurate?” People know that I worked in intelligence and that I write a blog on national security, so I must have some insight. I mean, Sergeant Brody was snatched out of the Korengal valley. I’ve been there!

As Eric C and I launch into a week(s) of Oscar-movie talk, it seems necessary to discuss the larger relationship of Hollywood and national security. People ask me about Homeland, for example, because they want to know the difference between reality and fiction. On one hand, everyone watching Homeland (or any other television show) inherently knows it isn’t real. On the other, do they?

Take crime shows and the “Perry Mason syndrome”. In the sixties, juries stopped convicting defendants because they didn’t crack on the stand and confess their guilt...the way Mason could always make them.

In the modern era, we’ve seen “the CSI effect”. Most crime labs are pretty boring, technologically wanting, and drastically underfunded affairs. Lots of forensic pathology is downright inept. (Do yourself a favor and watch this entire Frontline episode.) But shows like CSI: Miami, CSI: New York and CSI: Bakersfield treat forensics with a reverence that makes Jesus look flawed. As a result, juries either convict people based on flawed forensic data, or refuse to convict unless they have overwhelming forensic evidence.

Medical shows get in on the act too. In real life, CPR works less than 10% of the time. On television, it works 95% of the time. As a result, most Americans think CPR always works. In reality, it rarely does.

For most Americans, their “national security education” comes from Homeland, the Call of Duty franchise, 24 and now Zero Dark Thirty. What does contemporary national security media teach us? Well...

Myth 1: Intelligence works all the time. Nope. Intelligence is an inexact science. By inexact, I mean vague and filled with complexity, fog and mystery.

Even the most damning evidence--which comes rarely--is often wrong or misinterpreted. Sure, plenty of dedicated professionals have devoted their lives to intelligence, and do yeoman’s work, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t wrong more often than they are right.

In the 24’s and Zero Dark Thirty’s of the world, though, intelligence always wins. Isn’t that the moral of the story in Zero Dark Thirty? One intelligence analyst finding the “magic bullet” of a courier who led us directly to bin Laden. In reality, for ten years prior,  intelligence analysts often thought they had found that one true lead, only to chase down another rabbit hole to nowhere. The real bin Laden story would be the HBO version of How I Met Your Mother meets intelligence; the analysts wouldn’t get the real lead until the last season.

(This is confessional as well as accusatory; I made tons of mistakes in my time as an analyst.)

Myth 2: Torture works. In Homeland, stab someone in the hand and you get your result. In 24, well, let’s just say Jack Bauer always gets the answer. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 uses a car battery to find out where to go next. In Zero Dark Thirty, well, apparently that box they shoved the guy in did the trick. In other words, torture always works...on television.

On Violence’s official opinion on torture upsets both sides of the debate. Sometimes, torture works. More often, it doesn’t. When it does work, knowing whether you’ve received good or bad intel is nearly impossible without corroborating evidence (er intelligence). Torture is always morally abhorrent. Since torture is morally reprehensible, as a society, we shouldn’t even discuss it. However, like CPR in hospital shows and confessing murderers on legal shows, most terror-hunting TV shows and films only show the upside. (It worked successfully twice in Homeland; more if you count Sergeants Brody and Walker’s captivity. In Zero Dark Thirty they never tortured the wrong people.)

Myth 3: “Kill teams” are running around the globe killing people. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Act of Valor and Homeland have a seemingly limitless supply of uber-badass SEALs (They’re all SEALs now. Sorry D-boys.) to capture and kill suspected terrorists. Unfortunately, 99% of JSOCs missions over the last ten years have taken place in three countries: Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. JSOC does partner with countries around the globe, but they aren’t running kill teams. They also don’t do nearly as many missions as movies imply.

The worst offenders in this category were the training-film-turned-publicity-piece Act of Valor that spanned the globe in unrealistic fashion and the Call of Duty franchise, which turns half the world into a warzone that SEALs wade through in pursuit of Russian “terrorists”.

All this begs the question, why are they doing it?

Myth 4: To keep you safe. Terrorists hunters on Homeland have a very clear purpose: people want to kill you and your family right now. 24 stopped a terrorist every season. In Call of Duty, Russia invaded America, with a general in husky voice telling us, “The world has changed and it needs people to keep you safe.”

According to these shows, we must remain ever vigilant, running torture programs and extraordinarily renditioning of innocent people to keep frightened Americans safe. Claire Danes’ Carrie in Homeland repeats this refrain in nearly half the episodes. Call of Duty’s bizarro quotes advocate a realist foreign policy premised on a scary and dangerous world.

As a result, most Americans overestimate the risk of terrorism. We don’t need a super-empowered CIA/JSOC to keep us safe. We could save a lot of money trimming their budgets. By watching television, though, most Americans will never understand that. (The secrecy doesn’t help either.)

Aug 19

(To read the rest of our posts on the 2013 Oscars, check out the articles below:

The Intelligence-Hollywood-Industrial Complex

Argo (Bleep) the CIA's Secrecy

Facts Behaving Badly: "Excellence by Anonymity"

The CIA's Bernie Madoff Problem

The Real Problem with Argo's Inaccuracies

Not Based on a True Story: Zero Dark Thirty

Not Telling the Whole Story: ZDT and Torture

The Invisible War: Just Go See It

On V Update to Old Ideas: Sexual Assault Edition)

Every few years, the Academy award nominees line up perfectly with the subject of the blog: violence, and more specifically, the modern wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2010, we discussed Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Inglorious Basterds (and again here) and District 9. In 2011, we mostly skipped the big awards (what was there to say about Toy Story 3 and Inception?) but debated the documentaries. We “got off our asses” and reviewed Restrepo and Exit Through the Gift Shop. In 2012, we again had nothing to say about The Artist or Hugo. We probably could have reviewed War Horse but didn’t. (At least it was about World War I instead of World War II.)   

But this year, what’s our excuse? Argo combines Iran and the CIA, and we just spent the last year writing extensively about both. Zero Dark Thirty was about the CIA and Osama bin Laden killing, which we also wrote about extensively. And then there’s Django Unchained. If one director represents gratuitous violence with little to no moral repercussions, it’s Tarantino.

So yeah, we’re writing about the Oscars this year, six months late. But what we lack in timeliness, we’ll make up for in post quantity. We’ll be discussing the CIA, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained, and one of the most important, and effective, documentaries of the 21st century, The Invisible War.

Stay tuned.