This week we have Eugene Jarecki’s Why We Fight which, amongst other things, examines the lies that are used to manipulate the public into supporting wars…


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I wonder if when it is all finished there will have been more documentaries made about the Iraq war than there will have been soldiers killed. At any rate, if you add up every distortion, every sleight of hand and every downright lie that has been told – and there have been a lot – you won’t come anywhere near the number of civilians killed.


I feel somehow obliged to sit through them all – even though they mostly contain the same information. There are usually one or two new snippets in each one which join a couple of dots and lead you toward completing the full and depressing picture.13971.jpg

This documentary was made in 2002/3 (its good to be on the ball!) by Helmuth Grosse and features people heavily involved in the policy process in the USA such as Richard Perle and Gary Schmitt and it also features the usual critics such as Seymour Hersh, Ray McGovern and Danny Schechter .

The documentary follows the basic narrative of most Iraq documentaries in that war plans were worked out for what is going on now when the first oil embargo gave the USA a real shock in the 70s. At that time there was a feasibility study done called ‘Oil Fields As Military Objectives’. The plans were then further developed by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) who were frustrated in their ambitions by Clinton. However, the election of Bush and then9/11 gave them the perfect excuse to get their iniquitous plans (the words ‘new world order’ are used) put into action.

The Office of Special Plans was then set up to help push it all through, the CIA was ignored when they said there wasn’t a threat and then there was the dodgy dossier, media complicity and so on. There is the allegation featured in other books and documentaries (and to my knowledge still undenied) that the famous scene of Saddams statue being toppled was a set piece planned in advance for the Bush reelection campaign. We all know the story by now.

Some of the little things I didn’t know were that the backdrop of Picasso’s Guernica was hidden behind a screen for the duration of Colin Powell’s UN presentation and that, according to Seymour Hersh, the Bush people jokingly call themselves “the cabal”.

Israel is not often mentioned in the Iraq war documentaries I have seen and this one mentions it only once. Ray McGovern, when talking about the dodgy dossier, asks “cui bono?” and answers his own question with “the US for selling its position, the UK for selling its position and Israel for having aims that are identical to the United States in this case.”

This film also explicitly asks if there is a link between terror alert codes and political expediency though it balks at answering its own question decisively. I think they struggled to get a British person to speak to them because at this point they interview Peter Willdridge the former planning officer for Buckinghamshire county council.

There is a scene in an episode of Yes Minister, where the vacillating Jim Hacker MP is lamenting being in a situation with only two options. If he takes the first one he will appear heartless and if he takes the other he will appear mindless. One of his aides tells him that it is better to appear heartless than mindless, the other suggests that perhaps he should try appearing heartless and mindless alternately and that way no one else could make their mind up which of the two he was.

As the Iraq disaster has progressed the story of it has now been told so many times in so many different ways that the phoney debate about if it was justified or not or the secondary phoney debate about whether it would it do more harm than good if the troops left are over. The only debate that seems to be going in the supposedly left-wing press now is whether or not the planners of this war are heartless or mindless? All of the Iraq war documentaries I have seen so far fall into one of the two categories.

It comes back to an idea about two competing theories of history, there is the cock-up theory (the road to hell is paved with good intentions) and the conspiracy theory (all of this was orchestrated to happen exactly this way by a few all-powerful and extremely nefarious people). However, every political generation has groups of people who mean well and people who don’t. Furthermore, the people that elected representatives spend most time with are the lobbyists who permanently barrage them with skewed information – it may be that some of them are acting from what they perceive to be the best interests of their extremely selective community.

That said, I for one will never be able to look at Dick Cheney and truthfully say “that man has good intentions.”

This documentary is thoroughly on the side of the conspiracy view of history and by and large what happened pre-war was planned and orchestrated by a nefarious group of people. However, it is rarely pointed out that conspirators usually need people to carry out their plans for them. This documentary does say that there was/is a disturbing lack of people willing to resign rather than proceed with a war they knew/know to be based on deception.

Most of the documentaries have focused on how a hoodwink was performed on the public or how the policy was flawed. Very few have been about those who have had to suffer the consequences of these policies. For those people, instead of being an academic argument about ends and means and secret motivations it has been nothing short of a brutal and murderous rampage.

Whether the planners of this war are nasty or just stupid (or both) is no longer the point (if it ever was). The point is that they should not be in power if the end result of their mistakes or strategies are the bombing and burning of hundreds of thousands of people.


So you are trying to interview someone reasonably famous. You are not used to doing it and you know there is going to be a scrum to get near him. How would you like to approach such a day?

It certainly wouldn’t be the way I did it, which was nursing a bad hangover. Not only that but at the campsite I had cracked my rib tripping over a tent rope and hitting a picnic table the previous evening. I then slept outside with no sleeping bag (its cold in Scotland). I had to go the campsite because I stayed in the pub too long and missed the last bus home. In short, I was not on top form.

newsritter.jpgG8 alternatives were hosting a massive political meeting in Edinburgh around the time of the G8 at Gleneagles in Scotland. Scott Ritter, Bianca Jagger, George Galloway, George Monbiot, Danny Schechter and so many others were coming to speak. I had a press pass and wanted to speak to a lot of them but I hadn’t really done any hack work before. In truth I found the whole thing fairly demeaning, scrambling toward people you don’t know begging to be spoken to. I will do interviews again, but not the press pack scramble.

I had my first experience of this earlier in the day (when the hangover was worse) and lots of journalists were trying to get a piece of George Monbiot (there is a link to his site here). I lost heart in the venture very quickly. The mainstream media journalists were more or less giving him abuse and I ended up taking sides and giving him a question he could attack rather than defend. I can’t remember exactly what I asked him, it was something like “do you think the corporate greenwash so widely disseminated in the mainstream media is damaging to the public debate?” I think it’s called throwing him a bone, and I am not ashamed of it at all. It was a question he could have a go at so I sat back, didn’t take notes and just enjoyed the looks on the hacks faces as they scowled at me and got abuse from him. Still, I never did get the chance to speak to him afterwards, which was a shame.

Later in the day it was Ritter’s turn. He made a speech similar to many I have seen him make before, aggresively criticising US middle east policy. At the end I started to sidle toward the stage as did a few others. People from the audience were coming up and shaking his hand, saying that they really respected what he was doing and so on. I thought the way people were looking at him was odd – almost reverential. They were congratulating him on his bravery. I think some of them thought it was a matter of time till someone shoots him.

His military past was obvious. Someone asked him something and he burst out with “amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics” at which I had to suppress a smile – the way he said it had ex-soldier written all over it.

Then he talked about being a Republican. I asked him that if that was the case how did he feel going round the world criticising Bush et al. He just replied ‘he’s not a Republican.’ I asked him how he felt as an ex-marine about the fact that in order to speak publicly about the issues he is raising he most often finds himself in crowds full of radicals and pacifists. He talked about the US constitution and how it was mostly written by one left wing guy and one right wing guy who hated each other and that it is all about freedom of speech and that reasoned debate was one of the things that the US stands for (or at least it used to). I neglected to mention that it was written by 50 white males, the vast majority of which were wealthy landowners and that it semi-legitimised slavery and therefore did not include as much room for debate as is popularly supposed.

That day he was talking about plans for Iran that were already at an advanced stage. Just like before the Iraq confrontation his information and output appear excellent, even if you disagree with his historical analysis.

I hope I bump into him again, only without a microphone – and without a hangover.

Here is what he said regarding Iran in 2005

Here is what he said in 2006

Here is what he said in 2007


A film by William Karel in collaboration with Eric Laurent

This film was made before the 2004 US election with the intention of tipping the balance against Bush. It has been called the French Fahrenheit 9/11; however, it does not try to be as emotional as the Michael Moore film. Also, unlike Moore there are pro-Bush (or at least not avowedly anti-Bush) commentators such as Richard Perle, Viet Dinh, Frank Carlucci and David Frum.

Although this and a few other documentaries were made to try and stop the re-election of Bush, and Karel himself said the film “will be redundant by the 3rd of November [2004].” I think there is value left in this film and others like it if they are viewed with something else in mind. It isn’t that they are upstanding tributes to the brilliance of various directors. They are always built on research conducted by many people. It’s something else.

I can’t remember where I picked it up but I heard a phrase “the natural selection of accidents” (a Google search informs me it was Leon Trotsky). It means that when something happens, civilians being bombed for example (not Trotsky’s illustration), it may have been prima facie an accident (or not) but when a situation or a system is designed in a certain way then these things are going to happen. The Bush family do not exist in a vacuum. The system that has allowed them to rise has also allowed others like them to be in such a position. It’s not really an accident. We could easily be talking about ‘The World According To Kerry’ and being just as annoyed about it. Or Blair, Churchill, Hitler, Stalin – take your pick.

That’s why although they appear to have failed in their central purpose there are still good reasons to see these films. There is an argument to be made for saying ‘Bush won lets move on to the next thing that we can win’ but unless people understand why people like Bush win, then they will continue to do so. The depictions of the sort of society George Bush comes from are, in this regard, more valuable than the short term goals of the film-maker.

It wasn’t broadcast in the US. William Karel explains why…

“It seemed like such a no-brainer that one of the large networks would pick it up and yet that hasn’t happened. One of the potential broadcasters in the United States said they would be interested, but they would have to pull out the whole section on Ariel Sharon and the relationship with Israel. So there were some problems.”

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) did put it on and well done to them. It runs through the most common accusations levelled at the Bush junta. The ties with religion, the war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, the corporate ties, war profiteering, links with Saudi Arabia, and the creation of Saddam.

When the religious aspect of the Bush administration is presented it is often done in such a way as to write it off as a cold ploy to ensnare the Christian right vote and thereby ensure re-election. This film suggests that it is a genuinely heartfelt belief. I am not sure which of these is true – I don’t know any of the Bush people. I suspect that some of them believe it and some of them are using it, after all, there are a lot of people involved in a US administration. Either way it leads to some frightening situations.

There is some strange footage of a meeting of the Christian Coalition of America in Colorado. This group came together to acclaim the state of Israel. There is Hebrew music playing and traditional Jewish dancing despite the fact that none of the participants is Jewish. Nothing wrong with cross-culturalism I know but the films contention is that there are far more fanatical supporters of the Jewish state among the US Christian right than there are among American Jews. Robert Baer (former CIA operative) says “up to 60 million people that identify themselves with the Christian right believe that the state of Israel must exist at the end of History and that’s how we are all going to go to Heaven. If it doesn’t exist – if it’s overrun by Muslims, we are going to go to hell.”

Personally, this is not the way I would like the world’s most powerful people to be thinking.

The film does not attempt to say that this is the Bush position, just that he met Sharon more than any other leader during his first term (9 times) and that there are links to this kind of thinking within the administration. According to Charles Lewis (head of the Centre for Public Integrity) Dick Cheney said something along the lines of “god put oil in certain places and you can’t do anything about that.”

There is a smattering of media issues. David Frum the former Bush speechwriter (who seemed to be over here the entire time the US election was on – did anyone else notice that?) commented that “writing for the President is like writing for a movie – he is like a character in a movie.” Maybe so, Frum is trying to write him as the hero and 30% of the US electorate seem to agree but the rest of the world…

Rather than having Michael Moore driving around in a van with a megaphone (which was funny) there was some analysis of the Patriot Act. I was staggered to hear the author of it, Viet Dinh, stating, “I am always afraid of Big Brother, of George Orwell. Those kinds of activities can quickly turn ourselves into a Gestapo state.” I wonder if there has ever been a clearer illustration of Doublethink (the definition of Doublethink is “the ability to hold two contradictory thoughts in ones head and simultaneously believe in both of them.)” They mention ‘Operation Tips’ which is similar to some of our government’s recent initiatives about shopping benefit fraudsters and so on. It encouraged people to call the government with information about anyone who might be slightly out of the ordinary. In his now familiar but entirely unreassuring way Cheney said “The way I see it it’s a new normalcy, I think those will become permanent features in our way of life”

Bush Granddaddy’s Nazi connections are exposed. Prescott Bush was involved with the Nazis at the same time his son was fighting them in the pacific. The US government took over all of his companies after the war due to this collaboration. One of his companies made mines using concentration camp labour.

In a lot of documentaries, and almost daily on ‘Democracy Now’, there are officials or operatives who resigned due to disgust and/or disdain about what is happening under the current US regime. Now it seems a resignation is no longer necessary. When Karel was asked if he had ever been discouraged by the US government he replied “On the contrary… this is the fifth film that I have made about America – all of them quite critical – and the American embassy in Paris couldn’t have been more helpful.”

You can download it for nothing here

‘Operation Hollywood’ and ‘Hollywood and the Pentagon’

opIf you think of propaganda Lassie is not the first thing that springs to mind. Nevertheless, over the years, Lassie and hundreds of other TV shows and movies have been made with assistance and/or script ‘advice’ from the US government.

These two documentaries chart the history of collaboration and look into some of the current projects that involve Hollywood people and the pentagon. Both documentaries follow the same basic narrative… In the late 1920’s the US War Department (they used to be so much more honest when naming things) created an office to act as a bridge between the film industry and the army. Relations were, for the most part good before and after WW2 but a spate of films critical of the Vietnam War strained the relationship.After ‘Top Gun’ relations began to improve.

Operation Hollywood was from the CBC’s passionate eye programme. It centres on the book of the same name by Dave Robb, who was an investigative reporter for a Hollywood trade paper. He began to look through some of the documents detailing the various involvements of the US government in the movie industry and was astonished by the depth of the collaboration.

He runs through a list of films. See if you can spot a pattern…

Military Assistance                              No Assistance

Top Gun                                                 Full  Metal Jacket
Patton                                                     Platoon
Pearl Harbour                                       Three Kings

It is not difficult to see. Also, as Robb points out “every film that the military assists always says that war is the answer and every film that the military assists is worse than any film that they don’t assist”.

The military has an outreach strategy – aware that directors and producers may just make movies perceived to be “anti-military” anyway (the phrase “un-marine” is mentioned in one or two of the documents quoted) the pentagon tries to get involved.

Philip Strub, a former navy colonel who is now head of the liaison office says it is a process of damage control. The pentagon offers its assistance to various projects. In this way the filmmakers get access to military hardware at discounted rates and the military can suggest alterations which may or may not be heeded.

The filmmakers sign a contract featuring these clauses….

“The production should help armed forces recruiting and retention programmes”.

“The production company agrees to consult with the DOD project office in all phases of pre-production, production and post-production that involve the military or depict the military”.

This creates an unfortunate climate

“Perhaps the worst thing about the collaboration between Hollywood and the military is not the censorship that goes into the films but the self-censorship. When you know that you are going to need the military’s assistance and you know that they are going to be looking at your script, you write it to make them happy right from the beginning.”

The officials interviewed in the documentaries (Strub is in both of them) are at pains to tell us that much of what they do is for the purposes of factual accuracy. Lt. Rushing, who is also in the documentary ‘Control Room’ and whom I think ended up working for Al-Jazeera, is featured here in an earlier job making pernickety changes to scripts such as changing “Officers mess” to ‘Officers club”.

However, they don’t seem too concerned about accuracy in other areas. The movie “Thirteen Days” (which I haven’t seen) irked the military because of its portrayal of the generals advising Kennedy at the time of the Cuban missile crisis. The military believed that the generals were being portrayed as “bellicose”. The documentary points out that you can now listen to the conversations that were had at that time and hear the generals behaving in just that manner. In the documentary Strub denies something that the US government has actually admitted.

They were also unhappy about a scene (which was removed from the script of the movie in question) in which gold is removed from the mouth of a dead Japanese soldier. The military believed this to be unfair and unrealistic even though there is real documentary footage of that thing happening.

It is not hard to understand why these collaborations are so important to the military…

To be a superpower there is a basic belief that you must glorify war in order to get the public to accept the fact that you are going to send their sons and daughters to die”.

Joe Trento – Director of public education centre.

Since 9/11 the climate has changed and the US military is much more active in its efforts to put forward its interpretation of events.

A case in point is the US TV series “Profiles from the front” which was about US soldiers in Afghanistan. This programme was presented as a documentary about the job US soldiers were doing in that country. The success of the series encouraged the military to go with the embedding strategy in Iraq. Bertram van Muster, the producer of the series was later appointed the pentagons official film maker.

Furthermore, one of the documentaries suggests that there is a “trusted list” of Hollywood people which it will come as no surprise, includes Jerry Bruckheimer.

In fact, after 9/11, at the pentagons request meetings were set up between military officials and “30 Hollywood ‘creatives’ chosen at random” who signed confidentiality agreements.

Also, since 9/11 there has been an expansion of the kinds of media being used.

The computer game “America’s Army” looks like something between a movie and a recruitment advertisement. The 50 million dollar ‘Institute for Creative Technologies’ (ICT) uses film professionals and computer experts to develop ways to train soldiers. The head of the ICT is the former head of special effects at paramount studios. The US government retains the rights to what is created at ICT but the designers may be allowed to use some of the work to sell commercially in the form of computer games.

Some of the narrative is patchy in these documentaries – there are some contentious things such as saying America entered a new era of peace after Vietnam and it was only after ‘Top Gun’ came out that America felt ready for military intervention again (Nicaragua anyone?). However, there is also some incisive narrative too such as the reason not many films are made about the first gulf war is that it is difficult to keep a sense of drama going during a display of overwhelming strength and that after this a new generation of asymmetrical warfare films began. Films imagining people exploiting the gaps in the USA’s war machine.These newer films fit neatly with the aims of the war on the abstract noun.

Both of these documentaries are worth a look but if you have to choose one then “Hollywood and the Pentagon” is probably your best bet.

Both are available to download free