Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Propaganda War

Propaganda is: Material disseminated by the advocates or opponents of a doctrine or cause.

I remember the first time I watched the movie Black Hawk Down. It was quite a popular movie and when it opened with the setting of Somalia I vaguely tied to to Bosnia, Chechnya, and other war torn areas in the news and ending with -ia. I remember thinking how valiant the soldiers looked in the middle of horrific battle. These 19 men died for freedom, for helping others.

Now I watch the move (as I did this morning) and wonder at what a masterful job the creators did of shaping a piece of propaganda meant to shape the way we see a certain event in history.

Two times in the beginning monologue they refer to the U.S. troops "restoring order" in Somalia with their presence. Or as this order restoring was earlier called in Africa - pacification. The killing of whoever represented a threat to 'security'. And casualties be damned. An American sense of security must be restored to a vital region. Vital to American security concerns. Anything so we can be 'secure'.

The events of Black Hawk Down are inextricably tied to the following Rwandan genocide. Due to the loss of life during operations in Somalia the U.S. was understandably a little more reticent to send in troops to another African country intent on self-imploding. So they sat back and watched the genocide happen, all the while refusing to call it a genocide, because if it was indeed a genocide they would be required by UN sanctions to intercede. They did not call it a genocide and did not intervene.

So at the beginning of this movie one of the Somali's tells an American, "It's a civil war, there is no place for you here." And all self-righteously the American responds, "No, it's a genocide."

It was not a genocide, it was indeed a civil war and remains so to this day. And yet the movie makers needed, in light of Rwanda, to insert this comment to show that Americans take this oh so seriously. That they're not afraid to intervene in a genocide. Somalia and Rwanda are tied together by these events and you, in your Hollywood movie, toss around genocide in attempt to ease your national conscience and to get people to believe that you actually care about what happens in Africa.

Alright, so maybe I'm a little tight about the whole thing. I actually found the movie a little hard to watch this time around. I had to stop part way through, give myself a break, and then keep going. The war in Somalia still rages. Mogadishu is still a ghost town torn apart by daily violence. And now the U.S. is involved again... in a safer way. They don't want to lose more American boys so they arm Ethiopians to go in and 'defend democracy'.

I remember talking to a Somali man I met in Ethiopia (there are many who have fled the country) and he talked about his family, his life there. Nothing profound. Except that this man now had no country to return to, no place for his family to be safe. This was real. It was not just the rabid crowds you see in the movie, attacking the soldiers who are there to help them. It is the pent up anger of decades of American interference, of civil war, of the inability to escape violence. All this, affecting real lives like yours and mine.

And yet, for all that most people know, it's just like they show it in Black Hawk Down. US Boys dying for human rights, fighting against the barbarian horde.


Megan said...

I like this post Eric.

Actually I agree with almost all of your posts.

Although I have never been to Africa. So much of what you bring up I have thought myself and, in fact, studied in depth during my undergrad.

The incredile thing is that Black Hawk Down is just one of HUNDREDS of U.S. films that portray Americans and 'the other' juxtaposed such ways.

In fact, if the average American watches just a few of these movies, it is not hard to grasp why they are filled with anger or fear of nationalities that they see portrayed in the films.

Its propaganda in its finest form. When we dont even see it as such...

Eric said...

Unbelievably the US government has a film approval section and if you want to use US military planes, tanks, etc.. (to do otherwise adds millions to your budget) then they tweak scripts, etc... to make sure the US is portrayed in a positive light.

I remember reading somewhere that after Top Gun came out there was a huge spike in people joining the Air Force. The movies just make it look so cool and heroic.

Michelle said...

Great post Eric. Unfortunately a large number of people get their "history lessons" from the movies and seldom, if ever hear the truth. My sister lives in North Carolina and she can't believe the ideology of the Americans. They think they are above all others. They think their country is superior to all others. A lot of them are just plain ignorant to the truth. Keep up the thought provoking posts. Maybe you can be a one man educator of truth.