What a shame that the one movie about the Iraq war that has a chance of being viewed by a large worldwide audience should be so disappointing. According to press reports, members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences finally found a movie about the Iraq war they liked because it is "apolitical." Actually, The Hurt Locker is just the opposite; it’s an endorsement of the politically chauvinistic view that the world is a stage upon which Americans get to deal with their demons, no matter the consequence for others.
It is imperial hubris turned into an art form in which the Iraqi people appear as numbed bystanders when they are not deranged extras. It is a perverse tribute to the film’s accuracy in portraying the insanity of the US invasion–while ignoring its root causes–that the Iraqis are at no point treated as though they are important.
They never have been, at least in the American view. No Iraqi had anything to do with attacking us on 9/11, and while we are happy to have an excuse to grab their oil and deploy our bloated military arsenal, the people of Iraq are never more than an afterthought. Whatever motivates Iraqi characters in the movie to throw stones or blow themselves up is unimportant, for they are nothing more than props for a uniquely American-centered show. It is we who matter and they who are graced by our presence, no matter how screwed up we may be.
Indeed, the only recognition of the humanity of the people being conquered comes in a brief glimpse of a young boy, a porn video seller, the one Iraqi whose existence touches the concern of the film’s reckless soldier hero. The American cares deeply about the quality of the sex videos he purchases, but, as it transpires, he is indifferent to the quality of his own family’s life back home. Even that depressingly sad commentary on life in America is mitigated by the fact that it produces even more dedicated warriors. Maybe a deeply unsatisfying home life is a necessary prerequisite for being all you can be in the Army.
Yes, it is true, as Chris Hedges is quoted in the beginning of The Hurt Locker: "The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug." That’s from his book War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, and the most positive thing to come out of this film might be that some people will be encouraged to read his brilliant book. But the film itself is otherwise an enlightened Rambo story: war is hellish but entertaining, and real men are those who will rise to the task, no matter if its larger aim is absurd.
But the real addiction to war is not that of hapless soldiers, those troops that the filmmakers insisted on applauding as they clutched their Oscar statuettes. Rather, that addiction lies in the lust for power and profit among those who sent the soldiers to Iraq to kill and be killed in a war known to our leaders to have been undertaken for false purposes. Invading Iraq became the obsession of the Bush administration after 9/11, as opposed to dealing with Afghanistan, where, as then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld put it, there were no good targets. The Taliban hardly provided as worthy an adversary as Saddam Hussein in our quest to replace the Soviet empire as a reason for our massive military expenditures. And there was the wan hope that the oil in Iraq would pay for it all. That oil hasn’t paid for any of it, but while US taxpayers get stuck with the bill, the multinational corporations swarming over the place will do very well.
Bringing up such crass motives presents an inconvenient truth for those who believe that American foreign policy is driven by higher goals. For them I would point to the example of Clinton-era Ambassador Peter Galbraith, who became a cheerleader for George W. Bush’s war. His hawkishness was supposedly based on concern for Iraq’s Kurdish population, even though that group was living outside of Saddam Hussein’s area of control. After the US invasion Galbraith was an active adviser on the writing of Iraq’s constitution and lobbied to include language that gave the Kurds control over the oil in their region. Galbraith was at the time advising a Norwegian company that secured oil rights from those same Kurds, and he, in turn, received 5 percent of one of the most promising oil fields, worth an estimated $100 million.
Don’t you think at least one of the soldiers in The Hurt Locker would have known that kind of stuff was going on? If so, it’s disrespectful to our troops to have censored such innate GI wisdom.