Three Kings And The "Un-War" In Iraq

Two days after David O. Russell’s Three Kings opened in 18 theaters in the Seattle area, and on more than 2,900 screens nationwide, an 1,100-word article (accompanied by a map illustrating the "no-fly zones", and a picture of an F-18 strike fighter breaking the sound barrier) entitled "Stalemate over Iraq: U.S. Un-War All In A Day's Risky work" appeared on page three of the October 3 Sunday Times. Both are notable because, since the end of "Operation: Desert Fox" in December, reporting on the ensuing bombing campaign ("un-war") has been buried deep within the paper, and almost never included in the Times' web archives (despite its having, as of August 28, managed in 1999 to hit 360 targets with 1,100 bombs during over 10,000 sorties over Iraq); and the disastrous effects of the sanctions, while somewhat more reported as late, are nowhere near the top of every newspaper and newscast as they should be.

To say that the article, written by David Wood, of the Newhouse News Service, is biased, would probably be one of the greater understatements of this, or any, year. Here is a complete list of sources quoted and cited in the piece (bylined aboard the USS Constellation):

The article is written as a glorification of the U.S. military, and accepts U.S. intervention in the affairs of other countries as a god-given right. Indeed, on no fewer than eight occasions does Wood either report approvingly upon or advocate, the breaking of International Law by the United States. Imagine the official (and thereby mainstream media) reaction if the following sentence were to appear in a prominently placed article in an Iraqi daily: "Iraqi officials admit they have little idea what’s going on inside the United States, and attempts to organize American dissidents into an effective anti-Clinton fighting force have been disastrously unsuccessful." Or maybe: "But if Iraq lets up the pressure on him, Iraqi officials say, Clinton would soon be out bullying his way around the Americas, perhaps armed with nuclear or biological weapons." Or possibly: "Occasionally, as in the United States, pinprick air attacks may be needed to keep opponents in line." Or this whopper: "The hundreds of Iraqi airstrikes on the United States since the zones were established are made in self-defense or occasionally in retaliation for U.S. flight violations of the zones, Iraqi officials are careful to emphasize." (Emphasis added. But then, in a country that could produce a president able to posit that the U.S. onslaught of Vietnam was an act of self-defense, surely this should come as no great surprise.)

Yet, for Wood, the only cause for concern raised by U.S. policy is the cost to taxpayers (he seems blissfully unaware that the Pentagon commands roughly 50% of the U.S. budget, "un-war" upon Iraq or no), the possible risk to U.S. flight crews, and that it's "frustrating for everybody". Nowhere is it mentioned that bombing other countries is a war crime. Nowhere is the cost to Iraqi civilians and civilian infrastructure mentioned. Nowhere is it mentioned that the United States has admitted to dropping bombs outside the "no-fly zones" (nor even that in point of fact, the "no-fly zones" have no legal basis whatever, but are rather unilaterally and illegally imposed constructs of the United States and Britain). And of course, nowhere is it mentioned that the sanctions on Iraq, now entering their tenth year, have killed close to two million people, and wrought complete devastation upon the country in one of the more horrific crimes against humanity in all of history. Nay, reading this article out of context (while being exposed daily only to State Department/mainstream media reports), one would likely come away with the impression that Iraq has a population of exactly one person: Saddam Hussein. And he's evil, dontcha know?

When the book on Doublethink is written, the Pentagon will probably merit its own chapter. And the following (quoted unquestioningly –- in an article littered with references to U.S. military actions in the Middle East past, present, and future –- via Wood from the aforementioned Vice Adm. Moore) could well be an all-time classic: "But you have to remember that peace and stability is the fundamental (goal) –- and we’ve got it."

In short, the article, while bringing to light a war that most Americans have no inkling is being perpetrated by its own military, does a grave disservice to the cause of bringing justice to the people of Iraq, and the region in general.

Three Kings, on the other hand, is a revelation. It's one of the best movies of the year, and, considering it was the second-highest grossing movie in the country on its opening weekend, could perhaps turn out to be one of the better tools for organising resistance to the continuing slaughter. It's undoubtedly already one of the most-seen movies explicitly exposing the hypocrisies and consequences of U.S. foreign policy. Credit this to its distribution by a major studio, with a huge marketing campaign behind it. Who'd have thought that we’d have to turn to Hollywood to get some damned news? That a major studio would release such a subversive picture is a conundrum-and-a-half. But let's not look a gift horse in the mouth at this juncture.

It’s a landmark film on at least two fronts.

One, through the use of innovative audio and visual techniques, it imparts the chaos, insanity, and destructiveness of warfare with a visceral vengeance. In an age when former green berets and machine gun-toting lunatics are celluloid demigods, it's refreshing to the point of near-euphoria to see a movie which so effectively excoriates violence simply by revealing its results in the real world, rather than glorifying it through impossibly heroic scenarios.

More important, the movie thrusts its characters -- in one profoundly moving scene after another –- into situations in which they are forced to deal with the humanity of their nominal enemy, the Iraqi citizenry. In so doing, it exposes U.S. policy for what it is: complete bankruptcy. Each of the main characters (most notably the Mark Wahlberg character, in the movie's most important scene), who had ventured into the desert to steal some stolen gold, are transformed by the Iraqi people and culture as they confront the myriad hypocrisies of the recently-ended Gulf War.

As are the viewers, who cannot help but be emotionally overwhelmed by the events onscreen. Be warned: it's a cumulatively depressing movie. But it's also a liberating one. Whether it will translate into action is anybody's guess. But there are moments, shots, and scenes that will leave one haunted for days after having seen it.

Admittedly, the movie does pull its punches just a tad in the final half-hour. The sanctions (which had already caused enough misery to warrant first-hand observers to call for their immediate halt even before the war had ceased) are not mentioned. The climax is a bit naive. And no contact information is given (which one might reasonably expect if the movie was intended as an act of solidarity with the Iraqi people –- which is sure what it feels like).

But these are minor quibbles. Russell, unlike the cowardly reporters "researching" their stories exclusively through the Pentagon, has potentially done more to help begin to bring an end to the suffering of Iraq than anybody working in the mainstream. It's way too soon to start touting him as the next John Sayles or Jean Renoir, but Three Kings is an awfully big step in that direction.