America’s Celebrity Killers

On November 21, Mockingjay: Part I will be released in theaters. This will be the third of four films based on Suzanne Collins’ young adult trilogy. In anticipation I have re-watched the first two films, The Hunger Games (2012) and Catching Fire (2013), and reread the books. Collins has said that with these stories she wanted to educate children about the “realities of war.” The realities she seems to be concerned with are not only the realities of fighting in a war, but also the realities of living in a country at war. What Collins is teaching American children is very important: that a government of the few can dominate a populace of the many using not only the brute force of a police state but also the more subtle, insidious, and hypnotic power of mass media. It is a valuable lesson for us all.

In case you haven’t heard, the trilogy is set in a future America called Panem after the Latin “panem et circenses” or “bread and circuses.” Divided into twelve Districts, most of the country is impoverished, except for the Capitol. Each year, one boy and one girl from each District are chosen by lottery and sent to fight to the death. They are called “Tributes.” The Games provide live, reality-television-style entertainment for the masses and yield exactly one “Victor,” who becomes an instant celebrity. The Hunger Games are touted as a pseudo-religious festival that brings everyone together in a ritual of punishment and atonement necessary to maintain unity and peace. Everyone must participate in the Hunger Games – as a Tribute or as a spectator — to maintain the illusion of unity. But how do you get an entire country to watch something so horrific on television day after day, to pay attention to the spectacle let alone support it?

Well, the Capitol threatens to nuke any District that rebels, and the people take that threat seriously. On the day of the lottery, citizens let their children be “herded into roped off areas like cattle.” The Hunger Games are a demonstration of power that terrorizes the people and instills fear. But the secondary purpose of the Hunger Games is to distract and mollify the population, especially those in the Capitol, with “circuses.” Part of the job of the Head Gamemaker is, with the help of talking heads in the media, to invent and disseminate storylines that will drum up interest in and enthusiasm for the Games and keep the people titillated, using each child’s unique personality and background to create “characters” of interest. The narratives they concoct create sympathy for the Tributes among the viewing audience. Lesson about war:  Give citizens someone to root for in war, and they will be less likely to root against the State or against the wars themselves. Make sure they can’t see the forest for the trees, or the circus for the act.

It is not hard to see a few parallels at work here in our own society as convenient feel good narratives and soldier pseudo celebrities emerge with regularity in the War on Terror. Remember Jessica Lynch? Pat Tillman? Chris Kyle? Just like we have Internet articles titled “Where Are They Now?” about child celebrities or one-hit-wonders from the 80s, we have “Where Are They Now’s?” about War on Terror celebrities. The American government now uses the most sophisticated techniques of advertising, public relations, storytelling, and Hunger Games-style celebrity making, harnessing the full power of the mass media (print, television, radio, and film) to shape and mold the public consciousness, to influence our attitudes and beliefs about war, and to propagate American “wars” by keeping us enthralled and distracted with titillating stories. This is not difficult to do in a society in which six companies own 90% of the media, reduced from 50 in 1983. But before I come back to the here and now, let me tell you a little bit more about the plot. (I won’t include anything about Mockingjay that you couldn’t learn from watching the trailer.)

In the first book, our fifteen-year-old protagonist Katniss Everdeen wins the Hunger Games in more ways than one: Through cunning and compassion rather than outright resistance, she manages to undermine the Capitol. She emerges as a Victor and a symbol of potential revolution in Panem. Victors have to play their roles long after the Games are over, though, or else. They are forced to go on publicity tours, be spokespeople for the Capitol, and mentor new Tributes from their District. In exchange they get to live in wealth and luxury for the rest of their lives. In the sequel Catching Fire, Katniss is on tour, smiling, waving, and trying her best to convince everyone that she is not a dissident, for fear her beloveds will get killed. She stands in front of the people of each District and robotically recites the lines written for her on cue cards, but the people aren’t buying it. The people are restless and looking to her for hope. They yell from the crowd, “Tell us what you really think!” The police are cracking down. People are getting publicly executed for showing even the smallest signs of solidarity with her. She just wants the tour to be over and to go home, so nobody else will get hurt, but her mentor reminds her that the game never ends. Every year the Capitol will trot her around like a show pony. “Your job now,” he says, “is to be a distraction, to make people forget what the real problems are.” Resigned to her fate as a puppet of the Capitol, she decides to get engaged to her friend Peeta, even though she is not in love with him, in a desperate attempt to keep up appearances.

Despite Katniss’ best efforts to play nice, President Snow knows she is a threat. He sends her back to the Hunger Games in hopes she will die. In the third book and upcoming film, Katniss has been broken free from the Games by a group of rebels, many of them her friends (she was unaware of the conspiracy), and they are hoping she will agree to lead the resistance. The rebels have somehow managed to take control of the airwaves, and like the Hunger Games, the revolution, too, will be televised. She finds she is still a celebrity, with a hair and make-up team, her own designer, and a costume. She is still being given cue cards. Cameras follow her into the battlefield. There are discussions about who should and should not appear with her on camera. How are they going to “cast” her friend Gale? Should he be her new lover or her cousin? What would play best with the audience? The rebels, like the Capitol, seem more interested in telling stories than in disseminating information. Image is everything. Truth is optional. The storyline that developed while she was in the Hunger Games: She must do nothing to contradict it. Why? Because the viewing audience is emotionally invested in it. In their constant concern with emotional appeal, the rebel “coverage” smacks of propaganda. Katniss wants to do what she can to help the people, but she is conflicted because she knows she is being used. She decides to embrace the role of “The Mockingjay” anyway in hopes she can use her power of celebrity for good. In a moment of genuine passion, after seeing the Capitol engage in a particularly horrific act of war, she curses President Snow and threatens him through the camera. Then somebody shouts, “That’s a wrap!”

People found the premise of The Hunger Games to be so offensive and obscene because it blurred something as serious as war with something as frivolous as entertainment, but in America, the lines between war, entertainment, and propaganda are increasingly hard to draw. They practically don’t exist.  There was a BBC documentary exposing the rescue of Jessica Lynch as a PR stunt. A local eye witness described the incident as follows:

“Like a film of Hollywood they cry ‘Go! Go! Go!’ and shout ‘Go! Go! Go!’ and with guns with blanks, without bullets. Blanks and the sounds of explosions…They make a show for the American attack for the hospital. Action movies like Sylvester Stallone or Jackie Chan, with jumping and shouting, breaking the door, with the photos, with the photos.”

Who doesn’t love a good “Rescue the Young Blonde P.O.W.” story to kick off a war? Lynch became America’s sweetheart, a real life Disney princess. She doesn’t remember a thing about her “rescue” (convenient) but that didn’t stop her from getting a seven figure book deal to tell her story, which became a bestseller.

Growing up in the 80s, I was exposed to films like Born on the Fourth of July, Full Metal Jacket, and Platoon. They were the scary movies of my childhood, far scarier than Nightmare on Elm Street or The Hunger Games. The Pentagon didn’t like how its activities were being reflected in our culture, so rather than cleaning up their act, they polished up their image by collaborating with the makers of a movie called Top Gun (“How Top Gun Made America Love War”, The Washington Post, August 26, 2011). Add an awesome soundtrack, and suddenly the military was cool again.

Last year, I met a guy my age who told me he was in the Air Force.

I said: “Top Gun?”

He said, “Yep.” The American Deep Stat... Peter Dale Scott Best Price: $15.96 Buy New $158.45 (as of 03:15 EST - Details)

They got him. They’ll get a lot more. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 unbound the restrictions on the use of government propaganda domestically, so we can expect to see more of this, though whatever restrictions were in place before don’t seem to have restricted much. The CIA’s Operation Mockingbird started as far back as the 1950s. Michael Hastings reported in May 2012, “The Pentagon spends some $4 billion a year to sway public opinion already.” The film Act of Valor was commissioned by the Navy’s Special Warfare Command for the purposes of boosting recruitment, not that the advertising indicated this. From the Washington Post article from 2011:

In June, the Army negotiated a first-of-its-kind sponsorship deal with the producers of “X-Men: First Class,” backing it up with ads telling potential recruits that they could live out superhero fantasies on real-life battlefields.

If E.T. can sell Reese’s Pieces, and the Italian Job can sell Mini Coopers, the X-Men can sell war. Have you heard about Clint Eastwood’s new film about Chris Kyle, “the most deadly sniper in American military history,” starring Bradley Cooper? Who needs old school Soviet Union propaganda posters when you have Hollywood and the power of celebrity? I don’t know if Eastwood’s latest film is a collaboration with the Pentagon or not, but the question these days is: Would they even have to reveal it if it were?

There is nothing like a film to blur the line between fact and fiction. There is no crime against humanity that can’t be sold with the right tag line and some decent casting. In case hundreds of torture scenes in FOX’s 24 didn’t soften you up to the idea torture (which doesn’t work), Zero Dark Thirty, a Hollywood collaboration between Kathryn Bigelow and the Pentagon, made it appear that the use of torture had led to the capture of Osama Bin Laden. (It didn’t.) Our war makers are already in the entertainment business, just like in Panem, and they have been for a while. All of those war movies that Americans love so much cost a lot of money to make, and it turns out that the Pentagon will be more than happy to help you furnish your set with planes, tanks, weapons, and aircraft carriers, in exchange for the right to make a few “light edits” on the script. They will even be so generous as to provide you with on-set “consultants” just to make sure everything is being portrayed “realistically” (read: in the “right” light). Command Sgt. Maj. Martin R. Barreras acted as an advisor for the actors who played Army Rangers in the film Black Hawk Down; I guess after that experience he was ready for his next “mission”: He was also the one who, according to the story, personally handed Jessica Lynch off to another soldier to be taken to the helicopter after the “rescue” (read: film shoot).

In Panem, the Capitol televises the Hunger Games in order to terrorize the population, but also to desensitize them to violence and skew their perception of good and evil, right and wrong, so as to make the State’s activities, means and methods (killing, assassination, and torture) seem normal. Likewise, the Pentagon saturates our society with subtle and not so subtle propaganda. They use our tax dollars on massive, multi-million dollar PR campaigns, video games, and Hollywood films that demonize their enemy du jour, make us sympathize with anyone in a government-issued uniform, and get their pro-war, pro-torture, ends-justify-the-means message across. They poison our culture, warp our minds, and corrupt our values, and the main way they do this is through entertainment, specifically through their Film Liaison Office. The film Black Hawk Down based on the book by Mark The Lone Gladio Sibel Edmonds, Sibel D... Best Price: $2.00 Buy New $8.49 (as of 10:20 EST - Details) Bowden is a perfect example of this. Anne Talbot writes:

… the most appalling aspect of Scott’s film is his depiction of the Somalis as an undifferentiated, screaming horde. Not only does Bowden’s book tell us about the American participants on October 3; he has gone to some lengths to interview Somalis who were there that day. We learn about their backgrounds, what they witnessed and what they did just as we do about the Americans.

Scott’s attitude is very different. The role of the Somalis in the film is to die in anonymous waves like the Hollywood Indians of old westerns. The film is shot entirely from the point of view of the American soldiers. We do not learn about the vastly disproportionate number of Somalis killed and injured on October 3.

For example, when a helicopter comes down the whole descent and eventual crash is depicted in intricate detail, except for the child who was crushed in the house it destroyed. Since Bowden had already got this material together Scott’s omission is deliberate.

Government lies are often lies of omission, and censorship is the ultimate lie of omission, and war movies based on “true stories” are often crimes of omission. One more thing the Army struck from the script of the movie Black Hawk Down was the real name of the “hero” portrayed by Ewan McGregor, because by the time the film came out, the real-life soldier was serving a 30-year prison term for the rape (sodomy) of his six-year-old daughter.

Altering the public consciousness about the realities of war (and war “heroes”) through a steady IV-drip of images (or constant barrage, or total onslaught) via moving pictures and carefully crafted storylines that are heavily censored and rife with subtle implication and emotional appeal is tactically brilliant when you think about it. Studies have shown that Americans have become more accepting of the use of torture and assassinations over the past 8 or 9 years, as these acts have been depicted positively (as having the desired effect) with greater frequency on television. Moving pictures are highly effective weapons when wielded by propagandists for their power to titillate and mesmerize the masses and thereby influence people’s perception of reality. As John Kampfner wrote in 2003, the American strategy with Jessica Lynch was “to concentrate on the visuals…The key was to ensure the right television footage.” The description for Act of Valor reads: “in an unprecedented blend of real-life heroism and original filmmaking…the film combines stunning combat sequences, up-to-the minute battlefield technology and heart-pumping emotion for the ultimate action adventure.”

Pope Pius XI could see the insidious nature of the mass media and warned us about the power of the motion picture as far back as 1936 in his encyclical Vigilanti Cura:

…there does not exist today a means of influencing the masses more potent than the cinema. The reason for this is to be sought for in the very nature of the pictures projected upon the screen, in the popularity of motion picture plays, and in the circumstances which accompany them. Extreme Prejudice: The... Susan Lindauer Best Price: $0.01 Buy New $5.00 (as of 03:25 EST - Details)

The power of the motion picture consists in this, that it speaks by means of vivid and concrete imagery which the mind takes in with enjoyment and without fatigue. Even the crudest and most primitive minds which have neither the capacity nor the desire to make the efforts necessary for abstraction or deductive reasoning are captivated by the cinema. In place of the effort which reading or listening demands, there is the continued pleasure of a succession of concrete and, so to speak, living pictures. This power is still greater in the talking picture for the reason that interpretation becomes even easier and the charm of music is added to the action of the drama.

Sing it with me: “Highway to the danger zone / Ride into the danger zone!”

Imagine what we have to look forward to now that the propagandists have been given free reign. There are so many more good stories to tell from the War on Terror!

    NARRATOR (V.O.)

Hey America, remember that scene when
the people of Iraq tore down the statue of
Saddam Hussein?
.

 The crowd cheers.

   NARRATOR (V.O.)

Remember the babies in the incubators?

 FLASHBACK TO:

CONGRESSIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL – 1990

DAUGHTER OF KUWATI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.

(sniffling)

It was horrifying…While I was there, I saw
the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with
guns. They took the babies out of the
incubators, took the incubators and left the
children to die on the cold floor.
.

BACK TO PRESENT

CROWD

Gasp! / Boo! / Hiss!

    NARRATOR (V.O.)

Remember General Petraeus and “The Surge”…

CROWD

Ooh! / Ahh!

    NARRATOR (V.O.)

…the finding of a bedraggled Saddam Hussein in a “wabbit” hole…

   CROWD

(laughter)

    NARRATOR (V.O.)

…that photograph of Saddam Hussein in his underwear…

           CROWD

(more laughter)

    NARRATOR (V.O.)

…a terrorist’s passport found lying on a pile of burning rubble after 9-11?

CROWD

(silence)

NARRATOR (V.O.)

Talk about a smoking gun! Right?

CROWD

(laughter mixed with grumbling)

FADE OUT.

There would have to be some limit to credulity on the part of the crowd in my War on Terror screenplay. Call it poetic license or wishful thinking. I think the “Mission Accomplished” scene was my favorite, though. President CIAu2019s Gulf of Tonk... Lorna Dare Best Price: $11.96 Buy New $139.71 (as of 03:00 EST - Details) Bush went from a hapless, helpless suit reading a story to a floor full of kindergarteners to a man of the people wearing jeans and a windbreaker to a strapping and virile leader capable of landing a fighter jet! He looked just like Tom Cruise! Talk about a character arc.

The statue incident was staged, the incubator story a lie. The Gulf of Tonkin “incident” never happened. But we are supposed to believe everything they’ve told us about Osama Bin Laden and 9-11. He was the mastermind of the 9-11 attacks, though the government furnished no proof. No one can prove his guilt now in a court of law, because they killed him. They can’t prove they killed him, because they threw his body in the ocean. At least fifteen of the Navy SEALs that were involved in the alleged “raid” died in a helicopter crash. The black box? It must have “washed away.” If you care to investigate the facts, don’t bother. Everything is classified. Just take the government’s word for it. Oh, and yes, a steel skyscraper like Building 7 can call at free fall speed into its own footprint as a result of office fires, without any planned demolition, in case you were wondering.

CROWD

Boo! / Hiss! / Truther!

In The Hunger Games, the people of Panem are not allowed to know the truth. The Capitol lies to them constantly about almost everything. If you don’t play along nicely, if you question their stories, publicize real information, or try to escape their clutches, they beat you publically, kill you, or they literally cut out your tongue and make you a slave. I believe Collins uses this as a metaphor for censorship and the abolition of free speech, which is always a consequence in a time of war. Likewise in our society, if you question the official story, you will be harassed, your career ruined, or worse. Michael Hastings reported that when USA Today was investigating the amount of money spent by the DoD and the Pentagon on propaganda, “the two reporters who were working on the story appeared to have been targeted by Pentagon contractors, who created fake Facebook pages and Twitter accounts in an attempt to discredit them.” Hastings, an investigative journalist whose Rolling Stone exposé led to the resignation of General Stanley McChrystal in 2010, was investigating CIA Director John Brennan’s involvement in the witch hunt being conducted against investigative journalists when his car ran into a tree for no apparent reason. He died in a suspiciously fiery car crash. The U.S. government created a fictional narrative initially about the way Pat Tillman died (heroically! in an ambush!) What the storytellers omitted from the media-friendly version of the Pat Tillman war celebrity story was the fact that he had turned against the war and perhaps was planning to speak out against it upon his return. On September 25, 2005, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Tillman had become a critic of the Iraq war and had scheduled a meeting with Noam Chomsky to take place when he returned from Afghanistan, which Tillman’s mother and Chomsky later confirmed. Tillman couldn’t confirm the story because he had been killed by “friendly fire” with three shots to the head. Was that someone’s way of cutting out his tongue?

Do we know the names of the soldiers who were laughing in the Collateral Murder video? What about the commander who was in charge at My Lai or the girl in the photograph holding a detainee on a leash at Abu Ghraib? Can you name even one, single Conscientious Objector in this war? I’m guessing no. No war celebrities there. Will they make a Hollywood film about the nurse who refused to administer force feedings at Guantanamo or the war Virtual Government: CI... Alex Constantine Best Price: $3.74 Buy New $7.37 (as of 12:40 EST - Details) hero who sodomized his daughter? I’m guessing no. You see those folks weren’t playing the roles that fit the stories we’re allowed to hear. It is interesting that true hero Bradley Manning was held in solitary confinement for a full year and wasn’t released until an acceptable narrative had been established for his war celebrity story: He was going to get a sex change. That is the equivalent of cutting out your own tongue, unfortunately. Even if you do write brilliant op-eds for The New York Times, many Americans will no longer listen to a word you have to say. America walked away from that one with the story that traitors are freaks, freaks traitors. Surely no true American, no real man, like Pat Tillman, would ever question a war or speak out against his government. It will be interesting to see the way Hollywood handles the Chris Kyle story, given the fact that he was, himself, murdered after coming home by another veteran with PTSD (while they were engaged in something called “shooting therapy.”) Will they portray these two soldiers as sick and severely troubled, like Cato in The Hunger Games, as objects of pity?

There is a scene at the end of the first film when Cato, Katniss’ main opponent in her first Hunger Games, has her friend Peeta in a death grip. Only the three of them are left. Katiss has her bow and arrow pointed at Cato’s head. Cato is a “Career,” meaning he was trained for the Hunger Games from a young age and destined to go. When his time came, he didn’t have to be chosen: He not only volunteered but relished the opportunity. In the end, he knows he’s a dead man, whether he chooses to kill Katniss’ friend Peeta before he dies or not. Rabidly, he says to Katniss:

“I can still do this. One more kill. It’s the only thing I know how to do. Bringing pride to my District. Not that it matters. I’m dead anyway. I was always was, right? I didn’t know that until now.”

Cato is talking about a spiritual death that happened long before he ever went to the Hunger Games. This scene in the film, and in the book, are very well done. When Cato’s physical death comes about, it is not something to celebrate. He was so young after all. But one can’t help but think Collins is trying to tell young readers: “He who lives by the sword dies by the sword.” There is a certain justice in it. When we watch Chris Kyle’s demise in Eastwood’s film, will we be led to think “he who lives by the sword dies by the sword,” or do we reserve such harsh truths for our fiction, preferring in our films based on “fact” the sentimental veneer of military heroism?

BREAKING NEWS! As I am completing this essay, I am running on the treadmill at the gym, flipping through the cable television stations (it is the only time I ever watch television) and I see an advertisement for an upcoming “two part documentary” on FOX News. According to the Washington Times, a new soldier celebrity has “appeared in the media.” (Don’t you love it when the media reports when things have “appeared in the media,” as if this is news? This is what passes for reporting these days.) Anyway, our latest War on Terror celebrity is (wait for it): “the man who shot Osama Bin Laden.” He has taken the stage (which he is used to, having been making the rounds lately in the motivational speaking circuit) and with him comes a new media-driven circus and quite possibly contrived controversy, which strikes me as a pretty blatant attempt at redirection. The Pentagon is shocked by this “appearance”—shocked! —and is very upset about it.

“Your job now,” Haymitch tells Katniss, “is to be a distraction, to make people forget what the real problems are.”

In case you had your own ideas about what the real problems are with the whole 9-11 / War on Terror / “We got Osama Bin Laden!” story, the media is here to inform you of the official scoop, the important questions, the real controversies: 1. Did Robert O’Neill violate a code of ethics in seeking notoriety for what he claims to have done in the War on Terror? and 2) Isn’t he afraid that, now that he has revealed his name, ISIS will come and get him? The talking points are, as usual, beside the point. Oddly consistent across the board. And stupid.

I’ve noticed this same tactic of obfuscation and redirection before with the Jessica Lynch story. The real controversy there was that the whole thing was staged, shameless propaganda. Last year, when Lynch emerged for her requisite Victor media tour upon the ten year anniversary of the “rescue,” the media often referenced the controversy surrounding the incident, but they completely mischaracterized the controversy! As you can see in this interview with ABC News, the controversy they addressed has nothing to do with the facts of her rescue but with the facts of the attack in which she was captured. The question the ABC reporter is asking is not: Do you believe your dramatic “rescue” was for the purposes of obtaining titillating footage and creating a sensationalized, heartwarming story to be used as war propaganda in the mass media back home? The question the ABC reporter asks instead is: Did you or did you not shoot back? The fact that the original “story” had Lynch shooting back heroically (like in the Pat Tillman story) and the fact that she later came out and refuted it, saying that her gun had jammed, and calling the original story “propaganda” for making her out to be some kind of hero, when she insisted she was not: that is supposed to be the controversy of record when it comes to the Jessica Lynch story, according to ABC News. By the way, don’t forget to catch Jessica Lynch in her upcoming film debut: She will play the daughter of an American President in a movie about religious liberty and a government takeover of churches. Boy do they know their demographic.

Here’s a question: Has Robert O’Neill been asked to play his role as Victor, and to do the publicity tour in order to make us forget what the real problems are? Consider that there are a few thousand active Navy SEALs out there, and this O’Neill guy happens to have been involved in three missions that eventually became movies, all of which the Pentagon collaborated with: Captain Phillips, Lone Survivor, and Zero Dark Thirty. That’s kind of odd, don’t you think? Maybe it’s just me.

The impetus for his big identity reveal, he said, was talking to the families of the victims of 9-11 at a special ceremony before the memorial opened, when he “spontaneously” decided to tell them his story. He said that his story gave them “some closure.” Kind of gives you the warm fuzzies, doesn’t it? The media has also interviewed the Washington politician who set up the speaking engagement, and the Washington politician has also confirmed publicly that, yes, indeed, the story gave the 9-11 families some closure. Surely, the press will now start parroting this line, like in that scene in Chicago, a musical about (coincidentally) celebrity killers with sensationalized narratives: “Oh yes, oh yes, they both, oh yes they both, they both reached for the gun, the gun, the gun, the gun…” “Oh yes, the 9-11, families now have, oh yes they have, oh yes closure, closure, closure, closure, oh yes, the 9-11 families have closure…” I have yet to see an interview with one of the 9-11 family members saying anything about closure, but who knows? Maybe a trenchant journalist is out there getting those interviews as I write this! I certainly hope to hear from some of the “9-11 families for a new investigation” that the riveting story that Robert O’Neill told them put all of their questions to bed. That would be wonderful.

Joan Didion once wrote that we tell ourselves stories in order to live. I recall that image from the morning of 9-11: President Bush reading a story to a floor full of kindergartners. Looking back it appears to be a sign of the times or a symbol for the future. After all, our Capitol has continued to tell stories for the next thirteen years to a country of citizens who have proven they have neither the capacity nor the desire to make the efforts necessary for abstraction or deductive reasoning, who are on the whole about as gullible as kindergartners. In September of 2003, 70% of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the 9-11 attacks. Tim O’Brien wrote in The Things They Carried: you can tell a true war story if you just keep on telling it.

In Act of Valor: “The story is fictional, but the weapons and tactics are real.” In terms of determining what is real and what is not these days when it comes to war, what is true and what is false, what is fact and what is fiction, what is entertainment and what is propaganda, I think O’Brien’s words are valuable to keep in mind (also from The Things They Carried):

A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil.

If you are looking for a truer war story than what we’re being told these days by the media, I wholeheartedly recommend Suzanne Collins’ war stories for kids, specifically The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay. I hope Hollywood doesn’t mess up the last two films. I’ve been pleased with the first two. They were true to the books and to the lessons about the realities of war that Collins seemed interested in teaching American children. Against the foul stench of the Pentagon’s persistent and pervasive propaganda, widespread cultural rot, I’m holding my nose, and until November 21, I’ll be holding my breath.