Guy Goes Off to War

Image from the New York Times, during the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq.

The scenario was deeply ironic and cynical, yet average Americans took it on faith that war was necessary and being glorified. The glib news media didn't believe a word of the propaganda they dispensed, yet put the utmost creativity into fostering a sense of urgency. We could be talking about the Iraq war, but the subject is Starship Troopers, Paul Verhoeven's film of Robert Heinlein's not-so-crypto-fascist novel. It's hard not to watch it today without seeing it as a blueprint for how the New York Times, Washington Post, and the other major media sold Bush's war. Verhoeven cast attractive then-unknowns as the film's citizen soldiers and their intertwined stories completely grab you, even though the movie's oft-stated belief in force and violence as the ultimate arbiter of the greater good is dangerous malarkey. Similarly, the Times and Post played its part in stoking the masses, not just with Judith Miller's fabricated scare stories about Iraqi superweapons, but with the front page photos of soldiers hugging their loved ones as they prepared to depart for the habitat of the dangerous colonial Other. U.S. tanks and warplanes overran Iraq's borders, even though, as we all know, the country had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks; Troopers briefly suggests, only to sneeringly dismiss it, that humans started the war by encroaching on the alien bugs' Galactic turf. Yet the Times and its ilk devoted little ink to root causes, in their bloodlust, misplaced desire for 9/11 revenge, and crass schemes to sell papers. Small surprise that Verhoeven saves one of the most gruesome deaths for an embedded reporter, whose last moments are filmed by a transfixed cameraman who doesn't put down his recording device to help.

- tom moody 7-03-2006 9:39 pm

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