Friday, April 16, 2010

Charlie Wilson's War, Revisited

"Neurosis is the inability to tolerate ambiguity." ~Sigmund Freud


In the summer and fall of 2007 (was it really that long ago?) I read two really outstanding audio books, No Country For Old Men and Charlie Wilson's War, without knowing they were in the works as big Hollywood films that would reach the silver screen later that year. Both books were superb, and though the films had flaws, both are worth seeing in a big way. Last night I revisited the Mike Nichols film adaptation of Charlie Wilson's War, starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman... and the now well-known but then virtual unknown Amy Adams (Junebug, Enchanted, Julie & Julia.)

I don't think this film is really about how a maverick congressman (Hanks) and a maverick CIA guy (Hoffman) teamed up to win the war in Afghanistan. That's the surface grid, but underneath this film is really a revision of the spin that Ronald Reagan won the Cold War and brought the Soviet empire to its knees.

In a world of much complexity, it is natural for people to seek clear, simple explanations for everything in order to give our beliefs a firmer footing. Black and white is easier than shades of grey. If we come up with pat answers, we do not have to think about a matter after that. So the masses tend to be attracted to pat answers.

For this reason, propaganda was born. Napoleon may have been the first to use journalists specifically for the purpose of winning the masses to a point of view, a method of interpreting the events going on during his rule and reign. In those days it was called Yellow Journalism. Later it was called propaganda, a word intended to convey something positive when popularized in the decades preceding its use by the Nazis.

Post WW2 the word we use is spin. Both our major parties excel at it. Hollywood is very skilled at it as well.

Here are a few thoughts I had as I finished the film again.

1. I think it has been a cornerstone of the Reagan Legacy that he singlehandedly brought down the Soviet Union and ended the Cold War. That interpretation of history is a form of mythology. Charlie Wilson's War is but one back story which has come to prominence through a book and film, but there are many variables way beyond what our imaginations can conceive that had a bearing on how events unfolded. An argument might even be made that unions at the turn of the century helped force wages higher resulting in a stronger economy in this country leading to our not being vulnerable to Communist propaganda because of our strong middle class. Or that our geographical distance from World War 2 left our economy is less of a shambles and a much stronger nation that could outlast the grinding toll of a prolonged Cold War. In short, things are not so simply explained.

2. Corollary: the very same thing can be said about the enormous upswing in the stock market in the 90's. Clinton was president and spinners have made the case that he was the reason for this growth. The resilience of capitalism and economic actions of the Reagan administration have also been strutted to center stage as the impetus for this surge of investor confidence in the 90's. Or, it could be that a lot of Boomers were finally starting to make some serious money and sacking it away for retirement. In short, the truth is probably murkier than the explanations.

3. Corollary 2: The collapse of the economy in 2008 led to a new round exegesis regarding what went wrong and who caused it. The housing collapse, the credit crunch, the whole nine yards has been shovelled into wagon loads of blame. As with Charlie Wilson's War, there are probably back stories that won't see the light of day till many of us have passed over to the other side.
I like the subtitle of George Crile's book: The Extraordinary Story of How the Wildest Man in Congress and a Rogue CIA Agent Changed the History of Our Times. Hyperbole? Probably not. What scares me is how much other stuff is going on in Washington by rogues and loose cannons and the party animals of both parties. What's really going on in D.C. today? Does anybody really know?

BRIAN WALKER INTERVIEW part 2 coming within the next few days.

1 comment:

Pedro H. Albuquerque said...

Watched it recently, it's a great movie.