Friends, remember after 9/11 when conservatives wanted to kill all Muslims and liberals said “that makes no sense, crazy person, please stop sitting next to me, this is my stop”?
As an extreme liberal I was, obviously, a part of this camp.
The liberal camp. Space Camp was closed.
Which is why it’s so galling for me to realise that since the invasion of Iraq liberalism has been infested by cryptoimperialists who never critique their own points of view because they take it for granted that they are the ones fighting for understanding and human rights.
And most recently it has occurred to me that one of the worst offenders is a supposed bastion of the liberal elite: Hollywood.
When Iraq was invaded most conservatives (not Ron Paul, who opposed it most of the time) were in favour of this most extreme military action.
Some liberals were skeptical, but kept their mouths shut (not Bill Maher, who told the truth and got fired for it). As the war dragged on and it became clear that it was an unnecessary war that had been fought primarily as a highly inefficient way to take tax payer’s money and gift it to US corporations more opposition mounted.
Throughout this time conservatives carried on conflating “Muslim” with “terrorist”, in spite of the fact that less than 2% of the terrorist attacks in Europe were religiously motivated over that time, and despite the fact that over the past 30 years only 6% of terrorist attacks on US soil have been by Islamist groups.
Then Hollywood started making movies about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and US involvement in the Middle East in general. Some were mindlessly in love with the US’s actions: ‘The Marine’, ‘Lone Survivor’, ‘American Sniper’ and the like.
But Hollywood also made films that were more critical of what the US was doing: ‘Lions for Lambs’, ‘The Kingdom’, ‘The Hurt Locker’ and so on.
So what’s the problem? Some filmmakers support the US’s actions and others oppose it, that’s how things should work, right?
Yes, that is how things should work. But it isn’t how things are working.
Because all of those movies, every single one, boils down to action scenes where white people shoot brown people.
I admit that I’m being a little bit unfair towards ‘Lions for Lambs’ which covers many aspects of the conflict with depth, understanding, and a critical voice. But even in that great film the narrative is tied together with actions sequences that feature small numbers of white guys (and one token black guy) shooting large numbers of brown people.
Naturally, some people will claim that I’m being ridiculous because this portrayal of the conflict is accurate. They might argue that these wars are all about white guys shooting brown guys, and that changing it to be “PC” is just silly pandering.
But not only are these people wrong, the way in which they are wrong is a perfect illustration of the effect that the media in general and Hollywood in particular is having on our perception of these conflicts.
Because the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are not about white guys and one token black guy shooting brown guys. They are about brown guys shooting brown guys, with the occasional token white guy.
And the belief in the ‘white guys vs. brown guys’ trope is just more evidence of how the media has forced a bullshit “us vs. them” narrative down our throats.
I must stress however that I’m not talking much about the invasions themselves I am more concerned with the occupations that made up the bulk of the fighting. The invasions were brief, bloody, and of far less significance than the occupations that followed.
So the following numbers come primarily from the latter stages of the wars.
During the US’s formal operations in Afghanistan their troops numbered 100 000 at maximum.
Over that same period Afghan Security forces hit a peak of three times that: 340 000, and they hit that peak at a time when US forces were at a piffling 88K.
In fact even if you include all coalition forces you only get to a maximum of 140 000 troops at a time when Afghan Security forces were around 306 000.
In other words the presence of US and coalition forces was overshadowed by the presence of twice as many Afghani troops.
Remember, this was an occupation. Big battles became far less important than day-to-day operations, and those day-to-day operations were being handled more by Afghani troops than Coalition troops.
Still, some people continue to believe that it was the US troops who were doing all the fighting.
But that’s because they have small dicks.
Especially the women.
And it’s also because the media has been lying to all of us by giving us a completely distorted picture of the nature of the conflict.
The underlying problem is that they have to lie to us, because if they don’t we’ll realise how much of an underdog the Taliban forces were.
Remember the second part of the trope I described above. The “good guys” (bunch of white guys and one token black guy) are typically outnumbered by the “bad guys” (a vast tide of brown people). This makes the audience sympathetic to the “good guys” and makes them seem all heroic and crap.
The problem is that even if one takes the most favourable comparison one can possibly give to the coalition forces one finds that it involves 60 000 of their troops supporting 180 000 Afghan troops, fighting against a mere 40 000 insurgents.
This is how asymmetrical warfare works. And I’m certainly not claiming that the insurgents aren’t a problem for Afghanistan or are helpless.
But it does mean that if Hollywood wanted to make a movie that accurately showed the conflict the cast would be a squad of approximately 30 troops including roughly 6 Americans, 1 Belgian, 1 German, 1 French, and 18 Afghan Security guys who chase down and massacre 4 lonely Taliban insurgents.
It suddenly doesn’t seem very heroic, does it?
Which is why what we are shown instead are US troops taking the lead with Afghan security forces having only a supporting role and the US’s representatives being miraculously outnumbered by the (actually outnumbered) insurgents.
And in Iraq it’s no different. US forces hit a peak of 166K in 2007 when the Iraqi Army (all told) was at around 580K and the insurgents numbered about 20K.
So yeah. 16 US troops, supporting a main force of 50 Iraqi troops, who are beating up 2 insurgents.
This isn’t a case of “us” vs “them” or “The West” vs “Islam”.
This is a battle in which forces that are predominately made up of mainstream Muslims are battling a tiny group of hardline Islamist fundamentalists, and ‘The West’ occasionally sticks its head in to see if there is anything worth bombing, or draining of oil.
But this isn’t the only conflict in which the ridiculous “small plucky force of white guys vs. endless tide of brown people” narrative comes up. It’s been coming up as long as we’ve had movies.
In the Vietnam War coalition troops hit a maximum of 1.8 million. Vietnamese forces were around 460 thousand. But I have yet to see a movie that portrays the brave, outnumbered, and outgunned, Vietnamese forces courageously defending themselves against the monolith that is the US military.
Hell, Hollywood is so in love with the idea that the US was outnumbered in those wars that they even sent Chuck Norris and Sylvester Stallone back in to symbolically fight the war all over again single-handedly.
The ‘cowboys vs. Indians’ massacres are covered in the same way. Even though sometimes the Native Americans outnumbered the invaders, and sometimes they didn’t just about all the movies you see have the white guys being the brave, outnumbered, minority.
The most annoying thing isn’t that those movies always involve outnumbered, named white people killing nameless, numberless brown people.
No, the thing that really pisses me off is that Hollywood hasn’t, at any stage, achieved sufficient self-awareness of their own bullshit to adequately deal with this problem.
You’ve been around for over a hundred years people.
It’s time to grow up.
[Standard Disclaimer: this post was entirely my own opinion and was not paid for in any way, directly or otherwise, by anyone or anything that stands to gain in any way from the ideas expressed herein.]