It might not be the most Hollywood-slick, user-friendly title, but it couldn't be any more direct in conveying the movie's message. The title? War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.Although Sean Penn narrates this documentary, his is not the central voice. Rather, it's that of Norman Solomon, the outspoken U.S. journalist/author, on whose book of the same title the film is based.
And if Penn's voice sounds somewhat hushed narrating this searing doc, it's because he, like most others who will catch it, is probably blown away by the compelling case brought to the surface by Solomon and captured so effectively on screen by co-directors Loretta Alper and Jeremy Earp .
In short, Solomon suggests that U.S. foreign policy is dictated by a small circle of politicos, the president and his trusted advisers, who have their own agenda that often results in drawn-out wars that can't be won.
Even more damning, though, is Solomon's assertion that the major U.S. media serve as little more than mouthpieces for these politicos and that they are essentially complicit in these wars, too.
It seems that some media, according to Solomon, believe that being embedded with the U.S. military in combat means being in bed with the Pentagon.
Solomon draws fascinating yet frightening parallels between the Vietnam and Iraq wars, both of which have resulted in far too many casualties and emotional scars that could have been avoided. He deconstructs the canard that was the bogus WMDs -- weapons of mass destruction -- that served as the catalyst for the U.S. invasion of Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
He then indicts much of the media for perpetuating the myths surrounding the WMDs -- until the facts emerged and it was no longer fashionable. He is utterly incredulous in recounting how CNN sought the Pentagon's approval for the military experts they conscripted to comment on air on Iraq. But he is not surprised that Phil Donahue, one of the few voices of media dissent on the Iraq war, was canned by MSNBC.
One of the most revealing clips in the doc dates back to 1964, when Oregon Senator Wayne Morse had the temerity to suggest that it was up to the American people, not the president, to formulate U.S. foreign policy. Morse, who at the time was one of only two senators to oppose military involvement in Vietnam, was almost laughed out of Washington for his views.
Well, they ain't laughing now. As for the American people, current stats show that almost the same number -- 70 per cent -- are as opposed to the war in Iraq as those who were against the Vietnam war.
"We're in a process now where short-circuiting the democratic process is really essential to perpetuating the war -- much the same as it was during Vietnam," notes Solomon, in town for the international premiere of the doc at the Montreal World Film Festival.
"It's back to the future. The president has this long-term view, and feels the Congress and the public should just butt out."
Solomon, who visited Baghdad with Penn just prior to the U.S. invasion, is quick to point out that he's no pacifist. Some wars -- namely the First World War and Second World War -- have been necessary.
"There is a tendency to rally support when it looks like a war will be triumphant and short," he says. "But when it turns out to be non-triumphant and long, then there's time to disregard the information. Then the administration needs to work with its media allies to do damage-control, to shift the argument."
Needless to say, Solomon hasn't been much in demand on the network talk-show front.
"Before the invasion of Iraq, I appeared often on CNN and Fox as well as the other networks. But then the networks suddenly weren't interested in dissent for a while, until it later appeared that Iraq wasn't such an unvarnished military triumph after all, " Solomon said.
With the limited release of the documentary in the U.S. and the tide turning against the Iraq war, however, it's a good bet that he will be making the rounds on the talk shows again.
"The point of this film can't be stopped. The intellectual and emotional power of the film will propel it." Regardless of what much of the media might think of him.
The doc, distributed worldwide by Montreal-based Mundovision, is slated for the CinÃƒ©ma du Parc in the fall, and will probably find receptive audiences here, too. Solomon is aware that the majority of Quebecers, stung by the growing list of casualties, are much opposed to Canada's military involvement in Afghanistan.
"Bush has Mr. Howard in Australia and Mr. Harper in Canada to assist him in this mirage of the coalition of the willing, which is, in reality, the coalition of the misled."
Solomon is also abundantly aware that there is no easy way out of the quagmire that is Iraq or Afghanistan.
"We are up against the formula that was applied to the Vietnam war, that is now being re-applied by Bush: 'You can't cut and run.' But I think that Daniel Ellsberg put it best: 'Total and complete withdrawal from Iraq is a terrible idea -- and every other idea is worse.' "
Solomon relates, too, to musician Michael Franti's view: "You can bomb the world to pieces, but you can't bomb it to peace."
War Made Easy screens at the Quartier Latin today at 6:10 p.m., tomorrow at 11:30 a.m. and Wednesday at 3:30 p.m.
© The Gazette (Montreal) 2007