There are 217 days until Jan. 20, 2009.
War, Inc: Cusack's Savage Satire Strikes a Chord with Soldiers and Their Families
June 12, 2008
"Whose top advisers are linked to war profiteers?" asks
John Cusack in a new TV ad linking John McCain and
George Bush [http://pol.moveon.org/donate/cusack.html]
("Both...Bet you can't tell them apart"). The ad,
produced by MoveOn.org, starts airing today and is
already being passed around the Internet.
Cusack's righteous rage over the billions being
pocketed in Iraq by companies like Blackwater,
Halliburton, and Bechtel is the beating heart of his
brilliant War Inc. The film, a corrosive, audaciously
funny takedown of the Right's push toward privatized
war, has become a surprise, grassroots-driven hit --
despite having almost no ad money behind it.
I saw the film before it was finished, and even before
the final edit, the music, etc., I was overwhelmed by
how it captured the insanity going on in Iraq . War Inc.
has pulled off the near-impossible: it has a found a
savage, reality-altering humor amidst the tragedy of Iraq .
It masterfully wields my favorite creative weapon:
satire. It punches you in the gut, making you laugh,
wince, and become outraged all at the same time. Naomi
Klein rightly calls War, Inc. "one of those rare
satires with the danger left in."
Political satire designed to confront the powers-that-
be with painful truths and to produce not just laughs
but change is rarely seen in today's multiplexes. And
that's not surprising; it's a high-wire act few even
dare to attempt. But when someone does and succeeds at
it -- think Stanley Kubrick, Paddy Chayefsky, Joseph
Heller, Billy Wilder -- the effect is indelible.
Lewis Lapham identified the satirist's project as "the
crime of arson, meaning to set a torch of words to the
hospitality tents of pompous and self-righteous cant."
And that great satirical arsonist Mark Twain wrote that
exposure to good satire made citizens less likely to be
"shriveled into sheep."
The great satirists have always been passionate
reformers challenging the status quo. "Sometimes," says
Paul Krassner, whose satiric and radical journalism
inspired Cusack and his co-creators, "humor is just a
way of calling attention to the contradictions or the
hypocrisy that's going on officially. ... That's the
function of humor -- it can alter your reality." Which
is exactly what War, Inc. does.
When in 1729, Jonathan Swift wrote the most famous work
of political satire of all time, "A Modest Proposal,"
he was seeking to light a fire under the indifference
toward the twin Irish crises of hunger and over-
population. His proposal was to feed young children to
hungry men. "I have been assured," he wrote, "that a
young healthy child, well-nursed, is at a year old a
most delicious, nourishing and wholesome food, whether
stewed, roasted, baked or boiled; and I make no doubt
that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout."
You can imagine the blowback from those who failed to
grasp the satiric point Swift was trying to make.
Similarly, the satire-challenged Right has tried to
attack Cusack and War, Inc. as (all together now)
unpatriotic and a slam on American troops. They've also
gotten their knickers in a twist, outraged that someone
would try to find humor in the death and suffering of U.S. soldiers.
But Cusack's targets are not our troops but private
military contractors, war profiteers, and flag-waving
politicians who, as Cusack puts it, support "keeping
our troops in harm's way in Iraq but not the bipartisan
G.I. bill of rights to support them when they return
home." (And, yes, he's talking about you, Messrs Bush and McCain).
Indeed, since the film's release Cusack has received
many moving emails and postings on his MySpace page
from soldiers and military family members supporting
the film and its message. Their missives run from
disappointment to disillusionment and fury over being
asked to serve and sacrifice while mercenaries are
better paid -- and often better treated.
Among the emails:
From Sgt. Brent Sammann, an active-duty soldier in the
US Army: Sgt. Brent Sammann, US Army
I'm a first-hand witness to the exploitation by KBR
and other companies lending their services to the
war effort -- services us soldiers are fully
capable of doing ourselves.... The military is
being overcharged by these companies on a regular
basis. Also, the poor service and treatment we get
from some of their employees who make three times
as much as those of us serving our country that are
not in it for the money but are trying to make the
world a better place for everyone.
From SPC (P) Johnny Rhodes in 3/2 SCR Infantry based in
After being awake for 3 days I may be a little bit
out of it, so excuse any rambling or incoherence on my
part. Off the top of my head, I can easily say that KBR
in particular is of no help here in my area of Iraq .
They do, jobs soldiers could do, get paid way better
for it, but the work is almost always substandard....
at any given time there are hordes of these guys tying
up the phones and internet, cramming the chow hall,
etc. Which makes the soldiers have to wait. And wait.
And wait. They also paid way more than me, for a job, I
could do with my eyes closed. _____
From Brenda Clampitt, of Baton Rouge , LA , the wife of a
soldier stationed at Camp Adder in Tallil , Iraq :
[My husband] drives the trucks and Humvees and
escorts the KBR around where they need to go. He
doesn't understand why they get paid way more then
he does when [he and his fellow soldiers] are the
ones doing the protecting, and are the ones getting
shot at and blown up. He has seen soldiers die in
front of him; he has seen lives destroyed and the
country torn apart. My husband would serve his
country whether he got paid or not, that is just
how he is. He loves his country and wants to
protect it but he sees first hand what is going on
over there and he doesn't like it.... I myself am
sick and tired of this war. It is dragging on and
on and it is all about the money. I am not anti
war. But I am FOR everything your movie is about.
Today's lead editorial in the New York Times, titled
"Interrogation for Profit," decries "one of the Bush
administration's most blatant evasions of
accountability in Iraq -- the outsourcing of war
detainees' interrogation to mercenary private
contractors" and calls on Congress to approve "measures
to make war-zone contractors liable for criminal
behavior." The editorial concludes: "The way out of the
Iraq fiasco must include an end to the outsourced shadow armies."
This indictment has the same urgency of War Inc.
Especially with John McCain reminding us that it's "not
that important" to him when our troops come home.