Violence begets violence. This sounds like a profound statement but it really rather simple. Watching some excellent movies recently about the Iraq war, or the ‘War on Terror’ provoked me to consider all over again just how ridiculous the war in Iraq was and still is.
Let’s start with the ‘War on Terror’. The idea of such a ‘war’ is preposterous. To fight a war on terror, a concept or abstract noun, is impossible. It is also impossible to call something a war, when the battle was fought between trained armed forces from America and the UK, and (mainly) Iraqi civilians, making any killing classified as murder, not war heroism.
Upon watching the 2007 film Battle for Haditha, this sense of unfairness becomes apparent. The film follows the story of a platoon of US Marines, a civilian Iraqi family and two insurgents. The plot unfolds with the insurgents planting an IED which destroys a US humvee, killing one Marine and injuring two others. The commanding officer of the platoon then orders the men to ‘clear out’ every house in the vicinity in order to avenge the dead. The Iraqi family lose all but three of their number.
This totally random act of revenge is an example of the absurdity of the War on Terror. The commanding officer had earlier complained of trauma and sleep deprivation, suggesting to the audience that he was unfit to make such a decision to kill all those innocents. The Marines did not see the insurgents and so sought revenge on the first locals they found. This in turn provoked another Iraqi civilian to open fire on the Americans, causing further unnecessary killing as the Americans retaliate with testosterone and little thought. The incident is filmed by the insurgents and is used as propaganda to recruit more to their group – a failure on America’s part to protect the people from such ideology.
This cyclical narrative is reflected in Bigelow’s 2008 film The Hurt Locker. The movie starts and finishes with a shot of a street where a bomb disposal unit is stationed. Like Battle for Haditha, the film makes a comment about the pointless cycle of violence, showing that revenge is not a cure and only provokes further tragedy.
Further to this, I enjoyed the brutal honesty of Mendes’ Jarhead (2005). In this film, Mendes makes it clear what the war was really about: oil. Commanding officers admit it openly to their men, and in one scene the soldiers are ordered to guard an oil field, clearly showing that oil is worth more to the American Government than human life. The honesty about the relationships between the soldiers was also a valuable asset for this and the other films. The portrayal of the soldiers as men, broken down and built up again as anonymous killing machines with matching uniforms and identities partly explains some of the actions that take place out in Iraq, though not excusing them. When characters break down with the guilt of their duties, we see that there are victims on both sides, and that soldiers are not granted adequate human rights, as Jamie Foxx tells his men in Jarhead that they have lost the freedom of speech.
What I really liked about Battle for Haditha in particular, was its unbiased portrayal of the Iraqi people. The family featured in the film is shown to have good moral values and the central couple have a very modern and loving relationship, breaking stereotypes of both Muslim men and women. The women in the film are especially interesting, with Broomfield focussing on relationships between them, as well as portraying a woman, Hiba, with a mind of her own, wanting the best for her family and making decisions on the same level as her husband. Above all, the film ensures that the audience realise that not all Iraqis are members of Al Qaeda, helping to abolish these xenophobic stereotypes.
In both films the message is clear: violence begets more violence. By seeking revenge on the Iraqi people, the Americans make enemies out of those they are there to protect, causing further tragedy and demonstrating that war is not the answer. If we learned to communicate with one another, maybe such situations could be settled peacefully?