A and I set out to enjoy a fun, forgettable movie last night. The movie we chose, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, will, eventually, be forgettable, but its not-funness was very wrapped up in memory: the memory of that corrupt and vile decade, the 00s in these here United States. The overwhelming Orientalist stereoptypes, from Gunga Din to Savage to Wise Native; the political blankness (this is a movie that locates one of its first scenes at the Bagram Airforce base in 2002, which is famous for containing a torture chamber in which at least two Afghan civilians were tortured to death by American interrogators, without pausing to allude to it)); the ridiculous intrusion of a sort of lean-in feminism as our moral justification for being in Afghanistan (real feminism was introduced by the Communists under the PDPA in 1978, which began a revolt that was stifled by Soviet soldiers. The US then funded the mujahedin freedom fighters, as Reagan called them, who put the subordination of women at the top of their list of complaints, and, in power, quickly purged the hospitals of women doctors and the schools of women students); and the unquestioning subordination of the press to the military and the Bush narrative (although the movie carefully never mentions George Bush), created, for me, an hour andd fifty minute time trip back to the America of that decade.
Hollywood, of course, with a small deviation in the seventies, has always kissed the ass of the Pentagon, recognizing the Defense department as another smoke and mirrors laboratory, covering itself in the rhetoric of uplift as it goes about accruing money and power. In this movie, the soldiers are all polite as pie, the generals crusty. No rapists here. No commander as bad as Richard Myers, who missed Osama bin Laden riding away on his little pony – apparently, they could bomb the peasants around the base of Tora Bora to their hearts content, but they couldn’t bomb the paths out of Tora Bora and through the mountains because they might hurt some innocent shepherds. The American government here, so well intentioned that it positively squeaked, could never have countenanced the airlift of Taliban leaders and fighters and ISI commandos from Kunduz to Pakistan. No, they were much too busy doing, in their clumsy, loveable way, good to the country. In this Afghanistan war, the Taliban are the ultimate evil. The Northern Alliance, the warlords the US teamed up with, are only obliquely mentioned in a scene that hints at what they were famous for – kidnapping and raping boys.
The end of this thing was in the same spirit as the rest of it.. A cheerful vet, his legs blown off but not at all bitter about it, expresses the view that nobody is responsible for the war in Afghanistan. Its causes are too far back in history to even think about. The unsuccessful, 14 year, trillion and a half dollar war was just one of those things, like a mountain or a bad case of diarrhea. So sweet! For if nobody is to blame, why, we can do it all over again!
Oh, and on a final note: the movie is advertised as a rom-com. Cause of the Tina Fey main character and such.
In a sense, this does express the American self image about its imperialism. Big, brutish but ulitimately sweet Uncle Sam meets demure, backwards Middle Eastern country and in a hilarious and romantic courtship, bombs the shit out of it and introduces it to the cell phone and dating! Loveable hijinx for the whole family.