The entertainment industry is not new to propaganda. It has been used in film and television since its earliest days — in 1898, during the Spanish-American war. Birth of a Nation came out in 1915, and Fahrenheit 9/11 is technically a propaganda film (it came out in 2004). I’ve begun noticing a trend these last few years (and especially the last few months) of military film and television productions.
An uptick is a pattern to take notice of, and with the inundation of films like Thank You For Your Service, War Machine, and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, along with shows like SEAL Team, Valor, and The Brave, I’m beginning to suspect that we’re about to undergo a huge propaganda campaign.
Not all stories that include war are propaganda. Not all war films are wretchedly inaccurate. But a lot of these new shows and films show a romanticized idea of war, heroism, and sacrifice. That’s the main issue for me. I don’t want to see a portrayal of military life that makes me forget what really happens out there. I don’t want to watch something like that and then take no notice of the people affected by war — the soldiers with PTSD, the widows and orphans, and the innocent casualties. I don’t want to gloss over the horrors of war.
Because what happens when we gloss, when we romanticize, when we fictionalize real life, is that we lose touch with reality. We allow ourselves to be carried away in any direction, as long as there’s a good story. And I think that does an incredible disservice to all of us, in the end. None of us should have to suit up and go to war, and it isn’t something to celebrate. It is a horrible, ugly truth that people fight and kill each other because of land, money, politics, religion, and desperation.
I enjoy some war stories — Master & Commander, The Patriot, and M*A*S*H* come to mind. But even M*A*S*H*, which is touted as a comedy, did not shy away from the ugliness of war. Hawkeye Pierce’s distaste of the military and the show’s focus on healing the wounded, along with its undertone of protest against the war taking place while it was on air, are markers of its anti-war message. Master & Commander and The Patriot are historical fiction, and while they do portray the French and the English, respectively, as “the bad guys”, they aren’t forcing that view on the audience.
What I see coming is a wave of military propaganda in order to adjust people to the eventual reality. There will be another war. There’s always another war. But I’d rather keep my eyes open than buy into a bunch of lies about how war makes great men, or saves people, or is the best choice for countries to settle their differences. I don’t buy it. Though I’ve never been in a war zone, I have friends who grew up in war zones. I’ve known people who have lost family members in action. And I don’t see anything beautiful or worth idolizing in that.