Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Green Zone: Losing Black and White

Green Zone (film)Image via Wikipedia I don't get into politics a great deal in this blog, as you know, but having watched Green Zone starring Matt Damon last night, it's difficult to refrain from commenting. Green Zone takes place in 2003 Iraq, and follows a MET (Mobile Exploitation) team in the search for WMD -- weapons of mass destruction. Loosely based on the real-life experiences of soldier Monty Gonzales, who led a MET team in Iraq, the film dramatizes the frustration and confusion associated with trying to locate the stated reason for being there in the first place.

A noticeable difference between the Great Generation and subsequent ones, is the kind of war films produced. If you take a look at many that came out of World War II and Korea, the good guys and bad guys are clearly delineated, there is a strong note of American patriotism, and there are no moral gray areas -- black is black and white is white. To a certain extent, I think these films represent not only the mindset of that generation, but the nature of the particular wars they depict.

Viet Nam was the first truly ambiguous war of the 20th century, though some may argue the same for Korea. But unlike Korea, Viet Nam was more divisive than unifying. Not only from the standpoint of anti-war sentiment, but because there was no undeniable justification for American involvement. The popularity of films such as Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, and Apocalypse Now, reflect the attitudes of a generation coping with war in a world that was losing its sense of black and white.

For a while, 9-11 looked like a rebirth of Pearl Harbor values. But the context was wrong. Unlike America up to December 1941, isolationism wasn't the dominant political voice in 2001. We weren't coming out of economic depression and our recent history included military intervention in Kuwait. We hadn't been minding our own business only to find ourselves thrust onto the international scene against our will. Furthermore, the enemy wasn't specific in the same way as Germany and Japan. This time we had a tribal conflict on our hands with an elusive enemy who could be anywhere.

And that's the dilemma we face in the 21st century. The old reliable categories are too rigid to adequately classify incoming data. The message of Green Zone is, no one knows precisely what's going on; it's all too new. In the aftermath of invasion, neither the Iraqis nor the Americans could resolve the chaos resulting from the instability accompanying the removal of an oppressive regime.

Some critics have described Green Zone as anti-war or unpatriotic. Frankly, I think it does a marvelous job of clarifying how murky war has become. It reveals the kind of Machiavellian machinations that have necessarily characterized our approach to armed conflict since Viet Nam. In a world where ambiguity rules, the old rules don't apply, and as a result, the players all jockey for power. In short, Green Zone is an image of us and while it's not a pleasant one, it's nevertheless an accurate one.


(Fair use of low-resolution image of copyrighted film poster from The Green Zone used to identify the film in question. Copyright presumed to be held by Universal Pictures.)
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