05/08/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Spoils of War: An Oscar for The Hurt Locker

When I saw The Hurt Locker back in August, I thought, "Finally a grunt's-eye view of the war in Iraq. And not so gung-ho either." Leave it to my staff of thousands to straighten me out.

Bill Osborne wrote in an e-mail message, "I thought it was a subtle form of American war propaganda that could work as a kind of perverse, macho recruiting film." He cited Hurt Locker screenwriter Mark Boal's acceptance speech, dedicating his Oscar to the troops, at last night's Academy Awards:

His statement lets the cat out of the bag. It's a war movie that glorifies the macho stupidity of war while disguising its agenda with a kind of fake depth and dimension. It could easily fall into the category of "Pentagon movies." [The Defense Department dropped its official support for the movie during filming.]

When will there be a movie that makes it clear that we invaded Iraq to steal their resources and strategic position and that the soldiers there are not a citizen's army but essentially mercenaries? The best that we can say for them is that at least most of the grunts don't know what they are really doing. Whatever happened to artists telling the truth?

Osborne isn't alone in thinking of the movie as a recruiting tool.

Tara McKelvey, reviewing it in The American Prospect, wrote:

The Hurt Locker sets itself up as an anti-war film. It opens with a quote, "War is a drug," from [pacifist] Chris Hedges, a Nation Institute senior fellow and author of War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning. Yet for more than two hours, the film imbues Baghdad's combat zone with excitement and drama. ... The fact that the war itself seems to have little point fades into the background. For all the graphic violence, bloody explosions and, literally, human butchery that is shown in the film, The Hurt Locker is one of the most effective recruiting vehicles for the U.S. Army that I have seen.

As to the troops in Iraq being "too stressed out ... to reflect on larger questions about what they are doing there," as one rave review put it, Osborne says, "Well, hell, what a convenient little coincidence." And as to the large number of National Guard soldiers who didn't really volunteer for the war but who were essentially drafted into it, he says:

Those poor folks were suckered. They sort of made a pact with the devil, and then were called to pay the price. They didn't really know what they were doing. The government likes it that way. The military uses a lot of tricks in recruiting. It even uses threats and forms of financial blackmail to bully its way into our schools, where high school kids -- children really -- are manipulated into signing up. Preying upon children to find cannon fodder has to be one of the most evil things our government does.

"When the draft was ended," he adds, "I thought it was the beginning of an entirely new and more just world. What a delusion!"

The government and military had already seen in Vietnam that a citizen army is not well suited for imperialist war. History shows that Americans step up to the line when the cause is just. But the government saw that it needed soldiers more along the lines of mercenaries, people who are in it basically for financial reasons and don't really consider the moral implications.

Above all, the "hypocrisy of our society" is to blame:

When the going gets tough we expect those young people from the lower stratas of society to do their "service." At the same time, we conveniently forget that when the government becomes immoral or misguided it's supposed to be we artists and intellectuals who take the risks and step up to the line to help chart a better course.

Those young people, mercenaries or not, wouldn't even be over there if we hadn't abdicated our responsibilities. That might not justify being a mercenary, but it shows where the larger responsibility lies when a society drifts so far away from telling the truth. A cinematic storyline that hides essential parts of the truth is a perfect example of that kind of moral abdication. I guess it shows what an Oscar really counts for.

OK, I'm willing to consider it a mere souvenir among the more significant spoils of war.

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