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War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death

While the current "No End in Sight" charts the serial strategic blunders made by the U.S. in Iraq, "War Made Easy" takes a different if equally damning tack. Media/political critic Norman Solomon accuses the Bush administration -- and many before it -- of using misleading language, news manipulation, half-truths and outright lies to win public support for military actions of questionable necessity. Overlapping with other recent docus, pic nonetheless presents a stimulating argument. Already screening around the country in grassroots benefit/activist-rallying gigs (and available on DVD), pic commences niche theatrical release with a run at San Francisco's Roxie Cinema starting Aug. 24.

With:
With: Norman Solomon. Narrator: Sean Penn.

While the current “No End in Sight” charts the serial strategic blunders made by the U.S. in Iraq, “War Made Easy” takes a different if equally damning tack. Media/political critic Norman Solomon accuses the Bush administration — and many before it — of using misleading language, news manipulation, half-truths and outright lies to win public support for military actions of questionable necessity. Overlapping with other recent docus, pic nonetheless presents a stimulating argument. Already screening around the country in grassroots benefit/activist-rallying gigs (and available on DVD), pic commences niche theatrical release with a run at San Francisco’s Roxie Cinema starting Aug. 24.

Pic reps a cinematic companion-piece to Solomon’s 2005 book of the same title, making “War Made Easy” an illustrated lecture a la “An Inconvenient Truth,” with broadcast-news clips rather than computer graphics providing the primary visual interest. Sean Penn narrates occasionally, but Solomon’s astute onscreen analysis drives co-directors Loretta Alper and Jeremy Earp’s unobtrusively well-crafted film.

It opens with footage of Gen. MacArthur touting a “new world of peace” hopefully brought about by WWII’s end, then recaps the many instances (Korea, Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, et al) in which Yank might has been exercised since.

Solomon doesn’t expound on the “complex geopolitical interests” that spurred (rightly or wrongly) each engagement. His thesis is that the public face of these conflicts has been propagandically, hawkishly simplified, and that the American populace is sold on each endeavor without being informed of its real motivations and potential costs.Rapid-fire clips illustrate how vivid, misleading terminology spreads like wildfire from its administration source (as well as Pentagon and military personnel)to pundits, journos and commentators. Thus references to “axis of evil,” “another Hitler,” “ending tyranny,” “supporting the troops,” “achieving peace,” etc., become prejudged fact via sheer repetition for the underinformed citizen.

Major focus is on the White House agenda-setting that flooded airwaves and print media with post-9/11 links between Saddam Hussein, WMDs and Al Qaeda, and how almost no one in the alleged liberal media bothered to question these justifications for invasion until long after the fact. Homeland anti-war demonstrations were ignored and/or ridiculed in the press, and some critical media voices silenced (i.e. war skeptic Phil Donahue’s firing from MSNBC despite his show’s high ratings).Archival footage of Walter Cronkite enjoying a gee-whiz bombing-mission ride early in the Vietnam War (before he famously proclaimed the conflict unwinnable) presages a spotlight on reality down below. It’s reported that while civilians made up 10% of WWI’s casualties, they have crept up ever since — to 90% in today’s Iraq.

But escalation in ground-level harm has, per Solomon, been deliberately obscured from public knowledge. Instead, attention isrefocused on dubious feel-good reconstruction stories and fodder from embedded journalists selected by military intelligence to fly and bond with troops on select missions. Fox News is predictably bashed here, but supposedly neutral CNN gets it even harder.

Smartly edited package benefits from John Van Eps and Leigh Philips’ urgent, piano-based original score.

War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death

Production: An MED release of an Institute for Public Accuracy presentation of a Media Education Foundation production. Produced by Loretta Alper. Co-producer, Andrew Killoy. Executive producers, Jeremy Earp, Sut Jhally. Directed, written by Loretta Alper, Jeremy Earp.

Crew: Camera (color, mini-DV-to-DV), David Rabinovitz; editor, Andrew Killoy; music, John Van Eps, Leigh Philips; sound, Peter Acker; motion graphics, Killoy. Reviewed on DVD, San Francisco, July 3, 2007. (In Montreal World Film Festival.) Running time: 73 MIN.

With: With: Norman Solomon. Narrator: Sean Penn.

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