Opinion » Ted Rall

Triumph of the Swill

The Hurt Locker supports the troops—and the lies


NEW YORK—The Motion Picture Academy's choice of The Hurt Locker as best film of 2009 is a sad commentary on America's unwillingness to face the ugly truth about itself nearly a decade after 9/11.

The Hurt Locker is about a U.S. Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit operating in U.S.-occupied Iraq in 2004, one year after the invasion. They get called in to disarm improvised explosive devices of all shapes and sizes. The EOD unit in The Hurt Locker also comes under fire from Iraqi resistance fighters.

The setting is inherently political, yet director Kathryn Bigelow studiously insists that her movie isn't. The trouble with The Hurt Locker is that it, like too many other American war films, whitewashes history.

In this film, neither the EOD unit or soldiers ever make a mistake that kills or injures an Iraqi civilian. Like the camera that put the audience behind the killer's mask in Halloween, Bigelow has created a claustrophobic, soldier's-eye view ominous with paranoia.

This supposedly apolitical film turns into pro-U.S. propaganda. As film critic Andrew Breitbart wrote, The Hurt Locker stripped its Iraqi characters of their humanity "and turned [them] into story-props: villains, victims, foul-mouthed hustlers, or strange alien beings who keep an awkward distance and mourn the dead by yelling savagely at the sky."

Creative liberties have limits. One is historical truth. Unless you're making a live-action cartoon like Inglorious Basterds, you can't make things up. But The Hurt Locker creates an alternate universe, in which U.S. troops took as much care not to hurt civilians as AIG took with our tax dollars.

In the real world of U.S.-occupied Iraq in 2004, American soldiers were blowing away anyone who failed to slow down at checkpoints. They were raping, robbing and murdering. Countless soldiers recounted randomly shooting at houses and people. According to Iraq Body Count's conservative estimate, between 8,000 and 10,000 Iraqis were killed by April 2004. The truth was probably fiftyfold.

In September 2004, Knight-Ridder News Service reported that more Iraqi civilians had been killed by U.S. forces at checkpoints than by insurgents. "At the Baghdad morgue, Dr. Quasis Hassan Salem said he saw a family of eight brought in: three women, three men and two children. They were sleeping on their roof last month because it was hot inside. A military helicopter shot at them and killed them: 'I don't know why,'" said the wire service.

The reason for the bloodshed was simple: U.S. troops had been trained to shoot first They didn't care about civilians. We don't see any of this in The Hurt Locker, only good, confused American boys trying to muddle through a scary situation as best they can.

It is sad that a film so devoid of texture can earn critical plaudits. Not only is the history it seeks to revise ridiculously recent, one can only shudder at the thought of what Iraqis and other Middle Easterners will think when pirated copies start showing up.

We need to stop wallowing in self-indulgent, sentimental pap about how bad war is for the U.S. military forces. After all, the United States has started every war it has fought since 1945. What we should be considering is what our forces do to others in the course of invading and destroying their countries.