WAR MADE EASY: HOW PRESIDENTS & PUNDITS KEEP SPINNING US TO DEATHNR
War Made Easy: How Presidents & Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death conclusively shows that there is nothing new about how Bush & Company lied to the world to enable the invasion of Iraq. Co-directors Loretta Alper and Jeremy Earp solidly formulate the point that perpetual war has been around for a long time, though they could have broadened their use of sources.
Based on a book by Norman Solomon and narrated by Sean Penn, War Made Easy looks back to World War II and the eerie parallels between the Nazi and U.S. propaganda machines. The architects of future wars and conflicts in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq used similar techniques, only more refined, to persuade the American people that war is a necessary way to combat “evil” and (ironically) the only method for achieving peace. The film interweaves a lengthy interview with author Solomon with archival footage from newscasts, newsreels and propaganda films.
Solomon articulates his theory well and Alper and Earp substantiate his positions with their use of clips. Some of the archival material is stunning in the context of Solomon’s argument, including the montage of presidents making addresses to the public where they claim going to war is the only way to establish peace. The similarities among the statements make one wonder about the extent to which a promise to the true “powers that be” to promote war is a prerequisite for attaining the presidency (though the film doesn’t delve into this point or whether it is purely coincidental that every leader happens to sound the same).
The most remarkable sequence is not visual, but an audio excerpt from the infamous Nixon tapes, in which Nixon vociferously argues for the use of nuclear bombing against the Vietnamese and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger cautions him about the political, not moral, implications. Even the folks at the Fox News Channel would have a hard time defending this exchange (though I’m sure they would try).
War Made Easy never shies away from implicating the government or the establishment media in the buildup to military action. We see several clips of supposedly left-leaning reporters and anchors (Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather, Peter Jennings) freely employing right-wing talking points on the eve of and during both the Vietnam and Iraq wars. Solomon also adds that the mea culpas from officials and news people after the wars and conflicts have started are hollow and meaningless, yet represent another disturbing historical pattern. In this film, only a few courageous anti-war heroes emerge—talk-show host Phil Donahue, reporter Peter Arnett, and the forgotten U.S. senator Wayne Morse (one of the few opponents of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution).
Alper and Earp could have turned War Made Easy into a powerhouse production had they allowed other voices to be heard as talking-head interviews (either to substantiate or contrast Solomon) and had they gone further into the mechanics of the propaganda techniques or the motives behind the perpetual war syndrome.
Even as history, War Made Easy seems cursory at times. The filmmakers begin with World War II, but they should have started much earlier with their overview—at least with the “yellow journalism” of William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers urging the entry into the Spanish-American War.
As it is, War Made Easy contributes a significant argument and does a good enough job in a limited way.