Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
First-Year Seminar

Academics

FYS Section A13. Watching War Movies in Baghdad: Mobilizing Cinematic Mythos, Dialogue and Empathy in the Iraq War

What does it mean, just three months after President Bush’s May 1, 2003 declaration of “Mission Accomplished” on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, for the Pentagon’s Directorate for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict to screen The Battle of Algiers for military colleagues and ask whether US forces may have won the Battle of Baghdad only to risk losing the war? What does it mean to have the US occupying forces in Iraq imagine themselves as the Wolverines, teenage insurgents fighting Soviet and Cuban invaders from the movie Red Dawn, as they hunt down Saddam Hussein in the methodical style employed by the film’s Colonel Strelnikov, the Soviet counter-insurgency expert tasked to hunt down the American teenage freedom fighters? And what does it mean to have US military Red Teams ask US ground forces in Iraq to watch movies in one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces, including a documentary on the Iraqi resistance these same soldiers are fighting, a film that asks its audience to re-consider the Iraqi insurgents as Wolverines, standing patriotically to defend their country from foreign occupation? This course will seek to answer these and other questions through an examination of the use of popular culture film by elements of the United States’ military establishment in war planning and, more incidentally, in tactical operations during Operation Iraqi Freedom. We will explore how meaning circulates between films and their audiences, in the apparent gaps between authorial intent, film reception and eventual re-purposing, as we seek to better understand the general nature of foreign policy and military operations in modern democratic states, as well as the specific challenges the US military and the country have faced in successfully concluding the Iraq War.

Gerard HuiskampGerard Huiskamp
Professor of Political Science