March 11, 2012
Hollywood and The Pentagon: A Dangerous Liaison (2003)
The American Army's intrusion in Hollywood war films may surprise some. In fact, the U.S. Army secret services have had close ties with American filmmakers for several decades. The movie Top Gun, for instance, was filmed with the support and approval of the U.S. Army. There is even a special bureau, the Film Liaison Office, that oversees these issues for the Pentagon and the Capitol. It has a clear mission: studying the scripts of American war movies, deciding whether to offer them support or not, depending on their interest for the country's military leaders.
Scripts are cut and sometimes watered down. Characters are changed and historical truth, sometimes fudged. One director might be loaned combat jets and ships, and all their equipment, enabling him to shoot the scenes written by his scriptwriters. Another director, whose script displeases the army, may be refused any kind of support. That was the case for the film Platoon, deemed overly critical of the Vietnam War. It is then up to the producers to look for shooting locations and equipment outside the United States. Often, at considerable cost.
In his Pentagon office, the head of the Film Liaison Office makes no secret of his goals. He wants to encourage films which flatter the U.S. Army, win support for its actions on the battle field, and encourage more soldiers to sign up. In short: pure propaganda. Few great war films have escaped the influence, or even the censure, of the U.S. Army.
Movie people like Oliver Stone and movies like"Fahrenheit 9/11" have created the general impression that Hollywood is controlled by "liberals", Americanese for leftists, possibly dangerous. However, there is another side to Hollywood. Every morning at 6 a.m. I watch the History Channel classroom, which I esteem highly. However, it deals almost exclusively with US history; I have not even seen a program on Canada, Moreover, the dominant theme is war, not peace, and the actors are the US military, and that is one reason why I hope to persuade the History Channel to prepare programs on the peaceful history of America's great universities.
It is obvious that there is a connection between the Pentagon and Hollywood, but it has been hard to document. Now David Robb has filled the gap with his heavily documented Operation Hollywood (Prometheus, 2004). Many organizations, including the CIA, have offices in Hollywood which try to influence the content of films, but the biggest one and the one with by far the most clout is the Pentagon's, which exercises control over films in which the military are involved by providing soldiers and equipment or by refusing them. Robb is very critical of Hollywood for selling out to the military. The Pentagon has two aims. The first is to present the military in a good light: no foul language, no drugs or other unseemly behavior. It is for this reason that the revelations about Abu Graib prison were such a shock. The censorship is a two-step process: first the Pentagon's Hollywood office gives instructions and, as the filming progresses, cuts out anything it does not like. Robb views this as a violation of free speech, and quotes law professors on the point. Then there is a showing in the Pentagon, where final approval is given.
The second aim is to make a military career seem attractive to youngsters, and thus to boost enrollment. Even Lassie and Donald Duck have been used for this purpose. This is where the History Channel comes in. The program are often interrupted with advertisements telling your people to consider a career in the military, which is shown in a favorable light. Thus in the Cuban missile crisis the military should not be made to appear aggressive and stupid. To the credit of the History Channel, the superb series on Kennedy played the story straight. In some cases, when the movie makers run afoul of the Pentagon, they try to make their films in countries like the Philippines or Canada. Then the Pentagon puts pressure on the armed forces of those countries to block production.
Hollywood bosses like Jack Valenti go along with this Pentagon control because it is to their economic interest. However, there is another side to this story. Robb admits that the Marines are the most flexible and reasonable, which will no doubt please General Sullivan. However, Robb does not mention that the Pentagon can justify its control by pointing out the alternative: Hollywood leftists would produce films showing the military in the worst possible light, thus doing a disservice to the nation. There surely are films presenting the military is that light. All this ties on with our "Learning history " project. Most people learn history from the movies, not from historians. They may thus have two versions of any operation in which the US military are involved: one approved by the Pentagon, the other critical of it. The title Operation Hollywood is meant to suggest that for the Pentagon its Hollywood activities are one more operation. Moral. Don't go to the movies; read history books.
Christopher Jones writes: "The relationship between Hollywood and the Pentagon reminds me of the German movie induztry under the Nazis: only clean cut, good looking fellows were depicted to valiantly jumped into their Stukas to bomb the enemies of the "New World Order." There were some memorable specimens: Stuka was very successful in promoting Luftwaffe pilots as the heart throb for the nation's young ladies. Dr Goebbels even authorized pulling troops from active duty for his last great spectacle, Kohlberg, about the Prussian led German resistance to Napoleon. That the Pentagon has now pacted with an industry dominated by Jews with direct ties with Israel, should come as no surprise. Have you ever seen a Hollywood film that depicts villainous Israelis?"