Saturday, March 13, 2010

Does Ebert Really Not Care About the Truth?

Recent release Green Zone scored a four star review from Roger Ebert today. While every man is entitled to his opinion of a film (I would never decry someone for 'feeling' a way about a film and isn't about it getting four stars), it's his shocking lack of concern for truth and even more shocking lack of objectivity that really caught my attention.

For those not in the know Green Zone is a war thriller about the early days of the Iraq War and one army chief's mission to uncover the truth about why the search for WMD's has come up empty. The film has come under fire from several places for it's fact twisting and simplifications. I have yet to see the film (will be watching it today) so I cannot comment on whether or not the allegations seem to be truthful. However, Eberts opening lines about Green Zone seem to indicate that he doesn't even care if the film is truthful or not, Ebert writes...

"Its message is that Iraq's fabled "weapons of mass destruction" did not exist, and that neocons within the administration fabricated them, lied about them and were ready to kill to cover up their deception. Is this true? I'm not here to say. It's certainly one more element in the new narrative that has gradually emerged about Iraq, the dawning realization that we went to war under false premises."

Where to begin? Is Ebert this willfully ignorant of recent history? Let me run down the issues with just these three points:

1) Ebert says the film claims that Iraq's 'weapons of mass destruction' were fabled and never existed. It was the neoconservatives who 'invented' the evidence as a pretense for war. Without going back into the whole Iraq war discussion, let me offer this
- It wasn't 'just' American intelligence who believed in Iraq's WMD, it was all the intelligence agencies of the western world, let alone Saddam's own people who thought he had them.
- U.N. Weapons Inspectors and Teams dating back to 1991 recorded and noted that WMD's were unnaccounted for and consistently desired to monitor and search for them
- Colin Powell (no NEOCON fanatic) became convinced of the evidence
- Nearly all the major players in Congress who say the same intelligence as Bush and the other allied nations believed Saddam to have WMDs.
- Many Generals within the U.S. Army and Iraqi Army believed many WMD's were destroyed or moved before the invasion

This is not me making a case FOR the war. This is me making the case that the film deceptively oversimplifies the issue, and does so with a partisan agenda. Of course, none of these things matter, because they don't fit the narrative that Ebert and revisionist critics believe.

2) "Is this true? I'm not here to say"

Ebert runs an end around the facts of the case by claiming that it's not relevant whether the history is true or not. Seriously? This film is meant to be a commentary on what happened in Iraq right? It's meant to be based upon a non-fictional account? I would surmise that it doesn't matter to Ebert because it fits his liberal narrative. I would guess (and I am speculating) that if the film had pressed the opposite case, that the evidence was a 'slam dunk' and that we were heroes in Iraq, then fact twisting would mean a lot more to him. This is more evident by third point...

3) "It's certainly one more element in the new narrative that has gradually emerged about Iraq, the dawning realization that we went to war under false premises"
Where has Ebert been since 2003? New narrative? Gradually emerged? Dawning realization? People were claiming Bush lied as early as the spring of 2003. It's been a constant drumbeat ever since and played pivotal roles in the 2004, 2008 elections. This line alone should be enough to caution anyone desiring to take his thoughts on the war seriously.

To straighten it out, Ebert says that the film claims 'Neocons' entirely fabricated the evidence for the Iraq War leading us there under deception. It's not for him to say whether or not it's true, but it's useful because it's an element that's emerging in our realization that we went to war under false premises? So, Ebert believes we went to war under false pretenses, this is fact for him. The films' claims, no matter if they are true or not, are important because they re-affirm what Ebert already believes?

This reminds me of an anecdote that the philosopher Peter Kreeft once told his class recounting that one student claimed it was okay to make any point they wanted because even if the point was inaccurate or unfactual, it at least stirred up a worthy debate. To that, one of Kreeft's other students replied, "Your mother is a whore!". The original student became offended, but the offendee replied, "I don't know if it's true or not, but it sure is a worthy debate!"

The sad part is, Ebert does buy this simplistic scapegoat crap about the Iraq War. No one claims there wasn't major failures in the run-up to the war and after the war. There were massive intelligence failures that could be explored insightfully and fruitfully. An excellent film could be made about the immediate failures after we entered Iraq, but it wouldn't be a black and white one; at least not an honest film.


None of this matters to Ebert and I think it's a shame. There are times when historical inaccuracies can be and should be overlooked, because of the larger themes and thrust of a film. A film like JFK can be enjoyed (even though it's tough) despite it's inaccuracies, mostly because that history is behind us, and the consequences of those inaccuracies only lead to simple disagreements, heated debates, or at the most conspiracy nuts.

This isn't the same with the Iraq War. We still have thousands of soldiers fighting in the that theater, let alone in Afghanistan. So much depends upon the successful outcome in Iraq and American's ability to operate there, that getting history correct or at least allowing the room for disagreement is important.

I'm not saying that these kind of films shouldn't be made because they are disloyal or would ruin our effort, people can make whatever film they want, it's a free country. I'm also not saying that Ebert can't have this opinion. What I do want to say is that I think both are dangerous to good political discourse and have the ability to only solidify in the minds of Americans and the world half-truths and myths, only obscuring further the real problems and issues that revolve around Iraq.


My view that Ebert is cleary easy on this film because of his liberal bias is only confirmed by his opening line, "Green Zone looks at an American war in a way almost no Hollywood movie ever has: We're not the heroes, but the dupes." Only someone with blinders on couldn't see that Hollywood puts out plenty of movies like this. Not being able to see that Green Zone fits comfortably within a whole line of films critical of American's role in Iraq (let alone several of the Vietnam flicks), makes me believe Ebert has lost his sense of objectivity.

We all have our subjective bias. We all lean toward narratives that fit our current worldviews. However, isn't one the essential parts of being a cultured and learned person being able to retain objectivity and openness, especially to those things that don't seem to fit our current worldview? Ebert's contention that Green Zone is a rare breed of war film is so glaringly untrue that I wonder whether Ebert cares that he's lost his ability to see past his own worldview. Or worse, that he even knows.

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