What with its PowerPoint-ish presentation, liberal talking heads (Noam Chomsky, Mark Crispin Miller, Norman Mailer, among others), and a last-act interview from a soldier’s grieving family, Jeremy Earp and Sut Jhally’s Hijacking Catastrophe: 9/11, Fear & the Selling of American Empire may have a difficult time distinguishing itself from other recent anti-Bush polemics like Bush’s Brain and Orwell Rolls in His Grave, except it’s every bit as successful at undermining Bush’s war for oil in the Middle East and exposing the lexicon of intimidation his administration uses to control the American people. The message here is clear: The Republican Party is the party of the frat boy. Earp and Jhally don’t say that explicitly, but it’s something that’s all over the links they draw between Bush’s testosterone-fueled rhetoric and the G.I. Joe coverage of the Iraq War on the nightly news.
Shortly after 9/11, after taking issue with whiz-bang films like Behind Enemy Lines and We Were Soldiers for propagating a Reaginite jingoism at the expense of the enemy’s dehumanization, numerous hate mails (including one from a member of the KKK) suggested that I should return to my native country (Cuba, not Mexico as most seemed to assume). To these racist followers of our current radical right-wing administration, “calling out” American bad behavior during a time of war was tantamount to being anti-American, an asinine logic supported and perpetuated by George W. Bush in a November 2001 joint conference with French President Jacques Chirac when he declared that, “You’re either with us or against us in the fight against terror.”
In April 2004, at a press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, Bush would confirm for many of us that his neocon empire exists only to pander to a white, tunnel-visioned elite (his “base”) that uses oppressed, minority masses as foot soldiers in their war for imperialist expansion. “There’s a lot of people in the world who don’t believe that people whose skin color may not be the same as ours can be free and self-govern. I believe that people whose skins aren’t necessarily—are a different color than white can self-govern,” he said. It may have been Bush’s lowest moment, but the only people who seemed to take notice were people like myself—Americans whose skin color is not the same shade as that of our President’s.
These clips don’t appear in Hijacking Catastrophe, but there are other moments like them that Earp and Jhally use to add to the ongoing debate dealing with the Bush administration’s macho selling of the war. Physicist and activist Vandana Shiva compares the way good men like Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi fought wars using fearlessness and how bad men fight wars using fear. From the only-a-Republican shot of Bush wielding an ax over his head on Earth Day to Dubya shaking hands with Arnold “Girlie Men” Schwarzenegger, Earp and Jhally understand both the genius and dangerous implications of Bush’s “real man” image and how his administration has successfully marketed the President as an average G.I. Joe to hijack the votes of real “real men” (you know, the ones who actually fought in wars—the same guys without trust funds, Ivy League educations, or healthcare).
Earp and Jhally miss the opportunity to talk about the Swift Boat ads the Veterans for Truth have used to attack Bush’s rival John Kerry. These attacks remind me of a scene from Peter Davis’s brilliant documentary Hearts and Mind when Gen. William Westmoreland says, “The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as does the Westerner. Life is cheap in the Orient.” Like our current administration, whose war in Iraq was an offensive strategy above anything else, the miserable Westmoreland, not unlike the American soldiers at Abu Ghraib (and this is not an irony that goes unaddressed in Hijacking Catastrophe), forgot that the essential mission of his war was to win the hearts and minds of the very people he would go on to degrade in public.
According to the Veterans for Truth, John Kerry is a traitor for bringing to light the atrocities some (not all, an important distinction the group forgets or chooses to distort) American soldiers committed against Vietnamese men, women, and children on a daily basis. Though they call themselves the Veterans for Truth, a more apt name for their group should be Veterans for Silence, because they equate silence to honor and equate truth-speaking to anti-Americanism. We constantly hear stories of drunken frat boys who rape girls at parties and who then intimidate each other in order to keep their crime a secret. It’s this alpha male pathology and manipulation that drives men to war and motivates them to want to protect their own that Hijacking Catastrophe explores most effectively.
Norman Mailer brilliantly traces the origins of Bush’s war in Iraq to the fall of the Cold War. Others compare Bush’s cabinet to the emperors of ancient Rome, an empire that frequently flexed its muscle and whose vision of colonialist expansion led to their isolation and, finally, their downfall. It’s an evocative comparison that’s frighteningly impacted by one interviewee likening our national debt to a family borrowing against their mortgage in order to buy crack. Like its views on the environment, Bush’s administration lives only in the here and now, forgetting that after they’re long gone and buried, their kids and grandchildren will be the ones sealing the hole in the ozone layer and the holes in the pockets of every nation that’s now fronting the bill for their war of lies. Consider, then, Hijacking Catastrophe a wake-up call for the 50% of this country who will further lead us down the path to hell when they check off Bush’s name in November.