Based on a 2005 book by media critic/activist Norman Solomon, War Made Easy begins unpromisingly by presenting, with scattershot historical footage from the last 60 years, its thesis statement: The publicly presented government and media rationales camouflaging America’s complex, geopolitical reasons for making war have been essentially unchanged since the Cold War themes first fully employed in the Vietnam era (after a dry run in Korea). Illustrating the masquerade of a commitment to bringing “liberation” on the battlefield with LBJ and Nixon in Nam, Reagan in Grenada, Clinton in Kosovo, the Bushes in Panama and Iraq (all regularly invoking the appeasement of Hitler at Munich), the documentary grinds along as a familiar clipfest of Manufacturing Consent-style themes without the circumstantial particulars of the Solomon source material. (As the sole non-archival on-screen presence, the soft-spoken author is no Noam Chomsky, but who is?) Despite the selection of some of the executive branch’s greatest 20th-century wartime hits—LBJ decrying peace marchers as “cut-and-runners,” Nixon goading Kissinger to “think big” about nuking North Vietnam, Rumsfeld rhapsodizing over “humane” missile precision as dead kids are pulled from rubble—video montage is inadequate for conveying Washington’s increasingly relentless marketing of militarism in a mere 70 minutes.
Directors Loretta Alper and Jeremy Earp use their format to much better effect in exposing the transparent complicity of TV news in hawking interventions, particularly the bottom-line-mandated cheerleading of cable-news nets for the Bush War on Terror. Despite their relatively small audiences, these self-important 24/7 operations make an excellent microcosm for contemporary media obeisance to state propaganda, and it isn’t the Fox News attack dogs who come off most pathetically craven. MSNBC frets over their sole antiwar host, Phil Donahue, as a “difficult public face” weeks before his firing on the eve of Shock and Awe; a CNN editor boasts on camera of vetting their array of retired military “analysts” with the Pentagon; a chorus of hardware-worshipping correspondents cradle warplane models or rapturously bond with their combatant babysitters, fully embedded in the role of shills rather than journalists. Lest we think such indoctrination is purely a digital-age phenomenon, Alper and Earp include a telling Walter Cronkite segment from 1965 of the CBS anchor gee-whizzing when he rides along on a bombing run. “Well, Colonel, that’s a great way to go to war!” enthuses Cronkite, three years before famously editorializing that the U.S. effort in Vietnam was fated to end in stalemate. War Made Easy is unlikely to win converts to the view that America has mobilized for perpetual war since 1945 (or 2001), but it makes an excellent case for eschewing all “news” that comes with whooshing graphics from Situation Rooms.