Saturday, November 12, 2005


Nov.10 — the 230th Anniversary of the founding of the United States Marine Corps. Nov. 11 — Veterans’ Day. Marine Lance Cpl. Aaron Mankin observed both celebrations from Brooke Army Medical Center here.

He’s been here for months — recovering from burns and wounds he received earlier this year near Al Qaim, Iraq. I was there, covering his unit for FOX News when the Assault Amphibious Vehicle he was in was blown apart by an improvised explosive device.

This week, I was privileged to spend part of the Marine Corps Anniversary with him here in San Antonio. It would have been nice to introduce him to some of the fools in Hollywood.

It’s pretty clear those making movies in Tinsel Town don’t know any real men like Aaron Mankin. They apparently prefer cowardice over courage; witless whiners to real patriots; gutless wimps and hollow phonies to men who know the meaning of self-sacrifice and integrity. That’s the only conclusion one can draw after seeing Hollywood’s latest anti-military travesty — “Jarhead.”

The newly released film is loosely based on an anti-Marine screed crafted by Anthony Swofford, who purports to be a “veteran” of Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990-91. Mr. Swofford maintains it is an accurate depiction of his military experience, from boot camp — where he claims to have been abused and belittled by a maniacal drill instructor — to his mutinous “tour of duty” in Saudi Arabia in the first Gulf war.

“A witty, profane, down-in-the-sand account of the war many only know from CNN, this former sniper’s debut is a worthy addition to the battlefield memoir genre,” says a book review by Publisher’s Weekly. But this is no “Battle Cry” — by Leon Uris — a real battle memoir by a real Marine. The plug for CNN could easily have read, “ABC,” “CBS” or “NBC” — for all the so-called mainstream media have covered war and warriors with equal disdain. And just in case the reader is dense enough to misunderstand what the work is really about, the reviewer helpfully notes Mr. Swofford “questions whether the men are as prepared as their commanders, the American public and the men themselves think they are.”

One might conclude from the book and movie reviews that this is simply another antiwar epic. But this isn’t “Red Badge of Courage,” or “All Quiet on the Western Front” — two great books and films that accurately depict the horror and carnage of war. Nor has “Jarhead” any of the cutting, satirical humor of “M.A.S.H.” or “Catch-22” — which portray war’s futility.

It’s not that Hollywood has always failed those who fight our wars. During and after World War II, every studio produced films that encouraged a war weary nation — and showed American soldiers, sailors, airmen, Guardsmen and Marines as committed, courageous and compassionate. But that was the “good war” — and as the fictional “Saving Private Ryan” proved — both in critical acclaim and at the box office — decades after it ended, Hollywood remains comfortable making movies about the great crusade against fascism.

But clearly, “winning” a war isn’t a prerequisite for a positive portrayal on the silver screen. Though the Korean War ended in stalemate — the first war we didn’t “win” — film-makers were still able to show the Americans who fought there in a positive way. “The Bridges of Toko-Ri” — based on James Michener’s novel — has a tragic ending like the war in which it was set — but it is still a saga of bravery and self-sacrifice.

Even the much-maligned Vietnam War has a small handful of films accurately depicting the valor and perseverance of those who served there. “We Were Soldiers Once,” based on the account of Gen. Harold Moore and reporter Joe Galloway, of the events of Nov. 14-16, 1965, when 450 U.S. soldiers were airlifted into Ia Drang Valley and immediately surrounded by elements of the North Vietnamese Army’s 66th Regiment is an example.

Other “losing campaigns” have been chronicled by cameras without denigrating those who served. The magnificent film, “Blackhawk Down” — depicting the true-life story of Rangers and Army Delta Force operators sent on a disastrous raid into the heart of Mogadishu, Somalia, to capture warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, is a case in point.

Given these profitable precedents, why do the powerbrokers and financial geniuses in Hollywood choose to make a movie such as “Jarhead” and release it coincident with a Marine Corps birthday and Veterans’ Day?

The film has not one character or scene with any redeeming virtue or value. It is an excessively vulgar movie without a moral or a point. With our nation at war — this film is not just antiwar — or rotten to the Corps — though it is certainly that. “Jarhead” is anti-everything good and decent.

During a week when Americans honor the Corps and thank their veterans, “Jarhead” cheapens and distorts the heroism, warrior spirit, superior intellect and selflessness of America’s fighting forces. Those who participated in making this nihilist flop deserve nothing but scorn.

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist and the founder and honorary chairman of Freedom Alliance.

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