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January 07, 2008

TomDispatch: Chalmers Johnson On Charlie Wilson's War


Imperialist Propaganda
Second Thoughts on Charlie Wilson's War

By Chalmers Johnson

I have some personal knowledge of Congressmen like Charlie Wilson (D-2nd District, Texas, 1973-1996) because, for close to twenty years, my representative in the 50th Congressional District of California was Republican Randy "Duke" Cunningham, now serving an eight-and-a-half year prison sentence for soliciting and receiving bribes from defense contractors. Wilson and Cunningham held exactly the same plummy committee assignments in the House of Representatives -- the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee plus the Intelligence Oversight Committee -- from which they could dole out large sums of public money with little or no input from their colleagues or constituents.

Both men flagrantly abused their positions -- but with radically different consequences. Cunningham went to jail because he was too stupid to know how to game the system -- retire and become a lobbyist -- whereas Wilson received the Central Intelligence Agency Clandestine Service's first "honored colleague" award ever given to an outsider and went on to become a $360,000 per annum lobbyist for Pakistan...Wilson's activities in Afghanistan led directly to a chain of blowback that culminated in the attacks of September 11, 2001 and led to the United States' current status as the most hated nation on Earth...

What to make of the film (which I found rather boring and old-fashioned)? It makes the U.S. government look like it is populated by a bunch of whoring, drunken sleazebags, so in that sense it's accurate enough. But there are a number of things both the book and the film are suppressing.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at January 7, 2008 07:51 AM

I haven't seen the movie yet, but I keep seeing reviews that say it lacks the subtlety and the moral ambiguity of the book. And I keep wondering, what the hell are they talking about? The book is pure Boys' Own Adventure, with a very slight fun-killing epilogue tacked on for 'gravitas'. I know Aaron Sorkin is Hollywood's biggest cruise-missile liberal, but can the movie really be that much worse?

The Exile, the Russian newspaper Matt Taibbi helped found, had the best review of the book:

Posted by: Chris E. at January 7, 2008 10:09 AM

Chalmers, Chris E. & Jonathan,
Oh please, can we dispense with the euphemisms ("whoring, drunken sleazebags", "cruise missile liberals") and describe these perp shit, war criminals (e.g. 18 USC 2441) in better, plainer terms? I'm counting on you guys to help me improve my vocabulary. Besides, what have the sleazebags ever done to deserve such a gratuitously abusive and insulting comparison?

Thanks for the Tom Dispatch & Exile links.

Posted by: Pvt. Keepout at January 7, 2008 12:22 PM

I don't think Crile could have gotten the sources he got if he didn't go the Boys Own Adventure route, short of turning it into a lionizing hagiography. It could have been worse, and the shit he gets on the record is precious.

Haven't seen the movie yet, but it sounds dreadful.

Posted by: buermann at January 7, 2008 01:48 PM

Haven't seen it, and probably won't, despite P.S. Hoffman, for precisely the reasons mentioned in the piece. What kind of cartoonish alternate reality must you live in to think--even for a second--that the arming of the mujahideen is seemly material for a Tom Hanks movie?

Speaking of Hanks, he can go screw: he's been on my shit list since his production company inked a deal with HBO to adapt Vincent Bugliosi's lap-crushing love letter to the Warren Commission.
Maybe the CIA has photos of Hanks blowing Clyde Tolson.

Posted by: Mike of Angle at January 7, 2008 04:59 PM

This may be one of those cases when a work of art has different impacts on different people, guys like this see it as anti-Imperialist screed enough.

Posted by: En Ming Hee at January 7, 2008 08:19 PM

Thanks very much for providing the links, Jon, especially for the Johnson piece. An earlier draft of the script that I read mentioned bin Laden and ended on 9/11, actually, and I did a blog post on the changes. But both these pieces give crucial details on the actual history that I hadn't known. Time for a follow-up post, and hitting the library...

Posted by: Batocchio at January 9, 2008 06:01 PM