“Factually Correct, Not
PAKISTAN AND AFGHANISTAN: A TWO-PART SERIES
PART TWO: "CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR," GO SEE IT
(CHICAGO)(January 1, 2008) My relationship to the crescent of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan is a rather close one: my existence almost ended there, more than once, and I am sure the worst day of my life was spent in that region. Positively. So the area continues to exert a hold on me.
When I heard that Hollywood had made a movie of George Crile's book "Charlie Wilson's War," I was curious. When I saw that Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times was praising the film as a comedic masterpiece, I knew I had to see the movie.
Having experienced various wars and revolutions over the past forty years, I do not normally see war movies or related topics. I retain my own images, and memories, and photographs of shooting and killing. They are sufficient to remind me of the horrors of conflict. On the other hand, I also know that the bad guys have to be fought and, when you fight the bad guys, you have to win. There is no substitute for victory, no margin for error, no opening for mercy when it comes to eliminating the enemies of peace and freedom. And so I went to see Charlie Wilson's War.
Go see it.
The film revolves around a Huston socialite who wants to fight the commies, a CIA agent who is a rogue in the finest sense of the term, and a congressman who sees the light and sees to it that The Company gets the means to fight the Russkies.
Now some may question how war, death, and tragedy may be the topic of comedy. I can speak with experience. One of my favorite movies is "Air America," which is also a madcap comedy, but which comes very close to capturing the goofiness of the "secret war" in Laos and the men who made it happen on a daily basis, Air America pilots. Like CIA agents who want to destroy communism, Air America pilots were not perhaps the type of boys, or men, you would want to bring home to meet your parents. But they had fun, and lived with the insanity of war and the daily prospect of death by laminating insanity to humor and extravagance.
Humor is how people cope with the insanity of war. Taking off from a short runway on the tip of a mountain on a Pilatus Porter is enough to give anyone religion, irrespective of how many times you perform that feat. Likewise, dealing with piles of bodies hacked up in pieces leaves a lasting impression that must be washed away. Somehow. When Kate Webb died last year I had occasion to revisit my memories of my early conflicts. The images are still vivid.
They haven't made a movie of my activity in that part of the world, yet, but then it would also be laced with moments of utter panic and heapings of sheer levity in the face of extreme danger. And so I went to see Charlie's War as a kindred spirit.
Afghanistan was a brutal place. In the 1960's and 70's the United States and Soviet Union had competed for influence. We even built a highway there. There was an "American colony," and schools and an expatriate community. All that evaporated in the mid-70's when the coups, counterattacks and invasions began a downward cycle. I became very close with an expatriate Afghan family, and shared their challenges, including the death of my close friend at the hands of the Northern Alliance (before they were part of our alliance).
The movie actually comes close to presenting the truth in an intelligible sort of way. The arrogant CIA station chief who was following "policy" to bleed the Russians rather than defeat them is a classic example of the mad bureaucrat. The indescribable suffering of civilians caught in the "Great Game" of Cold war conflict is captured. "Gunga Dan" (Rather) of CBS in Afghanistan in full mujaheddin finery. And Charlie Wilson, a liberal congressman on domestic policy but a strong conservative on foreign policy is the unsung hero of the Congress.
The movie documents how the U. S. was committing pitiably small resources to assisting the mujaheddin, and how the deployment of surface-to-air missiles eventually leveled the playing field and chased the Russians out of Afghanistan.
One moral that is not clear in the movie but that is worth noting is that the effort to defeat the Russians was a bipartisan operation. There was none of the hyperpartisanship that we see today in Washington.
After we won the Cold War, we became intoxicated as a nation with our self-proclaimed role as "sole superpower." One Yale professor wrote arrogantly of the "end of history." Politicians in both parties decided that the United States had become de facto world master. We are still paying the price for that era of self-delusion.
And we fumbled away our victory in Afghanistan.
"Eternal vigilance if the price of liberty." In Afghanistan we were lucky that the system, fitfully, worked. Three people came together to spearhead an operation that if it did not win the Cold war certainly contributed to the demise of the Soviet Union. See the movie.
[I will also be doing a special column on the film for Greek-Americans and if you request a copy we will be delighted to send it to you.]
Chicago-based Internet journalist, broadcaster and media critic Andy Martin is the Executive Editor and publisher of ContrarianCommentary.com. © Copyright by Andy Martin 2007. Martin covers regional, national and world events with forty years of experience. He has almost forty years of experience in the Middle East, and is America’s most respected independent foreign policy and intelligence analyst. Andy is currently a candidate for U. S. Senator from Illinois. He holds a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Illinois College of Law. Columns also posted at ContrarianCommentary.blogspot.com; contrariancommentary.wordpress.com. Comments? E-mail: AndyMart20@aol.com. Media contact: (866) 706-2639. Web sites: ContrarianCommentary.com. AndyforUSSenator.com