Trashing the Army at the movies

Posted: Jul 25, 2003 12:00 AM

In the same week that Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch returned home to waving flags and ovations of love, Hollywood is sending out very different pictures. It's portraying the U.S. soldier as a crook and drug-dealing scumbag. The Miramax movie "Buffalo Soldiers" begins its run in New York and Los Angeles just three days after Lynch's return home.

Miramax, otherwise often known as the dark side of the Disney empire, signed up to distribute the film on, whoops -- Sept. 10, 2001 -- not too good a time to trash the U.S. military. But with the pundits blasting away at the supposedly bleak picture in Iraq, they finally decided to take their plunge into the dumpster.

The story unfolds like this: From a base in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1989, Specialist Ray Elwood is exploiting a dim-witted commanding officer at his supply depot and running a nifty black market in arms, drugs and Mop & Glo to the local area. A new sergeant arrives to clean up the place, and that really kicks up the nasty action. "Steal All That You Can Steal," jokes the movie's poster. In its movie review/salute, the far-left Village Voice reported the movie's malignant tone "is immediately established by an impromptu indoor touch football game during which one drug-addled GI trips, cracks his skull against a desk corner and, ignored by his comrades, dies."

The left would love to see this film not released so it could accuse America of being a tight-lipped dungeon of self-censoring superpatriots. For that reason alone, it should be released. Yes, we should prove that America in the new century is just as tolerant of flamboyantly unpatriotic fare as we were in the last. We all remember nasty films like "Air America" (where the CIA sold dope in Laos) and "Casualties of War" (U.S. soldiers rape and pillage Vietnam) before we even get to the Oliver Stone Historical Revisionism catalogue.

The big problem with this new film isn't really its subject matter. It's that it pretends to be truthful, not just the wildly imaginary plot of an anti-military mind. Director Gregor Jordan told the New York Times the film is "based" on historical events, "but some people want some sanitized, glorified version." Shades of Oliver Stone and his mythical "JFK."

The movie's preview in theaters begins: "All of the significant events in the following motion picture are true." That's ridiculous if we unroll the plotline. The movie tells us Specialist Elwood and the Army stick figures populating this movie set in 1989 are drafted . But the military draft ended in 1973. In reality, the 1980s military was all volunteer, with better-motivated, more professional personnel, and the drug dealers they caught were locked in the brig.

Could we find actual cases of drug-dealing, thieving Army men? Of course. But the movie isn't based on them. It's based on fiction -- a 10-year-old novel. Just nail your combat boots in reality and imagine what would have happened if in 1989, as in the movie, a cast of drugged-out Army idiots in a tank blew up a gas station and ran over cars in West Germany. Can we imagine that socialist news outlets in West Germany wouldn't have beaten the stuffing out of that story, or that Peter Jennings wouldn't have been clamoring for the footage? If any of this had been reality-based, it would have been the stuff of "60 Minutes," not Tinseltown fever dreams.

The problem with all this is that in a country where fewer and fewer Americans have any experience in the military and less and less grounding in history, some people will go to this movie and buy the studio's pitch that everything in it really happened. Take, for example, this confused analysis from an reviewer of the novel: "Many will find this depiction of peacetime Army life to be deeply offensive and unpatriotic, but it's hard to know just how far from reality it is."

Hollywood can say it's all about art -- maybe the movie is fantastically directed, skillfully acted and written with comic flair. Let them admit the obvious: This movie is bathed in liberal politics, dedicated to flying middle fingers at the "establishment." It's so liberal it ignores the echo of its own title. Novelist Robert O'Connor picked his title from a Bob Marley reggae song. But the real Buffalo Soldiers were America's first all-black enlisted cavalry units after the Civil War.

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