Film class — week 7

5 October 2006, 2233 EDT

Film #7 “Red Dawn” (1984). We viewed it Tuesday.

Readings for Thursday: Hashim. Ahmed S., “Iraq: From Insurgency to Civil War?” 104 Current History, Jan 2005. pp. 10-18. Link requires subscription.

Kaplan, Fred, “How Do We Win in Iraq?” Slate, September 9, 2005.

Krepinevich, Andrew, “The War In Iraq: The Nature of Insurgency Warfare,” Backgrounder, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment, June 2, 2004.

Those who have seen it know that “Red Dawn” is not an especially good movie. So why did I select it? Well, I wanted a film that highlights the great difficulty of counterinsurgency warfare — and I wanted a movie that would make students sympathize with the insurgents. Obviously, “The Battle of Algiers” is a better movie with similar themes and plotlines.

In recent weeks, the class has been viewing films about liberal idealism and humanitarian intervention, all from the point-of-view of the great power(s) or their proxies involved in the situations. Though the protagonists in “Red Dawn” are American, they are the victims. The Soviet Union and its Cuban allies have attacked and a small Colorado hometown is under occuption (as part of a larger war). The film focuses on the nationalist impulses that motivate the high school student insurgency.

The readings, obviously, are about Iraq and they are all a bit dated. Of course, the publication year really does not matter much for the Krepinevich piece. It provides an excellent summary of the basic dilemma faced by the US counterinsurgency effort in Iraq. While the US needs to win both the hearts and minds of the Iraqi civilian population, the insurgency really only needs to win their minds. If the general population becomes convinced that it must live in fear, because the US military and the Iraqi national government cannot provide even basic security, then the insurgency has won their minds.

Machiavelli famously asked in The Prince “whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved?” He continued:

It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with.

Sure, this is a simplification, but it seems apt.

Does the US have any hope in Iraq? Kaplan works through several suggested plans for winning, but none seem particularly promising now.

Hashim addresses the broader problem if the US fails to defeat the insurgency — what happens if the insurgency spills over to civil war? Should US forces remain in Iraq to help one side or another fight a civil war?

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