Over break, I indulged my appetite for ripped, sweaty men by watching the blockbuster hit “300.” The film is a loose depiction of the historical Battle of Thermopylae, a bloody clash that ensues when a group of Spartans goes on the offensive to defend Greece from imperialist Persia.
As I viewed the film, I could not help but notice some obvious parallels that “300” has with the War on Terror. The film’s subplot, a political controversy in Sparta regarding the legality of the war and the deployment of more troops to fight Persian tyranny, seemed all too familiar. And the Spartans’ pro-war, “Freedom is not free” mantra could easily have been written by one of Bush’s speechwriters.
Iran’s biggest circulation newspaper, Hamshahri, said “300” is “serving the policy of the U.S. leadership.” And viewers in Germany even walked out of the film, calling it pro-Bush propaganda.
Is Hollywood now pushing a conservative agenda? No. As some liberals are quick to point out, one could just as easily see invading Persia with its massive, resource-rich forces as a symbol of America, and the Spartans, with their savage, belief-driven tendencies, as the terrorists. Needless to say, “300” abounds with parallels identified by a wide variety of observers.
I find the plethora of parallels disturbing, not because I believe pro-war rhetoric is necessarily a bad thing, nor because I think it is terrible to compare America to imperialist Persia. It is the simplicity of both analogies that I dislike. Though divergent, both interpretations are equally guilty of oversimplifying an already much-too-simplified world situation.
The controversy over a movie whose simple-minded plot is linear at best sheds light upon a much greater problem. Americans are used to having their foreign policy spoon fed to them. Our options in Iraq have been boiled down to two bumper stickers: “Stay the course” or “Bring the troops home” – no middle ground.
Like the current raging debate over our Iraq strategy, “300” leaves no room for complexity. And the overabundance of comparisons being made between the film and our modern day politics only increases my concern.
U.S. security policy and strategy cannot be considered intelligently without an acknowledgment of nuance and complexity. Until Americans stop oversimplifying something as complex as warfare, can truly effective decisions be made regarding life and death matters abroad?
The time has come for the American public to become informed and learn to deal with complexity and ambiguity. And our political leaders – as well as the candidates seeking to secure positions of power in the future – ought to honorably demonstrate their executive abilities by leading the American public away from this over-simplification tendency, rather than pandering to it.
Simplified wartime conceptions in the form of escapist entertainment are fine. However, when they also serve as a basis for a world-view, they are not.
Tulkoff is a member of the class of 2010.