In the first of four Horizons of Change luncheons during the 2018 Summer Peacebuilding Institute at Eastern Mennonite University, screenwriter and author Tiffany FitzHenry traced the collaboration of the American movie industry and the United States military to create propaganda.
“The direct control that the U.S. military exerts over Hollywood has real implications for peace,” said SPI director Bill Goldberg. In his event welcome he related his own experience: “As a teenager I very nearly attended the Air Force Academy for college, and the movie Top Gun was one of the influential movies that made me think I wanted to do that with my life.”
Titled “Hollywood and the Pentagon: A Relationship of Mutual Exploitation,” FitzHenry’s speech described the “military-industrial-media-entertainment network,” and noted historical points such as the 1927 Academy Award-winning film Wings – a product of Department of Defense working with Hollywood – and the 1942 establishment of a Department of Defense motion picture liaison office in Los Angeles aimed at galvanizing of the American public behind the war effort.
The benefits are mutual, as Department of Defense Director of Entertainment Media Phil Strub wrote in a 2010 military blog post: “Entertainment media producers have wanted access to U.S. military equipment and real estate – including ships – since the dawn of American cinema … even though it comes with strings attached.”
Those strings, said FitzHenry, include direct oversight of the script and editing process, meaning that the Pentagon in this case “functions as a movie studio” that dictates how the military, war and history is portrayed. This has resulted, she said, in the removal from movie scripts of references to veteran suicide, the Vietnam War, the Iran-Contra Affair and negative portrayals of personnel.
“If peacebuilding is what you want to accomplish on a very effective and worldwide scale,” FitzHenry said, “the minds of the Americans and what’s coming out of America is such a critical component, because you have people completely, always ready to consent to war, always at the ready.”
Disabling such propaganda, she said, starts with identifying it. “Everything we consume in the digital age is mobilized for war, and if we want to get rid of war, we have to get rid of this,” she said. “We have to expose it. Propaganda won’t work if you know it’s propaganda.”
The Atlanta-based author of The Oldest Soul trilogy said that the cost of of the military propagandization of entertainment comes at an additional cost, too: “We’re losing art when we tell those stories,” she said. “It’s taking the place of storytelling that comes from the divine.”
It’s also a violation of the First Amendment, she said, as the Pentagon is using government funds to favor some – and suppress other – speech.
She plans to publish her work in a small book.