Lords of War

Even the movies I’ve been watching, not to mention the news I’ve been reading, have been about violence lately. This weekend it was two approaches to the same problem: the industry of killing.

First up was Lord of War, a recent Nicholas Cage flick about a young Ukrainian man who emigrates to the United States and becomes an arms dealer. What better way to make money, huh? America is, indeed, the land of opportunity. Yuri starts his business with his brother, but his brother becomes a drug addict and also starts to feel pangs of conscience about the job. Yuri just keeps on plugging away. To add dramatic tension Yuri is being chased by an Interpol agent, played by Ethan Hawke. There’s a love interest too, a beauty pageant winner from Queens.

So is the movie any good? Kinda. On the bad side is the constant narration. Yuri spells everything out for the audience in voice over. It got annoying very quickly. On the good side there are some wonderful scenes, especially the one where Yuri is forced to kill his competitor by African dictator Andre Baptiste. In fact Baptiste gets one of the best exchanges of dialogue in the movie.

Andre Baptiste Sr.: They say that I am the lord of war, but perhaps it is you.

Yuri Orlov: I believe it’s “warlord.”

Andre Baptiste Sr.: Thank you, but I prefer it my way.

Two different ways of saying the same thing. But one, ‘warlord’, feels so banal and the other much richer. The warlord is just another petty dictator, ensconced in some third world country, far from America. But the lord of war, what a rich title; a title that even Americans could be proud of, and a title that cuts so much closer to the truth of the modern American defense industry.

Our next film was Why We Fight, a documentary by Eugene Jarecki. He starts the picture with Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell speech as president, the famous military-industrial complex. The speech is brilliant. But as Gore Vidal says, we live in the United States of Amnesia, so its commentary is long forgotten.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence-economic, political, even spiritual-is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

From this Jarecki builds a reminder to all of us that America has been running an empire for a long time and military interventions have been the norm rather than the exception. The movie is very well done, I encourage everyone to see it.

I’ve personally seen a small part of this complex at my summer job. I’ve been working on collecting information related to ITAR, the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. I’ve collected terms related to weapons systems and other technologies covered by the law. For a real walk on the depressing side of the human condition I suggest reading a few documents at Wikipedia about chemical weapons.

All of the imagination, ingenuity, and effort that has gone into better ways to kill our fellow human beings is staggering. For more on this I suggest you start here. We have wasted so many lives.

Todd Suomela
Associate Director for Digital Pedagogy & Scholarship Department

My interests include digital scholarship, citizen science, leadership, and communications.