books, Film Spotlight, history, History in Films, movies

Film Spotlight: Dirty Wars


The documentary, Dirty Wars (2013), by reporter Jeremy Scahill examined the history of JSOC (Joint Specials Operations Command) and brought to light the dangerous shift in war tactics since its inception in 1980. In class, we watched Black Hawk Down, an example of JSOC intervention, and a tribute film dedicated to 19 U.S. fallen soldiers. Then we swayed to the opposite direction, and my upperclassman and I watched Dirty Wars. With predictable dismay, the ease with which the romanticized painting of heroes in Black Hawk Down was gobbled down and the rejection in Dirty Wars for speaking against the United States illustrated the persuasive power of films to influence society. The human mind likes to box up information into a tidy package. It’s easier to accept a positive message than swallow a disquieting one. Thus began the exercise to check bias and to analyze the facts so we could draw an intelligent conclusion.

There’s no one alive today who hasn’t been affected by the history of the 20th century. In most minds, covert operations, secret agencies, the fight against evil empires, assassinations, and technology leading the way for national victory have been a part of everyone’s cognizance.

Think of the movies and books you’ve read that have either told the story about a covert group

or warns you of the lunacy and scary world from unchecked power.

In the documentary, Dirty Wars, one interesting aspect concerned the legality for the U. S. to assassinate an American citizen. Anawar al-Awlaki was a U. S. citizen, a popular muslim cleric from Virginia and a voice of American muslims when the attack on 9/11 happened.  Deploring the terrorist action, over the course of a decade, he turned from moderate to speaking out against the actions of the United States toward muslims around the world.  Anawar was jailed without charges or trial for 17 months in Yemen. He was assassinated by JSOC in 2010. Two weeks later, Abdulrahman, the 16 year old son of Anawar,  was killed by a drone. Was it a strike or “collateral damage”?  Killed for what he might become? If that’s so, it’s sinister.

The War on Terror is about as winnable as the War on Drugs. Drones are carrying out the assassinations now and someone at control center has incredible power.

Is the JSOC abusing their power? What are the repercussions with drone use and covert intervention? Are targeted assassinations crimes against humanity? Are the heightened attacks on Muslims an example of growing genocide?


Weighty, disquieting questions. I don’t pretend to know the answer, but it saddens me to think our future seems as bleak as the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia.