This 2012 movie, an award-winning critically-acclaimed entertainment and box-office success, is above all a remarkable piece of propaganda. Or maybe marketing is more accurate. Publicizing is even better.

If you wonder why, or haven’t seen it, let me spoil the theme for you:

Glory be the lengths that **America** will go to, the resources and
commitment she will provide, the obstacles she will leap and slip and
surpass and outsmart and grind through for the cause, when that cause
is killing Usama bin Laden.

Ol’ UBA, as those in that rarified strata call him, up there in the higher echelons of service where people can and do spend years finding and killing Usama bin Laden in Pakistan. As movies go it more than fits the bill, rising above its genre, well deserving the description “Nice work, good show”. ZDT is an expert demonstration of modern moviemaking and complex storytelling, and the only reason I call it propaganda has to do with almost everything about it.

Knowing what I do about my own skepticism, I wouldn’t dare to guess how much of the movie is and or is not factually, historically true. But I would argue such details don’t matter, for two reasons

  1. The events depicted are highly specific. They would only ever happen once, so any classified, intelligence-restricted techniques exposed may not be at risk
  2. The events depicted are secondary to the narrative, which is that any obstacle can and will be overcome in America’s Termintoresque quest to put bullets in bin Laden

Some argue that it shows America in a negative light, such as when our hero has to fight her good fight through thick layers of obstinate political bureaucracy. I can appreciate that criticism; after all, how damn hard and true does truth have to be to battle through the narrowly shackled channels of US Intelligence? The quest could have been derailed at any point, and some say that shows a weakness in the system.

They are wrong. It shows two propgandistically positive things:

  1. the resilience and undying resolve of America to kill bin Laden in the face of all odds
  2. the rigorous, detail-oriented, bottomlessly dedicated patriotic machine the enemy is up against, called USA

As the movie demonstrates, even when the system fails, and the destiny-manifesting juggernaut loses its way, the momentum of the ultimate truth thrusts them ever forward toward the inevitable destination. Even if it takes two hours and 24 or so minutes, the movie says, this is what will happen.

Some claim that, by showing what was previously secret, the movie is seditious. That is ridiculous. Obviously what they mean is treasonous, but even that charge is hollow at best. As I have established, either the story is fiction in its details and not factually true, or else the very factuallness of it’s truthiosity defines it as a unique event that will never be repeated, and whose lessons therefore come from the already well-known Why, What, Where and When, and not from the movie’s How.

When, possibly due to pilot error, one of Seal Team Six’s helicopters loses updraft and crashes at the start of the mission, is the movie demonstrating a weakness? No – given the outcome, this Black Hawk down is no different than the scenes of our hero butting up against the intelligence world: just another demonstration of the big, solid, sometimes fiery obstacles the USA will tenaciously surmount to achieve its goal. It shows how even the best soldiers can’t predict everything, but when disaster strikes the forces of good sally on, single-mindedly focused on achieving the goal. (As well, though it’s unspoken in the movie one can project ahead and surmise that it changed the way soldiers are trained. From this mistake, you can be sure that Wall Updraft Awareness was added to pilot skill programs.)

You’d think that would shut them up, but I can still hear them: “But this movie depicts Americans torturing for information. Doesn’t the very fact it pulls back the curtain on US Intelligence’s lies for a wide audience that absolutely includes our enemies break some important rule?” To that I ask them, “Even if all we can agree on is that the details are or are not factual, does not ZDT impart upon the bad guys a profound respect and fear for the armed and bloodthirsty, endlessly resolute zeal coming after them, should they cross the Harm America line between ‘wishing’ and ‘doing’?” In the climax, when the forces of good shoot dead a screaming woman for reasons obvious on the screen, we briefly pause on the shooter’s eye, illuminated by the green glow of his scope, as he reflects on what he just did.

There is neither regret nor celebration, only a potent subliminal message: America doesn’t like killing your unarmed women to get to you, but it will and you best not doubt it.

As a warning and threat to its enemies, American art hasn’t done much better.


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