Charlie Wilson’s War: A Feel-Good Distortion of Reality

In his song “Basta Ya” (It’s enough), Atahualpa Yupanqui, the world famous Argentine songwriter sings: ”Who has won the war in the mountains of Vietnam? The Guerrilla in his land and Yankees in cinema.” Yupanqui’s song reflects the reality of the Hollywood movie Charlie Wilson’s War which is a feel-good production aiming to whitewash the realities of the past and the present.

The movie is certainly based on a true story, but there is very little reality that has not been distorted in the scenario presented, perhaps other than the true face of corruption in the US Congress and its politicians.

For starters, the film depicts Pakistan’s former dictator General Zia Al-Haq, who murdered the country’s president, Benazir Bhutto’s father, Zulfaqar Ali Bhutto, as an anti-Communist hero dedicated to helping the poor peasants of Afghanistan. This would be stretching the facts quite a bit. In reality, the General was an American-trained dictator whose acts of brutality did not spare even his own fellow countrymen. To Zia, the Afghans were nothing but a tool in his jihad against the Soviet presence in Afghanistan.

The hero of the movie, Congressman Charles Wilson, as another example of distortions, is shown to be deeply affected by his first visit to an Afghan refugee camp inside Pakistan. In the scene, the sight of mutilated bodies of the victims of the war with the Soviets almost brings tears to Wilson’s eyes. This is such a hypocritical scene as there is no mention, that Mr. Wilson himself (and many other US politicians, for that matter) were responsible for torture, mutilation, and murder of thousands of women and children in other trouble spots in the world, such as Nicaragua (at the hands of the US-funded and trained Contra terrorists), Angola (at the hands of UNITA assassins funded by the CIA and the Apartheid regime of South Africa), El Salvador (at the hands of US-sponsored death squads who wouldn’t even spare Jesuit priests and nuns), Guatemala, etc.

There is no mention in the movie that the same Afghan Mujahedeen forces that were armed against the Soviets by the CIA and called “freedom-fighters” and likened to America’s forefathers by Ronald Reagan, later organized into so-called terrorist groups of the Taliban, the Northern Alliance warlords (who are part of the present Afghan government), and other militias. I think the movie consciously attempts to hide that connection. When the very same movie depicts US politicians who do not seem to know the difference between Pakistan and Afghanistan, do you think ordinary viewers will be able to put two and two together? I rather doubt that.

Take a closer look. The costumes of the Afghans in the camp have been designed to make them look slightly different than the “terrorist” Taliban; I think purposely so. Some scenes show a few men with shaved faces. Proper and devout Moslem men do not usually shave their faces that closely, and none of the women in the camp seem to be wearing the traditional face-covering burqa which is quite common in Afghanistan. Is that so we would not be reminded of the Taliban or Al-Qaeda while watching scenes of our victory against the Soviets?

You can even notice the difference in looks and features if you compare the staged camp scenes with the actual news clips in the same movie.

There is no mention of the Afghan Arabs or the madrasas (religious schools) in the film. The truth is that the war against the Soviets was conducted with the financial backing of the Saudi royal family and Saudi jihadists, such as Osama bin Ladin and his followers who are not recalled in the movie at all. The madrasas (or religious schools) were setup to mobilize the villagers and provide ideological justification for the anti-Soviet crusade.

This war was made possible with the full participation of the Pakistani Intelligence Services (ISI) that provided logistics and training to the Afghans who, by the way, in contrast to the film’s distortions, were not ordinary peasants but warlords and feudals who conscripted villagers and peasants in the interest of the United States and their own fundamentalist jihadist goals.

In contrast to the feel-good theme of this fairy tale, the reality on the ground is that America is sinking deeper and deeper in Afghanistan and Iraq today. The Afghan and Iraqi resistance are only fighting to drive out the occupation. They are not the ones that are bleeding the country to death. The real enemy of America resides in the White House and walks the halls of the US Congress. Most probably, the next president of the United States, a Democrat or a Republican will continue the bloodletting and avoid making waves. Instead of indulging in the pleasures of Charles Wilson’s triumphs, we need to have our voices heard.

Andres Kargar is an independent political Lefty.who has made occasional submissions to Dissident Voice in the past. Andres can be reached at: Read other articles by Andres.

6 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Michael Donnelly said on January 7th, 2008 at 10:06am #

    For all it’s flaws (I mean a pro-Pakistani connected at the highest levels Texas Socialite drops out of the sky with no background info as to how such a creature could exist!), the movie does not “consciously attempt to hide that connection” – the morphing of the “freedom fighters” into the Taliban and al Queda.

    In fact the movie deliberately uses the hoary Zen Master tale of the boy who got a horse for a present…”we’ll see”… twice in that regard.

    The redeeming part of the movie is that is shows how things really get done in DC. But, yes, it fails with no mention of Wilson and Central America, etc. Nor of the anti-environment stands that he was most known for.

  2. Michael Kenny said on January 7th, 2008 at 10:37am #

    I am never comfortable with the “your side as as big a bunch of shits as our side” argument. The problem with it is that it concedes your opponent’s main point, namely, that his side is “normal”, like everybody else, no worse than anybody else. If everybody committed murder, nobody would see anyhting wrong in committing murder! For that reason, I find Mr Kargar’s argument silly and childish. It’s an own goal!

  3. Mike McNiven said on January 8th, 2008 at 2:40am #

    Please remember that the movie named the following governments as involved on the anti-Soviet side:

    US/Pakistan/Saudi Arabia/Egypt and Israel !

    In reality, in addition to the above list, the following governments had a major role in that war also:

    UK/West Germany/Qatar/U.A.E./ China /Kuwait and Iran!

    The war started under Jimmy Carter, not Reagan, and it was Brzezinski’s brainchild who told Carter give the Soviets “their Vietnam”! The year was 1979 and Brzezinski had already started the implementation of his anti-socialism plan called “Green Crescent” in Iran (Khomeini) and in Pakistan (Zia)! You know the rest…

  4. jose de PR said on January 8th, 2008 at 5:46am #

    i saw the movie and it is stupid to watch how “forgiven” the story is for charlie wilson.

  5. arthur said on January 8th, 2008 at 10:04pm #

    This film makers deliberately distorted the facts. They claimed our aid (through isi) went to Massoud (pro US) but in reality in went to fanatical war lords who were anti-us and tied to bin laden.

  6. Martha Stein said on January 8th, 2008 at 11:51pm #

    For those who might be harboring any doubts about the theme or true intentions of the movie, I would like to draw your attention to the quote from Charlie Wilson at the end of the movie:

    “These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world. And the people who deserved the credit are the ones who made the sacrifice. And then we fucked up the endgame.”

    Also see: Imperialist Propaganda
    Second Thoughts on Charlie Wilson’s War
    by Chalmers Johnson