America’s GI Joe Foreign Policy

If the U.S.A. has an ambassador to the world, it is Bruce Willis. He is an icon for the American ideal of justice; and that ideal has a lot to do with American foreign policy.

In Die Hard (1988), Bruce Willis plays a police officer who takes a trip to Los Angeles to visit his wife (from whom he is separated). Little does he know, terrorists (German) have overtaken the office building where his wife works. And those terrorist jerks did this on Christmas. They must truly hate the American way of life. As it turns out, the terrorists just wanted some good ol’ American cash. So they take hostages and demand money that they obviously don’t deserve. Luckily, our hero (American) is there restore everything to its natural order.

Little do the terrorists know, Bruce Willis is sneaking through air vents and dark offices ready to do whatever it takes to save the innocent hostages and possibly Christmas. Our American hero kills the terrorists one-by-one, eventually reuniting with his estranged wife for a happy holiday after all. While many people were
needlessly killed, those terrorists sure got slaughtered in the end. The loss of innocent life is not dwelt upon; instead it is used to legitimize the notion that justice is enacted through the killing of German terrorists.

In social psychology, there is a construct called belief in a just world. Those who believe in a just world feel that, in general, people get what they deserve.
Bruce Willis promotes the belief that they do. So does George W. Bush. Good guys live, bad guys die, the economy distributes wealth fairly and poor countries must somehow deserve to live in poverty. Only with help from Bruce Willis can Bush “bring the terrorists to justice.” Bush uses a familiar strategy to fight the War on Terror: “we are hunting down the terrorist killers one by one,” he says.

In the mythologies promoted by Bruce Willis (and the President), the lines are clear. There is evil and there is good. Good must kill evil for it to be defeated. Even when a good character wants only for the evil character to be imprisoned, the villain’s death is often necessitated by his own murderous intentions. Justice finds a way. The hero may be a bit crass, but you can’t doubt his determination. Why we heroicize such characteristics is troubling, regardless of the motives of the movie (culture) industry.

In one of his most recent performance, Willis played a role in the propagandistic film Tears of the Sun (2003). In this movie, he plays a soldier on a rescue mission
in Nigeria. After rebels murder the entire royal family, Bruce Willis is called in the save a doctor who is American by marriage. But along the way, he begins to
see that the people of Nigeria also need to be saved from the (terrorist) rebels who threaten to disrupt the entire nation.

Anyhow, he saves them and actually manages to save some of the people from the wrath of the (terrorist) rebels. The message of the film is simple: Bruce Willis is ready to spread freedom and save the world from terrorists of all kinds. Assuming the best, this film questions America’s responsibility to use its military for humanitarian ends. Assuming the worst, the film uses a fabricated situation in Nigeria to justify military intervention in Iraq and reinforce a glorified conception of war.

In his review of Tears of the Sun, Rob Blackwelder of SPLICEDwire puts the film into perspective: “If the real US government and military had the conscience of
the grunts in this movie, we’d have a lot fewer enemies in the world. But the film’s patronizing finale—grateful Africans doing happy tribal dances as a little boy
tearfully waves to their Great White Savior’s departing helicopter—says more about the movie’s (and America’s) ethnocentric politics than I ever could.”

In Tears of the Sun, Bruce Willis is essentially GI Joe. The film shows us that war isn’t about killing, it’s about learning valuable lessons. Knowing is half the battle, after all. Perhaps the other half involves not knowing the people who are to be gruesomely killed.

Unlike movies, in which the bad guys always die (unless there is to be a sequel), cartoons suggest that villains never die. They come back each week; they can’t be
killed, but must always be fought. And if they are killed, they can be easily replaced by some new evil. In this way, cartoons teach that evil is eternal and may even impose a culture of mistrust, even fear, upon children.

Ambassador Willis should take a lesson from the Care Bears. There are other ways to resist evil that don’t involve guns and explosives; there are ways of helping
people without killing. Try equalizing wealth. Try understanding other cultures. Try spending more on AIDS relief. Try the fucking Care Bear Stare. Five-four-threetwo-one! Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker.

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