Kudos to the Washington Post for questioning the provenance of this weekend's military blockbuster, "Act of Valor", complete with real, live SEALs and lots of "gee whiz" military hardware. The movie is the result of a Navy initiative to increase the number of SEALs to meet demands projected in a Quadrennial Defense Review. It's a feature-length recruiting film. It's also a further acclimation to constant war. It looks so cool.
If I think about it from the Navy's point of view, I would welcome the opportunity to show off. The US Navy and other military services are capable of some amazing shit that would make civilian heads spin. The teamwork needed to make all that technology work just right is testament to human spirit and ingenuity. I won't gainsay the skill and dedication of the men and women who put it all together.
I will question how much we need to make it all work and why. And that is where a film like "Act of Valor" is so pernicious. The viewer is so taken with the wonder of it all that the purpose of SEAL and other special force operations are never questioned. Do we really need 500 more SEALs? And to what ends? Rescuing hostages from Somali pirates is good but that type of capability is usually an afterthought to a primary national security mission. And even a high-profile takedown like Osama bin Laden is unlikely to be all too frequent. So what else will be done in our name? Why? "Act of Valor" doesn't go there.
The film makers talk of telling the story of "...this brotherhood and this depth of character amongst men, and the sacrifices they’ve been through in the last 10 years in sustained combat.” Without a doubt, the bonding and sacrifice are in the finest military tradition. But what about that ten years of sustained combat? Ten fucking years of war to in support of a regime that cannot prevent its own forces from attacking us. Ten years of war that have shattered soldiers, families and communities. "Act of Valor" doesn't go there either.
Where "Act of Valor" goes is after the 18 to 20 year old male who doesn't know to ask these questions. For the target audience, all that matters is mission, brotherhood and purpose. A chance to Kick Ass!