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Review by Laura G. Brown




[]  Charlie Wilson's War has definite appeal for libertarians because it shows the underdog Afghan freedom fighters prevailing over the powerful, invading Soviet army. It brings to mind the ill-equipped colonial Americans rousting the British. Of course, the Americans had a little help from their friends, the French, and the beleaguered Afghans had -- Charlie Wilson.

The movie portends to show how Wilson, along with a cobbled-together group of allies in Washington, almost single-handedly funnels arms and money to the mujahadeen.

The film stars Tom Hanks as "good ol' boy" Congressman Charlie Wilson, who represented Texas's 2nd District as a Democrat in the 1980s. Julia Roberts plays his love interest Joanne Herring, a religious anti-Communist and wealthy socialite who urges him to support the Afghan rebels when the Soviets invade.

The movie is fast-paced at 96 minutes and takes us back and forth from the Afghan fighters to congressional committee rooms and scenes of Wilson partying with babes in hot tubs. According to New York Times critic A.O. Scott, this movie's entertaining direction manages to bring the pleasure principle to the Cold War, a conflict that "brought the world to the brink of annihilation and provided a persistent source of tension, anxiety, and dread for hundreds of millions of people around the world."

Early scenes of helpless, unarmed people running from Soviet helicopter gunfire generate sympathy. At the beginning of the conflict, we're told by Charlie's colleague, CIA agent Gust Avrakatos (Philip Seymour Hoffman), that the U.S. policy was not to aid the rebels, but to lie low and let the Soviets get drawn into a costly trap. As Wikipedia quotes Zbigniew Brzezinski (Carter's national security advisor): "We now have the opportunity of giving to the Soviet Union its Vietnam War."





Charlie makes an eye-opening trip to Pakistan to see the plight of Afghan refugees, listens to zealous pillow talk from Herring, and calls in his chits on the Hill to get the aid flowing. The relative ease with which a maverick congressman secretly funds a war is food for thought. While we might agree the mujahadeen should have been helped, what about the Nicaraguan Contras? A better America might be one in which the "Charlies" are reined in by the Constitution.

It's hard not to cheer as we see blasé Soviet helicopter pilots woken up with a hot sting -- yes, U.S. -- provided Stinger missiles. These compact, shoulder-launched weapons formed an iconic picture of the war: Ragtag peasants shooting down modern helicopters from the sky. These scenes hint at a disquieting comparison, though. With just a little imagining, you could see the helicopters as American, and the people fighting them as Iraqis. If the movie tells us anything, it's how deeply people are attached to their homeland, and how passionately they will fight to dispel invaders.

There are broad hints at the end of the movie that if we fund the enemy of our enemy, he might one day turn out to be our enemy, too, and that throwing arms and dollars in a volatile area might have unforeseen consequences -- particularly when one of the mujahadeen was named Osama bin Laden.


Laura G. Brown is a teacher and writer living in San Gabriel, CA.

She is a veteran candidate for State Assembly on the Libertarian Party of California.

Her email: lauragbrown at sbcglobal dot net


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