February 12, 2008

War and Film

Charlie loves teaching, which is handy when you're a professor. She got to spend the morning watching and discussing Twelve O'Clock High with some young lieutenants. This comes on the heels of George Packer's Iraq play last weekend (review coming, she promises) and has Charlie thinking about how film, drama, and literature fit into education on matters of military and strategy (a discussion in NYC with her favorite DASD on the merits of The Wind that Shakes the Barley may have forced the issue).

Some of you may have noticed that our Counterinsurgency Reading List actually includes a number of movies. This is obviously not accidental. This blogger's first exposure to teaching through film was at SWAMOS, the Summer Workshop for Analyzing Military Operations and Strategy. After long days in class, Eliot Cohen, Dick Betts, and Steve Biddle led us through a variety of movies: Zulu, Battle of Algiers, Twelve O'Clock High, Dr. Strangelove, etc. Charlie brought those lessons back to Boston with her and began showing Glory, Paths of Glory, Go Tell the Spartans, Black Hawk Down, and The Quiet American along with BoA and ToH.

There's an art to teaching through movies (and other forms of fiction, for that matter). But it's often easier to engage characters than real events. The Battle of Algiers always seems to present this duality most starkly; in dealing with complex and controversial subjects like torture, students are often willing to let their guard down a bit more and engage the subject when the actual substance is fictional. Who is the hero: Ali La Pointe or Col. Mathieu? How does Ali change? Would you want to fight for Mathieu? All this elicits a much greater response than current events from Guantanamo.

The only problem is that once you go down this rabbit hole you can't stop: Charlie can't watch any war-related movie without thinking how she might teach it. (Even when she takes her 15 year-old brother to Charlie Wilson's War she can't help running seminar in the car afterwards.)

So, those of you engaged in the civilian academy or PME, what movies do you like to teach? Any other fictive recommendations? Sound off in the comments.

Update: Abu Muqawama here. Would I want to fight for Mathieu? I think I did fight for Mathieu. Abu Muqawama's old battalion commander made us all watch The Battle of Algiers and floated the idea of our battalion giving up our tan berets for lizard caps. For the record, that would have been awesome...