Charlie Wilson's War (15)

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The Independent Culture

In Charlie Wilson's War, Tom Hanks is unconvincing as the louche congressman who chances upon the war raging in Afghanistan and, after visiting the vast refugee camps on the Pakistan border and hearing the harrowing stories of the refugees, concludes that what these people need is more arms. That's weapons by the way, not replacement limbs for the poor toddlers who've mistaken cluster bombs for toys.

Wilson links with a right-wing Texan millionaire, rather too appealingly played by Julia Roberts, and a maverick CIA agent played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Strangely, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, Olympic boycotts notwithstanding, did not at this point seem to be on the US's radar, with only $5m going to the Mujahideen.

Wilson doubles that figure immediately, and then doubles it again and again until it is half a billion, before linking up with Israel, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to provide the Afghans with Russian weapons. We see the Mujahideen joyfully shooting Russian helicopters out of the sky, the Russians retreating with their tails between their legs and, by implication, the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union.

According to Charlie Wilson's War, these events are, in the parlance of 1066 and All That, "a good thing", although in one scene tacked on at the end, we see Wilson unsuccessfully lobbying for some money for Afghan schools. This seems to be the film's only acknowledgement that the events did not end with Charlie Wilson, but rumbled on to the present day. In his book Blowback, Chalmers Johnson outlines the number of American interventions that have had long and unforeseen repercussions.

In fact, you could apply this to all the major wars involving the US in the 20th century: defeating the Nazis left half of Europe under the oppression of the USSR; the Korean War left us the nightmare state of North Korea; the Vietnam war left the Asian country under communism and Cambodia under Pol Pot. We haven't even started on the aftermath of the Iraq war.

In all these cases I believe the Americans were driven by the right motives. They were fighting the greatest curses of the last hundred years, and you cannot fault Charlie Wilson's reaction to those terrible refugee camps. But if even the overt operations have unforeseen consequences, what sort of mess do the covert operations bring? Is Mike Nichols's next film going to be "Ollie North's War", in which Harrison Ford flogs weapons to the Iranians to fund right-wing guerrillas in Nicaragua?

Pete Barrett, Retired IT professional, Colchester

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