Brad is the hero for our time. Flawed

Share
Related Topics

Hollywood has a new hero, his torso rock-hard and rippling with muscle. He, or rather the film he stars in, cost $175m (£104m) and required the presence of 1,000 Mexican extras, as well as 250 Bulgarians from a sports academy in Sofia. The movie is based on the Illiad, with bits of the Odyssey thrown in, and is a departure for Hollywood studios, which have traditionally located their epics - Spartacus, Quo Vadis, Antony and Cleopatra, Gladiator - in ancient Rome rather than Greece. Its key figure is Brad Pitt as Achilles, greatest warrior among the Greek army besieging Troy. Pitt offers American audiences a model of valour and sacrifice at this most difficult moment in their history.

"Today, when our politicians are so grey, so bland, we need reminding of what it is to have moral truth, higher ideals," says Troy's German director, Wolfgang Petersen. It's not difficult to imagine Hollywood studio bosses seizing on Homer's tale of a group of countries (actually city-states) banding together to punish a wrong done to one of their number, in an early version of Nato's article five, the collective defence clause. The parallel (to which Pitt himself has alluded) is all the more insistent when you recall that Troy was in Turkey, which shares a border with present-day Iraq. In the film it is Western leaders who prevail, although they have to endure a siege lasting 10 years.

I don't know whether Donald Rumsfeld has a Trojan horse up his sleeve, but this is the kind of myth-making Americans love. All countries have fantasies about themselves, but few display them so confidently as the United States. They began to emerge with the founding of the nation, when its leaders modelled their political system on Republican Rome; George Washington was often portrayed in a toga, overlooking the fact that the high-minded Republic degenerated into a brutal, corrupt empire. That is how many foreigners regard the US today, especially in the Middle East, where the invasion of Iraq is viewed as a neo-imperial adventure designed to further American power and interests.

The unfairness of that verdict irritates many Americans, but the rhetoric of the country's leaders must bear a great deal of the blame. Earlier this month, when pictures of torture began to emerge from Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, politicians and generals united in declaring such behaviour was not "the American way". They were expressing the widely held belief that the US stands for democracy and freedom, yet only last week Rumsfeld told a Senate hearing that Pentagon lawyers had approved sleep deprivation, dietary changes - presumably a polite description for starving captives - and other methods used to break prisoners.

America's friendly critics would welcome evidence of contestation and debate in a nation that too often appears to give unquestioning assent to its own myths. Most Americans believe their country is a force for good and are shocked by evidence to the contrary, whether it comes in the form of support for military coups in Latin America or mistreatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. As shaken Senators emerged last week from viewing more horrific pictures from Iraq, I couldn't help recalling that one of the first acts of the Bush administration was to overturn Bill Clinton's decision to sign the statutes of the International Criminal Court. The incoming president wanted nothing to do with the court, and I suggested at the time that US governments had good reason to fear a tribunal with jurisdiction over war crimes, such as the massacre at My Lai in Vietnam.

There also seems to be collective amnesia in the US about a spate of articles and TV programmes that suggested, in the months after 11 September 2001, that torture might be justified in some circumstances. Given the lies the Bush administration told about links between the suicide bombings on the East Coast and Iraq, it seems likely that some of the soldiers and military police at Abu Ghraib believed they had encountered just those circumstances. Now, as the world contemplates the Bush administration's shame and its lame excuses, a Hollywood star turns up at the local multiplex, streaked with blood and sweat, to make ordinary Americans feel good again. Anyone familiar with the Illiad might conclude that Achilles, the warrior with a fatal flaw, is a more appropriate image for contemporary America than Hollywood realises.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour and the Liberal Democrats would both end winter fuel allowances for pensioners with enough income to pay the 40p tax rate  

Politicians court the grey vote because pensioners, unlike the young, vote

Andrew Grice
US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have a drink after agreeing a deal on carbon emissions  

Beijing must face down the perils of being big and powerful – or boom may turn to bust

Peter Popham
Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable