Movie Review: Charlie Wilson’s War

Occasionally I watch a movie that opens my eyes to well-known events and shows me an angle that I had not considered before.

Charlie Wilson’s War is presumably based on true events, and I have no evidence of  this being true or false, so let’s say it’s true. In the late 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was getting all the credit for ending the Cold War, the Russians were fighting a cruel and bloody war in Afghanistan. They had absolute superiority in terms of numbers and military equipment. The Afghan freedom fighters were resisting with rifles on the ground. The Soviets came in with helicopter gunships and blew away villages, men, women and children indiscriminately. They actually created mines that looked like toys, so the children would pick them up to play, and their hands and sometimes arms were blown away, if they survived. The Russians had figured out that it takes much more time and effort to take care of maimed children than healthy ones, and parents taking care of children had to time or resources to take up arms against the Russians. By 1990, half of the entire population of Afghanistan was under 14 years old, and many of the children were maimed.

In comes a U.S. Congressman from Texas, Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks). He travels to Afghanistan and sees the refugee camps, observes the sorry state of the resistance, and is truly moved to do the right thing. That’s a stretch for a hard-drinking, cocaine-using and womanizing congressman from Texas, but he seems like just the right guy for the job. With the help of a Houston Socialite Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts) and a cunning and courageous CIA veteran Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour), he raises money from the U.S. government for the Afghans. Five million dollars a year gradually turns into one billion dollars a year for Russian weapons that, through a complex set of maneuvers, comes from Israel through Pakistan into Afghanistan. Helicopters get shot down, tanks get blown up, and the Afghans start getting the upper hand and drive out the mightiest army in the world. The cold war ends, and Charlie Wilson does not get any credit. Really, did you know who Charlie Wilson even was before seeing this movie?

This is where the movie review ends and the social criticism starts: Fast forward a few years. The lost, abused and maimed children grow up. What will their worldview be? They need to survive, without much of a country, with no parents, no industry, no love and no hope. The very freedom fighters that we trained and supplied with arms in 1988 slowly morph into – yes – the Taliban. The poverty, despair, physical pain, hunger and lack of love and security drives them to Muslim fundamentalism. Soon they blow up schools, libraries, art, treasures of antiquity and anything foreign. They brutalize their own women, take away their rights to an education, and start turning against the West. Terrorist camps arise, and soon 9/11 happens. We don’t remember that we helped create this in Afghanistan. Do the research! Just like we armed Saddam Hussein in those days. Oh, how quickly nations forget.

All that and much more buzzed through my head as I was watching Charlie Wilson’s War.

Rating: ***

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