This is “Recommended Viewing”, section 17.7 from the book 21st Century American Government and Politics (v. 1.0).
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Apocalypse Now (1979). In Francis Ford Coppola’s visually dazzling take on the Vietnam War, an American captain is sent to assassinate a renegade colonel waging an unsanctioned war.
Atomic Café (1982). A compilation of film clips mocks the propaganda films made in the 1940s and 1950s to reassure Americans about nuclear weapons.
Bearing Witness (2005). A moving documentary on the lives and experiences of five war correspondents, all of them women.
Casablanca (1942). Classic Hollywood film with memorable dialogue and acting, in which a cynical American expatriate in Morocco embraces idealism and engagement. A metaphor for the United States moving from isolationism to internationalism in World War II.
Control Room (2003). A documentary on the war in Iraq from the Al Jazeera and Arab perspective.
Diary (2011). Photojournalist Tim Hetherington (codirector of Restrepo) contrasts scenes from the war zones he covered to his life in London and New York. Soon after making the film he was killed in Libya.
Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). In Stanley Kubrick’s (and Terry Southern’s) nightmarishly comic assault on the Cold War, the results of military paranoia and bravado are nuclear war.
Duck Soup (1933). The Marx brothers spoof diplomacy, nationalism, patriotism, law, and—above all—America’s wars. President of Freedonia Rufus T. Firefly (played by Groucho Marx) justifies war: “It’s too late. I’ve already paid a month’s rent on the battlefield.”
The Fog of War (2003). In Errol Morris’s documentary, former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara reflects on his involvement in decisions that resulted in death and destruction (the fire bombing of Japan during the Second World War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War).
Hearts and Minds (1974). A remorseful anti–Vietnam War documentary with devastating images and interviews with policymakers, militarists, and ordinary people involved.
Home of the Brave—Land of the Free (2003). Mordant documentary look at a US Special Forces unit in Afghanistan.
The Missiles of October (1974). Documentary that profiles President John F. Kennedy and his associates and describes their actions during the Cuban missile crisis.
Reporting America at War (2003). A basic history of the reporting of American wars from the Spanish-American War through the invasion of Iraq that focuses on legendary correspondents and thus minimizes reporters’ self-censorship and the acceptance of official perspectives and naive notions of wartime glory.
Restrepo (2010). This harrowing documentary follows a combat team of American soldiers deployed in a lethally dangerous remote valley in Afghanistan.
Return with Honor (1998). First-person survival accounts of US pilots held captive in North Vietnam and testimonies of their wives are joined to Vietnamese archival footage in a moving documentary of mental, physical, and emotional resilience.
Seven Days in May (1964). Military leaders plot to overthrow the president after he concludes what they think is a disastrous nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union.
The Siege (1998). Terrorists blow up a federal building in Manhattan, resulting in a crackdown on civil liberties and terror suspects.
War Feels Like War (2003). Firsthand immediacy and detail fill this documentary showing “unilateral” correspondents (those not embedded) as they report the Iraq War.