In the past there have been films about the absurdity of war and political madness. The Marx Brothers explored it in the brilliant Duck Soup. The Mouse that Roared looked at a country declaring war on the United States in order to get foreign aid; Dr. Strangelove showed the Cold War danger of blowing up the world with comedic precision. Satire has always been a method for us to explore our faults and false expectations of world order. But satire in the movies might be dead now, replaced by daily satire that is for real. We live in a world of complete and utter madness. And nothing highlights this absurdism like the current conflict with the Islamic State, or what is called ISIS or ISIL.
We hear reports that this may be the most dangerous threat the United States has ever faced. I won't minimize that statement. I can only question the absurdity of this premise. We have a military budget that exceeds $445 billion a year. We have the largest air force in the world. Second largest to the Air Force is our navy. We have battleships, aircraft carriers, stealth bombers, stealth fighter planes; we have tanks, drones, armored personal carriers and vast amounts of other weapons of war. So the premise, if you were making a satire of this situation, would be that the United States cannot defeat an army of 30,000 religious zealots who ride around in pickup trucks with guns on the back. Too illogical for a movie? It all goes back to the old Mark Twain statement, "The only difference between reality and fiction is that fiction has to be credible." Of course the moderate Muslims could go to war against the Muslim extremists, but that wouldn't be in the world of absurdity.
I know religious zealots are dangerous. They always have been. Perhaps they always will be. But now with 24-hour news, this group has become all-consuming, and ISIS provides the videos. Are we supposed to watch a beheading every few weeks? They certainly can provide that. They do it simply for attention. This is part of the new absurdist warfare. And it plays well on cable news. Then we respond by interviewing ex-generals or other important military personnel who lay out potential strategy. Some of these thoughts might actually be worthwhile, but then again, you do have the enemy listening. It would be comparable to discussing the logistics of a possible D-Day attack on the air prior to the invasion. But this is somewhat of a TV war being played out. We openly say what we won't do: "No boots on the ground." Now the enemy knows a lot more than they should be entitled to know. But we, the TV audience, know more, and that's good television, supposedly. Can you imagine if we informed the Germans during World War II that we weren't going to invade Europe for two years, just to give them a heads up?
You can picture a scene at ISIS headquarters, in a tent, somewhere in the desert with a satellite dish tuned in to CNN. "No boots on the ground! Great! We attack [fill in the blank] tomorrow. No resistance! Will there be air strikes?" (A commercial comes on.) "We will have to wait until the commercial break is over."
We have experts saying this will be a long war, which must excite CNN. They can stop producing some of those silly alternative programs they were doing to drum up an audience. A long-time war that can play out nightly with an enemy that plays for the camera. This is a bonanza of TV dollars waiting to be made. A long war! And how convenient to tell the enemy that the group will have a long life of influence. At some point the beheadings will lose their impact, as disgusting as that sounds, and will be replaced by something even more vile and disgusting. The visual must always increase the voltage or interest will wane. Real, thoughtful solutions may take a backseat. Boring. We are about to enter a real TV war with an enemy that loves to be on video.
It was only a matter of time before some began to exploit TV for its propaganda. Hitler understood pomp and circumstance, but he didn't have the world of TV back then. He did understand the importance of uniforms, and colors, and parades, and fiery rhetoric. And he understood the importance of symbols and armbands. This group plays up their brutality, their arrogance, their invincibility. They have black and white flags, too. It looks cool. This is to be the reality version of Game of Thrones. Expect a long run.