The action/thriller war movie, Green Zone (Greengrass, 2010), roughly based on Rajiv Chandrasekaran’ Imperial Life in the Emerald City, received many critical reviews. It was hailed as many things.  Some reviewers called it a failure, boring, cliché, frenetic, or director Greengrass’ “least satisfying work to date” (Bradshaw, 2010) and some saw it as hard-hitting, a knockout, persuasive, a “solid example of a political paranoia thriller,” and “an urgent piece of work” (Vognar, 2010)

No matter how you view director Paul Greengrass’ latest film, it is clear that it touches on many issues discussed in our class concerning war, the definition of terrorism, and the press…how it is a tool in the hands of both the mighty and the stricken.  Green Zone also addresses how one can define patriotism and the core of human nature that defines us all.  This paper analyzes the movie Green Zone and attempts to tackle the issues of war, terrorism, the media, truth, and the core of human existence.

Green Zone tells the story of an American Chief Warrant Officer, Roy Miller, whose team is ordered to track down the Weapons of Mass Destruction allegedly hidden in various places throughout Iraq. When the locations that are searched constantly come up empty, CWO Roy Miller starts asking questions. Over the course of the film, we follow him on his quest to find out the truth about the alleged WMDs while trying to “make a difference and save lives” (Greengrass, 2010). In this way Miller acts as our collective conscience and seeks what the American public wanted in 2003: answers.

As the Jiminy Cricket to our Pinocchio, we follow CWO Miller frenetically searching for WMDs.  In one of the opening scenes we see him at one alleged WMD stockpile location witnessing looters fleeing the scene. He is angry and distraught over the fact that he has no idea what the looters are running off with. His eye strays to a canister that one man has on a cart before quickly moving back to his task at hand. In another scene towards the end of the film, Miller goes after the antagonist of the film, Clark Poundstone, and asks poignant questions about the rationale for war and who decides when to go, leaving Poundstone with the question, “What’s going to happen the next time we need people to trust us?” (Greengrass, 2010). In Green Zone, Miller takes us on a guided tour of the confusion over the rationale for going to war in Iraq. To some, this seemingly misguided and waffling decision making process may seem to be an isolated incident, however, that is far from the case.

As long as man has gone to war, questions over the rationale have come up…is it a “just” war.  In Munich, Avner dealt with this same battle, internally, as he carried out his nationalistic acts of retaliation and terrorism.  In the movie Defiance, the Bielski brothers are faced with the question of going to war and fighting, or surviving and living in the forest.  These struggles are not just evidenced in films and movies.  Men in the highest echelons of society and government battle with the concept of going to war and what war is at its very core. Jimmy Carter is quoted as saying,

War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other’s children.

As Winston Churchill said,

Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.

Another luminary, John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), one of the greatest minds of the 19th Century and a founding father of the science of Sociology once said.

“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”

As these reflections on war show, there is no easy way to justify going to war, but as Mill’s line of thought argues, there has to be something worth fighting for.  There should be something worth dying for.

John Stuart Mill’s quote from nearly two centuries ago could be argued to support what has today been defined as terrorism.  Is there that big of a difference between the two?  Isn’t it the case, as I quoted in my paper on Munich, that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”?  How we define what constitutes terrorism and insurgencies and wars and revolutions and military occupations and invasions all seem to depend on which side of the fence that we find ourselves.   Although not to the extent of Chandrasekaran’ Imperial Life in the Emerald City, Green Zone tried to address this issue of a disconnect between what was billed as a justified war on terror and search for WMDs and what it became…a juxtaposition of oppressive liberators and terrorized “insurgents.”  The story is told from an American point of view and for an American audience; however, it is not necessarily sympathetic toward the “American side.” Rather, it is critical of the American administration, showing the ugly side of politics, and hinting that we should not be so naïve to think that everything that America does is for the greater good, justice, and liberty.  In Green Zone, we see the emergence of a liberator as a terrorist and it calls into question all that we may think that we know about what terrorism looks like.

The film’s criticism for the American political machine is shown by the way it frames the West and Iraq through contrast in both setting and character. The film portrays the Western style of life, as personified by Clark Poundstone, as one characterized by order while the Iraqis are characterized by chaos and destruction.  From the outside Poundstone looks the part of a top Pentagon official. Greengrass shows Clark Poundstone in the daylight, dressed in light suits, and rubbing shoulders with the right people.  By comparison, those that were called terrorists, namely Muhammad Al Rawi are cast as dark figures, meeting in dark rooms, and at night in alleys.  There is only a single instance where Al Rawi is show in the light and in that scene he is shown squinting and running away to the cover of his vehicle.  This contract between what is perceived as good and what is perceived as evil turn the viewer upside down and pushes us to question what and who we view as right.

This concept is further solidified by the use of the character Freddy to juxtapose Clark Poundstone. Each character is the antithesis of what he is expected to be. In an IGN Movie Review, Freddy is described as an Iraqi citizen who “offers us a glimpse of the other side of this situation as an apparently regular guy in Bagdad who is forced to deal with the insanity that the war has brought to his land” (Collura, 2010). Freddy represents the good that exists in Iraq. He is an average person who wants what’s best for his country, even if it means appearing like a traitor. In a conversation with Miller, Freddy refuses a reward for his assistance and says “I want more than you want; I want to help my country.” This raises Freddy’s character to that of an idealist fighting for a truly noble cause. He shows the American audience that not everybody in Iraq is a terrorist and makes it more difficult for us to rationalize our seemingly deep-seeded anti-Iraqi sentiment. As masilva2’s pen-pal remarks, “It is easy to believe you’re fighting a good fight when your enemies are reduced to a statistic, a barbaric population that seeks to destroy the civilized world” (masilva2, 2010). Freddy challenges this logic by showing the extent to which he is willing to help Chief Warrant Officer Miller.  In multiple instances he translates for his countrymen the demands of the invading Americans and he also risks his life to take them to dangerous areas of the city in his car. By contrast, the sinister Poundstone character is a one-man terrorist, seeking to push his agenda and willing to sacrifice as many lives as are necessary in order to promote his ideology…with a smirk to boot.  He seems to fit all of the terrorist litmus tests…except that he’s in a suit (quacks like a duck, walks like a duck, just doesn’t look like a duck).

The reach of Poundstone’s terroristic tendencies seems to know no bounds.  Just as the media can be used to dig into a situation and unearth truths, it can also be used as a propaganda machine.  Poundstone executes this to perfection.  Throughout the film, he strings along the very reporter that made public his manufactured case for invading Iraq.  Our text addresses this very issue of media naivety when Moeller states that  “even when politicians or other officials are suspected to be speaking less than candidly about a breaking event or to be telling a partial story rather than the whole truth or to be spinning out only that part of the news that advances their own agendas, media are still likely to feature those official comments” (Moeller, 2009).  In this instance the news media reporter failed to do her due diligence and fact check the story that she had been fed.

Because so much today swings on the hinge of popularity and opinion polls, there is a lot of weight given to what the populous wants.  This can work both to the benefit and the detriment of all.  It cannot be more succinctly stated than how CWO Miller’s superior when he commented, “All they’re interested in is something they can hold up on CNN.” All the politicians wanted was a piece of evidence for CNN to show the American public, whether it was true or not.  All the press wanted was a sound bite to feed the people.  Green Zone shows how the press is used as a key player in disseminating both lies and truth. Poundstone used reporter Lawrie Dayne, whose character is modeled after former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, (Goodykoontz, 2010) to be the public spokesperson for his fictional intelligence source, Magellan. At the end of the movie, the press is once again used, this time to spread the truth to the public about the WMDs through CWO Miller’s military report.

In addition to the WMD ordeal, American troops are in Iraq to reconstruct the government system as a tactic to reduce terrorism. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan supports this strategy by saying:

“September 11 should make everyone realize that when governments like the Taliban are allowed to ‘violate the rights of their individual citizens, they become a menace not only to their own people, but also to their neighbors, and indeed the world.’ Thus, enforcing rights across borders should supersede traditional notions of sovereignty and national interest from now on.” [5]

In essence, it becomes the responsibility of nations like the United States to protect the world from terrorism through forceful control of such menacing states. In an essay criticizing this tactic, Gary Dempsey states:

“Some people assert that Europe’s experience under the Marshall Plan can be readily duplicated in a whole host of countries and that, with enough economic aid, trained bureaucrats, and military force of arms, ‘bad’ states anywhere can be transformed into open, self-sustaining, peaceful states” (Dempsey,

Green Zone takes its own stand on the issue in one climactic and impactful phrase. After taking two teams of American troops to chase down Muhammad Al Rawi – one set wanting to assassinate him and the other wanting him for questioning – Freddy takes matters into his own hands and shoots the Iraqi Bathist. To an astonished Miller, Freddy, still holding the gun, utters “It’s not for you to decide what happens here” (Greengrass, 2010). This powerful phrase calls into question all that the US is doing in Iraq.  Is it the US’s job to protect the rest of the world from potentially dangerous Iraqi leaders? Is it the US’s job to build up the Iraqi government? Or is the US’s forceful invasion unwarranted and undesired, perhaps even viewed as a form of terrorism? While the movie does not define terrorism, it does simultaneously judge American and Iraqi leaders, showing that the ugly side of American politics is not far removed from Iraqi leadership. We should not be so naïve to think that America is on a higher playing field just because it’s “westernized”. Rather, the US administration can be just as twisted, with officials who manipulate and deceive.

The governments and bureaucracies of men have a single goal, to sustain themselves.  If manipulation and deception of their constituents is the means by which this is done, then that is what they do.  We see this very candidly in Green Zone and we saw it vividly in Munich.  However, throughout both movies there are little insights like the previous quotes by Freddy and the scene where the Iraqi mob is pleading with the American servicemen for water that peer into human nature and what drives us all…we want to have water, a voice in and some semblance of control over what occurs in our homeland, we all want the basic inalienable rights granted to humanity.  This concept was also addressed in Munich when Avner is having a conversation in the stairwell with another terrorist, only a Palestinian one, and they are discussing that all they want is to be able to have a place for their families, a home to raise and teach their kids their way of life.  In Green Zone, the US lead invasion ignores these pleas and instead bullies its way in so that it can impose the type of homeland that it feels the people should have…just not the one that they want and are willing to fight for.

After watching the movie, there is a faint glimmer of hope for the future. Although the movie does not thematically emphasize hope, but rather stresses truth, there is hope because truth conquers. Roy Miller figures out what is going on, he writes his report, and continues his service. There is hope that the American people will be enlightened via the media and understand the truth about people, what drives them to go to war, and what that results in.  As viewers we are given the opportunity to be enlightened even further, to understand governments and their quest for power and influence and the nature of humans – that we are not all terrorists – we are just humans fighting for what we believe in.

Works Cited

Barsanti, C. (2010, March 12). Film Review: Green Zone. Film Journal International. Retrieved April 21, 2010, from http://www.filmjournal.com/filmjournal/content_display/reviews/major-releases/e3i8c42c2e07eaa0e324cd8a47103f

Bradshaw, P. (2010, March 11). Film review: Green Zone. The Guardian News and Media. Retrieved April 21, 2010, from http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2010/mar/11/green-zone-film-review

Collura, S. (2010, March 11). Green Zone Review. IGN Movies. Retrieved April 22, 2010, from http://movies.ign.com/articles/107/1076932p1.html

Dempsey, G.T. (2002). Old Folly in a New Disguise: Nation Building to Combat Terrorism. Retrieved April 21, 2010, from The Cato Institute Web site: http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=1288

Goodykoontz, B. (2010, March 10). ‘Green Zone’. azcentral.com. Retrieved April 22, 2010, from http://www.azcentral.com/thingstodo/movies/articles/2010/03/10/20100310greenzone0312.html

masilva2. (2010, April 20). The Iraq War-A conversation with Chinwei. Terrorism and the Press. Retrieved April 22, 2010, from http://terrpress.personal.asu.edu/?p=725#more-725

Moeller, S. (2009). Packaging terrorism: Co-opting the news for politics and profit. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Vognar, C. (2010, March 12). Green Zone (2010). Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 22, 2010, from http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1202804-green_zone/?critic=creamcrop