JIM SHEPARD

SAVING PRIVATE RYAN AND THE POLITICS OF DECEPTION

EVEN IN THE FACE OF A THICKENING POLITICAL SHITSTORM, WAR MOVIES ASSURE US THAT EVERYTHING WILL BE OK.

DISCUSSED: Shrapnel, George W. Bush, Spielberg’s Formula, Amputee Stuntmen, Emotional Manipulation, Hoodwinking, Playboy Bunnies, Seven Samurai, Abraham Lincoln, The Sands of Iwo Jima, If Matt Damon Was Steve Buscemi, Thought vs. Entertainment, The Weird Desire to Separate the Politics of War from the Sacrifices of War

In the stampede to explain how it was that some fifty-eight million voters decided to return the present American administration to power, it was repeatedly noted how often polled voters mentioned safety as a crucial issue in their decision: in perilous times, they confided, they’d go with the candidate who seemed more likely to allow them to feel safe. And a startling number of Americans, even intelligent ones, seem to have decided that, whatever else separated the two candidates, George W. Bush was in some important way stronger. This was an interesting perception, given that the other guy was a certified war hero, and it was no secret that Bush had avoided serving in the very same war; given that Bush had pretty clearly let Osama Bin Laden, the embodiment of our terrors, escape when American forces had him cornered in Afghanistan; and finally, given that part of the Republicans’ campaign strategy had been to argue that we were now in more danger than ever. (It was an impressive sleight of hand, that last strategy: Things are now scarier than they’ve ever been. Thank God we were in power when that happened.)

One of the ways the Republicans, with the collusion of the national media, managed this stunt was by supporting a candidate who made clear that he was so firmly set in his ways that even more or less indisputable evidence of his having made a catastrophic mistake caused him no second thoughts. In other words, right or wrong or horribly wrong, he was no waffler—a quality a large number of us, apparently, found reassuring. (As in: even if it sure feels to those of us in the backseat like we’re doing some unplanned off-roading, Daddy says his hand is firmly on the wheel. So we can go back to sleep.)

But what other reasons caused so many of us to fly so blithely in the face of empirical evidence? Where did we get this capacity to imagine that horribly complicated messes have been ironed out just because someone has looked us in the eye and told us so? I don’t know about you, but I keep getting it from the movies.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Jim Shepard’s sixth novel, Project X, and second collection of short stories, Love and Hydrogen, were published by Knopf last year.

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