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“The Watchers” is a film adaptation of the 2022 book of the same name by A.M. Shine.
Review: “The Watchers”
Published June 13, 2024

Suspending disbelief in the march toward war

WBy John Tribbett

we Americans are known for our voracious appetite for consuming passive entertainment. We watch something close to four hours of television a day on average. We make and consume the most movies that spread around the globe. Because of this, we have trained ourselves to engage in something known as the suspension of disbelief.

Suspension of disbelief requires you to forget those overriding aspects of reality, the subtle and not so subtle nuances that tell you a situation is too preposterous to possibly be true. Movie-makers are happy when we reach this state; in fact, it is what they strive for. So when Bruce Willis jumps the gap between two skyscrapers as a fighter jet explodes between his legs, instead of getting up and demanding our money back in disgust, we all say “whoa.” It is what makes entertainment fun.

We are caught up in a situation where the suspension of disbelief is a particularly useful state of being for today’s U.S. citizen. As our country prepares to go to war with Iraq, it’s this state of being that makes being an American tolerable. Just like when you are watching your favorite action hero on screen, it allows you to forget about all of those messy inconsistencies and shocking details that would wreck the experience for you. If you were to pay too much attention, you might run out in anger, talk back at the screen in frustration or start screaming to have the projectionist shut down the film. You might even threaten to turn off the movie yourself.

But by achieving the state of suspension of disbelief, we are actually able to believe that through mass killing and the destruction of untold numbers of physical objects, we can bring about a peaceful and safe world. Once we use the technique to internalize this basic story line as true, the rest of the show only gets better. 

From this point, it is only a small leap to swallow the idea that all of the jingoistic rhetoric spewed from the George W. Bush administration is not really designed to keep the country’s focus off of looming domestic issues. After all, it wrecks the plot to get caught up in such inconsistencies. Why look at the fact that two million jobs have been lost in the past two years – 100,000 of them in the last month alone? Why laden down the narrative with details of how Bush’s fiscal plan would give more tax relief to the wealthiest 1 percent than the bottom 95 percent combined? Who wants to take the time to acknowledge the $600 million pledged for treatment efforts in the fight against drug addiction is miniscule in comparison to the amount being spent in the failed war on drugs?

It would wreck the mood to look seriously at health care, education and the budget crisis crippling nonprofit agencies as state coffers run dry. Who wants to remember in the wake of Sept. 11 that Bush proudly proclaimed his administration finally had a purpose. That he then began talking with great purpose, just like John Wayne, about hunting our enemies to the ends of the earth. It is perfectly rational, while in this state, to believe there were no other purposes for his administration to be engaged in before the attack. He was just waiting for something to do.

Suspension of disbelief allows us to believe Bush was given a mandate by the American people, when in reality he actually lost the popular vote. It also helps to bridge the gap between his campaign promise to get rid of big government and the fact that today he is presiding over what may well be the largest and most bureaucratic government our nation has ever known. But again, these are minor details.

Suspension of disbelief really demonstrates its power in the arena of the war itself. For instance, it allows us to believe that after we go to war, destroy a country’s infrastructure with our technologically infallible smart weapons, and kill hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens, that we will actually be able to set up a democratic state. We will do this in a place that has been ruled by tribal leaders and feudal lords for most of its existence. But after we arrive – poof – freedom. We will be welcomed with open arms and allowed to set up a fully functioning and completely alien form of society and government in less than five years.

Now, it is important to remember the president didn’t say in Tuesday’s State of the Union Address that he would bring democracy to the people of Iraq but instead, “food, medicine and supplies – and freedom.”  Most of the American populace has probably picked up this subtle distinction and fully comprehends the fact we are fighting for the ever-so-clearly defined status of “freedom” for the Iraqi people and not necessarily an implied democratic state.

Bringing Iraqis food and medicine works well with the technique when you consider the fact that there is no food or medicine in the country because we, through our constant pressure on the United Nations, have guaranteed the sanctions have remained in lockdown for more than a decade. Suspension of disbelief allows us to forget more than 500,000 children under the age of five have died from common ailments such as diarrhea as a result of these sanctions. It allows us to pretend there has not been constant armed combat in the no-fly zones since the culmination of Operation Desert Storm.

Most importantly, we can accept that we will not actually be producing more of the very same conditions and resentments which breed terrorism as a result of our actions. Suspension of disbelief allows us to think that eradicating the root causes is a spurious activity and therefore the billions of dollars we spend on our revved-up war machine would be wasted if instead used in an attempt to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and therefore our interest in the region.

Then again, by this point, we have been sucked into the narrative so soundly we can assure ourselves that the whole issue has absolutely nothing to do with oil. It certainly has nothing to do with his father. That would wreck everything.  

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