To start us off

Military Advertising and Propaganda
There are many differences between the two, although both employ some of the same techniques. Both advertisement and propaganda play on the motifs on honor and justice for the sake of recruitment. However, military advertising can be considered a form of persuasion. Since neither methods portray accurate representation of what life in the Armed Forces is actually like, both are withholding key information – a key quality of propaganda. In an advertisement, however, the relationship between the viewer and the message sender is transactional. The viewer knows that he or she is being advertised to, even if the methods used are not entirely honest. In films, however, the viewer is unaware that the military seeks to adjust their behaviors through subtle propaganda. This form of propaganda has an agitative effect in that the films are subsidized in order to boost recruitment.

“Propaganda is the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist” (Jowett 41).

Battle: Los Angeles

Battle: Los Angeles is one of Columbia Pictures recent ventures. Directed by Jonathan Leibesman, and released early 2011, the film follows a Marine Staff Sergeant (Aaron Eckhart) who, though his retirement had just been approved, goes back into the line of duty in order to assist a 2nd Lieutenant and his platoon as they fight to reclaim the city of Los Angeles from alien invaders. The entire movie is filmed from the perspective of the Marines, as they handle the trials and tribulation of being men of honor at war with an extra terrestrial force who aims to conquer us for our resources. The film's budget hit an estimated 70 Million, and grossed 78 Million in its first 3 weeks. A blend between an American war movie and a sci-fi thriller, the film satisfies a large audience – despite its horrible reviews. Mark Jenkins of the Washington Post wrote "A cross between 'The War of the Worlds' and a Marine recruiting film, 'Battle: Los Angeles' sends a bunch of earnest leathernecks into the most hostile territory they've ever experienced: Santa Monica." The movie is filled, from beginning to end, with war movie clichés and bits of military propaganda. I will analyze the film and explain how it is or is not a piece of military propaganda.

“In the movies, when companies pay producers to show their products on screen, it’s called ‘product placement.’ But when the government provides incentives to producers to make the military look good in their movies, it’s known by a different name. It’s called ‘propaganda’” (Robb 75).

"The Big Gun"
Fetishism of Military Technology

The only way a citizen can use military technologies is by enlisting, and the military often highlights the technological aspects. “The techno-spectacle sometime works by eroticizing weapons, imbuing them with overt sexual symbolism. Other times, some blunt aesthetic conceit such as sunset backlighting turns the weapon into an object of beauty, a twilight dream equal to the somnambulant spectator" (Stahl 28). The fetishization of weaponry goes further than mere aesthetics, though. In Battle: LA there are overt references to the power of bigger guns to save the marines. Through these films the military uses high tech weaponry as heuristic devices representative of power and invincibility. These symbols of power bypass critical thinking.


"Support Our Troops"
Propaganda Slogans
David Robb describes how in its primary usage, "support the troops" relocates the decision to wage war from the air-conditioned Washington, DC, office to the tent in the desert. He continues, saying that as such, the phrase suggests that the soldiers deployed themselves, acting also as a populist appeal to combat the notion that the soldier is being used to fight the proverbial ‘rich man’s war.’” Although in Battle: LA the marines certainly aren't fighting a 'rich man's war', the producers and investors managed to find a place to plug the slogan. The story takes place in present day, and in the image below, the slogan is referring to our troops overseas. Though to many this plug may have gone unnoticed, it is in the film for a reason.


"Be My Little Marine"
Propaganda to Children

In reference to The Right Stuff, a film screened in 1980, Colonel Burggrabe, chief of public affairs for the air force in Los Angeles, wrote to the producers expressing his concern that the foul language in the film would recieve it an "R" rating and thus would cut out a significant portion of their recruitment potential. “The obscene language used seems to guarantee an R rating,” Colonel Burggrabe wrote. “If distributed as an ‘R’ it cuts down on the teenage audience, which is a prime one to the military services when our recruiting goals are considered.” (Robb 177) This is clear evidence that these films are used to propagate the military to certain age groups, specifically children and teens. Battle LA, which is rated PG13, is the perfect film for this. When a civilian boy's father dies he clutches the Staff Sarge in tears, who in turn comforts him by saying, "I need you to be my little marine." Children do not have the critical thinking capacity to determine different forms of propaganda. Colonel Burggrabe continued to comment that after Top Gun (1986) was released, which featured Tom Cruise as a cocky naval aviator, boosted the navy's recruitment by 500%.


Why is this all important?

The end credits list special thanks to the Department of Defense and the Unites States Marine Corps, meaning that funding and/or equipment was provided by the military for this film. With a script like this, that so overly propogates the military, the film could easily have been written with government funding in mind from the get go. David Robb, author of Operation Hollywood, in his interview with, says "A lot of the studio heads tell their producers, 'We’re not going to make this film unless we get military assistance, because it would be too expensive. So you’d better make sure the script conforms to what they want.' Also, what you don’t see in these documents is the self-censorship that goes with knowing you need their assistance and that they’re going to be your first audience."


The government's ability to censor free speech is limited by the first amendment. The collaboration between Hollywood producers and the Military has created a very grey area, though. In order to make a successful and profitable films, producers cater to the military so that they will be pleased with how they are depicted.This creates an extreme financial advantage for these types of film, and pressures producers to censor their own material. “Many legal experts, including the famed First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams and renowned constitutional law professor Irwin Chemerinsky, believe that this form of censorship is a blatant violation of the first amendment" (Robb 45).

Lawrence Suid, in his review of David Robb's book, criticizes this argument. In the defense of the military, he states, "Just because a movie does not get made because it did not receive cooperation does not support your argument. Such movies did not get made because they could not raise money or did not have acceptable scripts, not because on of the armed services did anything to prevent them from being produced...the military has no obligation to support any film. The refusal to do so simply does not constitute censorship." While this is true, and the military obviously has no interest in supporting films that portray it negatively, there are known instances in which the military has inserted changes in scripts not only to remove negative portrayals, but to dramatize positive portrayals in order to boost recruitment. Though this may or may not be considered a breach of the First Amendment, it is still considered military propaganda.

Understanding of War and History

These methods of censorship and propaganda affect more than recruitment, they affect society's understanding of history. Children grow up seeing the dramatized versions of real events. The only things they know of war, for the most part, is what they glean from the hyper-glorified action sequences in movies. According to the documentary based on Robb's book,
the movie Pearl Harbor was more successful in creating public awareness for the survivors and their families than the 50th anniversary of the actual event. These movies shape public’s knowledge of historical events.

The screenplay Fields of Fire, written by the decorated war hero James Webb, documented the true events of a Vietnam veteran. Webb wanted to create a film about Vietnam that was entertaining and historically accurate. The film was declined by Phil Strub, the military's liaison to Hollywood, who was conerced that the atrocious acts committed by Marines in the pressures of the Vietnam war would be perceived as everyday commonplace acts. (These acts included the fragging of an uncomissioned officer, illegal drug use, and the execution of war prisoners) The book, from which the screenplay is based, is required reading in the Marine Corps. So why is it not suitable for the public? Webb replied to Strub when his screenplay was declined funding. "It appears that what you are really saying is that when it comes to Vietnam, DOD will support only sterile documentaries, or feature films that amount to nothing more than dishonest propaganda.” (Robb 127).

Fields of Fire is an example of a film that could not be produced because it lacked funding from the military. Although other historical films have been created about Vietnam without military funding, such as Full Metal Jacket, it seems difficult to receive funding and retain accuracy. Many small changes, across the spectrum of Hollywood films, have the capacity to create large scale perceptual effects. This could be considered a form of revisionist history – a powerful agent of propaganda. If the military has the power to control the way the public perceives the past, it can control the present and future.

Works Cited