Lord of War

Kind of Recommended with qualifications. A black comedy polemic about arms dealers. Nick Cage is an amoral arms dealer to whoever can provide money, regardless of cause. As he pursues his “American Dream” with the help of his brother, played by Jared Leto, his brother cannot take it and eventually dies trying to do the right thing. Now, I don’t entirely agree with the moral equivalency argument or worldview of the storyteller, Andrew Niccole, but I respect his storytelling and thought he did a great job of presenting his viewpoint, and made some great points with very witty words. Though I am not sure he realizes how contradictory he may have been about some of them. And the narration made it too heavy-handed and was a bit overdone. He has a great opening that follows the manufacturing, production and distribution of a single bullet from arms manufacturer all the way to the gun in some African rebel’s hands as he shoots it into the head of an innocent young boy. VERY CLEVER and very enticing of a creative point. The whole story takes the hero as an anti-hero really, who is only interested in money and contrasts him with others like a CIA operative who only sells arms to “take sides.” This CIA agent answers the charge that he armed both Iranians and Iraqiis with, “Did you ever think I wanted both sides to lose?” Some great dark comedy lines about the immorality of the heros’ alleged ammoralism: “You’re not a true internationalist until you sell guns to those who kill your own countrymen.” “I’m an equal opportunity merchant of death.” “The real weapon of mass destruction is the AK47, not the nukes,” because nukes sit in silos, but the body count of AK47s surpasses anything in the world. “Often the worst atrocities occur when both sides call themselves freedom fighters.” (Of course, calling yourself a freedom fighter is not the same as being a freedom fighter. Some really are and some really are liars.) Cage’s entire goal is to extricate himself from the responsibility of what he is doing by rationalizations galore. And part of that is his evolutionary worldview. He says to his brother who is outraged at how men can act cruelly like a pack of dogs, “You’re really just a two-legged dog. It’s part of being human.” But at the same time, he takes a toy gun away from his son and throws it in the trash, showing he doesn’t want for his own family what he foists on others. A particularly poignant moment occurs when Cage realizes that the CIA dealer had his uncle killed and is now in the position to kill the CIA dealer. The evil Baptiste, to whom Cage is selling arm, gives him the opportunity to shoot the CIA dealer dead, but he can’t. So Baptiste says, “So you want him dead. You just don’t want to do it yourself.” The ribald hypocrisy of Cage’s character is the point of the whole film. The fact is, money as a motive is NEVER without morality. This man who claims to divest himself from those whom he arms to kill others is responsible for his part in the evil. And he knows it. The fact that Cage does not learn his lesson but continues on at the end, even after losing his entire family and life, is not cynicism, but the challenge that this continues on in our world unless we put a stop to it and take responsibility. Now, it appears to me that Niccole has a specific anti-gun agenda that goes beyond the actual proven argument of the film. I say this because of his conclusion at the end of the film that the “Biggest arms dealers in the world” are the US, Germany, Britain and a few others, and these same big five are on the security council of the United Nations. As if this is some kind of irony or indictment against the US. But he wallows in a problem here because all his film has really proven if you look closely is that we should morally choose the right people to arm in wars. Niccole suffers a logical non-sequitur: he concludes that the gun is the cause of the evil, not the evil men who do the killing. The fact is, his story proves to me that the U.S. SHOULD arm the defenders of democracy or freedom or the United States, NOT that we should get rid of guns and somehow this will stop the bloodshed. Close to a million people were machetied to death in Rwanda in the 1990s. They didn’t need the guns for their atrocity and it didn’t stop them, not having them. In the story, Cage says, that some people say that evil prevails when good men do nothing, but “what they oughta say is, “Evil prevails.”” This is a cynicism from our deluded hero, but it unwittingly makes the point that his story simply proves NOT that we should not deal in arms but that we should support and arm those who ARE on the just side of a war or situation. Since our selling of arms is morally responsible, then, like the CIA agent, let’s only arm those who are on the right side against evil in a particular conflict. Of course, the relativist makes the moral equivalence argument that tries to halt all commitment to all causes. The fact is, a country may have some evil aspects to it, but if in a particular war, it is on the side of justice, then in THAT particular war, it is on the right side and should be supported. In a way, Niccole, wittingly or unwittingly makes this argument when he shows that Baptiste is an evil man who engages in atrocities and should not be armed, or should be armed against. Arming his enemies is therefore morally right if they fight to stop such evil. And yes, as the movie makes the point very cleverly that one revolution often overthrows the tyrants only to replace them with new tyrants. But the fact that one evil sometimes replaces another evil is not an argument against stopping the first evil. The point is whether or not one evil should be fought against or not. We cannot always determine what an ally will end up doing. I would contend though, that the issue is more complex than I would like. For instance, in arming the mujahdeen in Afghanistan to fight the Russian communists in the 1970s, we were arming enemies of the U.S., that would eventually end up using those arms against us. NOW THAT is cause for qualification and concern. The same goes for allying with the Soviets in WWII who turned around and used that advantage to fight the Cold War against us. But I understand that the argument is that we ally with non-allies only against a greater threat. But I am not entirely convinced of this argument. Especially since we are now eating the fruit of having armed Bin Laden’s kind during the Afghanistan conflict, and they then used those same arms against us. So, I recognize that the issues can be complex. But certainly cannot be reduced to the naïve simplistic formula that gun themselves are the problem (As Niccole evidently does by showing the homicidal maniac, Baptiste blame the lack of discipline in youth on MTV, rather than the gun he is swinging around and using to arm the youth of his country). This kind of faulty anthropology that blames the weapon for the evil denies man’s essential evil, ultimately leads to slavery. Because man will always be evil until the end, so if we don’t take that into account in our political or sociological theory of how to fix the problem, we will only lead to the slavery of the good by the evil who WILL NOT STOP doing evil. Therefore the provision of weapons defense is necessary. We must just make sure that they get into the hands of just causes. The fact that men use knives for evil does not negate the manufacture of knives because not only are they used for good, but for good self defense against evil men. The fact that evil men use guns for evil is NOT an argument against guns, it is an argument to arm good men or good causes against evil. I suspect that based upon the context of the movie, this is not what Niccole intends. It is, however what I think he ends up proving. Niccole unveils some insightful problems and issues, such as the fact that when the US leaves a field of operations, it is often cheaper to leave the munitions when it leaves than to take them with them and dispose of them. This is a problem with the dismantling of the USSR in the 80s, which ended up having Russian arms sold by black market operatives. Yes, these show the morality of fiscal choices, but they do not prove the immorality of weapons manufacturing or supplying. Also, Niccole conveniently avoided showing that it was REAGAN who stopped the Cold War, not Gorbachev as he shows it to be. But he does have a guy shoot a picture of Reagan, showing Niccole’s hostility against this greatest hero of the 20th century. Interestingly, a scene where the Interpol agent chasing Cage tells him he will do everything he can to delay Cage, even if it is by just one day, because that one day prolongs the life of the innocent who are killed with his guns. Well, I don’t suspect that Niccole realizes that this is the exact same argument of pro-lifers who block abortion clinics. Would he support those pro-lifers as well? Seeing the effect on kids is very strong here, whether it is seeing the innocent kids killed by the wars or those who are drafted into armies before they are mature enough to be a soldier is a strong and effective argument here. NOT against the sales of guns, as I suppose Niccole intends, but rather for arming those who fight against such evils. So, while I don’t buy Niccole’s complete worldview about the nature of evil residing in the existence of weapons, I still consider some of his points to be powerful reminders of the morality of all behaviors, including Capitalist ones. But I would qualify that with the moral necessity to fight evil and violence by arming the good against the evil.