John McNamara never believed the 2003 invasion of Iraq was justified, but as a soldier in an Army transportation unit, he dutifully took part in a war he did not support.
When he left Iraq six months later, he was just happy that he survived.
Now out of the military, McNamara donned his desert camouflage uniform again yesterday to march against the war in which he served.
“Being part of something I didn’t agree with didn’t sit well in my stomach,” said McNamara, 25, of Boston, carrying one corner of a banner for a small, fledgling group called Iraq Veterans Against the War. “Joining this protest, it is the only way I can help end it. It feels good.”
Many of the soldiers Adam Reuter served with in Iraq during a 10-month deployment would see it the same way. They remain supportive of the war and its goals, he said. But he never disguised his opposition.
“I didn’t join up to go to Iraq,” said Reuter, 20, of Atlanta, who enlisted one month after the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. “I joined to hopefully hold those responsible for the attacks of 9/11.”
Now a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Reuter said he thinks more in the military are questioning the war. At yesterday’s march, he said, 60 veterans joined the protest group.
Today, the Vega family from Louisiana feels a little less like nomads.
Brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, cousins, nieces and nephews — 12 in all — and two pet guinea pigs, are packed tightly into a four-bedroom house just off Eighth Street in Little Havana.
A Miami family, Jorge and Kristen Del Rey, offered up a house they own in Little Havana to the Vegas — rent free — for up to a year.
The Vegas don’t mind the cramped quarters. In fact they are thrilled with them. The family spent the last month on the road, traveling between Louisiana and Florida, displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
Some of that time they lived in a shelter. They also spent a few nights crammed into a two-bedroom apartment of a Miami-Dade County relative.
This weekend, as they moved into the Del Reys’ house, the Vegas — who all fled Metairie, La., a suburb of New Orleans — were finally starting to feel at home. Friday was the first night that Yelba Vega has slept in a month. Really slept.
“Just going to lock the door and turn off the lights — it was the best night we’ve had in a month,” said Yelba Vega. “This is a jump start. What Jorge and Kris are doing is just unbelievable. It’s a blessing.”
It was doing the right thing, say the Del Reys.
“My wife was nudging me, ‘what are we going to do to help the people from the hurricane?,’ ” said Jorge Del Rey, a home builder and contractor. The house, which they just bought a month and a half ago, was an investment — and they had planned to rent it.
“I got this feeling in my heart that we should give our house to a family who needs it,” Jorge Del Rey said. His wife did, too.
“So when he said it, I knew that’s what we had to do,” Kristen Del Rey added.
At the beginning of “Just Like Heaven,” Elizabeth Masterson, a medical resident played by Reese Witherspoon, leaves work after more than 24 straight hours of emergency-room duty and drives out into darkness and pouring rain, then promptly smashes head-on into a truck. If you haven’t already seen the movie, it will spoil nothing to tell you that the accident, discreetly shown as a “Six Feet Under”-style whiteout, is not fatal. After all, what romantic comedy in its right mind would kill off Reese Witherspoon in the first act? And “Just Like Heaven,” which opened last weekend to a solid $16.5 million box-office take is, in more than one sense, a movie very much in its right mind. Elizabeth survives, but the film itself provides the latest evidence that the myth of a monolithically liberal Hollywood is dead.
Let’s skip, for the moment, yet another argument about whether it was ever really alive. The notion that the American film industry is a hotbed of left-wing propaganda is a venerable one, and some determined demagogues will cling to it no matter what the studios do. But the studios themselves, especially after the stunning success of Mel Gibson’s independently financed “The Passion of the Christ,” have tried to strengthen their connection with religious and social conservatives, who represent not only a political constituency but a large and powerful segment of the market. As is often the case when it comes to reaching new audiences, the big movie companies have lagged a bit behind other show-business sectors, which is to say behind their own corporate siblings. Christian music has crossed over onto the pop and hip-hop charts, while television has found room on broadcast and cable channels for programming attuned to conservative sensibilities.
One reason for this delay is that movies – big movies, hit movies, movie-star movies – remain one of the few pop-cultural forms that are supposed to appeal to everyone. The oldest and fondest dream in Hollywood has been that it might represent, and thus sell tickets to, a public ruled by harmony and consensus. Those ideals may seem especially hard to come by these days, but we should not let old movies convince us that the old days were that much less contentious than the present. Indeed, the divisive aspects of American life – the half-hidden conflicts of race, class, place and creed – have traditionally been smoothed over on screen.
But there is an equally long tradition of trying to see through the pretty, pandering pictures. Hunting for ideological subtexts in Hollywood movies is a critical parlor game. Many a term paper has been written decoding the varieties of cold war paranoia latent in the westerns and science-fiction movies of the 1950’s. Now, thanks to the culture wars and the Internet, the game of ideological unmasking is one that more and more people are playing. With increasing frequency, the ideology they are uncovering is conservative, and it seems to spring less from the cultural unconscious than from careful premeditation.
Should movies like “Emily Rose,” released by Sony, and “Just Like Heavens,” from DreamWorks, be interpreted as peace offerings in the culture wars, or as canny attempts to open a new front in the endless battle for the soul of the American public? Will liberals now have a chance to complain, as conservatives have for so long, that Hollywood is ideologically biased and out of touch with its audience? Will we ever be able to sit back and say, “It’s only a movie”? I hope not. The arguments we are having among ourselves are too loud and insistent to be drowned out or silenced in the false comfort of the movie theater.
The only ideology Hollywood believes in is Money. If Hollywood finds out that something sells and will get the public into the theatres, they’ll make a movie out of it. Even if you are naive enough to believe they’re pursuing art for art’s sake — which, ironically, is the motto of MGM — the performing arts is a mirror held up to the mores of a society. Art doesn’t cause social issues, it reflects them; amplifies them, distorts them, but does not create them. And if show business thinks they can make a buck off conservative ideas, they’ll do it without a second thought.