Pentagon sanitizing of war movies to protect the image of US soldiers is illegal and makes Americans more war-like, says David L. Robb, author of a book on the issue. He says even James Bond films fell victim to over-harsh US military censorship.
RT: In your book Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies (2004) you claim that the Pentagon selectively supports some movies and some filmmakers and that the way it is done is unconstitutional. Why do you think so?
DR: The Pentagon admits that they do selectively support some filmmakers and not others. If you are willing to give your script to the Pentagon and let them review it before you shoot the movie, and if they have any changes that they want to make, if they want to take out a portrayal of the military that they think is negative, that would hurt recruiting goals – if they want that taken out, and you agree to take that out or to put something that's more positive to help them recruit people – then they will assist you and your movie. Then they can give you access to aircraft carriers and submarines and tanks and ships and planes. And if you don't play ball with them – they won't just give you that stuff. It's unconstitutional because the Supreme Court has ruled over and over again that the First Amendment states that Congress shall make no act, shall make no law abusing the freedom of speech. The Supreme Court has ruled that means that the government cannot favor one form of speech over another, – and that's exactly what the Pentagon does.
RT: But it's all about movies which are a form of entertainment – why is that so important?
DR: It's a form of speech and that's what the Constitution protects. The government cannot give you tax breaks by saying nice things about them. Movies are a form of speech just like a book. If people thought that there are newspapers or books that are being sanitized by the military, if the military was telling book writers or newspapers what to put in and what to take out of the scripts – people would be outraged.
RT: Why do you think so few people are aware of this situation?
DR: At the end of every movie, at the end of all the credits there will be a little thing saying "We gratefully acknowledge the co-operation with the US army/air force". And that's the only way you may know that this has happened to the movie you have just watched.
RT: You mention in the book that there was a link between the Pentagon and Hollywood, and that link was the film liaison office. So, what did that office really do?
DR: Right here in Los Angeles, a few miles from the UCLA campusthere is a tall building and one entire floor is the film liaison offices of the marine corps, army, navy and the coast guard, and they sit up there. And the filmmakers who want military assistance give them the scripts, they look at the scripts, they mark what they don't want and make suggestions on how to change the scripts to get approval. Then if they make a deal, they sign a contract. Then once they start shooting a film, they have a military minder who actually comes under the set just to make sure that it is being shot the way it was agreed to be done. And then before it is released to the public, it has to be screened in Washington DC for the generals and admirals. I think that if the American people knew that their films were being sanitized by the military and pre-screened in Washington for the generals and admirals, they would be outraged.
RT: What kind of scripts were approved by the military and what kind of scripts were blocked?
DR: They want films and TV shows that will aid in the recruiting and retention of military personnel. They want people to see a movie and to be inspired by the heroics and join the military. And if the film negatively portrays anyone in the military, they consider that not helping recruiting goals. So they will not help any picture that shows war crimes, shows military people doing bad things, drunk, cursing…
RT: You have mentioned that they target children…
DR: They really do. They target children because they are the future recruits. My book is based on thousands of pages of Pentagon notes to the producers and their own internal documents showing how they wanted to influence the filmmaking.
RT: What are the benefits of such co-operation for Hollywood?
DR: What Hollywood wants is cheap access to really expensive military weaponry and hardware and personnel. And Hollywood has what the Pentagon wants which is an audience, millions of eyeballs looking at their movie and thinking positively about the military. Of course, filmmakers have the right to say "no" and many have done that, and stood up to the Pentagon and made their own movies, or in some cases they were not able to make the movies. Many films have not been made because they couldn't get this assistance from the military.
RT: Can you name any examples of popular movies that went through the military control before they were actually filmed?
DR: Yes, James Bond: GoldenEye – one of the dupes in the film was an American admiral. And the military said "No. We would help you, but you change the nationality of the admiral". So, they changed it to a French admiral. Then they went to France to actually shoot the picture, and the French said "You want some of our staff, we will help, but you've got to switch the admiral to something else". So, actually in the film he is a Canadian.
RT: Hollywood filmmakers were given access to classified information concerning the Bin Laden assassination. What do you think of that?
DR: When I was interviewing producers of films for my book, they would always say "Oh no, we didn't give any tradeoff". The only way you can really tell is by seeing the notes of producers at the exchange of their correspondence stream with the military. I haven't seen those notes and I don't think anybody has seen those notes, I don't know if there has been a tradeoff. If there hasn't been a tradeoff, I don't have a problem. If the government wants to release information to people and there is no quid pro quo, there is no deal, I think that's fine. It is the problem when there is a deal made behind the backs of the American people in violation of the Constitution and the American law – that's what I object to.
RT: How do you think this long-term collaboration between Hollywood and the Pentagon affected the minds of Americans?
DR: When the American people are seeing hundreds and hundreds of films and TV shows that have been sanitized by the military to make the military seem more heroic than it really is, and never wrong and always good, that creates a false image in the American people's minds, and I think it helps to make the American people a more warlike people.