City Opera Vancouver glosses over Iraqi suffering in Fallujah
Open letter by David Cookson to Janet Lea, President City Opera Vancouver, and John Bolton of Opus 59 Films, Director of short film 'The Making of FALLUJAH - A New Chamber Opera.'
As a financial supporter of City Opera Vancouver (‘COV’), I am writing you to express my horrible disappointment over COV’s decision to put so much creative effort towards producing the opera as well as ‘the making of’ short-film entitled ‘Fallujah’.
I am writing in particular to address your recent perplexing comments in Broadway World (Dec 2016) where you shockingly express great pride in COV’s horrible and shameful role in creating this indefensible production.
As empowered and emboldened voices build around the globe and as public disgust continues to mount over the war crimes committed by U.S. Forces in Iraq − a war based on lies and deception and one where U.S. Forces have been responsible for the deaths of at least 650,000 innocent Iraqi civilians − you have stupefyingly chosen to tell the story from the perspective of the American invaders, the American occupiers, the American oppressors.
Filmmakers, journalists and historians have known for eons that the simple act of selecting the perspective from which a story is told, and by choosing a main protagonist, a bias (intended or not) is naturally introduced into every story.
This is true because almost all audience members will inextricably view the events within that story from the perspective of the individual around whom the story is written. I am therefore shocked that Vancouver artists and creatives are piling-on to assist in portraying the angst of the American war protagonist. What about the PTSD of the Iraqi people?
Do you think that the U.S. Marine Corps needs your help in making their violence more sympathetic?
If discussing the severe condition of post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) was really the main purpose of the opera and film (as is claimed in some of the promotional material), City Opera Vancouver could have picked as the central character an Iraqi civilian protagonist suffering from post traumatic stress in Fallujah following the US invasion, or alternatively a Canadian military protagonist who's returned from an African mission.
My concern is that COV has instead chosen the worst possible poster child available.
By worst I mean that the U.S. waged an illegal war of aggression in Iraq.
Amongst other war crimes committed they used weaponized uranium and white phosphorus; there was indiscriminate mass slaughter of Iraqis as USMC commanders treated Fallujah as a free fire zone; Iraqi hospitals were amongst the first targets bombed by the Americans in Fallujah; US Forces tortured and abused prisoners at Abu Ghraib; and the list goes on.
I therefore feel strongly that the opera produced by COV, and particularly your short film, ‘'The Making of FALLUJAH - A New Chamber Opera', has had the effect of legitimizing or at least normalizing the actions of the players who carried out the U.S. invasion of Iraq, in the following two ways:
First, it creates a primary version alternate to the one experienced by the group who was invaded and killed (as do all popular western films about violence waged by the U.S on foreigners in their homelands).
And second, because the tragedies in the opera and film are framed to provide a platform for sympathizing with the obvious aggressors of this despicable war.
Your film pays limitless attention to the angst of the American invader. Attention is also paid to anger over the deaths of four U.S. mercenaries. Guns and other weapons are never seen in the hands of the U.S. Marines (this has been sanitized).
The sole Iraqi death in the opera is not at the hands of Americans (an absurd distortion); and the amount of time allotted to telling the Iraqi tragedy is disparagingly small in the film.
And so whether or not it was your intention, it must be recognized in at least the ways that I’ve explained here, that your film will have the longstanding effect of redirecting the focus away from inarguably the largest victims of this tragedy (by many orders of magnitude) - the Iraqi people.
In essence, your film will have an effect similar to that of a sophisticated propaganda film.
Evidence for this can be quoted directly from your film, where the true motive for the film's production is plainly stated by the project financier Charles Annenberg Weingarten (at 2:25) where he explains how he's "always wanted to do a project on the selflessness of the U.S. Military".
Later in the film Christian Ellis, a USMC Sergeant and the inspiration for the opera, goes on to caution viewers (at 19:42) that they should be cognizant when watching news-lines about deaths in Iraq that "families were destroyed" and asks "what about the lives of these people".
When playing it again however one notices that Sergeant Ellis isn't at all talking about the deaths of 650,000 innocent Iraqi men, women and children killed in their homeland, but rather only selectively about the comparably scant few U.S. marines killed as they illegally invaded that country.
With subtle framing such as this, it makes one wonder how film audiences will overcome Sergeant Ellis' bias in order to even recognize the Iraqis as people at all.
From the above examples, amongst others, one can see that the opera and corresponding film produced will ultimately serve to generate sympathy for U.S. Forces more than it will serve to recognize the global issue of PTSD itself.
And so for these reasons, I feel it is important to generate more public discussion of the kind that the opera's librettist Heather Raffo has herself specifically invited within the film, and which I am providing here.