Commentary

Oppose China’s censorship, but don’t kill the Hollywood-military partnership

While China’s communist government poses a real and prominent threat to our nation, efforts to mitigate this threat should bolster — not undermine — our freedoms. In spite of its stated goals, new legislation from Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, will only serve to undermine liberty in the United States.

The legislation seeks to deny American movie companies access to U.S. government support (such as the cooperation of the U.S. military in the making of war movies) if it is determined that these movie companies have altered their scripts in any way as the result of pressure or concerns from the Chinese government — or even in anticipation of concerns from China. This legislation is fundamentally flawed from both the perspectives of constitutional liberty and American strategic efforts.

The most obvious concern with Senator Cruz’s “Stopping Censorship, Restoring Integrity, and Protecting Talkies,” or SCRIPT Act, is that it does just the opposite of what its title implies. The legislation would institutionalize censorship, but it would be censorship from the U.S. government, directed at American businesses.

In addition, the bill’s limits on cooperation with skilled storytellers at American movie companies would significantly degrade the ability of the US government to tell its own story in order to help to neutralize the effects of Marxist and other types of anti-American propaganda.

These self-imposed limitations take away one of the most effective tools in our efforts to persuade, and bring about, democratic reform in communist countries such as China. Movies are one of the best ways for the U.S. to foster a positive image around the world. As a retired U.S. Army infantry officer, I’ve seen firsthand the power of Hollywood’s narration of military engagements. “American Sniper” and “Black Hawk Down” both depict some of my past deployments and operations, and neither film would have been possible without the assistance of the Pentagon.

The armed forces understand this. Retired Col. David Hackworth noted, “The five-star movie ‘Black Hawk Down’ smacks you right between the eyes with the sheer brutality of infantry combat, however magnificently portrayed by film maestro Ridley Scott” and Army Secretary Thomas White praised the film’s tag line “leave no man behind” as “appropriate both for the movie and the soldiers who serve today across the world and particularly in Afghanistan.”

Telling the military’s story remains an important requirement in an age that continues to see an increasing societal gulf between those who serve and those who benefit from that service, and the unhealthy schism between civilians and a military “caste.” Simply put, over the decades, Hollywood has provided one of the most powerfully positive images of our military. No Pentagon-based press relations operation could come close to what Hollywood has achieved through its films.

Similarly, the media outlets of the free world, some of which are owned by the same companies targeted by the SCRIPT Act legislation, continue to cast light and fan the flames of freedom and democracy in despotic nations such as communist China. This is illustrated by the continued Chinese resistance to the communists centered in Hong Kong, where democracy and liberty remain rooted in the former British colony. In Hong Kong the crowds sing the “Star Spangled Banner” and are bolstered by American ideals of liberty, largely imparted through America’s free press and culture.

Rather than support these democratic efforts in ways which undermine constitutional values, such as the SCRIPT Act proposes, let the U.S. government redouble its efforts in promoting the ideals of freedom. This also requires our own unification on the common ground of our shared liberties and rejection of Marxist and authoritarian ideas.

The SCRIPT Act is borne of good intentions, but misses its mark. Let’s find ways to hold China accountable, while avoiding the temptation to tie our own government’s hands in telling our many stories of liberty.

Jim Lechner is a retired infantry officer and former Army Ranger. He has numerous combat and special operations deployments to include Somalia, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. He has been a counter insurgency adviser to the National Security Council and the commander of international forces in Afghanistan. He teaches college history courses and has written numerous articles on security and law enforcement issues. His company KG Consultants provides training for law enforcement and other government agencies.

Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, haltman@militarytimes.com.

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