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By Melynda Nuss

SAN FRANCISCO, 22 JANUARY 2008- Around the 2004 election, I received a lot of emails from my parents' Republican friends asking me if I'd forgotten the events of September 11, 2001. I can understand. I am more than usually absent-minded. But at the time, it seemed like no one could really "forget" 9/11. It was a date burned in our memories, the time that Americans realized that international conflicts could actually cross oceans onto our borders. I wondered: could we ever forget? And how long would it take? I set my cultural clock. But my guess was that it would take a good ten years.

I was wrong. The stopwatch officially clicked this Christmas with the release of Charlie Wilson's War. A lighthearted romp about the covert operations in Afghanistan that led to the rise of the Taliban; a heroic story that can't quite find it within itself to imagine that the pure hearted American desire to kick some commie ass could ever lead to anything bad, Charlie Wilson is as embarrassingly bad as Tom Hanks' Texas accent and Julia Roberts' hair. I found myself ashamed that I had paid $10 to see such an awful movie. But I was even more ashamed when my parents - they of the 9/11 emails - saw the movie and laughed.

Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks in Charlie Wilson's War, 2007
Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

To be sure, the movie takes pains to let us know that it knows that the story in Afghanistan continues, and that it's not all belly dancers and secretaries in low-cut blouses. But a few asides here and there can't stop the dominant thrust of the plot, which wants to make Wilson into an antiauthoritarian hero. The men in suits at the Defense Department and CIA, it seems, don't think it's worth risking American lives and treasure in Afghanistan. They'd rather let the Russians spend their money on a slender prize while we keep ours for a real conflict. They're planners - which in American movie parlance means that they're a bunch of wimps and ivy-league stuffed-shirts. Wilson knows better. Out of an alcoholic haze - the movie can't quite decide whether or not this damages his judgment - Wilson can see something more: he wants to WIN. On the way back from Afghanistan he tells his aide the heartwarming story of his entry into politics: Wilson's dog had been digging up the local congressman's flower beds, so the congressman killed Wilson's dog. Not good politics, to be sure. Still, Wilson was so incensed that he not only digs up the congressman's flowerbeds, but drives black voters to the polls in the next election, telling them, as they get out of the car, that the congressman shot his dog. Keep it in mind, world. No injury is too slight for catastrophic retaliation. Nobody messes with us.

Tom Hanks and Philip Seymour Hoffman in Charlie Wilson's War, 2007
Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

I'm afraid that's the way things are going in politics these days. The problem in Iraq is no longer that we attacked a nation that was no real threat to us when we should have directed our fire at the one that was. That would require smarts, and smarts, we all know, are for wimps. The problem is that we didn't kick enough ass to begin with - in fact, if we really get into it, it's because that bureaucrat Rumsfeld wouldn't let the generals kick some Iraqi ass, as they dearly wanted to do. Meanwhile, the American people are happily watching cute little Afghanis in turbans as they learn to shoot stinger missiles in the movies - "Look, Ma! They're dancing!" - never minding that in a couple of years, the bodies falling from the skies will be us.

Melynda Nuss is a writer and an Assistant Professor of Romantic Literature and Drama at the University of Texas - Pan American. She last wrote on No Country For Old Men for

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