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Jun-25-2010 01:32printcomments

The A-Team's Message of Non-Violent Resistance

Oddly enough, this mix of fantasy violence and subversive anti-military themes is being actively marketed by Fox to the evangelical Christian right.

Photo from the new movie 'A-Team'
Photo from the new movie 'A-Team'

(EUGENE, Ore.) - A movie like the A-Team raises some interesting questions and is ultimately a fascinating snapshot of a certain segment of American culture.

The most obvious question that movies like the A-Team raise regards the taste and propriety of creating fantasy depictions of war, targeted and marketed to children, that are set in current war zones where they may soon find themselves.

The plot of the A-Team, which depicts a civil war between Army and CIA personnel, both operating outside of any recognizable chain-of-command, is certainly not your classic morale boosting war film that reinforces traditional military values.

In the A-Team everyone is a criminal. The A-Team may have been convicted for participation in a covert operation, but as it turns out, their participation actually was criminal in the first place. The CIA operatives depicted are even bigger criminals, so the members of the A-Team must reject military law and launch an independent operation against their CIA antagonists.

What is implied in the subtext of the plot is that the CIA’s authority derives from civilian control, which is the ultimate source of the corruption that the A-Team is fighting within the military. The A-Team can no longer follow military law because it has been compromised by civilian control. The A-Team must reject both their chain-of-command and military law in order to launch their war against the foot soldiers of the corrupt bureaucrats, represented by the CIA.

Oddly enough, this mix of fantasy violence and subversive anti-military themes is being actively marketed by Fox to the evangelical Christian right. The “magazine of evangelical conviction,” Christianity Today, ran a “review” of the film, which tries to contextualize it in a framework that will convince Christian parents to show it to their children.

Hannibal's classic love of a plan is extended into a belief in a bigger plan. He says, "I don't subscribe to coincidence. No matter how it looks, there is always a plan." When things get murky, the team struggles to see a plan amidst their struggles. While bent on revenge and saving face, the team holds honesty, truth, and justice at a high commodity—and they will risk everything to uphold them. Also, the movie tries (sometimes too hard) to set up some interesting contrasts: self-reliance vs. teamwork, military vs. mercenary, being in the trenches vs. merely calling the shots, having a plan vs. the unpredictable variable.

In the evangelical Christian context, the A-Team is reinterpreted as following God’s plan in the pursuit of honesty, truth, and justice. The central theme of conflict between the Army and CIA, and by extension military and civilian authority, is dismissed as an “interesting contrast” of “military vs. mercenary.”

An interesting aspect of the Christianity Today review is that more than being an advertisement for the film, which all reviews are, it actually instructs the reader on how to interpret and think about the film. The review is followed by a section called “talk about it,” which lays out questions about the film that can be used as “discussion starters.”

How do you react to the revenge angle in the film? How do your thoughts about revenge differ? What does the Bible say about revenge?

B.A. quotes Ghandi in saying: "Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary." Do you agree? Given how B.A.'s story ends, what do you think the movie is saying in regard to this idea?

How do Jesus' teachings correspond with Gandhi's adherence to total non-violence? Is there ever a time where violence is permissible for a Christian?

Hannibal quotes Gandhi saying: "It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence." That is only part of the full quote. It goes on: "Violence is any day preferable to impotence. There is hope for a violent man to become non-violent. There is no such hope for the impotent." What does this quote mean to you? Is it used correctly in the film as a rebuttal to B.A.'s vow? Do you think B.A's conviction was based on his cowardice or his strength?

Hannibal and B.A. talk about having a peaceful conscience. How would you define being at peace? How does one's conscience find peace?

When all looks murky in life, how do you see God's plan?

Here, against all odds, this trash film is portrayed as an exploration of the philosophical teachings of Jesus and Ghandi.

While the A-Team is certainly no philosophical treatise, the teachings and history of Ghandi are not irrelevant to the audience for this film.

On June 10, 1938 Ghandi wrote a letter from Peshawar, where he was visiting with Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, the “Pride of Afghan as the Pashtans delight to call him.” At the time, the Khan was leading 100,000 Muslims in a resistance movement allied with Ghandi’s Hindu movement against the British empire.

At the time, Ghandi described his mission there saying:

“My purpose will be fulfilled, if I succeed in reaching these men's hearts and making them see that, if their nonviolence does not make them feel much braver than the possession of arms and the ability to use them, they must give up their non-violence, which is another name for cowardice, and resume their arms, which there is nothing but their own will to prevent them from taking back.

I present Dr. Benes with a weapon not of the weak but of the brave. There is no bravery greater than a resolute refusal to bend the knee to an earthly power, no matter how great, and that without bitterness of spirit and in the fullness of faith that the spirit alone lives, nothing else does.”

Included with the letter is a copy of the pledge that the Khan’s soldiers had to swear to:

In presence of God I solemnly affirm that:

I hereby honestly and sincerely offer myself for enrolment as a Khudai Khidmatgar.

I shall be ever ready to sacrifice personal comfort, property, and even life itself to serve the nation and for the attainment of my country's freedom.

I shall not participate in factions, nor pick up a quarrel with or bear enmity towards anybody. I shall always protect the oppressed against the tyranny of the oppressor.

I shall not become member of any other organization, and shall not furnish security or tender apology in the course of the non-violent fight.

I shall always obey every legitimate order of my superior officers.

I shall always live up to the principle of non-violence.

I shall serve all humanity equally. The chief objects of my life shall be attainment of complete independence and religious freedom.

I shall always observe truth and purity in all my actions.

I shall expect no remuneration for my services.

All my services shall be dedicated to God, they shall not be for attaining rank or for show.

It can immediately be observed that this code of conduct is a tall order indeed, and that any man capable of building a 100,000 strong movement willing to pledge themselves to such a code of conduct is a force to be reckoned with.

It can also be observed that we don’t hear much about unity between Hindus and Muslims, or about the leading role that the Pashtun tribes in what is now Pakistan and Afghanistan played in freeing Pakistan and India from the Bristish Empire.

Those same Pashtun tribes in Peshawar are now being violently oppressed by the central government in Pakistan, in accord with what is perceived to be a U.S. policy.

Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan was indeed a crucial leader in the overthrow of the British Empire, and a strong opponent of the partition of British India into India and Pakistan. After the partition, and the creation of the State of Pakistan, he was treated as an enemy of the government that his actions had brought to power for the rest of his life.

Gaffar Khan died under house arrest at the age of 98, by which time new wars for control of the Indian sub-continent were underway.

In the two paragraph notice of his death published by the New York Times on January 23, 1988, it is noted that a ceasefire was declared between the Afghan army and guerillas for the Khan’s funeral in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, which was attended by 200,000. According to the notice, guerillas had broken the ceasefire, setting off bombs that killed 15.

Also of note is that this legendary leader is reported to have supported the “Soviet-backed” central government in Kabul against the guerillas.

While Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan may only warrant two paragraphs in the New York Times, which wrote him off as a State enemy; the memory of this man who led the resistance in Pakistan to the British Empire, and was called the “King of Chiefs” of the Pashtun people, may warrant a slightly larger place in the memory of Pashtuns that the U.S. is fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan today.

The fact that the Pashtuns, now called “The Taliban,” were led for decades by a close friend of Ghandi’s who was dedicated to an Islamic practice of non-violence came as a surprise to me. The fact that he supported the government of Afghanistan against the “Jihadi” guerillas backed by the U.S., Pakistan, and others, came as an additional surprise.

In the end, with a bit of help from the internet, the A-Team did turn out to be an informative film. The superficial questions raised by the film in fact lead to much more complex answers.

The history of the Pashtun people is fascinating and highly relevant to our current predicament in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Understanding this history could very well be essential to the resolution of our conflicts in those countries.

=================================== Business/Economy Reporter Ersun Warncke is a native Oregonian. He has a degree in Economics from Portland State University and studied Law at University of Oregon. At a young age, his career spans a wide variety of fields, from fast food, to union labor, to computer programming. He has published works concerning economics, business, government, and media on blogs for several years. He currently works as an independent software designer specializing in web based applications, open source software, and peer-to-peer (P2P) applications.

Ersun describes his writing as being "in the language of the boardroom from the perspective of the shop floor." He adds that "he has no education in journalism other than reading Hunter S. Thompson." But along with life comes the real experience that indeed creates quality writers. Right now, every detail that can help the general public get ahead in life financially, is of paramount importance.

You can write to Ersun at:

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MGB57 September 5, 2010 8:26 am (Pacific time)

@Cila Wikipedia has a wealth of information on the Crusades which is good. Just where do you get your information about Iraq? You should take a trip there and check out the civilized and rural areas of modern day Iraq just so you know I'm not trying to sell you a false image like the one you may see on the television. Then I can tell you what Iraq was like BEFORE the invasion. There is something of note that I feel I should pass on to you. As an American citizen you can give up your citizenship at any time without penalty. Just something for you to ponder should you find yourself wanting to do something rather than sitting at the computer and complaining. PS - I will not get wrapped up in a debate with you on a message board. I was born and raised in Iraq and I am thankful everyday that I have the opportunity to raise my family here.

Cila July 4, 2010 12:46 pm (Pacific time)

Holy smokin' white banner on a stick. the Crusades were 'defensive'? In what way were a bunch of Muslims in, oh, the *Middle East* threatening the peace and prosperity of Europe? About as much, I give you, as Iraq was threatening the fat cat Anglo-American alliance that decided to use Iraqi civilians for target practice -- and still is, years later. And you think America is building infrastructure in Iraq? They should be, seeing as they destroyed it, but they're not. And the only growth industry in Afghanistan right now is poppies -- for heroin. So hey, Go USA!

Stephen Rolland June 28, 2010 9:37 am (Pacific time)

Vic just read your interpretation of what a Christian is, but am puzzled by your rather tight interpretation. How come there are so many different types of Christian church followings? For example we have the Catholics, and they have a number of interpretations that centainly rankles the Vatican. Then you have all the offshoots from the protesants. Suffice your statement "I think it is very easy and fair to stereotype a Christian or how a Christian should act" in conflicts with the majority of those who are Christian proponents. In terms of the Crusades, and my review of that period, it was a matter of self-defense, that is irrefutable. In fact you can even witness this very day how the self-defense scenario is once again developing, especially once again in europe. Are you also a believer that it was a "blood for oil" desire that motivated our invasion of Iraq? If so, where is the oil? From all accounts America has received only around 10% of Iraq's oil contracts. That's kinda lousy. Then we have all those Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan building things like hospitals, schools, orphanages, water treatment plants and other infrastructure. You'd think we'd have a bigger share of those oil contracts? Looking back over time Vic, it is obvious that whether it's Germany, Japan, or any country that we have been in conflict with, we have improved the lifes of the individuals in those countries, and we have never stripped any of their resources, in fact we made them more prosperous. Conquerors will go in and strip all the resources and leave when nothing is left. I also do not follow any particular religious affiliation, but am a Christian. I am always amazed at people who vocalize how bad America is on one hand, and then on the other vocalize how they would like certain people harmed, even killed. You see a disconnect there Vic?

Vic June 27, 2010 10:37 am (Pacific time)

In reply to anon..I was raised as a Christian and know the Bible very well. I do not claim any religion at this time...I think it is very easy and fair to stereotype a Christian or how a Christian should act. "And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. — Mark 12:30, 31 A lot of people would say that they meet these standards, but how many people REALLY love their neighbors and fellow citizens of Earth as much as they love themselves? Religion is as religion does..Id say if you are out there using your time and resources to help the poor, the oppressed and the unfortunate who can never repay you whether or not they are "believers", then you qualify. The Crusades? I do not see how anyone could call them anything but offensive and eerily like our Iraq/Afghan/Pakistan adventures. And again the chaplains/priests are all there, telling everyone that the God of Love condones going half way around the world to kill people and steal their resources, and that if Jesus were here, he would be right along side them, oiling his gun and looking forward to the next firefight with the heathens. And those civilians that died when some kid in Nevada with a joystick mistook a wedding for an assembly of terrorists, well we have to pray for him...Gods will is difficult sometimes...those kids would probably have grown up to be terrorists, anyways...Christianity is not hard to understand..didnt Jesus say that the Kingdom of Heaven was so simple that a child could understand it? People who want to feel righteous but not necessarily live the life try to make it the thou shll not kill/murder gang. If there is a God/Jesus..He/She/It aint fooled

Joe June 26, 2010 9:08 pm (Pacific time)

It's just a movie people. Plus why does the A Team still use Mini 14's? AR 15's are much more acurate and have more stuff you can add to them.

Hank Ruark June 26, 2010 8:01 pm (Pacific time)

Mark: Sir, methinks you do protest too much re Ersun's evaluation of the film and of the review process itself. For those who do not know the mag/industry, easy/way is to reap ads when reviews run, while reviews retain semblance of credibility as evaluation of artistic production. It is even possible that film critic is ostensibly or honestly ignorant of what the front office sometimes allows or even encourages. Re reviews/as/ads, whole purpose of review is either to sell viewers on spending their attention or withhold it, so for most purposes it becomes one more come-along, either way it works for any one viewer. Re "rant"", Ersun's copy has that certain sharpness of real perception and resultant full- impact achieved by experienced skillful professional--but not rampant nor radicalized at all for those who read well --and can look beyond own personal nerve-endings...

Anonymous June 26, 2010 6:29 pm (Pacific time)

Vic are you a Christian? If not, then what makes you think you have any insight on what Christians think or do? I'm a Christian and I frankly would never stereotype any Christian. What do you make of the Christian Crusades? Was that a defensive or offensive operation? Considering that we have had private contractors since George Washington started hiring them during the Revolutionary War, do you think that this was a Christian thing to do? How about Christians solicitating the stern dealings with their enemies in todays world?

Vic June 26, 2010 12:55 pm (Pacific time)

Can anyone imagine Jesus, aka The Prince of Peace going to see this movie ? I can certainly see plenty of people who call theselves "christians" going to see it, as they are generally speaking , the biggest war supporters and Muslim haters. Real Christians would not waste their money on a movie about mercenaries. Jesus wouldnt either. I doubt He would read Christianity Today, also... (remember that whole turning over the tables of the money-changers..making money off religion thing? If I recall, it really pissed Jesus off)

Ersun Warncke June 26, 2010 12:09 pm (Pacific time)

Mark, since you would like to go on record for your magazine, it might be helpful if you shared your last name. I made it clear that I am only guessing that some benefits were conferred for a review like A-Team. The original story I wrote did not imply that at all. I only added that as an addendum in my comments. You can deny that there is any quid pro quo with Fox, and that may be the case. I am not in a position to know the truth of the matter. As to the matter of all reviews being advertisements, I would simply point out that every review constitutes a mention of the film that increases awareness of the film. This is always a positive, and in this respect, every review is a positive advertisement for a film because it increases market awareness. The content of a review can alter its effectiveness as an advertisement, but even a negative review is an advertisement. I would judge Christianity Today to be a particularly effective advertising outlet because it targets an identifiable niche audience, and because your "discussion" section presents every film as a potential tool for reflection independent of its content, which means that every review has a positive aspect to it. (i.e. even if the movie is crap, it can still be used to discuss and learn valuable lessons) Since these discussion questions would appear to be most useful to parents and their children, I label this as "contextualizing" a film in a way that makes it presentable to Christian parents. If you want to get into the subject of who pays for movie reviews, I would first point out that with newspapers it is obvious, because movie reviews are sandwiched between loads of advertising paid for by studios and cinemas. I have not reviewed your magazine, but you can tell me whether or not you accept paid advertising, and advertising from movie studios, or from any of the other companies owned by a huge conglomerate like News Corp. You could also tell me what percentage of your magazine's budget, and your salary, comes from paid advertising.

Mark June 26, 2010 8:08 am (Pacific time)

Ersun, sorry to burst your bubble and what you think you know about these things. But I'm the movies editor at CT magazine, and no one "marketed" the film to us. We reviewed it because I chose to review it, simple as that. No one paid us a dime, though I did pay a professional critic (a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association) to review it. Real film critics get paid by publications to write professional reviews, not by studios to write puff pieces. (That practice DOES occur, but they're not real film critics.) A review does not "advertise" a film like any other "advertisement," no more than a book review or a music review. Some reviews are positive about the product, some are negative, and some fall in between. ALL advertising is positive. Big difference. Our critic could have just as well hated this movie and dissed it in his review; he was perfectly free to do that. (He wanted to like it more, since he grew up watching the TV show, but he didn't like it as much as he'd hoped.) All to say, you're right in that this review was paid for -- by Christianity Today. As are all of our reviews. We're professional journalists and critics, and that's the first thing you need to get right. As for Fox Faith, um, I'm the one who broke the story when they first formed, and your supposed knowledge about that situation is all wrong too. You did get one thing right, though: The Passion was marketed to a Christian audience. Duh. They'd be stupid not to. Tyler Perry's films are marketed to an African-American audience. Romances are marketed to chicks. The Twilight films to teens. And so on. Wouldn't you expect that? Marketing to the target audience? Again, duh. But I've been doing journalism for more than 30 years, and I'm pretty *immune* to marketing; I make my own decisions based on knowing my readers and what they'll want to read. (And you wouldn't believe how many "Christian" films I say no to because they're just awful.) Bottom line here: Sorry to say this, but you don't know as much about the business as you think you do.

Ersun Warncke June 25, 2010 11:01 pm (Pacific time)

Mark, I was not really ranting here, although you can get some of that in many of my other fine works. I am actually impressed by both the cleverness and audacity of promoting a film like The A-Team to Christians. A review "advertises" a film in the same way as any other "advertisement." I am not using the word advertisement here to specifically mean a paid advertisement. However, based on my knowledge of the magazine industry, which is well founded, I would guess with a very high level of probability that this "review" was paid for. The value of a review like that is very high, so if the magazine wasn't charging for it, that would be an impressive display of generosity on their part. It may not be on the books that way, but there are always ways of greasing palms in that business. Fox (the movie studio) has a long standing program of marketing to the Christian Right. In 2006 they launched a subsidiary, Fox Faith ("Films you can believe in"), specifically targeted at Christians. ( The marketing of The Passion of the Christ would be another example of an extensive Fox marketing campaign aimed at the Christian Right.

Mark June 25, 2010 8:21 pm (Pacific time)

This is ridiculous. What makes you think that the film was "actively marketed by Fox to the evangelical Christian right"? Where in the world did you come up with that idea? And since when is a movie review by a professional film critic merely an "advertisement for the film." Professional film criticism, which you apparently know little about, is not advertising. Finally, how does the CT review "contextualize" the film in a way that tries to "convince" Christian parents to show it to their children? Man, you must be desperate for *something* to rant against. But a good rant will get its facts straight first.

Anonymous June 25, 2010 11:44 am (Pacific time)

Yeah Ben..they control the media, the education system etc..they even control most of the churches now. luckily for me, I listened to Pink Floyd :-) Mother, do you think they'll drop the bomb? Mother, do you think they'll like this song? Mother, do you think they'll try to break my balls? Mother, should I build the wall? Mother, should I run for President? Mother, should I trust the government? Mother, will they put me in the firing line? Is it just a waste of time? Hush now baby, baby, don't you cry Momma's gonna make all of your nightmares come true Momma's gonna put all of her fears into you Momma's gonna keep you right here under her wing She won't let you fly, but she might let you sing Momma's will keep Baby cozy and warm.... Roger Waters/Pink Floyd

Ben June 25, 2010 9:45 am (Pacific time)

If you want to see a truely fantasy film, Oliver Stone's "Platoon" is right up there. Actually most films about Vietnam were misleading, and unfortunately the educational system reinforced these concoctions by putting out a steady stream of misinformation. Regarding A-Team, if viewers cannot seperate fantasy from reality, then we have a far bigger problem, which circles back to the failed public educational system starting about 40-45 years ago.

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