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Hollywood Goes to War By: Julian Coman
The Daily Telegraph | Tuesday, October 08, 2002


As the United States braces itself for a possible war with Iraq, conflict has broken out in the studios of Hollywood over American policy towards Saddam Hussein.

Last week saw the most impassioned discussion of US foreign policy by the film industry since the Vietnam War.

Harrison Ford declared support for President George W Bush's right to defend America as he saw fit; Liam Neeson accused the President of behaving like a spoilt child; Barbra Streisand urged Democrats to put up stronger opposition to the hawks; and John Travolta admitted that he did not know what to think.

The row began last month when Streisand sent an indignant letter to Dick Gephardt, the Democratic Party leader in the House of Representatives. For the traditionally liberal opinion-formers of Hollywood, the backlash that followed came as a shock.

The letter from the 60-year-old singer and actress accused Mr Bush of seeking war against Iraq to improve Republican chances at next month's mid-term elections. Streisand urged Democrats in Congress to "get on the offensive" and oppose the administration's hardline stance.

Backed by Hollywood allies such as Susan Sarandon and Tim Robins, Streisand then delivered a speech to a Democratic fund-raising event in Los Angeles at which she again made the case against military intervention.

"In the words of William Shakespeare," she said, "beware the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervour, for patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword. It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind."

To Streisand's embarrassment, the reference was not from Shakespeare, but from an internet collection of parodies of famous authors.

However, the reaction to its message has exposed a political divide in Hollywood - a town that for decades has been assumed to be a Democratic stronghold. In fact, since the events of September 11, much of Hollywood appears to be moving back to the Republican glory days of John Wayne.

R Lee Ermey, who made his name as the fearsome drill sergeant in the film Full Metal Jacket, told The Telegraph that Streisand's views were far from representative of Hollywood as a whole.

"Once again, Barbra Streisand has opened her alligator-sized mouth wide before her humming-bird brain has had a chance to catch up," said Ermey. "Of course, she has the right to her opinion, but what she does is use the 'bully pulpit', helped by her fame, and people think she's talking for Hollywood."

Ermey, an ex-marine and outspoken supporter of Mr Bush and the war on terror, continued: "We need to do something about the situation before it turns round and bites us in the ass. Democrats are criticising President Bush for not spotting signs that 9/11 was coming. But they don't want him to act to stop the next disaster. Ms Streisand does not speak for me or many other folks in this business."

In Italy, where they spent last week promoting the film Minority Report, Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg also joined the fray. Cruise said he did not have all the information that Mr Bush had on the situation, "but I believe that Saddam has committed many crimes against humanity and against his own people."

Spielberg, a past supporter of the former president Bill Clinton and the director of the war epics Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List, backs the Bush administration's tough stance on Iraq.

He said: "If Bush, as I believe, has reliable information on the fact that Saddam Hussein is making weapons of mass destruction, I cannot not support the policies of his government."

The evidence of a more hawkish Hollywood has not come as a surprise to Tim Smith, who has set up a "support group" for Republicans working in the film industry.

He said: "For years in this place, you could only be covertly conservative if you wanted to keep in with the right people. But the effect of 9/11 has been to give more actors, producers and directors the courage to say what they think about issues like the war on terror and Iraq."

As the nostalgic begin to recall the days when James Stewart and Clark Gable flew bombing missions during the Second World War, the anti-war camp is re-grouping. An e-mail, sent by a studio executive to Hollywood colleagues last week, read simply: "Call the White House to protest."

One television producer said: "The Bushies have us marching off to war like so many automatons."

As Mr Bush negotiates in the United Nations Security Council over Iraq and the return of weapons inspectors, the battle for Hollywood hearts and minds will continue. That there is a debate at all is an indication that times have changed there.

"This is not the same place as it was when Jane Fonda went to North Vietnam in 1972 to show solidarity with the Vietcong," said one producer. "Things have moved on since films like M.A.S.H and Apocalypse Now. 9/11 has changed the mood for ever."




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