In the 1997 hit movie, Wag the Dog, a filmmaker is hired to create a fake war in Albania to distract the public from a Presidential sex scandal in the days leading up to the election, and it was never discovered that the “war” wasn’t real. In a real life twist that seems to in some ways mirror the film, Antiwar.com reports Norwegian director Lars Klevberg created a 1 minute video purporting to shows a young Syrian boy “weave his way down a dusty street, dodging bullets to reach a terrified girl cowering behind a car. The boy even plays dead at one point to deceive the sharpshooters, who miss hitting both children as they appear to safely run off.”
Media outlets picked up the video and ran with it, not knowing it was staged. After it was revealed to be a hoax, people didn’t react in the manner Klevberg hoped they would. Klevberg posted a press release to twitter stating, “[t]he motivation behind the production and internet release of the film was to spur debate, urge action on behalf of innocent children all over the world who are affected by war.” He adds that “the children surviving gunshots was supposed to send small clues that it was not real.”
Instead of spurring a discussion about children in war zones, the discussions that popped up were, for the most part, aimed at journalistic ethics. UK-based journalist Eliot Higgins said, “There’s more than enough footage from Syria that is genuine to not have to make fake incidents to make some contribution to a debate. The filmmakers obviously don’t really understand or have any appreciation of its complexity.” One Twitter user posted, “They sound like 2nd year college media students who ignored ethics requirements for ‘experimenting’ on people.”
I don’t believe that filmmakers should be required to abide by standards of journalistic ethics, because they aren’t journalists. Do I believe that Klevberg and his crew could have made their point in another manner? It’s certainly possible. For instance, he could have added something to the end of the film stating his intentions along with details of where people could learn more about children being affected by war.
Those objections aside, let’s look at the impact of war on children. According to UN figures, nearly 9,000 children have been killed in Syria’s conflict. The Global War on Terror, lead by the United States of America, has an estimated body count of at least 174,000 civilians, according to figures compiled by CostofWar.com. This number includes both women and children, and only counts those who were killed in the Global War on Terror fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Probably most surprising about this figure is that “In Iraq, over 70 percent of those who died of direct war violence have been civilians.” Knowing that there is a broad definition of “insurgent,” there are likely many more civilian deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, not to mention Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and other countries that have been involved in the endless war.
Klevberg wanted to start a debate, and one was started. Unfortunately it wasn’t the debate he wanted, and with the Republicans aiming to ramp up the fighting in Syria, I doubt the debate about children in war zones will ever really happen on a large scale.