Foreign Policy Blogs

Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)

While not a movie that makes you say “Wow!” Charlie Wilson’s War is a solid film.
Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman are excellent in their roles.
The story revolves around Hanks as Wilson, a United States congressman who likes to party. Wilson appears to be the most unlikely candidate to help people in the developing world which is why this movie is so surprising.

Roberts plays Joanne Herring, an influential socialite from Wilson’s home state of Texas who is also very religious. It is in part due to her prodding of Wilson that he decides to do what he can to help the people of Afghanistan end the Soviet occupation of their country.

At the urging of Pakistani President Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, Wilson takes a tour of the refugee camps on the Afghan and Pakistani border and is deeply moved by what he sees. Aside from being uprooted, many Afghan children are missing limbs because they picked up mines made to look like toys.
Determined to aid the Afghans, Wilson searches for the best weapon Afghans can use against Soviet helicopters, which the movie shows firing on civilians.
One memorable character in the movie is CIA Agent Gust Avrakotos (Hoffman), who helps Wilson find the right kind of experts in warfare. Wilson, who sits on at least three influential committees, brings the anti-Soviet budget for Afghanistan from $5 million to $1 billion.
Once the Afghans get their weapons – anti-tank guns as well as shoulder launched Stinger anti-aircraft missiles – the tide turns in their favor.
Wilson is frustrated with the lack of support from the U.S. State Department, which does not want to draw attention to Afghanistan because if Soviets began getting killed by American weapons, tensions could escalate. Also, many in the United States are willing to sit the Afghan war out because they view it as the Soviets’ Vietnam, a long protracted struggle that requires more and more manpower.
So what is perhaps the most incredible part of this endeavor is how Wilson, Herring and Avrakotos were able to secretly aid the mujahideen (Afghan freedom fighters) with help from Pakistanis, Israelis and Egyptians.
Charlie Wilson’s War is intelligent and funny. The dialogue is crisp and the characters charming.
The film follows historical events starting in 1980, the year after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Some see that situation as the greatest risk to American security since the Cuban missile crisis.
Near the end of the movie, the tallies of downed helicopters and planes as well as killed tanks and armored personnel carriers are shown, mostly from 1987 to 1988. After suffering so many casualties, the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989.

Charlie Wilson's War (2007)
Avrakotos cautions Wilson that the arms being sent to the Afghans could be sold and used against the United States. His understanding of how the world works leads him to believe that a devastated Afghanistan is a breeding ground for terrorists and that the nation needs to be shored up.
Avrakotos knew a group like the Taliban would take over and that that would not bode well for the United States. History tells us he was right on the money.
Also in 2007: A documentary called The True Story of Charlie Wilson’s War was released. It shows the Hollywood story is true to the facts. What the documentary adds is the story of Wilson as a young man and the scandal that followed him around.
Charlie Wilson’s War is available to rent.
Murphy can be reached at: [email protected]




Sean Patrick Murphy

Sean Patrick Murphy is a graduate of Bennington College, where he majored in politics and Latin American literature. He has worked for Current History magazine, Physicians for Human Rights, and Citizens for Global Solutions (formerly the World Federalist Association). He lives outside Philadelphia.

Areas of Focus:
Cinematography; Independent Films; Documentary;