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File this one under ‘I was not expecting to read that from that person’.

While going through the Pentagon’s file on Courage Under Fire (for episode 249 of ClandesTime) I happened upon a memo where Phil Strub had weighed in.  The negotiations had been going on for several months, with producer Stratton Leopold first submitting a draft script for Army review in March 1995.  By September that year they were up to the fifth draft of the script, and the Army’s entertainment office drew up a chronology of events up until that point, to help justify their decision to turn down the film-makers’ requests.

The negotiations initially went fairly positively, with the producers willing to accede to at least some of the Army’s demands for script changes.  Then, a GAO report into friendly fire incidents during Operation Desert Storm was published, and it seems writer Patrick Duncan and director Edward Zwick incorporated elements from that report into their evolving screenplay.  In particular they focused in on the death of Douglas ‘Lance’ Fielder, which was initially covered up, then three men were given temporary reprimands, struck from their records a couple of years later, while others involved were promoted or even received medals.  And the Army lied to Fielder’s parents about what happened.

Naturally, the more the film-makers grounded their story in real events, especially in real cover-ups, the more the Army objected.  By August the relationship was breaking down, and the Army’s timeline notes how a Major General McClain (not John, I assume) said the script had to be rejected, ‘based upon the misrepresentation of the friendly fire incident and the closeness to the “Fielder Case”.’

So, where does this realism begin and end?  They want realistic depictions, but only of the positive stuff?  As one memo from the producers put it:

My reading of the GAO was that several soldiers/officers involved with friendly fire incidents received promotions. Is the script being read that Serling has received his promotion because of Al Bathra? Is the problem that the DOD is asking that reality not be reflected?

By September, Army and DOD support to Courage Under Fire was withdrawn completely, with another entry in the Army chronology noting:

Phil Strub, Special Assistant for Audio Visual for theDepartment of Defense, indicates that he told the production company that “people should view the government in general and the Army in particular with extreme suspicion and cynicism”. He concurs with both the concerns of MAJ McCollum and MG McClain.

A handwritten note at the bottom of the page, and another on the front page of the fax containing this chronology, clarify that Strub either said that the film would make people view the government and Army in this way, or that the script’s theme was that people should view them in this way.

Thus, to be entirely clear and honest (something Strub has never been), he did not mean to say this.  Or, he misspoke, in memo form.  Or possibly he did say this, but in a different context, which means he actually meant the opposite.  Even though his job wouldn’t exist if people didn’t actually see the government and Army in this way, and his job was to try to make them see things differently.

Dept of Defense documents

Department of Defense and US Army file on Courage Under Fire