Peter Bull, producer of War Redefined, is an independent documentary filmmaker and Emmy award-winning producer of documentaries for PBS, ABC News, Discovery, CNBC, among others. Last year he released his first feature documentary, Dirty Business: ‘Clean Coal’ and the Battle for Our Energy Future, produced by the Center of Investigative Reporting (CIR). Bull’s other most recent projects include Hot Politics, a one-hour documentary about the politics of global warming for PBS/Frontline, and Money-Driven Medicine about health care reform. Notable recognition includes a DuPont/Columbia Silver Baton and an Edward R. Murrow award.
Below Peter shares his experience with Women, War & Peace and his own awakening to the changing roles of women in peace and conflict.
War Redefined, the capstone of Women, War & Peace, challenges the conventional wisdom of war and peace. It airs Tuesday, November 8 on PBS. Check Local Listings.
On Wednesday, November 2nd, international arms dealer Viktor Bout was found guilty of conspiring to sell antiaircraft missiles and other weapons to men he believed were Colombian terrorists known as FARC. The verdict was handed down in Federal District Court in Manhattan against this former Soviet military officer who’d become known as the “Merchant of Death” – accused of furnishing weapons to Al Qaeda, the Taliban and civil wars in Africa through a sophisticated international arms-trafficking network.
Now what, you might ask, does a sinister character like Bout have to do with a PBS series called Women, War & Peace? In fact, that’s one of the first questions I asked when I was brought on to produce the final overview hour of the series, “War Redefined.”
The answer, I soon learned, is: a lot. In many ways, Bout’s story exemplifies how the nature of war has dramatically changed since the Cold War, having had a devastating and disproportionate impact on women. If you set aside the two U.S.-led wars in Iraq as notable exceptions, the end of the Cold War signaled the end of the era of large, international wars in which armies are arrayed in battle against opposing armies. Today’s wars are more likely to be waged over natural resources or commodities like blood diamonds, oil, coltan, gold or cocaine; wars of ethnic cleansing and genocide; wars that displace vast numbers of civilians within national borders and across international ones; and wars where, all too often, rape is used as a vicious, terror- and shame-inducing weapon.
As Patrick Cammaert, a former commander of UN peacekeeping forces, told me in interview, in these conflicts – like the civil wars in Africa that Viktor Bout is accused of helping to fuel – it’s more dangerous to be a woman than a combatant. When Bout’s vintage Soviet cargo planes touched down in Liberia or Sierra Leone, they weren’t carrying tanks or missiles; they were packed with small arms and light weapons like AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades. These same weapons ended up creating devastating military forces from bands of marauding gangs of thugs and child soldiers who could intimidate large populations and drive them out of resource-rich areas. It is civilians – and not armed adversaries – who take the brunt of this new kind of war. And we must remember that when we talk about civilians, we’re talking primarily about women and those who depend upon them.
A lot of this was shockingly new to me. I’ve been producing documentaries for PBS, cable and networks for some years now; I was senior producer on the PBS news weekly NOW with Bill Moyers and I consider myself pretty well-read, but as I conducted interviews with the three female US Secretaries of State, Hillary Clinton, Condoleeza Rice and Madeleine Albright, and with prominent historians, feminists, aid workers and journalists, it quickly became clear to me that for far too long the discussion of war has only told half the story. As founder of Women for Women International, Zainab Salbi, put it, “Newspapers report on the frontline discussion of wars – the fighting tactics, the troops, the politics, the borders – that’s a men’s story. The backline discussion – how you actually exist and continue on living in war? That’s a woman’s story, and that story has never been told.”
The challenge of War Redefined was to produce a compelling hour that, while it doesn’t have a traditional beginning, middle and end story arc, draws together the themes that are interwoven throughout the series: the concept of ‘human security’ (as opposed to ‘national security’); the proliferation of light weapons; the use of rape as a weapon of war; the internal displacement of civilians; and, most importantly, the crucial role that women have played – and must be allowed to play far more often – in negotiating peace, rebuilding post-conflict society and fighting impunity.
I hope this hour – and the series – will open your eyes as much as mine have been – it’s a tough, brutal story at times, but it’s also one of hope and urgent necessity in our hyper-globalized world. It’s a story that, until Women, War & Peace, has indeed gone shamefully untold. As Hillary Clinton points out, “Women themselves have to empower themselves; it has to come from within, as it has in so many different settings. It’s not only because it’s the right thing to have women’s voices in the room – it’s no longer going to be possible to keep them out of the process… with Facebook and Twitter and all the other kinds of communication going on. And I think that is a mind change that is only slowly dawning on a lot of the leaders around the world – predominantly men – who make these decisions.”
Watch the preview below:
Photo: screenshot from the video