After some recommendations from people online, I watched “War Tapes”, a movie filmed by three men in the same squad during OIF2, 2004-2005.
This is probably the most accurate depiction of Iraq that I’ve seen. “Gunner Palace” really seems like fiction in comparison, more appropos to a look at the beginning of the war, before the insurgency became as nuanced as it is now.
What made War Tapes so damn good was that it showed a National Guard unit at war. As an active soldier, I could see how scraggly the unit looked before they left. Opinions about the war were more divisive, considering it was a unit from New Hampshire, and also considering that active units tend to be more committed to being deployed because that’s what they asked for.
War Tapes shows footage of gun trucks in huge KBR logistics convoys. It shows those long stretches of road in the middle of nowhere, or in the middle of congested Iraqi city streets. It shows the creepy insular Iraqi neighborhoods and how out of place Americans are when they go there. It graphically shows what happens when you put armed troops into towns with civilians: people will die in weird ways.
It shows soldiers talking the way soldiers talk, which is to say that they talk darkly, sarcastically, and insultingly to each other. There’s less ruminating about war philosophy in this movie, and more of the sort of dialogue you have when you just got done with a firefight. The only officers in the film seem to be green lieutenants who are required by oath to not say anything bad about the Commander-in-Chief. This is important because the message about Iraq right now is typically given by our highest-ranking officers. Said officers are disconnected from the reality in Iraq, but Bush just recently claimed he gives their opinion more weight than reporters because the officers are on the ground. Seeing what enlisted non-staff people say is far more revealing; not least because they are not required to uphold the official government message.
I felt a great sense of joy when the soldiers returned to a packed hangar full of celebrating families. When I got back from Iraq, we didn’t get much of anything. Our unit is too small. We pretty much got off the bus, met some families, and went home to sleep before going to formation the next day. The whole ordeal was anti-climactic.
The movie concluded by showing the soldiers readjusting to life with their families. All the families said their soldiers had changed. Two of the main people were diagnosed with symptoms of PTSD. One denies treatment for it. This is the uncalculated cost of the war back home. While arms proliferation and military training will be the uncalculated cost of our national security in the next couple decades, the burden upon military families and the psychiatric health of servicemembers who deployed two times or more will weigh down this country far greater than anyone realizes now.
Denying memory of Vietnam does an injustice to our servicemembers’ futures.
I identified most with Zach Brazzi. He is Lebanese and therefore served as default translator over in Iraq. He sees American interaction with Iraq as being tragic, as Americans do not understand the cultural differences and do not know anything about Muslims or Iraqis. He says the soldiers never stop to think about how it would feel if we were occupied by a foreign force. Wouldn’t we feel compelled to rebel too?
His most poignant message was when he said this: he loves being a soldier and wouldn’t give it up for anything, but the toughest part about being a soldier is that he cannot pick his wars. That just about sums it up for me. I love living the soldier’s life. I love the Army, doing PT every day in the morning with my squad, getting job training, being part of the Army community. I’m sorry, but it’s not about killing babies and political science. Most soldiers are in because they love the Army. That doesn’t mean that they love the war.
He concludes by saying that he will not earn any more money off this war. When he was pulling guard in a road, ordered not to let anyone pass, with a hospital on one side and a neighborhood on the other, his sergeant told him to translate to one father with an ailing daughter, “Don’t let anyone pass.” Zach told his sergeant that the colonel can tell the father if he wants to, but he wouldn’t do it anymore. He willingly refused to use his Arabic knowledge to help.
What Else Do I Want to See?
There are other important films out there that will be hard to find playing anywhere, especially locally. Check them out if you can!
“Who Killed the Electric Car?” is another movie I downloaded but haven’t watched yet. I couldn’t even download it until the screener came out because it was only playing in theaters in limited release. It’s about the electric car and how it completely failed to reach public awareness, despite its appeal to a nation sensitive to oil prices.
“The US vs. John Lennon” will probably be released just before the mid-terms as people attempt to revive the Lennon peace philosophy to attack the war. It describes the attempts made by the US government to silence John Lennon as he spoke out against the Vietnam War.
“Jesus Camp” is a documentary about a Christian fundamentalist school that most notably seems to advocate militant defense of Christianity, including worship of a cut-out of Bush and respectfully pursuing the same fervor for Jesus as Islamic fundamentalists do for Allah.
“Steal This Film” is actually legally downloadable. It’s released by advocates of ideas shared by the Piratbyran in Sweden. It details the raid by the Swedish government (prodded by the US State Dept) to shut down Pirate Bay, a popular torrent downloading site.
“This Film is Not Yet Rated” is muckraking about the MPAA and its bullying tactics to control the movie industry’s freedom of speech and distribution methods. Given recent investigations into MPAA tactics, this should be interesting because the MPAA goes to great lengths to hide its practices, giving it a cabalistic reputation.
“Iraq for Sale” is about the war profiteering and mercenary work being conducted in the War on Terror. I’ve mentioned my experience with mercenaries and KBR employees in Iraq and how they exploit third-world nationals and American taxpayers. The whole practice makes me ill. But yes, I do allow that KBR provides good service to the troops. I loved the food and laundry and gyms and other services they gave us.