Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Good Soldier (Out of the Blue Productions, 2009)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I watched a potted (50-minute instead of the 80-minute theatrical release which is scheduled for tomorrow) version of a powerful new documentary on war and its aftermath, The Good Soldier, shown on last Friday’s Bill Moyers’ Journal TV show. The film profiles five American veterans who served in wars ranging from World War II through Viet Nam to the current conflict in Iraq (current despite Obama’s election one year ago and his pledge to end it!), and shows how their lives were impacted by the trauma of experiencing combat and how it took years — often decades — for them to get over it. The most moving stories in the film are those of Edward Wood, who served in the Army in Europe in World War II (this is not the transvestite director of cheapie movies Ed Wood, who was also a WW2 vet but served in the Marines in the Pacific) and was wounded in France in September 1944 — he literally took a bullet in his butt that sliced it open, and when a combat medic attended to him the medic took a shrapnel hit that took off a piece of his nose and the medic’s blood splashed all over Wood’s face — as well as two more recent veterans.

Will Williams was an African-American Viet Nam war veteran who came back from his first tour (1966-67) and was so incensed by seeing anti-war protesters that he worried he would kill one of them, and therefore signed up for a second tour in Viet Nam because there he could kill people and not suffer legal repercussions for doing so because that was what he was supposed to be doing. (He’s also the person who changed most visibly in terms of his appearance; it’s hard to believe the short, rather dumpy-looking man he is now could be the same person as the hunk shown in his wartime photos.) During his second tour (1968-69) his views about the nature and justice of the war he was fighting changed so radically that he ended up on the protesters’ side — as did the other people who were interviewed, since directors/writers/producers Lexy Lovell and Michael Uys seemed particularly to pick interview subjects who had become anti-war activists and were involved in various veterans-for-peace groups.

Perhaps the most chilling story — and not just because it’s the most recent, although that certainly helps — came from Jimmy Massey, who served in Iraq in 2003 and who remembered watching the first Gulf War on TV and thinking that looked really cool (it’s a measure of how continually warmongering the U.S. is as a nation that a man who watched footage of the first Gulf War while still a child would ultimately get to fight another war in the same country when he’d grown up 12 years later), and whose attitude towards war in general and that war in particular did a 180° change once he gunned down the occupants of a red Kia that happened to park a few hundred feet away from theit location in downtown Baghdad — but within their “perimeter,” whatever that meant in their context. His unit ripped the car with fire, enough to disable and injure the occupants but not to kill them; and when they went over they found that they were still alive and they had been unarmed. Massey called for medics to come and take care of the civilians his unit had nearly killed, and the corpsmen instead dragged them out of the car and left them by the side of the road to die — right in front of the brother of one of the men, who apparently lost it completely, because what Massey recalled him doing was just circling around the wreckage, crying.

Later one of his officers asked Massey what he thought of the action and the U.S. role in Iraq generally, and Massey made the mistake of being honest and saying, “I think we’re committing genocide” — and soon enough he found himself tagged with the “conscientious objector” label and being on his way to a discharge. He got angry at being called a C.O., pointing out that he’d already killed 30 people in Iraq, and he said from then on until he got out of Iraq he slept with a 9 mm. pistol — he didn’t specify why, but it was obviously in case one of his fellow servicemembers decided to take out the “coward” out of some misguided idea that this would uphold the “honor” of the unit. Eventually he got an honorable discharge and a long-standing set of nightmares — he said he hasn’t had a good night’s sleep from that day to this — just one more of the many ways war can destroy a person even if it leaves him biologically alive.

Bill Moyers gave the show a sensitive introduction that didn’t hammer home the anti-war message (the film itself does quite a good enough job of that!) but did mention the recent killings at Fort Hood, Texas, in which an Army psychiatrist apparently went bonkers and started shooting, killing 13 people and wounding quite a few others before M.P.’s brought him down — and since the alleged killer was a Muslim, had an Arabic name and apparently frequented a Web site sponsored by a Muslim cleric, a U.S. citizen who relocated to Yemen in 2002, the yahoo chorus on radical-Right talk radio is basically saying that the U.S. military should be purged of all Muslims because Muslims are our enemies in the current war. (So much for all the B.S. that the “war on terror” isn’t a war against Islam! We had German-Americans and Japanese-Americans in the ranks in World War II — indeed, enlisting in the military was one of the few outlets Japanese-Americans had for getting out of the internment camps — but apparently we can’t tolerate believers in the so-called “enemy” religion in what is in fact, as much as we try to deny it, a religious war — as witness the commanders who have said in public that “our God is bigger than your God” and they see it as a war for Christianity against Islam.)

Let’s be clear on what the purpose of a military is: it is to kill, and subsidiarily it is to train its members to overcome their natural human instincts not to kill their fellow humans so they actually kill on demand. War brings nothing but destruction and death — there is nothing noble, idealistic or character-building about it — and the sooner we get over these illusions the sooner we can move beyond it and have a chance of continued survival on this planet instead of annihilating ourselves and much of the rest of Earth’s biosphere. I couldn’t agree more with Albert Einstein’s famous quote, “Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.”