Friday, October 13, 2006

"In a time of universal deceit — telling the truth is a revolutionary act." George Orwell

Humans tend to recoil when faced with the disfigured. Injuries twist the gut in a visceral reaction to the unfamiliar. We can put a name to that which we see and leave no sense of uncertainty as to whether another is in pain. Three weeks ago, having seen the physical and psychological impacts of war, I left the local cineplex feeling humbled and impassioned. It was a Friday night and I was dead set on seeing The Ground Truth, a movie whose ad I happened across in the great Chicago Reader. All I knew of the film was its subject, the Iraq war, and its tagline “sometimes the greatest act of courage is to tell the truth.” I feel a need to resist stating that I had the luxury of sitting in a comfortable cushy stadium seat, drinking fresh water and eating gummy bears. I was in no imminent danger of being shot at on my way home. It was much more likely that a group of drunken Lincoln Park trixies would throw up on me than some cloaked terrorist praise a false Allah before executing me in an explosion of crude technological warfare. The struggle my brethren are enduring in Iraq might as well be a fairy tale to me, the people of Chicago or any other major city in this still great nation. Walking the streets late on a Friday night, a casual observer could not ascertain that thousand of miles away people are losing their lives in a desert of perpetual warfare.

The Ground Truth is a documentary that looks into the lives of Iraq War Veterans who’ve recently returned from the hellhole that’s become the Middle East. The film is not about politics, nor does it attempt to understand why we’re in Iraq. Instead the filmmakers work to demonstrate the impact that our government’s policies have on the human beings who comprise the Armed Forces. Through a series of interviews, the viewer is lead down the path of the post war impact on the lives of American veterans. We see the physical impacts of bravery through the missing limbs of one soldier and the disfigured face of another. We hear of the social discomfort and alienation these once well adjusted individuals experience upon returning to the daily doldrums and illusionary drama of American culture. We understand that those being sent to destroy terror and bring democracy are our brothers and sisters. They’re the kids from down the block with whom we played ball. They’re our friends from high school, our cousins, our sons and daughters. The 10 faces we see interviewed are human beings first, whose lives are more precious than a million barrels of oil.

The sentiment amongst the few soldiers interviewed is an inability to reconcile the thought that they’re considered war heroes. “What is heroic about killing innocent civilians,” they ask. “What’s heroic about placing your life on the line for the freedoms those back on the mainland take for granted?” Thirty years from now this will all be but forgotten by so many. It’ll be one for the history books. Parents will be without children, children without fathers and mothers. Wives will be without husbands and no one will be able to explain why? Why did daddy go to Iraq?

It’s true that the army is volunteer basis and the argument could be made that those who sacrifice their lives in the name of false ideals and illusory promises agreed to horrific mental and physical anguish of doing the Government’s business. Yet once they’re taken from this world by bullet or IED or any number of tragic consequences of war, there’s no turning back on that agreement. They’re a statistic, a number, a “brave soldier who dedicated their lives to the fight for Iraqi’s freedom.

Through the interviews, the audience sees that these heroes will always be scarred, if not physically then mentally. Any who aren’t were surely, as the Army states in the film, exhibiting manic symptoms prior to deployment. My stomach turned over itself when I listened to the parents of a soldier who died not in a tour of duty, rather by taking his own life here in the states. He was driven to the edge by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The war continued to rage in his mind until he felt suicide as the only escape. It sickened me to hear stories of the Army questioning the validity of such a disorder. The same establishment that craves our votes and our tax dollars, has the gross audacity to turn young men and women into killers, lead them to the battlefield, and question whether they’re experiencing post traumatic stress. To be sure, the Armed Forces does offer palm pilot questionnaires to all returning soldiers regarding their mental state. With promises of being kept from family or ostracized by fellow troops, it’s no wonder why more don’t claim to be psychologically disturbed.

To this humble blogger, the true maniacs, the true numbers to question are not those who return from the battlefronts with psychological issues, but those who have not. To kill another man in the name of any man made designation is insanity. To return from sanctioned death on a mass scale and live at perfect ease without any need to internally and decompress is an amazing feat. Man has an innate impulse to preserve the sanctity of life. What the moviegoer sees through the director’s lens is the ultimate goal of basic training, to turn an average joe into a G.I., a government issued killer protecting our nation’s freedom by imposing the USS Reagan’s paradoxical philosophy of “peace through strength.” A bullet in between their eyes will send a message only not of our good intentions, rather our pompous mission whose intent is ever illusive yet whose impact has been captured in the raw. We witness the annihilation of an insurgent, dead bodies lining roads, children burned with their faces frozen in agony; it’s enough to wake any civilian from the trance of paparazzo’s flash. Through human testimony, the viewer is confronted with the question of whether the relative peace we’ve formed stateside can or will be implemented in the once fertile crescent and if it’s worth the lives of our loved ones.

Rhetoric only goes so far these sinful days. Smut and throw away television have permeated the minds of the obstinate lazy American throughout the classes, rendering them useless in the grand fight of dark versus light. All too often ignorant people reiterate shallow opinions spoon fed to them by Sean Hannity or Stuart Smalley…”this war is about avenging Sept the 11th, lock and load, let’s get those (insert racial epitaph),” or “President Bush is an evil traitor, read all about it in my new book.” It seems as if we Americans fail to realize is that rallying behind one side or the other is fine, but shouting half baked opinions at one another does nothing to help the state of any nation.

Movies such as the Ground Truth serve to bolster the turning tides in this great country of ours. We as citizens of the most powerful free nation in the world have a voice and a choice to stand tall and proud, flex our hard earned dollars in the name of ideals for which we burn with fiery passion. Even if we are inspired by a film such as this, though, that passionate call for action fades quickly as a strong breeze of Congressional Sex Scandal subjugates the candles flame. Persistent action is the only aspect of our country’s policy to which we as civilians can individually contribute. Demonstrate, donate, write a letter to your congressman, let a solider know that he’s welcome home; there are myriad small ways by which one can make a difference. The Ground Truth website even has a program by which one can host a screening.

Through small daily actions, the citizens of this great country can come together and speak loud and proud their voice through progress. Bloviating, gossiping, hearsay, rallying behind sensationalism, such inaction renders impotent the battle citizens who care are faced with. Support this movie. See the terror for yourself and decide, for yourself, whether your dollars and your voice will be heard. If you believe in that which it speaks, then spread the word and join the underground revolution. If you want more information on the film itself, check out its website, thegroundtruth.net.



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