September 26, 2006
I haven’t been a big fan of war films since I have returned from Iraq. Before Iraq, I was a huge fan. All the action, and the patriotic inuendo in the films. But since Iraq, I have come to realize that films like “Saving Private Ryan”, “We Were Soldiers” and “Black Hawk Down” spout patriotism, and use soldiers, and, in the case of “Black Hawk Down”, the civilians of Somalia, as props, just to be blown up for the entertainment of the audience watching, and to raise the testosterone of potential recruits for the military. There are very few war films that I feel show the realism of warfare, while not preaching to the audience too much about the necessities of warfare. Soldiers are real people with real emotions and dreams and goals and lives. Films like “Born of the Fourth of July”, “Platoon”, “The Thin Red Line”, and “Full Metal Jacket” I feel are the most disturbing, realistic war films, that show the emotions and the mixed feelings that soldiers go through. I feel the the new movie “Jarhead” JUST ABOUT fits that description.
I watched “Jarhead” on Saturday night. It is based on the memoir by Anthony Swafford, a marine and Gulf War veteran. I would like to read the memoir. But the film was adequate. I had my reservations about watching it. Too many war films patronize the situations the soldiers are put in. But the film was realistic in its portrayal of what it’s like to be a soldier who is in a combat zone, but doesn’t face combat. Marines, after all, are trained to kill, and when they don’t get to, they become restless. The film shows the difficulty in dealing with that. It shows the mindfucks that soldiers have to go through.
Speaking from my own experience in Iraq: Every day in Iraq was an inner struggle to keep from going crazy and just blasting away into the crowds that gathered around our trucks. I had to make a conscious effort to stay in focus and not use my MK-19 or SAW machine gun to level a whole city block. The loss of humility in every soldiers’ soul is hard to see. To see good people turn ugly, to see them do things they otherwise never would have done if they’d have never had to leave the U.S. for the goddamn war. I reference the Haditha massacre and the torture incidents at Abu Ghraib. I will never justify the behavior of these soldiers, but it’s hard to know what was in their heads when these crimes were commited, and I don’t judge them. Stirring the shit in Iraq, other soldier’s shit (which is referenced in Jarhead) is a metaphor for our lives. We were in the shit waist deep, and we were drowning in the shit, powerless to stop our mental slide into darkness. All we had was each other, for better or worse. Best friends became worst enemies, then friends again. Topics of discussion among us soldiers every night in Iraq: Muscle magazines, football, sex, women, lives we left behind, our childhoods, wrestling, masturbation, the difference between a Mexican & a Puerto Rican, Yankee versus Redneck, the Confederate flag (Heritage or Hate?), life lessons learned from the Boondock Saints, life lessons learned from Chuck Norris, the relavancy of rap-rock, which wives were having affairs, past sports injuries that seemingly every soldier suffered from (everyone was going to have great lives, but had to join the army because…sports injuries, kids, marriage, debt, jail), whatever excuse people could come up with to justify their poor reason for joining the military.
Be aware of the inaccuracies and propaghanda that hide and get justified as patriotism in films like “Black Hawk Down” and “We Were Soldiers”. Films are, after all, meant to entertain the audience. Instead, I recommend the books on which these movies are based on. They are more accurate, and are more critical of the wars, and the government officials who started them.