THE WAR TAPES [Review]

I’ve mentioned the documentary file THE WAR TAPES several times, most recently here and here.

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I was lucky enough to meet director Deborah Scranton and one of the principals, Michael Moriarty, at April’s MilBlogger Conference in Washington, DC, and I was lucky enough to be able to get a look at a screener DVD courtesy of SenArt Films.

To begin with, I’ll repeat my one-word summary from the last post:

Awesome. Incredible. Must see. Can’t miss. Touching. Breathtaking. Eye opening.

That should be enough for you, but I know how particular you are, so I’ll go a little deeper.

To begin, I’d like to quote this section of the Directors Vision Statement:

We would tell the story, their story, wherever it took us, no matter what.

This is what Scranton set out to do, and this is what the soldiers who volunteered to help film it wanted to accomplish. Does the film do this?

You bet your ass it does.


Before I go on, I should make one thing clear…I’m not gushing over this film because it’s a pro-military rah-rah piece that reinforces my own viewpoints. On the contrary, it’s rather unsettling at times and two of the three principals are more than a little biased against the political values that I hold.

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This is not pro-war propaganda and is in many places at odds with the things I generally write about on this site.

I have some problems with some of the political points made by those in the film, and I wonder a bit about some of the editing decisions. Without access to all the footage, of course, I cannot begin to know what was cut and what was kept, but do not kid yourselves about the power that a film editor holds. To put it bluntly, if you come out of this movie thinking that all is going swimmingly in Iraq, you weren’t paying attention.

That being said, I have little doubt that this film accurately portrays the experiences of these men during their year-long tour in Iraq, and I have little doubt that my own feelings would be similar were I to spend twelve months doing what they did.

The three soldiers prominently featured are Zack Bazzi, Mike Moriarty, and Steve Pink. Most of the Iraq footage is theirs, and the narration is theirs. We also get some looks at their families back home before, during, and after their deployment.

Some favorite quotes:

  • “Doin’ a little plumbing here!”
  • “Quick! Follow that shit truck!”
  • “Eventually, they’ll be shooting at us again…”
  • “What else can you ask for from a man?”
  • “Welcome to Iraq, gentlemen. Only one year to go.”
  • “If we end up in a survival situation, I give you guys permission to eat me.”
  • “Go tell your uncle: Stop setting IEDs…sell fuckin’ knives instead”
  • “She’s going to be a different person when he comes home…and that’s really difficult.”
  • “If you didn’t have any faith, you’d probably have a very hard time leaving that wire every day.”
  • “…The mother of all street cops, if you will…”

With the popularity of so-called “reality TV” these days, this is the real deal. The sights and sounds, coupled with a great background music, really suck you in. For those of us who haven’t served, this is a shot to the heart. More than any other documentary I’ve seen, this seems to capture the moods of what it’s like.

Some of the most telling bits are those where on-tape narration is interrupted by a mortar attack or a roadside bomb (IED).

The unit spends most of its time escorting supply convoys, and we’re treated to a fair amount of anti-KBR/Halliburton commentary. While it seems rather one-sided, and a few Dick Cheney cracks seem a bit much, there’s no doubt that the meat hooks Halliburton has in Iraq dig deep.

Particularly interesting sequences include a tour of the vehicle graveyard, a fight between a huge spider and a scorpion, and a tragic incident where an Iraqi woman stepped out into the road at night and was accidentally run down by the convoy.

Here’s an interesting exchange on a rare day off:

PINK: “What are you doing, man?”

SGT KINNEY: “Making a pistol.” (He holds up a piece of wood he’s marked and cutting up to resemble an automatic.)

PINK: “Why you making a pistol?”

KINNEY: “Because they won’t give me one.”

PINK: “So what the hell you going to do with that thing?”

KINNEY: “I’m gonna scare people with it.”

PINK (voiceover): “Waving the M-16 isn’t going to make an Iraqi civilian move out of the way. But if you point a pistol at them, they’ll run like hell. Because that’s what Saddam and his agents used to murder Iraqis here. They all used pistols.”

There’s not a lot of combat footage, and what there is is pretty shaky. Which, considering the guys are soldiers first and filmmakers last, makes sense.

One bit, a monologue by Zack Bazzi, that really bothered me was:

People say [the insurgents are] evil, and they hate our way of life…that they don’t see we’re trying to liberate them. Well, if Canada invaded tomorrow and just said, you know, “we’re here to liberate you guys from Bush because we think Bush is bad for you”, there’s going to be definitely some people that take to those mountains and do some serious guerrilla fighting.

The insurgents got their principles, and we got ours. You gotta respect that. [emphasis Murdoc’s]

“Respect” the principles of the insurgents? Give me a break. Just because someone is willing to fight for what he believes isn’t an automatic free pass to respect. You might as well respect the 9/11 hijackers for their bravery. (And, yes, I know that many do just exactly that. They’re idiots.)

If we’re talking only the insurgents fighting the Coalition and Iraqi military, I can maybe see what he thinks he’s getting at. Recognizing that they cannot win a stand-up fight, they fight by the only means left to them. Like the Japanese Kamikazes in World War 2. But these are not soldiers fighting military battles with guerrilla tactics. They are terrorists who attack civilians directly or use civilians as cover or as bait. They do not deserve our respect. Coming from a guy whose rules of engagement are designed to protect civilians even at the risk of American lives, I find the comparison tough to take.

And removing Saddam’s regime is like Canada invading the US to liberate us from George Bush? I’m sorry, and all due apologies to a man in uniform defending my nation, but these sort of moral equivalency games are really just stupid. That’s utterly ridiculous.

Still, I think watching this film can really help Americans understand what it is that the troops go through over there, and understand some of the things they think and feel. Whether you are for or against the campaign in Iraq, you will learn things and have a better chance to hold an informed opinion.

If nothing else, you should realize that our troops deserve a lot more respect than they get. Not the “support the troops” lip service parroted by nearly everyone, but true and honest respect.

Once again, I would like to thank Deborah Scranton, Michael Moriarty, SenArt Films, Anastasia Kousakis at SenArt, and everyone else involved for the making this film and giving Murdoc the opportunity to check it out. If it’s not coming to your area, contact an appropriate venue and request it. You won’t be sorry.

UPDATE: For a limited time, when you pick up the Special Preview Edition of “The War Tapes”, 20% of your purchase goes to the group Sew Much Comfort. Sew Much Comfor provides specially-made clothing to wounded troops who need it. Use THIS LINK to be sure your purchase gets credited.

Comments

  1. This quote (repeated here for no reason) really got me thinking. I love the way that it’s phrased. ‘People say [the insurgents are] evil, and they hate our way of life…that they don’t see we’re trying to liberate them. Well, if Canada invaded tomorrow and just said, you know, ‘we’re here to liberate you guys from Bush because we think Bush is bad for you’, there’s going to be definitely some people that take to those mountains and do some serious guerrilla fighting. The insurgents got their principles, and we got ours. You gotta respect that.’ What does this mean? I think Saddam was a helluva lot worse to the Iraqi people than Bush is to us, but I think that there’s a point in that paragraph, and I’m not sure whether or not I think it’s valid. It’s true. If ANY foreign country, even Canada, invaded my nation I’d be fucking pissed. I’d go gorilla on their asses. Even if Canada thought it was justified in invading us (and let’s face it…even the insurgents THINK that they’re doing the right thing), and almost to the extent that I thought they were justified, I’d still fight back. That’s nationalism; it’s that feeling of ‘get offa my turf’. There’s a movie I like called ‘Red Dawn’. Soviet paratroopers attack a town in Colorado, and a group of high school students calling themselves the Wolverines fight back. The Soviets weren’t justified in attacking. The Wolverines were all killed, but helped America eventually win. Does this apply? Does this have anything to do with that quote? I think that in the end, guerilla warfare isn’t about principles at all. It’s about a different quote…this one from the Bible. ‘Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.’ I was, and remain, pro-War. We need to stay in Iraq for as long as it takes. I don’t think that the insurgents are the good guys, or in any way justified in the tactics that they use. I can’t help wondering, though. Our land. Would you stop fighting?

  2. You’re absolutely correct, HDE. I would almost certainly fight the Canadians if they invaded to liberate us from George Bush. I would have fought them if they invaded to liberate us from Bill Clinton. I probably would NOT have fought them if they had invaded to liberate us from an unelected tyrant, no matter who he was. Depending upon the tyrant, I very well may have helped them. I’m loyal to my nation. As long as ‘the government’ means more or less the same thing as ‘the nation’, I’m loyal to my government.

  3. Also, I believe that a lot of the insurgents do not ‘THINK that they’re doing the right thing’ any more than bank robbers or gang member criminals think they’re doing the right thing. Many insurgents have decided that being gang members and common criminals is a better way of life for them than being a productive member of society. They put themselves, their family, and their tribe above the law and the government. Sure, everyone dislikes the law and the government to some degree. But enough to steal and kill? They don’t get my respect.

  4. They lost my respect because of their methods. One would hope that any underground American resistance would avoid targeting American civilians! If one of our allies DID liberate us from an unelected tyrant, I’d appreciate it. I think realistically, though, I’d bear a grudge for the damage they caused. If the Canadians stayed in our country for a few years, applied their stamp of approval to our new government, and were constantly driving down Interstate 66 in Leopards, I think that our reception would cool. It’s a thin line between stabilizing forces and flat-out occupation; thinking back, maybe I WOULDN’T run for the hills in that case. I have to kind of override some of my gut instincts intellectually in order to see that. Team Screaming Shite doesn’t always think with their minds, unfortunately. Their means don’t justify the end, either, due to both their inhumane means and flawed end. (By the way, Murdoc, did you get my email?)