‘The Ground Truth’

(Note: I was taking notes on this in the dark. I hope that I got the quotes correct. If not, I will at at least attest that I’m close and that I’m not changing the meaning of what was said.)

I attended a screening of the film ‘The Ground Truth’ last Sunday here in Grand Rapids at the Wealthy Theater. Though I was fully expecting a total anti-war film, I must admit that I was pretty surprised at just how weak the film was.

I hoped that it would be sort of along the lines of ‘The War Tapes’, the documentary put together from footage shot by National Guard troops while deployed for a year in Iraq. It”s nothing of the sort. Rather, it’s a series of interviews with several strongly anti-war soldiers, with a bit of big media footage interspersed here and there. Except for a bit of video shot during boot camp (the origins of which are unclear to me) and some taken when a unit returned from a deployment to Iraq, it’s virtually all talk talk.

And the talk is not even-handed or open-minded in any way. Make no mistake. This is a piece of serious anti-war propaganda. It was quite disappointing.

There were 22 people in the theater when the film started (five minutes late) and a few more wandered in shortly after. About two-thirds of them were women, if that means anything. Most of them appeared to be older than my 37 years, but I’m not terribly good at guessing ages.

One early statement in the film compares military recruiting to cigarette advertising. This was enlightening to me, as it seems to illustrate exactly where I depart from most of the folks I personally know who are anti-military. The general thrust of the comparison was that cigarette advertising gets a surgeon general’s warning about the dangers of tobacco, but military recruiting carries no such disclaimer.

I guess there is a certain amount of legitimacy to that comparison, but only if you take it all. For years, those surgeon general’s warning were not required, but virtually everyone knew perfectly well that smoking was bad for you. They just did it anyway. Even with the severe limitations on tobacco sales and advertising, even with the severe restrictions on smoking in bars, restaraunts, and public places, even with the severe stigma that many attach to smoking, even with the Surgeon General’s warning, smoking remains big business. Millions light up every day.

The same goes for today’s military recruiting. Sure, some folks really don’t understand that the military might be a dangerous occupation at times. Sure, some folks are duped by advertising or denials of risk. But to claim that the public at large is ignorant of the risks involved in joining the military is ludicrous.

As for the “joined just for the college money” claim, I can buy that for those who joined up before October 1993. That month, after the end of the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the liberation of Kuwait, television showed the world the bodies of dead US troops being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia. We were “at peace” and bad guys were dragging our guys through the streets. If that didn’t clue a few folks in, I can’t help it.

Jimmy Massey is a prominent figure in the film (made before questions about the legitimacy of his astounding claims began to surface) and he said that “Marine recruiters cannot succeed if they’re ethical”. That’s interesting, because I know a guy who was a fairly successful recruiter for the Marines and I think he’s one of the more ethical folks out there.

Another guy told us about the cadences they all used in boot camp. The subjects included:

  • Kill the babies
  • Kill women in the shopping malls
  • Kill kids with your Ka-Bars (knives)
  • And so on

Now, we should all be familiar with the grim sense of humor in the military (particularly the Marine Corps), but I guess I have a bit of trouble believing this. Any of you who sang these in boot camp, please let me know in the comments section.

He says they were told “You want to go home? Want to see your wife and family again? Then go destroy that city!”


Another interesting bit was the theory that the military hides the casualty counts and doesn’t announce the deaths of service members. This is stunning, as the deaths almost always get headline treatment in the major media outlets. Where does he think the media gets that info? It sure isn’t reported because reporters are covering the troops in combat. It’s straight from the DoD. Simply subscribing to some of the military’s free news services gets you email notification of every death, when it’s first announced and again later when the name is released. But I guess it’s more fun to pretend that the government is hiding the information.

He also claimed that when in Iraq and under attack from a single rifleman in a crowd of 50 civilians, they’re just told to kill all 50 in order to get the attacker. And that he did it.

A guy sitting near me gave a gasp of shock at this. What a dupe.

They talked about no one wanting to be the one who didn’t kill anyone on that particular day. If someone got back from a mission and hadn’t killed at least one Iraqi, everyone else teased him about it. “Peer pressure group-kill”, he called it.

One guy said he watched an Army truck slow down for an Iraqi child crossing the road, then speed up once the child got in front of the truck, intentionally running the kid down and killing him.

He also said that whipping Iraqi children with antennas was fairly common practice.

Then, in the middle of all this, one soldier said that the felt real bad for blowing up a truck with his .50 cal machine gun. The truck was racing towards a checkpoint he was manning, and he shot it up and it exploded. The guilt was tearing him apart. Oh, he said, it was “loaded with gas” to blow up the checkpoint. But he felt so terribly bad for killing that Iraqi.

I’m confused about the point that was being made. I understand (well, not really, but you know what I mean) the guilt that one might feel after taking the life of another regardless of the circumstances. But to toss in that particular story, a story about a soldier killing an enemy determined to kill him and his buddies, in with all these stories of alleged (and unlikely) atrocities seemed to be an odd editorial choice.

A large part of the film (and the most interesting and poignant, in Murdoc’s humble opinion) was about how the soldier were dealing with the regular world after their experiences in Iraq. This is, indeed, a troubling issue. Even for those who don’t wantonly murder Iraqi civilians and whip Iraqi children with antennas. But even this section of the film is just plain weird.

A soldier related how he got totally drunk at a party, pulled out a hand gun, loaded it, and held it to the head of a guy he had been arguing with. He pulled the trigger, but for some reason the gun didn’t fire. Then he beat up a number of police officers who were trying to arrest him. And he claimed he wasn’t being treated fairly because he was a veteran. “Of course, they’re trying to slam me with everything,” he complained.

Imagine that.

About half the people in the audience (meaning, about a dozen or so) clapped at the end of the film. It couldn’t fade to black soon enough for Murdoc. There’s $5 I’ll never get back.

Just watch ‘The War Tapes‘ instead.

(There was a post-film discussion with a member of the Iraqi Veterans Against the War (IVAW). I’ll post a bit on that later. No, Murdoc didn’t cause a scene…)


  1. In Army Boot Camp in ’94 we sang something to the effect of: * Kill the babies * Kill women in the shopping malls * Kill kids with your Ka-Bars (knives) * And so on I forget the exact wording of it. It was taken in good humor which may be hard to understand to an outsider. It was absolutley not taken seriously.