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Monday, December 1, 2008

Veterans and Soldiers in Film

Jennie Orvino checks in with reviews and links to films dealing with soldiers and veterans' experiences in our current wars.

Hi Friends and Fans,

I've been meaning to recommend some films dealing with soldiers' and veterans' experience of our current wars, and today seems a good day to do it.

I'm including as well an article from The Nation, with stats of 300,000 soldiers suffering from PTSD, 320,000 with traumatic brain injury, 18 suicides per day of vets (previous wars included), and 18% unemployment rate of Iraq and Afganistan war vets (the last info from Andrew Bacevich, on radio this morning, author of The Limits of Power, the End of American Exceptionalism.)

I've also added (forgive this long email but I've been holding on to this information in the light of our celebration of the new president) links to articles about the arrested vets who tried to bring questions to Obama and McCain at their final presidential debate. A very difficult story about police abuse, one vet trampled by police horses, resulting in a broken cheekbone, etc. These particular Iraq vets have been arraigned and are now referred to as the Hempstead 15. More at the following links:

Now, my FILM RECOMMENDATIONS (all available from NetFlix). Let me say that these documentaries are not depressing. They make me proud of the journalists who made them and of the real people whose lives they depict. Better than fiction! Totally engaging.

Body of War produced by Phil Donahue, personal story of Tomas Young, a gung-ho soldier who returned home paralyzed and is struggling to deal with his physical limitations and changing feelings about war. Very well produced and photographed. Especially moving is his meeting with Senator Byrd, now 90. "We both have some mobility issues," Tomas says to the senator who walks with canes. Also interesting to be reminded of the congressional vote to authorize the Iraq invasion, name by name.

Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience. one of my favorites, because it is about soldiers' writing, and interviews with them, and read by actors with great graphics and illustrations. I feel this is a neutral piece, not necessarily "anti-war" but just showing the reality of these peoples' experiences, from infantry, to med evac to the officer who accompanies caskets home.

Voices in Wartime again, the literary slant. "Powerful poetry, shattering images." (2005) from Vietnam and the World Wars to the present. Focuses on both history and post traumatic stress.

Sir! No Sir! historic, about the GI movement to end the Vietnam War

Alive Day Memories; Home from Iraq
Jim Gandolfino (the Sopranos) interviews returning Iraq vets, legless, armless, brain injured. Not specifically anti war; one legless guy was pretty gung ho still, but he was damaged, wouldn't let Jim hug him.

The Ground Truth: The Human Cost of War mostly just interviews with soldiers about their experiences, very powerful about PTSD

Poison Dust: about depleted uranium and the birth defects, etc. in babies of soldiers, from the Gulf War era


Article from The Nation, Nov. 10, 2008
On Veterans Day, Don't Forget About the War
By Aaron Glantz

The War in Iraq has disappeared from the headlines. The ongoing economic crisis has Americans looking inward, wondering if they can keep their homes and their jobs, with little interest in death and destruction half a world away. According to the Pew Research Center, media coverage of the war has plummeted from an average of 15 percent of stories in July 2007, to 3 percent this February, to just 2 percent of stories during the last week of October.

The war also disappeared as an issue in the presidential campaign. Both Barack Obama and John McCain barely mentioned the war in Iraq in their final debate. In his historic victory speech, Obama said "Iraq" only once. Some say the election results show Americans demanding a "change," and in many ways they do. But they also show a collective desire to forget.

Most Americans want to put the war behind them, but this feeling is based not on a coherent critique but on a kind of collective exhaustion. In many ways, we as a country find ourselves in a mood like the one towards the end of the Vietnam War: we are tired and simply want to move on and forget the conflict ever happened.

Yet this feeling can come at a great cost, because it is this same dynamic that led to the betrayal of more than three million Vietnam veterans.

"When I go through airports I see soldiers just sitting up against a themselves," says therapist and Vietnam veteran Shad Meshad, who heads up the National Veterans Foundation. "No one goes up to them; that positive energy toward them has faded. No one is spitting or shouting, but they're still left with the fact that they're responsible for what they did or didn't do, and they're supposed to think about that alone."

Given the experience of Vietnam vets, Meshad believes that the American people ignore their veterans at their own peril. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, eighteen veterans commit suicide every day and 200,000 sleep homeless on the streets on any given night. By 1986, the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Survey reported that almost half of all male Vietnam veterans suffering from post-traumatic-stress disorder had been arrested or jailed at least once--34.2 percent had been jailed more than once, and 11.5 percent had been convicted of a felony.

"We're going to repeat that same thing, I can sense it," Meshad says, "if we don't take action and Congress doesn't create services to help these folks over the next ten or fifteen years."

Indeed, there are already many signs that history is repeating itself. Consider the implications of an April 2008 survey by the Rand Corporation; it found that a majority of the 300,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffering from post-traumatic-stress disorder and of the 320,000 with traumatic brain injury are not receiving help from the Pentagon and VA medical systems. In its study, Rand noted that the federal government fails to care for war veterans at its own peril--noting PTSD and TBI "can have far-reaching and damaging consequences."

"Individuals afflicted with these conditions face higher risks for other psychological problems and for attempting suicide. They have higher rates of unhealthy behaviors--such as smoking, overeating, and unsafe sex--and higher rates of physical health problems and mortality. Individuals with these conditions also tend to miss more work or report being less productive," the report said. "These conditions can impair relationships, disrupt marriages, aggravate the difficulties of parenting, and cause problems in children that may extend the consequences of combat trauma across generations."

"These consequences can have a high economic toll," the report continued. "However, most attempts to measure the costs of these conditions focus only on medical costs to the government. Yet, direct costs of treatment are only a fraction of the total costs related to mental health and cognitive conditions. Far higher are the long-term individual and societal costs stemming from lost productivity, reduced quality of life, homelessness, domestic violence, the strain on families, and suicide. Delivering effective care and restoring veterans to full mental health have the potential to reduce these longer-term costs significantly."

There is hope in this story, though.

When Barack Obama takes the oath of office on January 20, America will have a President who has shown an interest in and commitment to caring for America's veterans. As a senator, Obama supported increased funding for the VA and an expanded GI Bill. His campaign platform sounded all the right notes about increasing the number of mental health providers, reforming the government's bureaucratic disability-claims system, and increasing the number of Vet Centers, where returning veterans can find community as they make the difficult transition from war to civilian life.

But taking those steps will require hard work and support from the public that amounts to more than just lip service to "supporting the troops." We must stay engaged on the issue of Iraq and our government's treatment of its veterans and create an atmosphere where a repeat of the tragedy that followed the Vietnam War will not be tolerated. If we don't, Barack Obama may follow our lead and rush quickly past the veteran who's sleeping homeless on the street.


About Aaron Glantz
Independent journalist Aaron Glantz reported extensively from Iraq from 2003-05 and has been covering the stories of American military veterans since his return. He is author of How America Lost Iraq (Penguin) and the forthcoming War Comes Home (UC Press). He edits the website, a project of radio station KPFA-FM

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