War Tapes

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(HOST) Commentator Allen Gilbert recently saw the film, “The War Tapes.” He says it’s not the easiest film to watch, but he highly recommends it.

(GILBERT) “The War Tapes” is a new documentary about the Iraq War based on videos shot by National Guardsmen from New Hampshire. It’s a novel idea, soldiers rather than reporters filming the war. But the idea works. The movie offers an unvarnished view of the war from the frontlines, the mess halls, and everywhere else that soldiers go — and everything that they think and feel.

The idea came about through Deborah Scranton, an independent filmmaker. She had previously filmed World War II veterans, and was invited to travel with the Guard to Iraq as an “embedded” reporter. Instead, she came up with the idea of giving small video cameras to the soldiers themselves. The New Hampshire National Guard leadership approved.

Hundreds of hours of tape have been distilled into ninety-seven minutes of “sock-you-in-the-gut” movie-going. You’re there when IEDs explode. When gunfire erupts from “somewhere” in a town. When a woman trying to cross a busy highway is struck and killed by a military convoy. When soldiers are ordered to ride “shotgun” to protect trucks owned by Kellogg, Brown, and Root. That’s a subsidiary of Halliburton, the vice-president’s former company, which has a supply contract with the government. You’re there when soldiers discuss why they’re fighting in Iraq. When Iraqi families lose a loved one to gunfire. When American families wait for their dad, mom, son, daughter or spouse to come home.

I think that everyone will take from this film a bit of what they bring to it. If you support the Iraq War, you might cheer the bravado of some of the American soldiers. If you oppose the war, you might wonder why anyone agrees to fight in a war with no clearly defined purpose and no clearly defined enemy. If you think that this war doesn’t affect you, you might stare at the burned out hulks of American vehicles resting in the desert and calculate how many books a disintegrating Humvee would buy for your school. Or you might boil to know that Halliburton is being paid $28 for every tray of food served to U.S. troops in Iraq — even if the tray contains only a second serving of dessert that a soldier ordered.

This is one of those films that make you want to take a walk after watching. Loose ends need to be sorted out, and tied together. How does a country continue to fight a war when the reason given for starting it — that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction — proved to be false? How are citizens back home affected when civilians and soldiers are maimed, physically or mentally, and die by the hundreds and thousands? The financial cost of the war to the U.S. currently amounts to about a quarter of a trillion dollars. Our government’s been forced to write IOUs to pay for it. How can we, and future taxpayers such as our children, sustain this cost?

“The War Tapes” is currently playing in Burlington. Ask your local theatre if it plans to screen it. This is required viewing.

Allen Gilbert is a former journalist, teacher, and consultant currently serving as executive director of the ACLU of Vermont.

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