Due to the oppressive heat this past weekend, The Gf and I decided to sit in front of the air-conditioner and watch movies. We ordered take-out and stopped by Blockbuster. One of the films we picked up was "Gunner Palace," which I had heard about some months ago when it first came out.
Filmmaker Michael Tucker lived with an artillery unit stationed in one of Uday Hussein's former pleasure palaces in what is now a hostile and volatile neighborhood of Baghdad. He offers an unflinching look at the war from the perspective of a particular group of soldiers who he follows for several months.
While I don't doubt there are those who would suggest this is a "liberal" or an "anti-war" film, it has a remarkably small amount of editorializing or omniscience. This is not a Michael Moore documentary. Rather, the film allows the soldiers to share their stories and experiences - along with their thoughts and their feelings - as they happen.
In a previous post and its subsequent commentary, several PePpers weighed and debated the definition of our country's all-volunteer armed forces. That discussion, of course, was held with the reality of Iraq in our minds, but not in our experience. I have never known the reality of combat, and the intricacies of war. As I said at the beginning of this post, I watched this film with the benefit of air-conditioning, the privilege of a full stomach, and without the sound of mortar outside my window. All I can share is what I have read and learned, what I have seen and heard, what I have found out from others. "Gunner Palace" offers a rare glimpse into a life that so many people have an opinion on, yet so few people actually experience.
What this movie is not, though, is a blatant glorification of U.S. soldiers. Just as in life, there are soldiers in the film that I grew to like and respect, and soldiers that I could have no respect for. And then there were those that were just there, doing their duty and not really understanding why.
Much of the movie was filmed soon after the fall of Baghdad, and most of it before the capture of Saddam Hussein. Some would say that this makes it outdated, and that times there have changed as a result of the January election. Yet I think "Gunner Palace" seems to be more pertinent now than ever before because once the movie is finished, you are left (well, at least I was) with a greater sense that what we have fallen into in Iraq is the Q-word: quagmire. From day to day, Iraqis continue to die, Americans continue to die, other foreigners from diplomats to peacekeepers continue to die. The violence is ongoing, and after watching this film you feel that somehow everything and nothing has changed in that desert nation over the past two years.
You also get a sense, despite all of the high falutin patriotic rhetoric and prolific displays of "Support the Troops" car magnets, that these soldiers already fear Iraq becoming a forgotten conflict. Of course, Iraq is in the newspapers everyday, it's (usually) on the television news, but there isn't a sense of urgency about it. Americans tend to have short attention spans, and scuttlebutt over the Supreme Court or Karl Rove or the latest shark attack have a way of eclipsing the consistent and constant onslaught of death in that occupied land.
Toward the end of the film, a soldier says to the camera: "For ya'll this is just a show, but we live in this movie." Unfortunately, Americans have a difficult time grasping the reality of that statement.