Saturday, July 31, 2010

America At War

"Restrepo," a documentary about American soldiers fighting in Afghanistan had a special showing in Santa Fe last night.
The film offers an unflinching look at what is going on in the lives--and deaths--of American soldiers in a war that most Americans at home appear to know little--and care less--about.
It's not an anti-war film--although any film that depicts what war really looks like seems to me to be by definition an anti-war film.
And while the film is riveting to watch, at the end of it I'm not sure what question it answered--or even what question it asked.
Unconnected to the movie, but not unrelated, was a report in the local paper yesterday, picked up from the McClatchy Newspapers. Written by Nancy A. Youssef, the piece reports on a 300-page Army report that studied rising rates of drug abuse and criminal activity among soldiers leading to record-high levels of suicide among troops.
Here's the money quote from the article and the report:
"As we continue to wage war on several fronts, data would suggest we are becoming more dependent on pharmaceuticals to sustain the force. In fact, anecdotal evidence suggests that the force is becoming increasingly dependent on both legal and illegal drugs."
About one-third of soldiers are on some kind of prescription drug; 14% are on pain medication; crimes committed by soldiers are up--50,223 offenses committed in 2009 compared to 28,388 five years previously.
And suicide rates are up to 20.2 per 100,000 population, above the civilian rate for the U.S.
In my local paper, that report appeared next to a piece that recorded the number of U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan as having reached "at least" 1,122 military personnel since 2001.
Now back to the movie for a minute.
One of the more arresting images in the film isn't a battle scene.
It's a meeting between the major in charge of the U.S. outpost and the local tribesmen. He's explaining that he's the new guy in charge. He wants them to know that what happened under the previous commanding officer is old news; the slate has been wiped clean. He's a fresh start.
His promise to the tribal leaders is to help build the local economy. Jobs and economic development. Build a road that will open up their region for trade and new business. A chance for them to get rich!
They sit there and look at him and the looks on their faces seem to say, "What in the world are you talking about?"
It's not just a different language.
It's a different universe. Maybe a different century. More than a different culture. A completely different frame of reference, a different time frame, a different world.
After the film, the major in the movie and one of the film-makes answered questions.
The film-maker made the point that Americans have little connection with this war.
There is no draft.
Taxes haven't gone up to pay for it. We're just putting it on our national credit card.
Even the leak of documents through Wikileaks hasn't stirred up much in the way of comment.
We have a national disconnect between the wars we fight and the world we live in back in America.
Soldiers come home, young boys, young girls really, having been damaged and broken by their experience. They may be on drugs; they may simply have awful nightmares and bad dreams. They may be injured physically; they may be injured spiritually.
Our political leaders talk about taking care of our veterans; it's hard to know what really taking care of them would look like.
Jobs? Economic development? A chance for trade and business? A chance to get rich?
And what about the undertaking of war in the first place?
There's no national dialog about it, no conversation as to why we're there, what the price is we're willing to pay, or who has to pay that price.
The disconnect is almost total, except for the young people we send over to do the fighting and the killing and the dying.
Today, America is at war.
And if you don't go to the movies to see a documentary, you'd hardly know it here at home.
And that's a real tragedy.

All Rights Reserved 2009 (c) Alan Webber, Rules Of Thumb