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Ground Truth, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"War Documentaries--What Are They Good For?"
4 stars

In Patricia Foulkrod’s documentary “The Ground Truth: After the Killing Stops,” we are treated to a series of talking head interviews with people who inform us in the bluntest terms that the war in Iraq has been one giant mistake after another–declared without a legitimate reason, planned by people with no real idea of who the enemy is or how to combat them and fought by people who have been lured into the armed forces by glamorous ads that promise personal adventure and money for college, plunged into a combat zone without many of the basic necessities and, if they somehow manage to survive their tour of duty, are then sent back to their old lives without making any real effort to help them make the difficult adjustment from an unthinking killing machine to the ordinary life of a civilian. For anyone who has seen their fair share of the recent glut of politically charged documentaries to emerge in the wake of “Fahrenheit 9/11,” these sentiments will most likely not come as much of a surprise. What is a surprise is the fact that these sentiments, and many more like them heard in the film, are spoken by the people most qualified to make them–the very soldiers who volunteered to serve their country out of an idealistic sense of patriotism and who now feel that they have been cruelly exploited and ignored by the very government they fought for.

The early scenes in the film will come as no surprise to most viewers. We are treated to interviews with a number of veterans who talk about what led them to join the military in the first place–the reasons range from sheer patriotism to escaping an otherwise dead-end existence to a fateful encounter with “Top Gun” in the eighth grade. Once they get there, however, their visions of a military with plenty of computer training, weekends filled with golf and jet-ski excursions and little chance of overseas deployment fall by the wayside as they find themselves being both physically and psychologically molded into becoming the kind of person who can and will kill another person without hesitation or feeling in the heat of combat. While this approach may have worked in the past during wars in which there were clearly defined battle lines and combatants, it isn’t as helpful in Iraq–a place where any person walking down the street could be either a peaceful civilian or an insurgent prepared to kill. As the soldiers tell their stories, we gradually begin to discover the extent of their sacrifices, both physical (while combat armor has been improved to the point where more soldiers are surviving attacks, their inability to protect the extremities has led to more walking wounded with missing limbs) and emotional (one soldier tells how he shot down a woman who wouldn’t stop approaching, only to discover that the item in her hand was a white flag).

The real meat of “The Ground Truth” comes from the horror stories they tell of what happens to them after they return home. After being in such a high-pressure situation for so long, where any noise or furtive movement could mean instant death, they are plopped back into society without any real effort made towards easing the transition to civilian life for them or their families. Many suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome but since that is one of those pesky details that would look bad in the press, the military goes to great lengths to claim that those conditions are actually the result of pre-existing personality disorders. (As one angry vet points out, if he had this personality disorder in the first place, why did they give him a gun and ship him off to war?) Because of this shabby treatment, many returning veterans are becoming activists against the war–not necessarily against the military in general but against the current people who are running it without any evident concern about those they are putting on the front lines.

“The Ground Truth” is one of the more successful of the recent glut of documentaries about the war in Iraq–it is short, to the point and it conveys its message in a direct and forceful manner without going overboard into overt propaganda. Instead of merely offering up empty words about “supporting” the troops, it actually does just that by listening to them about their concerns, their anguish and their anger at what has happened to them and what will continue to happen to others until something finally changes. Ironically, the film has been rated “R” (for “disturbing violent content and language) which means that it will be essentially off-limits to the very people who need to see it the most--the kids who are about to sign up for the service without having any real idea of what they are truly in for.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=13586&reviewer=389
originally posted: 09/15/06 00:08:10
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2006 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Boston Film Festival For more in the 2006 Boston Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/09/11 brian Amazingly, some of these kids didn't seem to know they'd be killing people. No revelations. 3 stars
11/14/06 William Goss Runs in circles for first half, proves more interesting with vets at home. 3 stars
9/24/06 GUY GIBEAU see the film and then tell others.what a great job 5 stars
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  15-Sep-2006 (R)
  DVD: 26-Sep-2006



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