[Moving picture of popcorn]

Laramie Movie Scope:
The Ground Truth: After the Killing Ends

The naked truth about war

[Strip of film rule]
by Robert Roten, Film Critic
[Strip of film rule]

August 28, 2007 -- “The Ground Truth: After the Killing Ends” is a documentary film that gives a frank assessment of war, military training, military health care, military policies on mental health care and the effect of all those things on soldiers coming back from Iraq. Some aspects of these topics have been covered in other films, but no other film I have seen covers all these topics this well. This film does not deal with soldiers suffering near total disability due to severe brain injuries, but does cover a variety of conditions caused by wounds, by post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and by moral crises brought on by killing innocent civilians in the line of duty. The film also briefly touches on suicides, a major side effect of the Iraq war both in Iraq and in the U.S.

The documentary starts out with military recruitment, which reportedly involves a good deal of deception, continues with military training in which soldiers are taught to make split-second decisions to kill. The film's implication is clear. If a person is taught to be a killing machine, that might not be easy to turn off once the soldier becomes a civilian again. The film indicates military training has changed a lot in this regard since World War II. I wonder if anyone has looked into a possible correlation between the rise in violent crime which just happened to coincide with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars? Several factors are at work in the Iraq war which could lead to violent behavior. 1. Lack of a clear mission. 2. Lack of a clear distinction between civilians and combatants. Soldier Charles Anderson said, “You don’t go to war in a country and not go to war with its people.” 3. There is no “front line” in this war. Any place can become a battleground in the blink of an eye. These things tend to keep soldiers on a hair trigger, to shoot first and ask questions later. One soldier in the film talks about killing an innocent woman who was walking toward a checkpoint. He thought she had a bomb. Instead, it was a white flag she was about to pull out of a bag and wave when she was killed by soldiers.

Several soldiers in the film talk about their regret over killing civilians in Iraq and how this weighs on them after the war. One soldier said he couldn't talk to his family about some of the things he had done in the war for fear they would think him to be “a monster.” The implication is that there is no way to understand some of the horrible things that happen in war unless you literally walked in the shoes of these soldiers. The soldiers interviewed for the film talk about how they faced a kind of “Catch 22” situation. If they report mental problems upon return to the U.S., they have to stay on a military base for treatment. Nobody wants to do that. They want to go home. Also, there apparently is some kind of 120-day waiting period before getting treatment at a VA center. According to the film, 35 per cent of Iraq veterans have sought mental health treatment. Among those interviewed are the wives of soldiers and the parents of soldiers. Two parents, who have since become activists, had a son who killed himself after coming home from Iraq. According to the film, from the 2003 through 2005, 210 U.S. Army soldiers committed suicide during the Iraq war.

Trying to readjust to civilian life after military service is not easy, according to the film. The unemployment rate among veterans is about double that of non-veterans in some age groups. One-third of all homeless people are military veterans. What happened to the veterans returning from Vietnam is happening again with Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. If something isn't done to reverse the cuts in funding for veterans mental and physical health care, the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will be incalculable. I recently spoke with a Vietnam veteran who was unimpressed with the number of people killed in the Iraq war compared to Vietnam. It is an interesting comparison. According to Vietnam-era Army hospital physician Ron Glasser the ratio of casualties to deaths in Vietnam was 2.4 to one, but that has risen to 16 to one in Iraq due to better body armor and better battlefield medical care. That means that total casualties in Iraq are much higher than the number of deaths would indicate. That also means the cost of the Iraq war in terms of medical care, suffering and lost wages is a lot higher than the number of combat deaths would indicate. Counting deaths alone is a very misleading way to compare Iraq to earlier wars.

This film is effective because it doesn't rely on statistics as I have in this story. It relies on interviews with people, interspersed with combat footage. It gives the viewer a good idea of the hidden costs of this, and all other wars. Whether you think these wars were a good idea or not, you have to agree the veterans wounded while serving in this war deserve better care than this country is providing in most cases. As veteran Sean Huze said in the film, “We put everything that we are, and everything that we ever will be, on the line when our country asks us to do so. You expect them to fulfill their commitment to you, just like you don’t hesitate to them.” This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

[Strip of film rule]
Copyright © 2007 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
[Strip of film rule]
Back to the Laramie Movie Scope index.
[Rule made of Seventh Seal sillouettes]

Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)