December 2, 2007 -- “Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience” is a film about soldiers in the Iraq war writing about their experiences in that war. Their words are brought to life with on-camera interviews, archival war footage, drawings, dramatic recreations of events and sometimes by vivid animations. Their words are spoken by actors, including Beau Bridges, Robert Duvall, Aaron Eckhart, Josh Lucas and Blair Underwood. This is war from the perspective of the foot soldier. Many of the soldiers who appear in this film said they wrote about the war because it was being so misrepresented by television news. Some wrote as a kind of therapy, some wrote to explain their feelings to loved ones. These writings were gathered by the National Endowment for the Arts, which cooperated in the making of this film. The stories are illustrated in a variety of ways. In addition to the authors of these stories, there are also appearances by older writers who chronicled earlier wars and there are quotations from more famous authors.
The prose and poetry of the soldiers is striking in its power. One soldier, Sangjoon Han, writes about shooting a civilian fleeing from the scene of a bombing. It is written from both the soldier's viewpoint and the dead civilian, whose dying eyes are fixed on the young soldier who killed him, just 200 yards from his house. Another soldier, Mike Strobl, writes about his duty of accompanying the body of Chance Phelps back to his home in Dubois, Wyoming. After Phelps was laid to rest on a high plateau overlooking the little mountain town, “Now he is on the high ground, overlooking his town. I miss him,” writes Strobl. “Men in Black,” written by Army soldier Colby Buzzell, is perhaps the most striking segment. As the piece is read by an actor, it is illustrated in a dynamic comic book panel style, with some animation added to some panels. It is a very effective way to illustrate the terror of being fired upon at close range. One of the most haunting stories is “Road Work” by Army Staff Sgt. Jack Lewis that tells of a road accident in which an old man's son is killed. The old man asks the soldiers to kill him, too. Lewis, whose own infant daughter had died earlier, imagines he knows something about what the inconsolable old man is now feeling as they sit next to each other in the night. Not all the stories are serious. One is even funny.
Along with the 11 readings by contemporary soldiers are quotations from other famous writers, such as Ernest Hemingway, and appearances by other authors who have written about earlier wars, including Richard Currey, Paul Fussell, Joe Haldeman, Yusef Komunyaakaa, Tim O'Brien, James Salter, Anthony Swofford and Tobias Wolf. Swofford's book about the first Gulf War, Jarhead, was recently made into a movie of the same name. Several of the writers are from the Vietnam era, some from Korea and World War II. The similarities of wartime experiences are discussed by the older writers. Tobias Wolf, one of the older writers, says the lack of public knowledge about what goes on in the current wars is “ ... the sign of a really decadent civilization, is one that sends young people out to do and to suffer the things that soldiers do and suffer in wars and not to care about what those things are, and not to have any cost laid on them, even of knowing what is going on -- to avoid even that cost. We seem to have avoided every other, but even to avoid that cost, that's a decadence. It's an unforgivable decadence.”
This film, and the writings of soldiers, are attempts to overcome that lack of knowledge, lack of sacrifice, lack of involvement, even a lack of interest on the part of civilians, who often have no idea what incredible sacrifices are being made in the name of their country by soldiers. A number of films have been made recently about the Iraq War, such as “In the Valley of Elah,” “Lions for Lambs,” “Redacted,” “Home of the Brave,” but none of them have attracted much of an audience. The public simply is tired of the war. People don't want to hear about it, don't want to read about it, don't want to know anything about it that doesn't conform to their opinions of it. Perhaps for that very reason it drags on year after year. Perhaps the public hopes if it ignores this war it will just go away. This film rates a B.
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