Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Good Soldier

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Pacifist Documentary Asks Tough Questions about the Meaning of War

Who do you think said, “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility?” You might be surprised to learn that these weren’t the words of a disgruntled GI gone AWOL but of Dwight Eisenhower, a five-star general who as president would also one day warn of the dangers of the Military-Industrial Complex.
Thus, it is fitting that his quote should appear emblazoned onscreen during the opening of The Good Soldier, a controversial documentary which takes a frank look at war through the eyes of five combat veterans. What is striking about these men who served in WWII, Vietnam and the Middle East conflicts is that none speaks in lofty platitudes when describing the nasty job they had performed more for self-preservation than for freedom or out of a love of country.
The subjects of this shocking expose’ uniformly describe the soldier’s lot as a soul-draining trap which exacts a heavy toll that lasts long after the return to civilian life. Consider Private Edward Wood, who earned a Bronze Star and Purple Heart in France in 1944. You can still sense the aftereffects of his having fought in Europe permanently etched on his furrowed brow. “War is about one thing only,” he reflects in quiet contemplation. “It is about killing or being killed yourself, which is why I have come to loathe it.”
Then there’s Staff Sergeant Will Williams, a black man who recounts enlisting in the Army in 1966 because he “needed to get out of Mississippi” to avoid getting lynched over the bitter resentment he felt about racism. So, he married his high school sweetheart just before his deployment, and ended up spending his honeymoon in a foxhole in Vietnam. He admits to being driven by misplaced revenge over there where “the hate I had experienced growing up in the South expanded. I became an animal who could kill with no remorse.”
Captain Michael McPhearson, an African-American from Fayetteville, North Carolina, talks about how he and a buddy dropped out of high school to serve in Iraq after being treated to pizza and taken to see a fireworks display by a local recruiter. McPhearson recalls subsequently seeing “young men turn into psychopathic killers” while in the Middle East. As for himself, however, he held onto his humanity only to be unfairly labeled a conscientious objector for refusing to shoot innocent civilians.
Marine Staff Sergeant Jimmy Massey, a white guy who grew up in a trailer park, has a similar story. He regrets his tour of duty in Iraq, given that he hasn’t had a good night’s sleep since the day he followed orders to kill some unarmed Iraqi women and children. Finally, there’s Warrant Officer Perry Parks, a good ole boy from Rockingham, North Carolina who volunteered for Vietnam where he was “ordered to blow up houses with women and children inside.”
If you know any kid contemplating enlisting in the Armed Forces based on watching commercials with misleading slogans like “Accelerate your life,” or “Be all that you can be,” you might want to suggest that they watch The Good Soldier prior to making any life-altering decisions. For co-directors Lexy Levell and Michael Uys deserve a 21-gun salute for fashioning a sobering antidote to all that patriotic claptrap about serving God, country and apple pie.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 79 minutes
Studio: Artistic License Films

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