The War Tapes
When offered the chance to be embedded with the New Hampshire National Guard being deployed to
This film is not put together to either support the war or to oppose it. It serves to give us a look at what these citizen soldiers went through during their deployment. We meet them before they leave; we meet their families while they are away; we see them when they come home. We note the changes that happened to them and see just a bit of the forces that shaped those changes.
Five soldiers shot film for the whole deployment, but for the most part the film focuses on three: Sgt. Steven Pink, a recent college graduate who aspires to write, Spec. Michael Moriarty, a Harley Davidson mechanic who is married with two children, and Sgt. Zack Bazzi, a Lebanese-born American studying at the University of New Hampshire.
These "Soldiers with Cameras" show us the chaos and danger of battle. They also show us the futility and frustration that are a part of their job. They joke that they should make sure recruiting films show the vital mission of escorting and guarding the latrine truck as it dumps the sewage. They show us the off-hour entertainment of scorpion vs. spider fights. They give us insight into what it is like to be in life and death situations.
Along the way, we note subtle changes in their approach to the war. From the beginning, Moriarty is somewhat hard and cynical. Pink is interested in everything around him and describes things as best he can. Bazzi is the most analytical and critical. By the time they return, they all have a large dose of cynicism, not just about the war, but about life itself.
I was struck during the film by a key way that this film reverses an important aspect of the viewing experience. In most films, when there is violence on the screen, we know that it is only a movie. When we see the violence in this film, we know that the violence is real. The shots of dead people are not mannequins from the property department; blood on the street or on a face is not makeup. We are seeing the war happen.
I was also struck by some of the quotes from these soldiers:
- "November 29. I want to kill." (The first words we hear clearly in the film.)
- "If you play the odds, one of us will die before the tour is done."
- "I think any country should be able to have its own civil war without people getting in the way."
- "You know I supported the mission and I supported a lot of things, but I'm starting to say to myself: "What the ___? …." If the problem is not going away then kick it up a notch! And I don't [care] if that means nuking this … country!"
- "I love being a soldier. The only bad thing about the Army is you can't pick your war."
We genuinely like these soldiers, not just for the job they are doing, but because we get a chance to know them. Even when they are at their worst (and they have times we may not like what they do or say), we care about them, and we know that the traumatic experiences they find themselves in will have serious effects on their lives.
The filmmaking team did an excellent job of keeping their own agendas out of the film. I couldn't tell you if they are for or against the war. Instead they let these soldiers tell their stories. It is clear in the film that there is a cost to be paid for any war. The price includes deaths and injuries both to soldiers and civilians. The price is also paid by those who bring home wounds that don't leave a mark on the outside. All of these soldiers -- and all those they served with -- are a part of that price.