[Mb-hair] Re: Forget Armor. All You Need Is Love

venuetheatre at juno.com venuetheatre at juno.com
Sun Jan 30 06:06:15 PST 2005

January 30, 2005
Forget Armor. All You Need Is Love 
JAN. 30 is here at last, and the light is at the end of the tunnel,
By my estimate, Iraq's election day is the fifth time that American
troops have been almost on their way home from an about-to-be pacified
The four other incipient V-I days were the liberation of Baghdad (April
9, 2003), President Bush's declaration that "major combat operations have
ended" (May 1, 2003), the arrest of Saddam Hussein (Dec. 14, 2003) and
the handover of sovereignty to our puppet of choice, Ayad Allawi (June
28, 2004). And this isn't even counting the two "decisive" battles for
our nouveau Tet, Falluja. Iraq is Vietnam on speed - the false endings of
that tragic decade re-enacted and compressed in jump cuts, a quagmire
retooled for the MTV attention span.
But in at least one way we are not back in Vietnam. Iraq hawks, like
Vietnam hawks before them, often take the line that to criticize
America's mission in Iraq is to attack the troops. That paradigm just
doesn't hold. 
Americans, including those opposed to the war, love the troops (Lynndie
England always excepted). Not even the most unhinged Bush hater is
calling our all-volunteer army "baby killers." This time, paradoxically
enough, it is often those who claim to love the troops the most - and who
have the political power to help alleviate their sacrifice - who turn out
to be the troops' false friends.
There was, for instance, according to the Los Angeles Times, "nary a
mention" of the Iraq war or "the prices paid by American soldiers and
their families" at the lavish Inauguration bash thrown for the grandees
of the Christian right by the Rev. Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values
Coalition at Washington's Ritz-Carlton. This crowd cares about the troops
much the way the Fifth Avenue swells in the 1936 Hollywood classic "My
Man Godfrey" cared about the "forgotten men" of the Depression - as
fashion ornaments and rhetorical conveniences. In that screwball comedy,
a socialite on a scavenger hunt collects a genuine squatter from the
shantytown along 
the East River. "All you have to do is go to the Waldorf-Ritz Hotel with
me," she tells her recruit, "and I'll show you to a few people and then
I'll send you right back."
In this same vein, television's ceremonial coverage of the Inauguration,
much of which resembled the martial pageantry broadcast by state-owned
networks in banana republics, made a dutiful show out of the White
House's claim that the four-day bacchanal was a salute to the troops. The
only commentator to rudely call attention to the disconnect between that
fictional pretense and the reality was Judy Bachrach, a writer for Vanity
Fair, who dared say on Fox News that the inaugural's military ball and
prayer service would not keep troops "safe and warm" in their "flimsy"
Humvees in Iraq. She was promptly given the hook. (The riveting
three-minute clip, labeled "Fair and Balanced Inauguration," can be found
at ifilm.com <http://www.ifilm.com/ , where it has seized the "most
popular" slot once owned by Jon Stewart's slapdown of Tucker Carlson.)
Alas, there were no Fox News cameras to capture what may have been the
week's most surreal "salute" to the troops, the "Heroes Red, White and
Blue Inaugural Ball" attended by Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz. The
event's celebrity stars included the Fox correspondent Geraldo Rivera,
who had been booted from Iraq at the start of the war for compromising
"operational security" by telling his viewers the position of the
American troops he
loves so much. He joked to the crowd that his deployment as an "overpaid"
reporter was tantamount to that of an "underpaid hero" in battle. The
attendees from Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval Hospital, some of whose
long-term care must be picked up by private foundations because of
government stinginess, responded with "deafening silence," reported
Roberts of The Washington Post. Ms. Roberts understandably left the party
after the night's big act: Nile Rodgers and Chic sang the lyrics "Clap
your hands, hoo!" and "Dance to the beat" to "a group of soldiers missing
hands and legs."
All the TV time eaten up by the Inaugural froufrou - including "the most
described it to me - would have been better spent broadcasting a true
tribute to the American troops in Iraq: a new documentary titled "Gunner
Palace." This movie, which opens in theaters March 4, is currently on an
advance tour through towns near military bases like Colorado Springs,
Colo. (Fort Carson), Killeen, Tex. (Fort Hood) and Columbus, Ga. (Fort
Its directors, Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein, found that American
troops in Iraq often see their lives as real-life approximations of
"M*A*S*H," "Platoon," "Full Metal Jacket," and, given the many
21st-century teenagers among the troops, " 'Jackass' Goes to War." But
their film's 
tone is original. This sweet yet utterly unsentimental movie synthesizes
the contradictions of a war that is at once Vietnam redux and the
Watching "Gunner Palace" - the title refers to the 2-3 Field Artillery's
headquarters, the gutted former Uday Hussein palace in Baghdad - you
realize the American mission is probably doomed even as you admire the
men and women who volunteered to execute it. Here, at last, are the
promised scenes of our troops pursuing a humanitarian agenda. Delighted
kids follow the soldiers
like pied pipers; schools re-open; a fledgling local government council
receives a genial and unobtrusive helping American hand. In one moving
scene, Specialist James Moats tenderly cradles a tiny baby at an Iraqi
orphanage while talking about the birth of his own first son back home:
"I've seen pictures but I haven't got to hold him yet." He's not
complaining, just explaining. He is living in the moment, offering his
heart fully to the vulnerable infant in the crook of his arm.
These scenes are set against others in which the troops, many of them
from small towns "that read like an atlas of forgotten America," have to
make do with substandard support from their own government. "It'll
probably slow down the shrapnel so that it stays in your body instead of
going straight through," says one soldier as he tries to find humor in
the frail scrap metal with which he must armor his vehicle. Eventually
many of his peers, however proud to serve, are daunted by what they see
around them: the futility of snuffing out a growing insurgency, the
fecklessness of the Iraqi troops they earnestly try to train, the
impracticality of bestowing
democracy on a populace that often regards Americans either indifferently
or as occupiers. When "The Ride of the Valkyries" is heard in "Gunner
Palace," it does not signal a rip-roaring campaign as it did in
"Apocalypse Now" but, fittingly for this war, a perilous but often
fruitless door-to-door search for insurgents in an urban neighborhood.
It says much about the distance between the homefront and these troops
that the Motion Picture Association of America this month blithely
awarded "Gunner Palace" an "R" rating - which means that it cannot be
seen without parental supervision by 16-year-old high-school kids soon to
targeted by military recruiters. (The filmmakers are appealing this
verdict.) The reason for the "R" is not violence - there is virtually
none on screen - but language, since some of the troops chronicle their
Iraq experience by transposing it into occasionally scatological hip-hop
The Bush administration's National Endowment for the Arts, eager to
demonstrate that it, too, loves the troops, announced with much
self-congratulatory fanfare that it will publish its own anthology of
returning veterans' writings about their wartime experience ("Operation
Homecoming") - by spring 2006. In "Gunner Palace," you can sample this
art right now, unexpurgated - if you're over 16. Here's one freestyle
lyric from Sgt. Nick Moncrief, a 24-year-old father of two: "I noticed
that my face is aging so quickly/ Cuz I've seen more than your average
man in his 50's."
True, he does go on to use a four-letter word - to accentuate his
evocation of metal ripping through skin and bones. The Traditional Values
Coalition would no doubt lobby to shut down the endowment were it to
disseminate such filth.
Another of the movie's soldiers, Robert Beatty, a 33-year-old Army lifer
with three children back home, wonders whether Americans who "don't have
any direct family members in the military" regard the war as anything
other than "just entertainment" and guesses that they lost interest once
"major combat" had given way to the far deadlier minor combat that
followed. A Gallup poll
last year showed that most Americans might fall into that group, since
two-thirds of those surveyed had no relative, friend or co-worker serving
in Iraq. Does that vast unconnected majority understand what's going on
Sergeant Beatty gives his answer in one of the film's most poignant
passages: "If you watch this, you're going to go get your popcorn out of
the microwave and talk about what I say. You'll forget me by the end.
..." The words land so hard because we are already forgetting, or at
least turning our backs. In Washington the gears are shifting to all
Social Security all the time. A fast growing plurality of the country
wants troops withdrawn from Iraq, but being so detached from the war they
are unlikely to make a stink about it. The civilian leaders who conceived
this adventure are
clever at maintaining the false illusion that the end is just around the
corner anyway.They do this by moving the goal posts for "mission
accomplished" as frequently as they have changed the rationale for us
entering this war in the first place. In the walk-up to the Inauguration,
even Iraq's Election Day was quietly downsized in importance so a sixth
V-I Day further off in the future could be substituted. Dick Cheney told
Don Imus on Inauguration morning that "we can bring our boys home" and
that "our mission is complete" once the Iraqis "can defend themselves."
What that means, and when exactly that might be is, shall we say,
unclear. President Bush and Prime Minister Allawi told the press in
unison last September that there were "nearly
100,000 fully trained and equipped" Iraqi security forces ready to carry
out that self-defense. Condoleezza Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee this month that there are120,000. Time magazine says this week
that the actual figure of fully trained ground soldiers is 14,000, but
hey: in patriotism as it's been redefined for this war, loving the troops
means never having to say you're sorry - or even having to say the word
Iraq in an Inaugural address.
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