Ground Truth, The

Reviewed by Karen Findley

Patricia Foulkrods The Ground Truth, the latest documentary about the war in Iraq, sidesteps the usual why are we here rhetoric and Bush-bashing to reveal in impressively direct and immediate ways the harsh realities of being a soldier.

While the movies truths may not be earth shattering to anti-war activists, it does give voice to the kinds of sentiments that are shared by soldiers and their families, but are rarely addressed by the news mediafor various reasons.

One attribute that separates The Ground Truth from other docus on military and political issues is how apolitical it is. Critics often praise non-fiction works for being provocative and incendiary, but sometimes choosing not to provoke can be a more courageous choice–and the right one, too.

It is therefore refreshing when a movie acknowledges that a large part of the population supported or still supports the Iraq war. B addressing this demographic in a manner that's neither condescending nor confrontational, the film opens up a healthy discussion, allows the possibility for constructive discourse and even change.

The recruit officers, as “Ground Truth” shows, tend to target small towns and poor neighborhoods, places where celebrity-spouted cries for peace do not have much of an impact. In a series of interviews, soldiers reveal their reasons for enlistingmoney for college, escape from a lifestyle that would only lead to drugs and crime, even patriotism. Michael Moore covered some of this turf in Fahrenheit 911, showing how the recruits are victims of a race and social class-driven orientation in the “choice” process. However, Foulkrod reveals that now, three years into the war, there is no excuse or reason for naivety.

Moores incendiary docu was also memorable for the disturbing battle footage; particularly the scene where barely-out-of-high school soldiers gleefully blow Iraqis away while The Roof is on Fire plays in the background. Foulkrod includes similar footage, but she deepens her approach in extensive interviews with the soldiers whose honesty is every bit as disturbing as the carnage.

For instance, one veteran recalls how his troop ran over a child who walked in front of their tank stating, thats what the army told us to do. And another says, that when he was fighting, he didnt care if anyone died.

Not caring is a necessary attitude for survival on the battlefield, an approach that's hammered into the soldiers from the day they enter boot camps. Robert Scaer, MD, explains that the act of killing is psychologically abnormal, which is why the word kill is never used by the news media in reportage about the war.

The goal of training, then, is to make kill a regular part of the soldiers vocabulary, leading to a casual acceptance of the process. (Kubrick in his Vietnam War saga “Full Metal Jacket” and other directors of war movies have tackled this issue too). The constant preparation also puts soldiers in a state of heightened anticipation, resulting in a peculiar feeling of wanting to kill “just to see what it is like.

Its easy to forget, even for those who are against Iraq war, that the battlefield exists in an insular universe where standard moral values and rational ways of thinking no longerand are impossible–to apply. Once soldiers return home, it is only natural that they experience psychological and other disorders from having to adjust. Yet army doctors rarely acknowledge post-traumatic stress symptoms, which involve nightmares, emotional detachment, and guilt, instead classifying these symptoms as a personality disorder to avoid giving the veterans the benefits they deserve.

In some cases, the vets are lucky to receive help at allone report states that from March 2003 to October 2005, only 6.5% of deploying service members who indicated mental health problem were referred for evaluations.

It is facts like these, and not sensationalism or manipulative editing, that lends The Ground Truth its emotional power. Contrary to current trends of docus, we never see in the film director Foulkrod, who lets the data speak for themselves

Over the years, more eloquent and powerful films have been made about wars and soldiers, but what we need now is not poetry but call to action. And what message could be more effective than the words of Camilo E. Mejia, who encourages soldiers who are currently enlisted to leave, even if it means jail time, claiming, “There is no higher freedom that can be achieved than the freedom we achieve when we follow our conscience.