Set This World Ablaze: A Veteran’s Day Film Retrospective, Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of our annual Veterans Day war film retrospective. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the Part 1 of this year’s essay at this link. You can also check out the Veteran’s Day retrospectives from 2017 and 2018.


VI. Unearthing The Past

One of my favorite things about doing this annual war film retrospective is talking about historic war films based on events seldom discussed in mainstream popular culture. Additionally, there are international films that tell stories about famous indigenous heroes who should be just as famous as our American war heroes, but we hardly ever give them any consideration. My mission is to change that way of thinking and to learn from heroes of the past from around the world, that we might gain a greater understanding of ourselves and this world we hope to defend.


One of my absolute favorite moviegoing experiences of the year, Kesari is a roaring war film overflowing with blood, fire, and passionate hearts. Kesari is based on the incredible true story of The Battle of Saragarhi in 1897, along what is now the Afghanistan-Pakistan border near the city of Peshawar. Between the British compounds of Fort Gulistan and Fort Lockhart lay a smaller post known as Saragarhi, a vital communications hub between the two. In the face of an imminent large-scale attack, 21 soldiers from the 36th Sikh Regiment of the British Indian Army stood and fought against over 10,000 Pashtun tribesmen, keeping enemy forces at bay long enough for reinforcements to re-position. The mighty Sikh regiment fought to the last man in one of the most valiant battles in the history of human civilization.

The Sikh’s are an ethno-religious group known for their bravery, their history filled with records of great battles. Kesari and the Battle of Saragarhi are a shining example of that unmitigated valor. So much of western war mythology is obsessed by the Spartans of antiquity (often to a toxic and detrimental degree), but I would say without reservation that the 21 mighty Sikhs of the 36th deserve just as much, if not more, of our adoration and interest than what we pay to the warriors at the Battle of Thermopylae. Regarding the 300 Spartans, I always dislike how some “last stand” war stories from the past paint people as underdogs, when in reality they are on the side of power. I appreciate movies like Kesari where the heroes face great odds against enemy forces, while also showing the racism and tyranny they faced under the heel of an oppressive regime. You should know going in that like many big budget Indian movies, Kesari is heavy on melodrama that also includes a heaping helping of overt nationalism. However, if you understand where it’s coming from and can meet it halfway, I am sure that you too will be thoroughly roused by the heroic soldiers in Kesari.


I have always been enamored by Korean historical patriotic war movies, shaped in part by my time serving alongside RoK forces as a young soldier. This year’s entries aren’t as strong as other recent Korean releases, but they are not without their merits. The Battle: Roar to Victory is set in 1920 Manchuria during the Japanese occupation of Korea. A detachment of soldiers in the Korean Independence Force led by Hwang Hae-cheol (Yoo Hae-jin) carry out an operation to deliver funds to the Korean Provisional Government in Shanghai. Along the way, Hwang reunites with Jang-ha (Ryu Jun-yeol), a young squad commander, who reveals his own incredibly dangerous mission to lure Japanese units led by a general (Kazuki Kitamura) into an ambush that will deal a critical blow to enemy forces in the region.

The film is in fact a dramatization of the Battle of Bongodong/Fengwudong. It is historically significant as the first large-scale battle between the Korean Independence Army and the Japanese Army in Manchuria. Koreans ultimately would not break free from Japanese rule until the Japanese surrender to allied forces in 1945, but the Battle of Bongodong served as a strategic and symbolic victory that provided inspiration and momentum for Korean resistance forces for the many hard years ahead.

The Battle: Roar to Victory works best during its many fantastically composed and utterly brutal battle sequences. The Korean independence soldiers engage in a myriad of combat situations during their journey, to include guerrilla raids, covert evasion missions, intense sniper sequences, hard hitting close quarters engagements, and a full-scale force on force collision in the thrilling climax. Unfortunately, for all its technical achievements, Roar to Victory is weighed down by tired war movie clichés and over-dramatic pandering. On one hand, this is par for course with historical Korean war films, but after seeing how the action in this film seemed like a significant step up from previous movies, I had hoped that the script could show that level of improvement as well, but it is simply not the case. In the end, the dramatic proceedings are a bit too flat and boring for a movie where a sword-wielding Korean hero rips a Japanese soldier’s testicles off with his bare hands.


There have been countless movies about the Vietnam War made which have explored the many different aspects of the conflict, from the immediacy of the terrible savagery to the long-term psychological effects after the fact. However, a vast majority of these movies are entirely through the lens of American forces, with little insight into the perspective of the Vietnamese or any of the allies involved. Danger Close provides an answer to at least one part of that equation, recounting the exploits of Australian & New Zealand Army Corps forces in Vietnam, in one of the fiercest engagements in their military history. The film depicts the famous Battle of Long Tan; on August 18th, 1966, a ferocious battle erupted in which a company of 108 Australian and New Zealander soldiers desperately held off an overwhelming force of 2,000 battle-hardened Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers. Danger Close gets down and dirty with a moment-by-moment depiction of the many acts of gallantry during the battle.

Danger Close is an old school flavored war film, full of heroic sacrifice and bombastic action sequences, unconcerned with the overarching politics of the conflict. Aside from a few unique cultural signifiers, (my new favorite war movie quote is when an Aussie Sergeant says, “We’re not here to fuck spiders, we’re here to fight a war!”) Danger Close shares much in common with the likes of old John Wayne war films or the familiar character setups of other American movies. That said, the action is riveting, with a smattering of modern techniques that really add a subtle but significant punch up to how Vietnam combat sequences are typically filmed. As an American, it was fascinating see the Vietnam War from the perspective of our Australian/New Zealander allies and to learn about the real-life heroes who shed blood along with us. I have had the honor and privilege of serving with Australian & New Zealand soldiers during my time at a joint headquarters, so I am proud to have carried on that tradition and am thankful to have learned more about the roots of our close alliance.


Throughout the 1990s, one of the great tragedies of the era was the Yugoslav wars, a series of ethnic conflicts, insurgencies, and large-scale military engagements that occurred after the dissolution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991. The United States was involved in various operations throughout this period, most notably the Bosnian war of 1995 and the NATO bombing campaign of Yugoslavia in 1999. There were a great number of war crimes and atrocities committed during this period that have had lasting ramifications. The Serbian language film The Load takes place during the NATO bombing campaign of 1999, addressing the ethnic cleansing that occurred. The film takes a unique approach to this situation in that there is no overt combat or violence. Through quiet poetic performances, the weight of the tragedy is nonetheless overwhelming.

As it happens, The Load is also a fictional narrative derived from a previous documentary feature, in the same way the film The Kill List came to fruition. Serbian director Ognjen Glavonic conducted years of research for his 2016 documentary Depth Two, where he unravels the mystery behind a freezer truck containing the 55 bodies of Albanian civilians found sunken in the Danube near the Serbian-Romanian border. He goes on to discern the connection between that grisly discovery and the unearthing of five mass graves located in a Belgrade suburb between 2001 and 2002. The testimonies from the documentary are used in his new film The Load, in which Glavonic imagines how a simple truck driver could end up involved in such a horrific enterprise. Instead of being a suspenseful thriller or shocking expose filled with gratuitous violence, The Load is framed as a somber road movie where we follow the truck driver Vlada (Leon Lucev) on his journey to provide for his family, getting a glimpse into the lives of the Serbian citizens doing their best to survive and carry on as the fires of war rage in the distance. The Load is another excellent example of expanding our perception of what a war film can be, a low-key work of art and a film to treasure.


VII. Sword Maiden

In this segment I will look at some war films in which women take the center stage. Somehow, there continues to be pointless arguments about “allowing” women in combat, when the fact remains that they have shed blood on the front lines all throughout human history. These films speak to that truth.


Girls of the Sun is a moving war drama based on real accounts of female Kurdish freedom fighters. Golshifteh Farahani stars as Bahar, commander of the titular all female battalion. On the cusp of a major offensive operation to take back her hometown from Islamic State fighters, she encounters French war correspondent Mathilde (Emmanuelle Bercot.) Through their developing friendship, the horrors of Bahar’s past are revealed that lead her to take up arms against the invaders. Despite this unique look at iconic women in battle, the movie follows very familiar war film beats, while other times there are bouts of very ham-fisted dialogue and exposition. Although the film was nominated or the Palme d’Or, critics have since lambasted the film for its pretensions of feminist empowerment that are still anchored on traditional concepts of motherhood. For my part, my biggest issue was the shoehorning of a white European woman into a story about Kurdish women whose exploits were already numerous enough to warrant a movie in the first place. I understood Mathilde to be a composite tribute to the late great war correspondent Marie Colvin, but…. she already has her own movie.

Having said all that, I was still glad to have seen Girls of the Sun because of how relevant and timely the subject matter is, particularly following the disturbing reports of genocide against the Kurds by Turkish proxy forces in the wake of the American forces’ withdrawal. It may be that the damage has already been done, but we cannot forget the actions of the Kurds, fighting on the front lines of the Global War on Terror against ISIS, sacrificing their lives to keep one of the greatest evils of our modern world at bay.


Jumping back in time for a moment, we have Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi. Taking place during the British Colonization of India, this period drama focuses on Lakshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi, one of the leading figures of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and a symbol of ongoing Indian nationalist resistance against the British Raj. The film is a decently constructed biography overall, covering her courtship and marriage to the Maharaja of Jhansi, the royal family political intrigue within her court and surrounding states, and her eventual rise as a military leader. It works well to get those not familiar with the history up to speed, but Manikarnika is definitely more interested in bravura cinematic battles than any in-depth history lessons.

Manikarnika is in line with many other Bollywood historical adventure movies, but I couldn’t help but notice the similarities to Chinese Wuxia films. In particular, it felt akin to the famous films Once Upon A Time in China or Fearless, both starring Jet Li in aggrandized accounts of real folk heroes. There are several moments of wire harness action and fanciful swordplay along with the bloodier scenes of cannon sieges, musket volleys, and cavalry charges. Apparently, there is another film adaptation of Manikarnika’s story out this year that I haven’t yet seen, but It will have to be pretty special to top the scene in this movie where homegirl slaughters an entire platoon of British soldiers single handedly.


Once more, in my effort to expand the definition of war film, I was intrigued by the Icelandic film Woman at War. Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir stars as Halla, a cheerful music teacher who leads a secret double life as a passionate environmental activist, waging a one-woman-war on the local aluminum industry. Halla’s methods grow more extreme, from petty vandalism to outright industrial sabotage, enough to interfere with negotiations between the Icelandic government and an Industrial corporation. When she receives news that her application to adopt a young Ukrainian girl has been accepted, she plots one final attack to strike a decisive blow against the aluminum industry, but one wrong move could put everything she’s worked for at risk.

In case it’s not clear, Woman at War is a full-on comedy that takes on some rather serious subject matter. It is supremely amusing with its particularly Scandinavian wit that even now I have trouble putting a finger on, a sort of heavy dose of absurdism laced with baleful tragedy. There are several hilarious running gags, tinged with an irony that gives way to sadness. In one example, there is a hapless unnamed Spanish speaking immigrant that pops in and out of the story. He faces constant harassment from police and is eventually mistaken for the industrial terrorist that Hala actually is, because who would suspect a nice old white lady when there’s a suspicious immigrant right there in the background? Woman at War touches on this and several serious topics such as climate change, which as we discussed previously, is already a factor in global conflict and will only become more significant the more we deny it. A great comedy with a lot of heavy issues on its mind, this movie is not to be missed.


VIII. Aftermath

Beyond the direct consequences of combat, I believe it is important to expand the idea of war films to include explorations on the long term and long-lasting effects of organized conflict. In some cases, these consequences are generational, affecting our future and legacy in ways we are still trying to fully comprehend.


My goal in writing about war movies in general is to spread the word about great films, but it also is a way for me to deal with my feelings of guilt and remorse. Jirga is one such film speaks powerfully to that experience. The film stars Sam Smith as Mike Wheeler, an Australian soldier who returns to Afghanistan to find the family of a civilian he accidentally killed during the war. Seeking forgiveness, he puts his life in the hands of the village justice system – the Jirga. Filmed on location in Afghanistan, the perilous journey of the character mirrors the unusual circumstances of director Benjamin Gilmour’s on the fly production. The film in turn has an uncanny tone in which the line between fiction and reality seem to blur.

I absolutely love the exercise on morality at play in Jirga. Although Mike is doing this for the sake of atonement, there are moments where he must reconcile with the fact that because of cultural differences, his actions will still cause offense. Even more fascinating is the section in which Mike encounters Taliban soldiers. The film introduces these soldiers in the midst of executing prisoners, so there is no misconstruing the portrayal of Taliban as “not all bad.” At the same time, they end up giving Mike important advice about his mission. I found this to be poignant level of humanization; after all, to the eyes of his victims, Mike is a murderous monster, yet the film asks us to open our hearts to his quest for forgiveness. Mike doesn’t come out unscathed though, as he must come face to face with those he has wronged, surrendering to their mercy or retribution. The ending might come off as a bit too clean and contrived for some, but I was absolutely enthralled by this small quiet story about one man’s search for absolution. If such a thing actually exists, maybe one day I can find it for myself.


Synonyms is another expansion on my war film list, a high minded French feature that is one of this year’s crowning cinematic achievements. Acclaimed director Nadav Lapid tells the story of Yoav (Tom Mercier), a disillusioned Israeli who has absconded to Paris following his military training. Having disavowed Hebrew, he devotes himself to learning the intricacies of the French language. He ends up falling into an emotional and intellectual triangle with a wealthy bohemian couple (Quentin Dolmaire and Louise Chevillotte), where he frequently finds himself objectified, both politically and sexually. At the same time the forces of institutionalized violence that he tried to escape attempt to pull him back into the fray.

I wont say too much about Synonyms; I lack the formal education to tackle the more complicated aspects of the film, but I also feel it is one of those kinds of films that requires you having the full sensory experience to really get a handle on one. However, I can say for sure that it wonderfully illustrates the sense of disillusionment and dissociation involved with wartime trauma. Synonyms intertwines contemporary elements of international terrorism, anti-Semitism, nationalism, toxic masculinity, and the information age into a kind of revamped French New Wave adventure through the streets of Paris. If you want to experience what cinema truly is, you’re absolutely going to get it with Synonyms.


I like to talk about gangster films in my year-end review articles, but there are often times when war films and gangster movies collide. The pitch-black crime drama Donnybrook is one such movie. Earl (Jamie Bell) is a struggling former Marine and father determined to make a better life for his family. Angus (Frank Grillo) is a violent, unhinged drug dealer who leaves a trail of death and destruction in his wake. Delia (Margaret Qualley) is a haunted woman who will do anything to escape a life of crime she can no longer bear. Their paths collide on the way to the vicious backwoods bare-knuckle underground cage match known as The Donnybrook, where a $100,000 prize is on the line for those willing to do whatever it takes.

All in all, Donnybrook is a solid enough gangster yarn, but it received harsh reviews for being derivative and obsessively violent. I think those sentiments are fair, but what really stood out to me was the glimpses of the middle-American wasteland wherein the promise of the American Dream was long dead and buried. Like so many servicemembers who return home to economic struggle, service alone is never a guarantee of a brighter future. Generations of inequality play a factor in the inability to advance, and the consequences of desperate acts keep us locked in cycles of poverty and violence. I was in awe of the imagery surrounding the underground cage match, military grade weapons in the hands of white supremacists, drunk on alcohol and bloodlust. It looked more like an apocalyptic warzone than small town America, but perhaps that’s the unsubtle truth of the matter. The characters speak to their roots as descendants of soldiers in the civil war, where all they know is fighting for survival in a country and time that seem to have abandoned them. Regardless of our differing political beliefs, it’s hard not to feel that way about America no matter where you are on the spectrum.


In the military, we conduct what are known as After Action Reviews (AAR’s) assessments about the successful or failed aspects of operations and how they can be improved. Sometimes these are simple squad sized discussions. Sometimes they are full scale Department of Defense level inquiries. Based on the document that might be considered The Ultimate AAR, The Report is a dramatization of the investigation which yielded the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture. Adam Driver stars as Daniel J. Jones, an FBI investigator tasked with heading up the investigation under the guidance of Senator Diane Feinstein (Annete Bening). In the face of political maneuvering, clandestine obfuscation, and even direct threat to his safety, Jones managed to piece together critical instances of torture and human rights abuses against detainees held under suspicion of terrorism by the CIA. The report reaffirmed for all to see how torture simply Does Not Work as an effective interrogation tool, while the movie goes to great lengths get us to understand how and why these abuses were still permitted to take place.

As a former Intelligence Analyst, I have great respect for the process of research and investigation, and I am especially fond of films that are able to show the drudgery of that process in an engaging and exciting way. This explains my… complicated relationship with the film Zero Dark Thirty, that does a good job of exploring the minutiae of intelligence work. Fitting then, that The Report works not only as an excellent piece of investigative drama, but as a rebuttal to Zero Dark Thirty’s more dubious aspects, going so far as to explicitly call out ZDT as a “bullshit action movie.” I saw a screening of The Report along with an audience of other veterans. The real-life Daniel Jones in attendance, where he spoke to the accuracies of the film and was candid about where the film deviated from reality for the sake of dramatic license. The inklings of brutality we see in the film are just a fraction of the wanton acts of inhumanity at the hands of our own government detailed in the full classified and undisclosed version of the report, of which Jones can personally attest to. Jones is a real-life American hero and a living example of the utmost importance of whistleblowers, people in positions of impact who have the moral obligation and personal courage to speak out about corruption and abuses in our government. As the current administration defies laws and regulations, people like Jones and the many cabinet members who supported him in his investigation are needed now more than ever.


IX. True to Life

Documentary film making is a vital element of our study of war. Although war films can help us through the abstraction of fiction, it is essential for us to have an unfiltered understanding of the life and death consequences of war.


In 1943, legendary Hollywood director William Wyler and his film crew flew combat missions on B-17 bombers to document the fierce air battles of World War II. Some of this footage was used to create the 1944 documentary The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress. In 2018, the fabled WWII B-17 bomber aircraft Memphis Belle was put on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, after a painstaking restoration process that took over a decade to complete. During that process, it so happened that a long lost collection of Wyler’s footage was discovered in the vaults of the National Archives. After rigorous, shot-by-shot sound and picture restoration, director Erik Nelson constructed a new film out of the material.

The HBO documentary The Cold Blue is the result of that restoration, intimate and harrowing account of B-17 missions of Europe created with miraculously pristine restored footage, showing World War II in an unprecedented new light. The documentary even includes newly recorded interviews and firsthand accounts from some of the very same crew members that Wyler filmed those many years ago. The Cold Blue breathes new life into the stories of aeronautical bravery and terror, the high definition footage and voice over narratives reemphasizing the nightmares of combat at high altitudes and the joy found in the camaraderie of the tight-knit aircrews. At times, the film seems to veer far too heavily into “Greatest Generation” worship. Still, the accounts of these brave aviators and the incredible technical achievement of restoration make The Cold Blue an invaluable historical record for future generations to cherish.


If my criticism of the “Greatest Generation” seems harsh of biased, know that I speak not out of spite or ego, but because I also understand the unspeakable things conjured within the hearts & minds of men plunged into the worst situations imaginable. To that end, Combat Obscura is one of the rawest and most unfiltered examinations into the life on the battlefield ever filmed. Miles Lagoze was a Marine deployed to Afghanistan where he served as Combat Camera, his unit’s official videographer, tasked with shooting and editing footage for the Corps’ recruiting purposes and historical initiatives. Upon discharging, Lagoze took all the leftover footage he and his fellow camera operators shot, and used it to assemble what he puts as “the very documentary the Corps does not want you to see.”

Combat Obscura is a groundbreaking look at daily life in a war zone as told by the Marines themselves. Like the famed documentaries Restrepo and its counterpart Korengal, which documented an Army unit’s mission in a dangerous area, Combat Obscura gives you the fully candid experience of war straight from the mouths and eyes of the warfighter. Combat Obscura takes it a step further by showing the quagmire of bad decisions, paradoxical mission parameters, and unclear objectives that lead to disaster. Between small infractions like smoking hashish to major tactical errors that may constitute war crimes, the film pulls no punches, showing the fatal repercussions of churning our service members through the meat grinder without a clearly defined end state. If we keep throwing our willing and able to the wolves, do not be surprised when they start acting like fucking animals.


In what may be the most important motion picture of the year, The Cave chronicles the incredibly brave and selfless efforts of medical staff tending to the wounded in a war torn Syrian city on the outskirts of Damascus. A vast network of caves and tunnels house hospitals and other vital survival networks in the wake of the Asad regime’s bombing and artillery campaign. Pediatrician and “chief of staff” Dr. Amani Ballour, gifted surgeon Dr. Salim Namour, and head nurse Samaher are the three central figures we follow throughout the dangerous undertaking.

Director Feras Fayyad, who created the Oscar nominated documentary Last Men in Aleppo, once again risks his life to bring us this urgent story about good people trying to make a difference in the face of hell on earth. With the odds already stacked against her, Dr. Amani faces further constant tribulation from the very men she tries to help, as engrained cultural sexism undermines her efforts at every turn. The Cave inadvertently becomes an incredible story of female empowerment in the face of great resistance, while at the same time never losing focus on the atrocities that the international community have allowed the Syrian government to get away with. We are shown irrefutable proof of chemical weapons being used against civilians, with no hope of salvation in sight. It is difficult to say how much any of us individually can make a difference, but The Cave implores those of with the means and ability to try for the sake of the powerless. To learn about what you can do to help, please visit the website.


X. War Paint

In my final section I want to look at some war films that are take the genre in a bold artistic direction through animation and computer enhanced imaging techniques.


Funan is a beautiful and moving work of art that recalls the Cambodian Genocide, one of the most horrific events in modern history. The movie shows the chaos through the eyes of a young woman named Chou, during the arrival of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1975 Cambodia. Forced into exile, Chou and her husband are separated from their 4-year-old son, who has been sent to an unknown location. As she navigates her new reality, working in the fields day and night under the careful watch of soldiers, and surviving the small indignities and harrowing realities of the increasingly grim work camps, Chou remains steadfast in her determination to reunite her family at any cost. Director Dennis Do derives much of the narrative from the experiences of his own mother who survived the ordeal. At the same time, further research adds more context to the horrific events, humanizing the enemy without absolving them, giving further credence to how these atrocities develop.

There is an elegance to the simplicity of the pace, tone and animation style of Funan that reveals more complex elements at play. Like a spiritual successor to Waltz With Bashir and Grave Of The Fireflies, it is a fine addition to that pantheon of animated films about war. You might get thrown off by the French speaking cast portraying Cambodian characters, but fear not; like Persepolis, another kindred spirit animated film reflecting dual nationalities, the semi-biographical ruminations in Funan emphasizes our universal humanity, while also reinforcing what happens when we forsake it.


Another Day of Life is a terrific animated docu-drama experiment based on the writings of the famous Polish war correspondent Ryszard “Ricardo” Kapuściński during his time in Angola during the outbreak of Civil War in 1975. Against all advice, Kapuściński is intent on driving south into the heart of the bloody conflict to find the isolated rebel leader Farrusco. As he gets deeper to the heart of the story, the stalwart journalist suddenly becomes a central player in deadly international incident.

Another Day of Life weaves together real life footage and firsthand accounts into a psychedelically animated exploration of the horrors of colonialism and the Cold War. We talk to the real friends and acquaintances that Ricardo met on his journey to the south. As the viewer gets wrapped up in the spectacular animation and gripping drama, the movie intermittently chimes in to remind us of the real world bloodshed that Ricardo and his associates bore witness to. Another Day of Life also serves as an excellent case study in journalism/human ethics. The animation begs to be seen & the story urges you to learn more. Intrepid reporters like Kapuściński risk their lives every day to bring us the truth of war and to teach us about the people embroiled in these dangerous situations. We owe it to them all to learn from what they have to teach us.


For our final film, I want it to be known that the extraordinary documentary They Shall Not Grow Old is one of the most powerful experiences you will ever partake in. I often wonder, even as movies help me, how much the art of cinema is really worth in the grand scheme of things. They Shall Not Grow Old serves as a reminder of just how vital it is to the fabric of our very civilization.

Using cutting-edge restorative techniques, director Peter Jackson and his crew of masterful technicians bring the stories of British soldiers in The Great War to life in an absolutely astounding presentation. Jackson and crew add layers of color to archived footage of WWI that feels like magical watercolors applied to real life. The honest accounts from soldiers telling you of their daily routines and the horror they faced combined with the color layers, make their stories truly come alive, like a God’s honest resurrection. Sitting quietly in the theater as the credits rolled I felt like I just had commune with ghosts. “Haunting” doesn’t begin to cover it. What will I say when the future asks of my time at war?

What will I say…..

What will I say.


My first deployment was a 15-month Iraq tour. I’d seen violence before on the streets, but this was War. This was real carnage. However, it was mostly indirectly, processing information as an Analyst. I studied videos and photos of death, very rarely seeing it first hand. I also saw countless UAV, Apache, and C-130 gunship strikes. Thousands of videos and images of slaughter. To know what it looks like when an EFP molten copper slug tears through a torso, when human fat melts onto steel, when human flesh chunks glow white hot in infrared. One sticks out. AQI had rigged some mentally challenged women with suicide vests and detonated them remotely. As happens often, only their heads remained. We studied the photos, coldly surmising because of their dysmorphic faces that they did indeed “look like they have Down Syndrome” …or it could have been the fucking explosion that tore them askew. I felt ashamed to be thinking such things. Ashamed to be part of a human race who would do such things to each other. Perhaps most shameful of all was circulating it among other analysts gaping at it for hours. I still see their faces. You remember those Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark books with the creepy images? As a child, I was particularly terrified by the “Pale Lady” illustration.

Those suicide vest victims looked just like her.

I’m alright, I suppose. These things never leave you, but that’s OK. I just figured, I shouldn’t wait until I’m an old man being recorded for posterity to tell my story. See They Shall Not Grow Old, and don’t be afraid to let others tell their stories. There is so much to tell.


Thank you all so very much for accompanying me on this journey. As it happens, there might be other war films released this year that I did not cover in this article. More than likely, I simply haven’t get a chance to see them, but there may be other extenuating circumstances. In one such case, I did actually see Roland Emmerich’s latest war film Midwway, about the critical WWII battle in the Pacific. However, I felt that my colleague Allen Strickland fully expounded on everything I wanted to say about it, so I will point you to his review. Elsewhere, the hotly anticipated film 1917 from acclaimed director Sam Mendes has not yet been released as of the writing of this article. It appears as though the film is in the race for the Oscars, so it may yet show up on my year-end list. Beyond those, if there is another war film that you would like to give praise to and discuss, please feel free to do so in the comments section below. As always, I am grateful to you all for taking the time to read about my experiences, and I hope you have gained something from my insight. As long as there will be movies at war, and as long as the voices of veterans who loved through it have yet to be heard, I will be here, telling my story. Peace.