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June 04, 2006

Citizen soldiers, citizen media: The War Tapes

On Friday, I attended the New York premiere of The War Tapes, the true story of National Guardsmen who filmed their own tour of duty in Iraq. (My original photos: here, here, and here.)

"The War Tapes" is a milestone in journalism. For the first time in this war, citizen soldiers became citizen journalists. The result is a movie unlike anything you've ever seen about the war in Iraq.

In 2004, Deborah Scranton got permission to become an embedded journalist in Iraq. However, instead of embedding herself with a unit, she distributed small digital video cameras to 10 soldiers in Charlie Company, 3rd of the 172nd Infantry (MOUNTAIN) Regiment. As a director, Scranton's genius was to figure out how she could take herself out of the story and let the soldiers record the war as they experienced it. It's impressive that she directed the movie remotely, primarily through emails, instant messages, and uploaded Quicktime "dailies."

The film's principal subjects and cameramen are Sergeant Steve Pink, Sergeant Zack Bazzi, and Specialist Mike Moriarty. Pink joined the Guard for college money. Bazzi is a career soldier who joined the Guard to go to college after several years as a full-time soldier. Moriarty is a self-professed super-patriot who resolved to fight in Iraq to avenge the 9/11 attacks.

"The War Tapes" works because it honors the first rule of storytelling: show, don't tell. We see the war from the first-person perspectives of the soldiers fighting it. To supplement their hand-held cameras, the Guardsmen mounted tripods on their gun turrets and the dashboard of their Humvee. They also attached cameras to their own helmets and body armor. An embedded reporter would have gotten an observer's perspective on the fight. Whereas, "The War Tapes"' Iraq footage was captured by the participants as they worked, fought, and survived from day to day in a war zone. You can feel the difference.

The Guardsmen spend most of their tour protecting convoys of supplies for KBR, a private military contractor and subsidiary of Halliburton.

Some of the most powerful sequences are shot from vehicles moving at high speed. Steve James' editing makes you feel as if you're peering through the windshield of a fast-moving Humvee, dwarfed by a massive convoy of KBR trucks looming over you like white elephants. As the convoy hurtles down the road, "your" Humvee has to weave in and out of this juggernaut, passing oncoming cars on the two-lane desert highway, and swerving to avoid the Iraqi civilians in their subcompact cars (any of which could be a car bomb). There's no margin of error because IEDs are detonating left and right on the shoulders. The night missions, shot with infrared cameras, are even more terrifying--the same crazy driving, the ever-present IEDs, and all unruly civilian traffic (vehicular and pedestrian)--except that our guys are now sharing the dark road with a lot of people who can't see them.

Nor can our guys maintain radio contact with the trucks in the convoy they're trying to protect. Most of the drivers are so-called "third country nationals", guest workers imported from distant countries to risk their lives for a pittance. Most don't speak English.

The Guardsmen curse KBR's treatment of its TCN workforce. One night, they stop to treat a TCN with a leg full of shrapnel. We see that he has been driving a truck with no windows and no windshield. The soldier with the camera bitterly explains that the truck was like that when it left the depot. KBR doesn't care, his life is cheap.

So, what's in these marvelous trucks? Cheese, frequently. Sometimes septic waste. Or cheesecake. Occasionally, fuel. The soldiers start making jokes about the war for cheese. We see that KBR is doing very well on this operation. We see how US soldiers risk their lives to protect cheese and other sundries. Then we watch KBR selling it all back to them at exorbitant prices.

KBR sells the swag to the government (meals, haircuts, styrofoam plates for $20+ bucks a pop) and to the troops. There's a great scene of soldiers packed into KBR's amply stocked commissary after a hard day of escorting. They're there to buy DVDs, Pringles, Becks beer, and soft drinks from KBR. Suddenly, you realize that every copy of "Armageddon" and every bottle of Mountain Dew was trucked in through the same hellish corridor as the cheese. 

"The War Tapes" doesn't tell us how the war is going, or speculate about the probability of success. Instead, it shows us how much blood and treasure is spent to deliver a single convoy of cheese to an American camp just a few miles outside of Baghdad. The implication is clear but unspoken: The Americans don't control the main roads around key bases. The fight to keep Camp Anaconda supplied is a war unto itself. You find yourself wondering how the Americans could ever go on an offensive against the insurgents when they have to fight so hard to stay alive in their own base.

The subjects are smart and likeable. We readily identify with these guys, even as their war begins to seem ever more absurd and incomprehensible. Michael Atkinson of the Village Voice totally misses the point when he excoriates "The War Tapes" pro-war propaganda:

On a strictly experiential level, Deborah Scranton's The War Tapes is remarkable, tactile, and affecting; as a piece of sociopolitical culture with context and ramifications of its own, it's a worthless ration of war propaganda—ethnocentric, redneck, and enabling. [...]

In fact, for all of the firsthand, edge-of-battle immediacy, the upshot of Scranton's assemblage is concern for the feelings of tremendously sympathetic American grunts as they bulldoze through the Arab landscape and disdainfully observe the indigenous populace from a distance as if they were hyenas on the veld. It's no surprise that the soldiers are largely prone to mercenary self-regard and care only about getting home, not about where they've been, what they've done, or why.

I'm not sure what kind of attitude Atkinson expected from soldiers fighting an insurgency. Besides which, the soldiers are not unremittingly disdainful. Their relations with the Iraqi population are complex and ambivalent and "The War Tapes" does a good job of explaining why U.S. troops are so isolated from the people they're trying to help.

The language barrier is a major problem. You'd think that Bazzi is the only soldier at Camp Anaconda who speaks Arabic (and he may well be). Moreover, the Guardsmen are pinned down inside an armed camp when they're not enclosed in Humvees. Insurgents are constantly trying to kill them, and virtually any Iraqi they meet could be an insurgent. These conditions are hardly conducive to mutual regard and understanding.

Scranton doesn't mean for the viewer to endorse the troops' detached and ambivalent attitudes towards the Iraqis. Her goal is to document these attitudes and shed some light on the conditions that shape these Americans' view of Iraqis.

In fact, the soldiers express a range of emotions towards the Iraqis--wary affection for local kids, genuine camaraderie with Iraqi police recruits, selfless compassion for the civilian victim of a tragic accident... At one point the Guardsmen risk their own lives to recover a woman's mangled body from the road. Of course, they also want to kill insurgents close enough to watch them die. But what does Atkinson expect? These are soldiers who are trying to fight an enemy that's equally determined to kill them (not to mention Iraqi civilians).

Sgt. Bazzi even stresses his respect for the insurgents as warriors. As a career soldier, he understands that the enemy has its reasons, just as the Americans do. He notes that if Canada invaded the U.S. to save the country from George W. Bush, a lot of Bush-haters would still wage guerilla war against a Canadian occupation.

Motives are a major theme in "The War Tapes." In their own words, the subjects try over and over to explain themselves and the war. Interestingly, nobody ever mentions WMDs. Once they're in Iraq, nobody talks about Al Qaeda or Bin Laden, not even Moriarty who ostensibly joined up to fight the 9/11  attackers.

Over many months, and numerous conversations, the soldiers' settle on three main theories about why they're fighting: to do a job, to make money for KBR, and (a distant third) to make Iraq a self-sufficient democracy. You get the sense that nobody views any of the reasons as entirely satisfactory, but also that everyone is convinced in his gut that there's something deeply worthwhile about what they're doing (or that there had better be something worthwhile, because the alternative is just too horrible to contemplate). 

"The War Tapes" has its share of gore, including closeups of the faces of dead insurgents putrefying in the sun, and tracking shots of the ground where the cameraman explains that human flesh is squishing under his boots. The only footage that the military censors blocked was a sequence in which a US soldier started throwing up as a stray dog gorged itself on the bodies of dead insurgents.

Steve Pink later explained that the authorities told him he should have shot the dog. Pink said he'd never been briefed on shooting dogs, and that if the dog wanted to eat the insurgents, good for him. Watching Pink tell the story on his Massachusetts front porch, wearing a backwards Red Sox cap is probably more chilling than the lost footage.

By far the saddest part of the movie takes place after the subjects have returned home. Now that their tour is over, they are struggling to justify their role in a mission that often strikes them as hopeless, if not pointless.

Despite his misgivings, Zack Bazzi ultimately finds some solace in professionalism:

I see this deployment as another part of my job and not as this super patriotic struggle to protect “our freedom and our way of life.” Being a soldier is a fundamental part of my identity. It is something that I love and enjoy doing. Being deployed to go to war that is being questioned back home does not affect my passion for the job. I will do my professional duty regardless of the political context or my personal feelings on the matter. [...] I love being a soldier. The only bad thing about the Army is you can’t pick your war.*

In the end, gung-ho Moriarty, who left his beloved wife and kids to fight the 9/11 terrorists, insists that it was all worthwhile, and that his view of the war is unchanged. You get the sense that he is trying really hard to convince himself of what he's saying:

I’m so glad I went. I hated it with a God awful passion and I will not go back. I have done my part and I feel like it’s someone else’s turn. My views of the war haven’t changed. You’ve heard people say, you know, “We’re over there for the oil.” You know. “It’s the only reason we’re over there in Iraq. It’s oil, it’s oil, it’s oil.” Well listen, no. We’re not there for the oil. If it were for oil, would that not be enough reason to go to Iraq? You bet your ass it would be! If you took oil away from this country tomorrow, what do you think would happen to this country? It would be, it would be devastating. So let’s all stop crying about whether we had reason to go in there or not because we can fight about that forever. It’s a done deal. We’re in Iraq. Support what it takes to make this thing work, or shut-up!*

Steve Pink's final comment is perhaps the most heart-breaking of all. Of the three Guardsmen, Pink seems to bear the most visible emotional scars. His blue eyes flash with rage and bitterness as he struggles to reconcile the truth about the war as he understands it with his own ineffable conviction that his service was worth more that:

Why the fuck are we there? We better get that oil, right? The US Army is not the fucking Peace Corps. The Marines are not the Peace Corps. That’s not why we’re in Iraq. We’re in Iraq for money and oil. Look at any other war in the history of the world and tell me it’s not about money. This better be about money and if we don’t get that oil and that money then all the lives that are gone right now, what is it? 1800 it’s at, something around there? They’re all in vain. You don’t put 150,000 troops from all over the country in there and say we’re there to create democracy. We’re there to create money, you know? We’re there to make money for us, you know. Somebody other than Dick Cheney better be getting their hands on it pretty soon.*

I hope every American will see "The War Tapes", regardless of their position on the war. If you live in New York City, please consider taking in a show tonight. The movie needs a big opening weekend if it's going to open in more theaters around the country.

Quotes from the film reproduced from The Press Notes section of The War Tapes website.

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Comments

If you haven't seen it yet, rent "Gunner Palace" - it's well worth it. Also "The Soldier's Heart," a Frontline documentary about Iraq vets with PTSD. Full disclosure: The producer of the latter is a close friend.

Everybody, bookmark this somewhere you'll be able to find it when the Koufax nominations come around again.

You find yourself wondering how the Americans could ever go on an offensive against the insurgents when they have to fight so hard to stay alive in their own base.

Essentially, we can't. Which explains a lot, doesn't it?

I think there are a number of ways of reading this film. I took exception to the fact that the director didn't even make one trip to Iraq to get a feeling for the reality there. She's relying completely on what the soldiers shot and her long distance conversations with them. I think that is what unsettled the Village Voice. While these guys became cameraman, they aren't observers, they are participants. Of course,she brings three guys out front and center--at risk of loving them or hating them. I personally found only one agreeable and in general found their comments to be acted out.

I can say, having seen almost every Iraq film out there, there are many things shown in other films (Occ. Dreamland, A Company of Soldiers and Gunner Palace) that are not shown in The War Tapes, namely, the daily raids on Iraqi homes and detentions. With those films, I felt a little more in touch with what the Iraqis are experiencing. Of course, the subjects of The War Tapes obviously had a different mission.

This film feels a little late and with all the talk of war crimes, it may not even be relevent. Of course, the film is obviously about them, but you wonder about the Iraqis.

Buffalo, I see your point. However, I think we need to appreciate "The War Tapes" as a unique contribution to the larger record of this conflict.

As a director, Scranton made the creative decision to impose herself as little as possible on the story of her subjects. I respect that. Obviously, her solution has its own limitations. However, as you note, there are already several excellent films shot by onsite directors and professional photographers. No doubt, we'll be hearing more and more about Iraqis who shot their experiences of this conflict on DV as well.

I think "The War Tapes" adds something unique to the record. Do we want to hear the troops' stories, or not? We don't have to accept that these guys have the final say about what happened or about right and wrong.

However, I think there's tremendous value in letting them tell their own story. Their version of events doesn't undermine or detract from more traditional documentaries, or from the first-person accounts of Iraqis like the brilliant Iraqi blogger Riverbend.

"everyone is convinced in his gut that there's something deeply worthwhile about what they're doing (or that there had better be something worthwhile, because the alternative is just too horrible to contemplate)."

This reminds me of one of the doctors in Baghdad ER who said something like "I have to believe that we're doing something good here, because otherwise...this is insane."

While I'm at it, I must reccomend Robert Newman's History of Oil

Truthfully, this far into the war, you really have to ask how relevant the story is.

The first films were shot in the first year of the war--two years ago.

"The Blood of My Brother"--also from the first year--but focusing on Iraqis is worth checking out as is "Iraq in Fragments".

Go over to The War Tapes site and see some of the rather vile comments being spat out by Moriarty and it's no surprise the Voice was turned off by the folksy propaganda.

Scranton doesn't seem to be aware that she's giving a megaphone to comments like this:

"Get off the Dick Cheney thing...please.If you anti-war, anti, military, anti-Bush, protesters really want to do something other than run your mouth join the military and work your way up through the ranks or maybe become president and straighten the world out. Meanwhile zip it. I'm sick of hearing you excersize your damn rights while you trash those with the balls to preserve them for you."

Which makes you wonder how much of the film is just playing up to the camera. Only they can say.

What the film is lacking is context because Scranton can only guess what it is like in Iraq--she's compiling an album of a trip she didn't go on.

Lindsay,

This film sounds like more than just another shot in the war over this war. It sounds like an exploration of our justifications for killing. More like Vollmer than Michael Moore.

So the soldiers say things we would rather not hear them say. So soldiers turn out to be just people after all in spite of the fundamentally disgusting task they have been given and to which they remain committed. Would we rather not hear the story from the soldiers? And so what if they put their own spin on things, isn’t that also part of the story? If this were the only footage to come out of Iraq I would agree that the director had been remiss in not shooting some of the film herself, but it isn’t. I’m old enough to remember how difficult it was to try to patch together an understanding of what was going on in Vietnam. (Facing the draft, I had more than a cursory interest.) Every shred of information was useful, whether it was biased or propaganda or whatever. Some of the best information came from people who had been there and whose attitudes and opinions, pro and con, told even more. A shameless propaganda piece, even if we were to assume this is what this film is, may well be even more important to see, for all the right reasons, as “Triumph of the Will” demonstrates.

CFrost

Well said. I think it is important to hear the voices, but it is essential to know where the voices are coming from.

I see in this film a trend to show the soldier as victim--I think that's what the Village Voice was pointing to also. I have no problem with hearing these voices, even if I disagree with them, but I'm tired of non-critical liberal and conservative chorus of "Support the Troops".

I refuse to support hateful people willingly doing hateful things--as evidenced by the comments on the War Tapes site.

More, speaking of Triumph of the Will, if she had given the camera to "citizen journalist" insurgents, she'd be called a traitor and the same conservatives she is catering to would be calling for her head.

To address the last comment:

I think it's a bad idea to spend a single minute on the "Support the Troops" argument. It's as hollow a statement as "Teach the Controversy" with respect to evolution. Nothing good can come of reacting to these slogans; their definitions have been constructed such that any attempts at negation invite moral outrage. It's best to simply ignore those tricolor magnets and the conservative brand of PC (ie language control) with which they endeavor to entrap us.

As to the question of whether or not we should actually support the, em, troops, some of whom have committed or abetted immoral acts--I believe this is a fascinating discussion that is possible here, in our cozy little lefty blogsphere, far removed the world of bumper sticker pieties.

We have an all-volunteer military, which suggests that our soldiers are individuals who actively chose the profession of war-making. However, once one has enlisted as a soldier, he gives up claims to certain rights that civilians enjoy, due to the heirarchical necessities at play with any military force. Rights such as these include choosing the nature of one's own warmaking.

What is the extent of moral agency retained by soldiers in a time of war? Does it include all service undertaken in a war that is judged to be unjust? Clearly, in the case of a Haditha or My Lai, we can claim that any individual involved bears some kind of moral responsibility for the event. But, it is perhaps more interesting to ask whether or not the soldier committing a massacre in the context of war and a civilian committing the same action in a context of peace are equally immoral. Or at least I think so...

Anyhow, sorry, that wasn't about the movie. I think all documents of this nature are fascinating no matter the spin. They are worth watching from an anthropological perspective at the very least.

Lotus Eater

Someone suggested, I believe in this space, that in watching "Baghdad ER" they became aware of the commonly heard refrain (in response to senseless violence) that "I hope something good comes out of it".

I think that's the central issue of how we look at the war now. Three years ago, Iraq could have gone the other way, but that didn't happen. One can see little good for Iraqis living in violence plagued areas. None of us would want to live like that--none of us would wish that on any one--is simply IS senseless.

With the war marching on, it also becomes harder to take the vinyl magent stance that we support the troops even if we don't support the war. What the troops are doing is defending a failed policy that has claimed the lived of tens of thousands of innocent people.

I say to the soldiers, if you want to be a war fighter, be a war war fighter, but don't come home expecting a shoulder to cry on. One could argue, in their defense, that soldiers don't pick their wars. They don't, but that doesn't free them from moral responsibiity. I have no doubt that the majority of soldiers are decent people with true moral compasses. I am further glad that those people have prevented (and often reported) abuses, however, at some point one has to ask if this war is worth fighting at all.

I say, wrong film at wrong time; it's well tread ground.

More, back to "The Triumph of the Will". there is something slightly cowardly about this film. It wraps itself in its novelty--"The First war Film filmed by soldiers", directed by IM, "Web 2.0 Outside the Wire"--while subtly suggesting that it is the real deal, promising to bring us "to the frontlines" and reminding us that the director was somehow noble by turned down an embed and giving the soldiers cameras. For her, it's just a movie. had she witnessed firsthand what the soldiers and the Iraqis are experiencing, this would be a very different film. In fact, given the liberal cred that she seems to wear on her sleeve, she would probably be rightly disgusted. More, had she ever stepped "outside the war" with a camera, she would have had to face the uncomfortable truth that noncombatants with cameras in Iraq are an endangered species.

As a last comment, I noticed that there is a little fire raging The War Tapes site, where "super-patriot" character from the film has decided that his voice isn't being heard, I quote:

"I would hate to think that because I'm the Conservative one that my side of the story is being muffled. It's not suppose to be an anti-Bush, anti-mission movie. I wanted to help tell the story of Charlie 3-172 If I hear how "de-humanizing" we are to the Iraqis one more time I'm going to puke. The film is a vehicle for a message.There are 3 messages in this film."

Unquote, now, I must add that as fascinating as anthropology is, why should this person be enabled? I don't need to watch "Triumph of the Will" to know that Nazism was wrong and I will suggest to anyone who will listen that we don't need films like this to remind us how sick some of our countryman are.

It's one thing to observe, it's another to empower.

It's important to note the three military personnel are all enlisted men who perceive the situations and people they encounter differently. Unlike officers, the enlisted are blunt, even when it may seem contrived to others. Unlike embedded reporters, videographers, and other war storytellers, they do not have a refined approach, nor do they sugarcoat their beliefs in order to cater to one side of the war debate or the other. Their words and actions cause most of us to object mcuh of what they say or do. At the very least, feelings of uneasiness are invoked. And perhaps by doing just that, the film is successful.

It's important to understand how military personnel in combat react to (and survive to tell about) the ironies and complexities of war, death and destruction, crimes and valour, greed and money, hopelessness and perseverence. The constant barrage of emotially and ethically mixed signals does not start and end with bullets and IEDs. Again, the film is successful in that context, too.

There was one soldier who many anti-war folks were drawn to, while others not at all. Is'nt it realistic to portray soldiers and marines having different viewpoints between each other while still needing to be a cohesive unit in order to stay alive? This was not propaganda--it was real life with no actors playing roles, no directors telling them how to act, no writers providing a script, and no hollywood (or pseudo-hollywood) makeovers.

It's one small film giving us a sliver of experiences---experiences that are seen through the eyes of a select few of those that were there. Perhaps this will spark more films produced in similar formats... allowing soldiers, marines, civilians, locals, mercenaries, police, and opposing forces to have their say.

One more thing: soldiers sent to fight and die in rich people's wars are always the victims. Even those who perpetrate a crime in wartime have lost their humanity due to a war they should have never been thrown into. Innocence is forever lost, as is a part of their 'soul'. They may be partly responsible for their personal actions, but such actions were driven by a situation that few on this board could ever relate to. We need not 'support our troops', but we do need to support all people who have been drawn into a nightmare of horrific proportions.

Le Tigre

I think there is a little too much giddiness over this "citizen journalism".

Perhaps we should give the LAPD cameras so we can all understand their day to day experiences? While I don't doubt it would be fascinating, what would we be watching?

Back to the insurgents: why not them? Surely Scranton got her cameras back from the soldiers and she could pack them off to Iraq with 800 hours of tapes. Then, what would we be watching?

As for mercenaries, there already is mercenary footage online (see Blackwater) as well as insurgent footage along with plenty of soldier and marine footage.

Strangley, the footage that is under the microscope this week is the aftermath footage from Haditha. Yes, another "citizen journalist" captured something, yet the authenticity of the footage is questioned. Or how about the Iraqi stringer who was wounded and captured at the site of an insurgent attack and spent nearly a month in detention. Where is his truth? Not to mention the many other Iraqis who were gunned down by US soldiers while pointing cameras in the wrong direction.

As for soldiers being sent to die in rich people's wars, I would suggest that you take the pulse of today's armed forces. What you'll discover--for good or bad--is a force that does this willingly.

"...fascinating as anthropology is, why should this person be enabled? I don't need to watch "Triumph of the Will" to know that Nazism was wrong..." "...we don't need films like this to remind us how sick some of our countryman are."

Triumph of the Will should be seen not to learn about how evil National Socialism was, but about how fascism is sold.
We need to see soldiers at their worst and their best. It’s possible and not unusual for one soldier to be both. As for providing the worst a bullhorn, that might be unavoidable if we’re going to get any information at all. I’m guessing that the director had to get the cooperation of military authority to get the project done. Our duty is to read between the lines of anything that comes out of the clusterfuck that Iraq has become.

CFrost

Nice comment. I would add then that The War Tapes is a fantastic example of how semingly sane folks are sold completely insane ideas.

As for reading between the lines, you may be well endowed to do so, but I fear that it's a lost art.

My goal as a director was to establish trusting relationships with these soldiers and (thanks to the internet) work together in a permeable way, to get as close to the experience of war as possible, to crawl inside the experience of being a soldier on the ground, to tell their story, through their eyes, wherever it took us, no matter what.

The unit, Charlie Company, 3rd of the 172nd Mountain Infantry was in Iraq for OIF II (March 2004 - Feb 2005) for the rise of the insurgency. As a unit, they traveled 1.4 million miles during their tour and lived through over 1,000 combat operations and 250 direct enemy engagements. Theirs and their families' was the story I wanted to tell.

As for my decision to not go to Iraq which Buffalo takes issue with, it was a very conscious decision to never allow myself or anyone from the production team to go to Iraq. If any of us went, it would immediately diminish what the soldiers were doing and creating. It would become about 'us and our interpretative framework' when what I was interested in was 'their interpretive framework'. Soldiers pressing record on a camera gives an incredible level of authenticity in documenting the experience from their own perspective.

Also we spent a lot of time (over 200 hours of tape) interviewing them while they were home on leave and following them for 10 months after they came home which allowed for a depth of material and perspective to be included in the film. And throughout, we followed the families.

Andrew Berends' lyrical and powerful documentary "Blood of My Brother" will open in NYC June 30th. It screened during the Tribeca Film Festival along with us and gives an intimate look at the war from an Iraqi perspective. I'd encourage everyone to go see it.

Thanks for the reveiw. We will try to see it as soon as we can find a showing.

Atkinson suffers from his own set myths about war just as much as the Bush League have led the country to suffer an agonizing confrontation of beliefs about our own good intents and the abortive carnage that is swallowing up the few good things [Saddam's ouster] that we might have done. As long as we run a country out of our myths, we are going to keep running into unpleasant realities.

Huh! Well damned if the director her own self doesn’t just pop right up here. I’ll take this opportunity to thank her for getting up off her ass and doing something about the whole Iraq mess. It’s a lot more than I’m doing with my snarky little blog comments.

Oh, and I should add that I'll put my money where my mouth is and see the film and urge others to to so.

In a war where dozens of innocent people are killed every day, old fashioned journalism--the kind where one actually gets their boots dusty--coupled with one's own "interpretive framework", is desperately needed. Here's to the men and woman still willing to do that--and the hundreds of Iraqis who are risking their lives every day to tell THEIR story.

Buffalo, I admire everyone who's making a good faith effort to tell the story of this conflict. Scranton isn't trying to replace correspondents on the ground or denigrate Iraqis who are trying to tell their side of the story.

I think that the embedded correspondents program is a propaganda tool. The whole setup is designed to foster over-identification between journalist and subject. I think it's important to explore alternative reporting techniques to provide a counter-weight to traditional embedded journalism.

As you noted above, it's just not SAFE for for an independent correspondent to go to Iraq these days. More journalists have been killed in Iraq so far than in all of the Vietnam war. Established media conglomerates can hire their own private armies and cut deals with the U.S. military. Small, independent operators don't have that luxury.

A tiny handful of Western journalists, like Robert Fisk, can operate in the region because they have extensive expertise as war correspondents, fluency in Arabic, and decades of local contacts and sources to help them. However, even Fisk says that covering Iraq is becoming an increasingly hair-raising even for seasoned pros like himself.

So, we've got a challenge. How are we going to document what's going with the troops in Iraq without becoming a guest of the US military or taking crazy risks. I think projects like Scranton's are important because they suggest new ways of working around the barriers imposed by the military and the security situation.

Buffalo,

In terms of documentaries, understanding the reality of the situation is not a result from supporting only those films you happen to agree with. A better understanding of the matter is represented when all 'actors' within the topic at hand have their say. Rational beings have the ability to then sort things out. It's what democratic principles, liberalism, and progressivism is supposed to be about.

Most elites, both liberal and conservative, don't seem to really support real progressive principles because their self-interests dictate otherwise. It's one of the reasons many of the the working class and truly poor look upon conservative elites as mean-spirited self-righteous assholes and liberal elites as self-righteous, naive hypocrites.

Regardless, a healthy debate is imperative and the film contributes to it. You can agree with it or not, like it or not, but it still has its place. The soldiers, those who are 'willing' or not, should be heard. By blithely ignoring their words and losing the insights and wisdom we may gain from them (even when we disagree with the outcome), the discourse is stunted. I'd rather know what people are really thinking than to have everything sugarcoated in accordance to my own beliefs. At least then I'll know where they stand and who I am dealing with.

If ya don't know what your opponent is thinking, how do ya expect to win them over? And if you don't give your opponent a chance to speak, than you may never know how to convince them or whether you even had a chance to....

First, exactly what barriers is the military imposing?

Read the NY Times piece from today "Show Me the Bodies" or the CJR's recent response to

(http://www.cjrdaily.org/politics/ephron_confuses_embedded_with.php)

Nora Ephron's idiotic assessment that somehow places blame for the war at the feet of the media.

I've said it before--if Scranton were to give cameras to insurgents, she would be suspect. When Iraqi journalists have been at the scene of attacks, they have been detained/killed. If any major US news outlet were to do so, they would be even more suspect.

As for over identification, Scranton can't even identify because she wasn't even there. Your logic that giving soldiers cameras is an alternative, isn't well thought out. If anything, Scranton is the one who is cozy with the army.

Some day, years past, I'm sure a film will emerge based on found footage from soldiers. Given time to reflect and distance from peers and leadership, I'm sure that will provide tremendous insight. Until then, the "First War Film Filmed by Soldiers Themselves" will remain those crunchy little quicktimes found on a CD at Abu Ghraib.

On an end note, the subject of ethics hasn't even been touched upon. Kevin Sites, faced an ethical decision--in the face of his "over identification". He gave the commander a copy of the tape and NBC ran it. What you are not seeing in The War Tapes are hardcore raids/detainee operations. That's what the army doesn't want you to see, but somehow, the embeds that you seem to distrust, are still out capturing those scenes.

Le Tigre

Agreed, but the good news brigade has been at work for three years now.

I know my enemy far too well.

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