The Ground Truth
2006, R, 72 min. Directed by Patricia Foulkrod.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 15, 2006
Far from being just one more among a recent plethora of documentaries whose makers wish to expose alternative truths about the war in Iraq, Foulkrod's film instead airs some of the hard-won truths learned by American soldiers from experience. The film, whose focus is more on the U.S. military's disingenuousness during the enlistment and reintegration phases of these volunteers' service, is recommended for anyone considering a stint in any military branch. The film's subjects are all gung-ho enlistees, who truly wanted to "be all that they can be," get college scholarship money, learn a trade, see the world, or serve their country. Their aims were all true, which makes the letdowns they experience that much more tragic. Several points are made about how the word "kill" is never used by recruiting officers and how no one ever warns of the dehumanization process that factors into the boot-camp training or the difficulties of returning to civilian life. One man uses the metaphor of cigarette packages that carry a surgeon general's warning about smoking being harmful to one's health and suggests that military recruitment carry similar warnings. They learn too late that good soldiers generally make bad civilians because the survival instincts required for each are incompatible. The first-person testimonies are powerful and affecting, and even more distressing are the voices of returning veterans who feel betrayed by a government that unleashes them on their families and society to reintegrate without equipping them with the necessary tools to succeed. "Psychological injury is this war's Agent Orange," says one, as firsthand reports mount of the Veteran Administration's callous treatment of soldiers suffering the various effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. Despite the stark power of these veterans' words, The Ground Truth is rather scattered in its presentation, never elucidating a continuous narrative line or argument. Still, the accumulation of testimony here is overwhelming, especially because these accounts come from people for whom these discoveries are true revelations. A pre-recruitment screening of Full Metal Jacket also might have proved revelatory. Short of that, it would be a good idea to show Foulkrod's movie nationwide on high school career days. (A Q&A with Iraq war veterans will follow the 7:30pm screening on Friday, Sept. 15, at the Dobie. Present will be Dave Bills, chairman of the Austin chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War; Hart Viges, member of Iraq Veterans Against the War; and Perry Jefferies, volunteer veterans coordinator for Operation Truth.)