Get Out of the Valley of Elah

By David Swanson

I spent a day meeting with Congress Members and their staffers, urging them to end the occupation of Iraq, and having them tell me they would never “defund our troops.” In the evening I watched Paul Haggis’s new film “In the Valley of Elah.” I walked out stunned, shaken, far more angry than I’d been, and convinced that we shouldn’t be asking Congress Members to end the occupation, we should be asking them to watch this movie. If any Congress Member were to watch this movie and allow another dime to “fund our troops” we would at least be clear in our duty to have that individual locked up for the safety of those around them.

“Valley of Elah” is an incredibly powerful movie. No didacticism. No clichés. No perfect heroes or evil demons. Very little predictability. This is not a documentary. This is not an amateur production. This is a movie that would entertain any American couch potato and already shook up the Venice Film Festival. It also pulls no punches. Here we see what the occupation of Iraq does to Iraqis and to American soldiers. We see what behaviors those soldiers come to accept as normal, and we see that world juxtaposed violently with that of American civilians. Here the “violence is a game” attitude of so many Hollywood movies takes a real form and crashes hard into the lives of the victims and loved ones, and the lives of those who’ve (almost) accepted murder and torture as ordinary acts.

But none of that is in your mind when you’re watching the film. What’s in your mind is the concern of an American father searching for his Iraq veteran son who has gone missing from a U.S. Army base back in the United States. A mystery unfolds that tells a story more powerful even that that of military parents losing a child. We are losing children in Iraq not just by the numbers of those killed and injured. We are taking good young men and women by the tens of thousands and ripping their insides out, turning them into people who come home and cry and shake and commit suicide and torture and murder. We are making psychopathic unacceptable enemies of society of people who get that way by doing nothing other than what we order them to do by “funding our troops.” It has to stop.

It has to stop.

There are 70 Congress Members who have signed a letter committing to vote only for funds to safely withdraw the troops. There are 365 Congress Members who have not contacted the Progressive Caucus to sign on. And there are tens of millions of Americans who have not done a god damned thing about it. Congress Members are responsible for what you see in “Valley of Elah.” These sadistic hypocritical murderous bastards work for us and claim to “represent” us. Their phone number is 202-224-3121. Their offices and the surrounding streets are easy to find. Only massive nonviolence can end violence that has become accepted as good.