By David Swanson
If you have not yet seen the film “Occupation Dreamland,” I highly recommend it. Co-Director Garrett Scott died on March 2, but he truly accomplished something before he left.
Those who oppose the Iraq War often struggle with the fact that so many U.S. soldiers are willing to participate in it, are willing to attack someone else’s country, raid their houses, shoot at their cars, melt the skin off their children with white phosphorous. Why, it’s easy to wonder, don’t more soldiers do what a brave few have and refuse to fight?
This film of seven U.S. soldiers stationed in Falluja before its destruction does absolutely nothing to convince us that the war is any less of a crime than we’ve supposed. In fact, it will convince many of that criminality who’ve doubted it. But this film shows us a glimpse of the complex, fragile, and suffering minds of the U.S. soldiers we’ve sent over there.
There are no rich kids among the seven soldiers in this unit, none who abandoned college to go fight for freedom. They all joined for the money and to get away from hopeless situations. And they came thinking they would be helping the Iraqis.
Some of them are quite troubled to begin with. Their career hopes have been smashed. At least one of them has spent time in an institution for juvenile criminals. Their lives are lacking in love and fulfillment, and they are looking for it everywhere, even in Iraq.
They try to speak to Iraqis, despite the language barrier. You see one kid telling an Iraqi that he’s from North Carolina, and wanting someone to care, while the Iraqis’ concerns focus on jobs, water, electricity, and food. Another describes an Iraqi kid throwing a brick at him. He wasn’t hit, but he was hurt. He wanted gratitude and was given hatred, and that hurts – quite regardless of whether you’re engaged in committing war crimes.
These young Americans are unclear what their mission is, but are committed to performing it. They are loyal and honorable, and they are obviously reluctant to quit precisely because by staying they are risking their lives. It is a shameful thing in their eyes to run for safety, even if you vaguely grasp that you’d be running from injustice, and even – or especially – if you’d be running to American poverty or prison.
These kids have killed and are in a position to kill or be killed every day. They’ve seen one of their buddies killed and others wounded. They are provided absolutely no counseling from their higher ups, other than a lecture threatening them with homelessness if they choose not to reenlist, a lecture that acknowledges what they’ve been through and uses it against them to argue that they might not make it outside the Army.
We see footage of these soldiers back at their room talking together, and in individual interviews, and on patrol, on raids, seizing men, driving down a street as a bomb goes off just ahead. And we see something unlike anything we’ve seen in the past three years of TV news.
We see some of these young men coming to an understanding of the war as an enterprise driven by the greed of corporations with ties to the President. But their understanding is jumbled, as is ours at home, and they do not refuse to fight, any more than we refuse to work, or engage in civil disobedience.
A recent poll found most US soldiers in Iraq wanting to come home, and it is crystal clear from this movie that the only way to “support” these guys would be to bring them home. The same poll found that almost all US soldiers in Iraq think the war was revenge for Saddam Hussein’s role in 9-11 (which of course was nonexistent).
But plenty of Americans at home believe that nonsense too, and our lives are a lot less controlled and propagandized than theirs – or so we like to think. Many Americans live in a Homeland Dreamland, getting news from a TV set in the evening, never learning that the war was based on lies and has nothing to do with defending them from anyone. Polls show us to be at least as incoherent in our beliefs as these soldiers are: we think the war was a bad idea and has made us less safe, but that we might “succeed” there, that we had no business going but would make things worse by leaving, though staying isn’t worth the cost, and we can’t agree on why the war was launched.
Here at home we worry about our daily lives, our needs, our bills, our jobs. Over there, our soldiers worry about their daily lives, lives that almost compel them to hate the Iraqis. Yet, you see them resisting that and even in some cases recognizing that they would behave the same way if someone occupied their country.
Iraqis have said often that if Americans knew what was happening they would put an end to it. Some of these soldiers express the similar position that the American public would be shocked to learn what soldiers do.
I think Americans would be shaken into a different position if they saw the murdered Iraqis, men, women, and children, if they learned what life is like for those not killed, if they knew that families say goodbye each morning hoping to come back alive or not at all, because there is no medicine to care for the wounded.
I also think Americans would be shocked to see our own soldiers as humans, as they are in this film, rather than as faceless incarnations of machismo and xenophobia to be “supported”. That alone would be enough to end this war and to fund care for veterans and military families.
But many Americans would be most shocked to realize that much of the world sees these suffering young men and women as war criminals. In fact, this film shows a human picture of people who are indisputably committing war crimes. They are engaged in an illegal and aggressive war. They are fighting people in their homes and treating them as sub-human.
Yet, we treat our soldiers as less than human if we “support” them by putting them in and leaving them in this situation.
Our soldiers ask Iraqis to understand the suffering of the soldiers occupying their country. And so they should. It is real. But do we understand the suffering of the Iraqis? Do we understand it the way we would the death of someone in our household? Are we even halfway to that understanding?
And what of the Saudi men who flew airplanes into our buildings? Is it possible that those criminals were also human beings and that some jumble of thoughts worth separating out was in their heads?