23 February 2007 | tomhbrand
A powerful examination of the effects of war beyond the politics
There is an episode of The Simpsons which has a joke news report referring to an army training base as a "Killbot Factory". Here the comment is simply part of a throwaway joke, but what Patricia Foulkrod's documentary does is show us, scarily, that it is not that far from the truth. After World War Two the US Army decided to tackle a problem they faced throughout the war; that many soldiers got into battle and found themselves totally unable to kill another human being unless it was a matter of 'me or them'. Since then the training process of the US army has been to remove all moral scruples and turn recruits into killing machines who don't think of combatants as people. To develop in them a most unnatural state: "The sustainable urge to kill".
First off, this isn't an antiwar movie as such. Whilst it certainly paints war in a very bad light, Foulkrod focuses rather on an aspect that doesn't get as much media attention as, say, the debate over the legality of a war or it's physical successes or failures; the affect the process of turning a man into a soldier has on that person as a human being. It's the paradox that to train someone to be a soldier to defend society makes them totally unsuitable to live as part of that society themselves, and whilst most of the examples and interviewees are from the current Middle East conflict Foulkrod makes the links to past conflicts, especially Vietnam, painfully clear. This isn't about any particular war, it's about the problems caused by war in general.
Structurally the film seems to be split into three sections; how recruits are drawn into the army and the training they receive, how they are treated once they are in combat, and what happens once they leave the army. Once this point is reached you realise that the main target of this film is actually the policies that are inherent in the armed forced, policies that are put into place to make soldiers into an affective combat force but removing all humanity from the individuals. Those interviewed tell the camera how the recruiting process seems so clean and simple, how word like "democracy" and "freedom" are banded around, but once the training begins they become "enemy" and "kill" and "destroy". How once in action soldiers don't care what they are ordered to do, as they are ingrained with the idea that as soon as they carry out an order, whatever it may be, they are one step closer to going home. They have no political or social ideals to fight for but fight and kill as that's what they've been trained to do.
But The Ground Truth's main goal is to highlight the way the US Army discards those who have fought for their country once they return home. There is no real rehabilitation given to soldiers returning, and many are forced to go home unable to cope with what they have seen and done, and most policies in place seem to be to make sure the army has no legal responsibility whatsoever for psychological affects their soldiers pick up. This is the final indignity, that once they are used they are cast away.
If there is a flaw in the film it is that Foulkrod doesn't attempt to show another side to the argument. You would get the impression that every single soldier who ever went to war would come back with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. It would have been interesting to see those of a
less liberal upbringing give their opinions of how the army handles training and policies. There is never a chance for the other side of the argument to make itself known.
But other than that this is an expertly crafted documentary, and Foulkrod's use of stock footage and music is perfectly utilised to get across a side of war that too often get s passed by when discussing the fallout of war.