Lots of people are excited because today is 6/6/06, which is almost 666. Whatever people! Today is the 62nd anniversary of D-Day! Here’s to those guys who hit the beaches and jumped from the planes and all the men and women with support roles in that brave endeavor.
It seems like an appropriate day to talk about our troops in Iraq. I saw a good documentary recently, Occupation: Dreamland. The filmmakers were embedded with a squad of the 82nd Airborne in Fallujah. This was before the shit really hit the fan in Fallujah but you can see trouble brewing as the Americans’ relationships with the locals sour.
I’d like to hope the filmmakers let the events and the soldiers speak for themselves and maybe they did but it seemed like it was edited from an anti-war perspective. For example, one soldier says (paraphrasing), “We don’t know what’s going on. I hope some smart guy up the chain of command does.” Which makes me think of Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush and laugh. This is probably what the filmmakers had in mind. However, “Nobody tells us what’s going on” is one of the oldest infantryman complaints in the history of warfare. Beyond this soundbite, there was a fair amount of dissent within the squad about Iraq and the military life. It’s hard to say how representative it is and how far it goes beyond typical grousing.
Because we see everything from the point of view of the squad, we do get a good feel for how our frontline troops are living and working over there. The most telling scene, I thought, was on the deleted scenes section of the DVD. The Americans were conducting a house search and they found one Kalashnikov. The rule, apparently, is that Iraqis are allowed one weapon per household or possibly one weapon per adult male in the household. Anyway, there are no men present so the Americans are having a conversation with the women of the household through an interpreter. The American commander realizes the Kalashnikov ammunition is armor-piercing, which is forbidden. The filmmakers provide subtitles. Paraphrasing and compressing:
American: Where did they purchase these bullets?
Interpreter [Arabic]: These bullets are forbidden. Where did you get them?
Iraqi Woman [Arabic]: We bought them from a man on the street. We don’t know his name.
Interpreter: They purchased them from a man on the street. They don’t know his name.
American: I don’t believe them. Tell them they must take us to the man they purchased these from or we will put them in jail.
Interpreter [Arabic]: You must find out the name of the man you purchased these from and you must then go tell this American.
Iraqi Woman [Arabic]: I don’t know the man who sold them to me. If I find out, how do I find this American to tell him the name?
Interpreter [Arabic]: You go to the police station and ask for him.
We don’t find out how this ended. There was a controversy in the movie about the Americans arresting a woman. I hope it wasn’t this woman and I hate to imagine the ripple effect of miscommunication like this because I imagine it happening to varying degrees in thousands of conversations all over Iraq every day.
The scariest thing about this movie is that it was a lot like watching Cops, except that the “criminals” are ordinary Iraqis, not the dregs of American society. It seems like a misuse of the 82nd Airborne.