Movie Reviews

Movie Review: The Ground Truth – “Nothing Matters Until It Happens To You”

The Ground Truth is an interesting documentary that will hopefully give insight into the experience of a modern-day soldier.  It’s not preaching to its audience, but rather giving the soldiers a voice for their experience.  It’s written and directed by Patricia Foulkrod, and although most of the experience focuses on the aftermath of becoming a soldier, there is background given into what has motivated these people to sign up in this day and age where there is no draft.

The documentary begins with interviews in 2005 with new recruits.  Many of them are young men and women who see no other direction in their lives. These recruits talk about what inspired them to join.  For some, it was the image in the movies or on television.  For others it was a family history and what they thought the military could give them.  Desmond Mullins joined the National Guard and was told he wouldn’t be deployed and would get college benefits.  He believed the only deployment he would ever see would be stateside for something like riots or a natural disaster.

Other interviewees talk about the reality of their military experience versus what is pedaled to them by the recruiters.  David Grossman, a Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Army and author of “On Killing” talks about how all of the manuals and instruction dance around the word “kill” but that’s what basic training is about – turning out human machines ready to kill.

Former and/or current soldiers talk about what training was like and how they were fed songs that were blatantly racist and about killing children in a schoolyard or killing women.  They admit being horrified at first and then becoming desensitized to what they are thinking and saying.

One of the testimonials here comes from Optruth – I’ve heard from them for quite some time and the leader of that site, Paul Rieckhoff, is quite a presence in this film.

Some of the problems they face are the stories many people have heard over and over – that they never knew who the enemy was.  The lack of high-tech equipment, lack of reason as to why they were there (many believed they were in Iraq due to September 11th), etc.  Some of them loved the work – they loved to shoot and are described as “trigger-happy”.  A particularly chilling story comes from Marine Sgt. Rob Sarra who describes a split-second decision to shoot a woman in a burka approaching an armored vehicle, afraid that if he didn’t she would blow up the troops in the vehicle. When he realized that she was carrying a white sash to surrender, he was horrified by what he’d done.

The injured soldiers are usually interviewed first so as to let them talk without the viewer knowing they are injured, then it’s slowly revealed later on the depth of their injuries.  In some cases, it means filming them so the injuries can’t be seen until the camera pans back.  In other cases, it’s showing a clip or photograph.  This is sobering and chilling but adds to the experience as we listen to their story and then realize the price they’ve paid.

Is one of the problems with our society how we’ve changed?  The film ventures off the track a bit to take a look at the number of murders in the U.S. (and I’m not going to go into the gun control debate) against other countries is startling.  That’s what struck me when Grossman was talking about how they learned in World War II that most people won’t pull that trigger.  They had to change the conditioning of the soldiers and had done so by Viet Nam.  Have we also done this in our society and this is why we see this indiscriminate killing that horrifies us on a regular basis?

The question is also brought up of what happens to these soldiers when they come home in the person of Jeff Lucey.  He committed suicide after returning from Iraq and was quite up-front with his parents and sister that he felt like a murderer.  Unlike the Viet Nam experience, this time it can’t be put on what society is making them feel like – they are shown coming to that realization on their own after realizing that they shoot innocent people.

The question is also raised by some of the returning soldiers – are we too supportive?  Some of them seem to feel elevated to such a level in the eyes of their family that they really can’t talk to them about what happened – can’t open up, feelings of isolation, feelings of going from a hero to a monster if they talk about what happened.

There are so many issues raised by the film and no real solutions are presented. In some ways that’s okay.  It’s just soldiers talking about their experience and not preaching to the audience about what needs to be done. At other times I wanted to hear what they thought the solution was to the conditions they talked about.  The obvious one is more money for training, equipment, and then their medical and psychological needs when they come home. How about members of Congress get the same lifetime medical care as our veterans?  If they serve one term they get certain lifetime benefits and I say they should be the same that we give to our soldiers

The DVD doesn’t contain much in terms of bonus features, but the deleted scene is a gut-wrenching one, and it’s where I got the title for this review.

Anyone who’s been cheering for soldiers and the various “wars” we’ve been involved in over the past few decades but doesn’t have first-hand experience should watch this and listen to the soldiers talk of their experience in their own words.  I don’t think all soldiers feel the same way, but I also think it’s important to hear a variety of perspectives even from the soldiers themselves. Anyone who thinks all soldiers think uniformly about any topic needs to see the variety of opinions offered up in documentaries such as this one.


· Deleted Scene
• Extended Scene

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