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From Draft NOtices, October-December 2006

“The Ground Truth”

Directed and produced by Patricia Foulkrod, distributed by Focus Features.

—Mernie Aste

I teach courses about multicultural education at a university in Southern California. My class prepares teachers to instruct children from a wide variety of backgrounds, including those whose parents are in the Marines and Navy, refugees from war-torn areas, privileged groups, and immigrants. Some of their parents are between military deployments; some are disabled or deceased as a result of war. (An estimated 1,600 U.S. children have lost a parent to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.) Some of the school-aged children themselves have memories of bombing, hacking, hiding, escaping, smuggling, and surviving. I do my best to prepare student teachers for the cultural variations and cognitive challenges that kindergarteners through twelfth-graders bring to Southern California classrooms.

Up to now my focus has been on ethnic and cultural realities, including class, disability, and LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, questioning). After screening the film “The Ground Truth,” I plan to add military culture and its impact on school-aged children and their families.

The film tracks the experiences of men and women who joined the military for a variety of reasons, including patriotism, tradition, to “be a man,” healthcare benefits, and/or lack of other employment or education opportunities. The film follows them through induction, basic training, deployment, injury, discharge and veteran status. The bait-and-switch tactics of military recruiters are emphasized. One individual in the film commented, “They don’t tell you the consequences,” citing the example of “seeing your friends killed.” While the recruiters emphasize the career opportunities of the military, one recruit says, “The purpose [of the training] is to kill. The purpose is to take life.” Another states that the military creates “a sustained state of mind to take a life when you are not enraged as a conditioned response.”

A key part of the training is the dehumanization of “the enemy” through songs and marching cadences that include characterizations such as “ragheads” and “hajis.”

I met a veteran at the university once who was having a difficult time readjusting to civilian life from the kind of hyper-vigilance that is necessary for survival in a war with no front line and where the enemy is anyone. In the film recruits make statements like, “Little kids stab doors” and, “The majority of Iraqis have AK-47s.” “Most missions have no purpose,” one combatant says; after a while, you “kill so you can go home.” (Sound familiar to any of you Vietnam-era veterans?)

The high survival rate of wounded American military is emphasized in the film. This is attributed to improved torso protection (flack jackets) and medical interventions. These soldiers come home to a society that is barely aware of the horrors they have both endured and perpetrated during their deployment. For example, one soldier observed another who slowed, then sped up the truck he was driving “to run over a kid. That’s what the Army told us to do.”

As these returnees struggle with their experiences, it is predictable that some will commit suicide and spousal abuse. In one interview the parents of a veteran found their son “hanging by a garden hose in the basement after returning from Iraq.” In another, one Marine expresses his sense of betrayal at the expectation that he can easily return to civilian society. These realities affect the home life of their school-aged children and their ability to learn.

A number of survivors of the military discuss their post-traumatic stress disorder by saying, “The war is over. And over and over and over.” The difficulty of completing the paperwork and meeting deadlines to get help from the Veterans Affairs Department becomes a daunting hurdle as they try to make the readjustment to civilian life.

The film gives voice to the realities that recruiters don’t tell young people, so I believe it should be made available to high school and young adult groups. There were several invitations for people to host a screening. The Web site says you can do this by buying the DVD ($14.95), and they’ll supply supplementary materials, including a discussion guide and a list of resources. You can also find out about screenings hosted by other people in your area by visiting the Web site. It’s worth it. This film is up-to-date and powerful. I recommend it as a counter-recruitment tool that will complete the part of the story that the recruiters tend to leave out.

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This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (


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