In War's Daily Grind, Death Is Routine, Dinner Is Good

In War's Daily Grind, Death Is Routine, Dinner Is Good
April 17th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: In War's Daily Grind, Death Is Routine, Dinner Is Good

In War's Daily Grind, Death Is Routine, Dinner Is Good
New York Times
April 16, 2007
By Ginia Bellafante
At the end of “Warriors,” the second of 11 documentaries to be shown this week as part of PBS’s “America at a Crossroads” series, Ron Maloney, a National Guard lieutenant, returns from a 22-month tour in Iraq to his neat, welcoming house on Long Island and tends to his garden. There is a robust-looking lawn, and there are pretty flowers on a vine. The peace and comfort of such luxuries are unfamiliar to so many people outside the United States, he suggests.
But although Lieutenant Maloney has seen bad things happen both to the good and the wrong-minded, he seems immune to any genuine tumbling of the spirit. He had viewed going to war as an opportunity for growth, as another life-affirming experience like taking a new job after too much time spent in another. It is hard to tell whether this extraordinary forbearance is a product of some deep emotional delusion or an admirable quality.
“America at a Crossroads” was assembled to examine the issues — geopolitical, religious, military — facing the world after the 9/11 attacks. What is amazing about tonight’s two segments — “Warriors” and “Operation Homecoming,” which both look at American soldiers in and out of Iraq — is just how resistant they are to the conventions of war-is-hell reportage.
It is not as if the filmmakers dismiss the reality of blood, lost limbs and psychological dislocation. But they are intent on showing aspects of war that are merely tedious and quotidian, neither necessarily horrific nor exhilarating, and the effect is entirely compelling. One female soldier talks about how boring it became to play rock games over and over when there was nothing to do. Another soldier, shown eating in a dining hall, doesn’t even complain about the food. The lasagna is pretty good, he explains, and there is almost always a salad bar.
“Operation Homecoming” introduces soldiers who have written about the war, and one account, of a man’s confrontation with a terrorist wielding an AK-47, is told in a cartoon, as if it were the opening of a graphic novel. A stylized voice-over describes the events in further detail, but the unusual and potentially too cool rendering never distances us from the young soldier’s monumental fear of what was in front of him.
Moments like that, when death is looming, seem all the more harrowing because so much else of what goes on seems standard and familiar. War is discussed here as “work,” the daily trip from bases into Baghdad to fight insurgents as a “commute.” We see people going about their business in offices with maps, set up in trailers.
“You go out, you do your mission,” explains one returning soldier, describing his wartime mood as “emotionally flat.” “If someone shoots at you, you shoot back.” The rest of the time, he says, he was “not very happy, not very excited, but then not crushed either, and that flatness has continued for me.”

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