Monday, July 21, 2008
Last night we watched the very intense and powerful, Stop Loss, a film about current U.S. soldiers. The movie gives us an acidic, visceral taste of the horrors and nightmarish violence saturating their days in Iraq. It focuses on a unit where many of the boys come from the same Texas town and focuses on their leader and beloved friend who gave his all throughout his "tour of duty" (a very strange juxtaposition of terms). A day after the hometown heroes' parade he is informed of a fine-print policy in his enlistment contract called "stop loss," that mandates he go back and do another stint in Iraq because the president has ordered an extension.
I'd be very surprised if any of the recruiters mushrooming across our country's high school campuses, tout or even mention this rule that allows the president to extend active combat of an enlistee for as long as the war continues. John Kerry called it the "backdoor draft." It can be used even when the U.S. is not officially at war - as it has in Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia.
The film depicts numerous, poignant challenges that our soldiers face. For those lucky enough to return alive and in one piece, they are likely to experience some debilitating PTSD experiences, nightmares, hallucinations, and violent outbursts. Some don't want to go back to "normal" lives, working 9 - 5 and fitting into the role of spouse. Others, with their bodies burnt and deformed don't even have that choice. But the central issue is the shock of the "stop-loss" order for the soldiers who want to come home, hoping and expecting to put the nightmares behind them.
While many of us have some familiarity with the stories of soldiers who fled to Canada or Mexico to avoid the draft during the Viet Nam War, we are clueless about the current wave of enlisted soldiers who have followed the same pathways to avoid going back into the hell from which they just emerged....a hell in which the politicians calling the "shots" wouldn't last a week. These soldiers experienced years of screaming bullets, maiming bombs, and horrendous deaths of their friends and their foes - only to find themselves outlaws and fugitives in our country, Canada, or Mexico if they resist the stop-loss orders.
I know it is sketchy to base one's knowledge on a fictional movie. In this case the writer-director Kimberley Peirce had a deep personal involvement as her brother was one of the "surge" of enlistees following 9/11 and she was in daily contact with him (via instant messaging) throughout his time in Iraq. She also spent months doing research with soldiers before putting her story together. As sources go, she's probably no worse a starting point, than the Iraqi politicians that our own senators interview on their investigative trips to the country.