A Marine and Iraq Veteran reviews The Hurt Locker… (This Won’t be Pretty)

I wanted to make it clear that to veterans, The Hurt Locker is one of the worst movies about war ever made. It’s simply a really terrible film. If you combine the over the top spectacle of Inglourious Basterds, the rampant and unjustifiably cruel depiction of military veterans of Brothers, the complete lack of justifiable research into actual battlefield conditions of Inglorious Bastards, you have the Hurt Locker. This movie marvelled in one thing only – it was made to play on the emotions of moviegoers who want to feel like they cared about the military over the past 10 years, but never actually invested any time into understanding the conflicts in which they were involved, i.e. people who actually didn’t know or care anything about the veterans or what they are doing overseas during the years it mattered.

I mean, every movie gets some things wrong when converting from real life to the big screen. Inglorious Bastards didn’t even pretend it tried, though. The Hurt Locker, however, took great pains into bringing in quality researchers and advisors and then just said, “Screw it. We’re doing whatever we want, anyway.” and then telling the world that they did great research. Honestly, it was ludicrous that they marketed this as accurate on any level.

I just want to make one glaring point of contention I have with the movie. I was in a unit that had EOD teams both times I deployed to Iraq. I can tell you that each and every single time that an EOD team rolls out, they do so with a large team of security either in the form of military police or infantry. That means as many as four vehicles, loaded with troops, each and every time. That one fact, that single completely unavoidable reality, completely negates the entire movie. I mean watch the movie and ask yourself at any of the dozens of thrilling plot moments, “Hmm… I wonder how this would be different if there was fifteen people with guns, rocket launchers, and air strikes available?” Remember that scene where he just so happens to also be a sniper? Or the one where he and the other bomb techs just go retarded and start kicking in doors like they are infantry? You’ve got to be kidding me.

Quite frankly, someone wanted to tell a very particular story and when confronted with the facts that it wasn’t possible, they did it anyway and no one knew better to care. I still consider it a crime that so many people are so ill informed of the conflicts of the past decade and a half that they believe this movie depicts any semblance of reality for EOD teams in Iraq. Frankly, if you’ve already seen it, you can’t be helped. If you haven’t and care at all about the military and veterans, or even doing a good job telling an accurate depiction of events that were happening at the very same time the movie was made, never ever do.

I’m sure from a perspective of cinematography, it probably pushed the industry forward somehow, but as far as communicating one of the most important social issues of our time, not to mention an ongoing conflict at the time, it failed so miserably, it set veterans issues back ten years. I want people to look at it this way. We have seen LBGT rights and issues get a lot of press and people are now trying very hard to see things from their perspective. It’s not acceptable anymore to portray them as the wildly stereotypical flamboyant clowns circa the era of Robin William’s “The Bird Cage”. They’re people who deserve respect and to be portrayed in a realistic manner. However, the veteran population is allowed to be portrayed in any manner in which the world pleases to fulfil their narrative, from bloodthirsty murderers like (Battle for Haditha), psychologically scared societal dangers (Brothers), impossible killing machines (American Sniper). Now, why is it that I brought in the LBGT stance into this? Because veterans outnumber the estimated homosexual population in the United States by at least 2:1. Why is it that one group is allowed to be so egregiously stereotyped when the others aren’t?

The Hurt Locker is everything wrong with how veterans are portrayed. It combines all of the negative biases people associate with veterans into one compact two hour blockbuster. They’re ruthless killers, they’re psychologically damaged, they’re unreliable, they’re dangerous to their team members, all they are good for is fighting. Given that we have not seen a military movie come out in the last ten years, that I am aware of, that features war veterans who aren’t any of these things, in fact, that may have benefited from their time in service, is it no surprise to people that they are having such a hard time integrating to the society that sent them to war in the first place?

Basically, the Hurt Locker is nothing more than war pornography. It makes people who want to see an action movie which portrays broken and desperate American soldiers suffering pointlessly not feel bad for enjoying it because the movie pretends to be bringing attention to these issues. Sadly, most of these issues are exaggerated to the point of ad absurdum because of movies like this, but that is the only context most Americans now have. The Hurt locker failed miserably in that they set out to make a modern war movie about real veterans issues, but not doing any quality research, not showing realistic veteran’s perspectives, not showing respect to real people at the time, and not communicating the real nature of a war that was currently still happening.

American-Sniper-2014If you enjoyed the review of Hurt Locker, make sure to check out my review of American Sniper. They did a lot better.

Review of American Sniper from Marine Iraq War Veteran

unnamedJon Davis is a US Marine Corps veteran writer, focusing on the topics of US veterans and international defense. His work has been featured in Newsweek, Forbes, Gizmodo and elsewhere. He is also a writer of military science fiction with his first book, The Next War, due out early this year. You can follow Jon Davis via his personal blog Jon’s Deep Thoughts, and can support his writing via the web donation service, Patreon.

My book, I Drew A Monkey in a Math Book now featured for Pivot TV’s Secret Lives of Americans

The book I wrote and published last year I Drew a Monkey in a Math Book and Now I’m Married has been featured for Pivot TV’s Secret Lives of Americans.

I Drew a Monkey and many other original non-fictions by American authors have been selected by Pivot TV to be showcased to promote their new series Secret Lives of Americans on Pivot TV.

I Drew a Monkey in a Math Book and Now I’m Married is the true story of how I met my wife Jennie and our awkward teenage romance that followed. The book began as little more than a simple blog post about what it is like being married at the age of 18 and life 10 years later. As I began to catalog more and more of our story, I realized that what I had written was far more than just a blog post. It was a full chronicle of the the year leading up to when we were married and the precious memories that serve as the genesis of our family’s story. In the end, it was a poor man’s gift to his wife on the morning of their tenth anniversary, dedicated to her and shared with anyone wishing to experience a true teenage romance.

I Drew a Monkey in a Math Book and Now I’m Married includes our personal coming of age story between two lovers on the in the twilight of childhood and adult life.  You’ll see our real life twists of fate, pitfalls and triumphs together, what we learned along the way, and the anecdotes of the misadventures of youth, including, but not limited to a touch of vandalism and the rewards that come with taking risks.

I hope you enjoy the first few pages of our Book of Love. Some of it is transcendental. Some of it’s just really dumb. Check out the full text on Wattpad: I Drew a Monkey in a Math Book and Now I’m Married or follow my other blog The Writer’s Block to get future updates, along with updates to my future works including the upcoming novel on the future of war.

If you’re interested in knowing more about The Secret Lives of Americans read this intro as published by The Observer.

Secret Lives of Americans, a series that gives viewers an up-close and intimate look at individuals’ lives as they expose their innermost secrets to the most important people in their lives. Each episode touches on a different issue — eating disorders, HIV, immigration, food insecurity, student debt, healthcare, and several more.

The series, shot entirely by the subjects themselves, gives viewers an opportunity to experience immersive and intimate documentation, and hear firsthand about the inner turmoil caused by the subjects’ private struggles.  And, while these are personal stories, Secret Lives of Americans sheds light on pressing issues that affect not just the individual highlighted, but a large section of the general population as well.

For all those interested, Secret Lives of Americans can be viewed here: Watch Secret Lives of Americans on Pivot TV (Promoted)

Why do People Like Full Metal Jacket So Much?

The first time I watched Full Metal Jacket, I was in a tent in Kuwait on my computer, waiting for a plane to take me to Iraq for the next seven months. As a Marine, I felt like it was one of those movies I was supposed to have seen by this point, and the lull directly before going off to war seemed like a good time to do it. It left me very confused, in part, because the movie is famous for it’s actual depiction of war and warriors, but also because it was so very, very incorrect with my own experiences of being a Marine. It was only years later that I began to realize exactly why so much of the movie seemed off to me. It wasn’t a movie about warriors or even about a war; it was a movie trying to make a point, which stuck with the film’s target audience.

Full Metal Jacket was a movie for people who would never see war. It’s an anti-war movie about Vietnam where absolutely every element of war, warriors, the whole military experience, is shown as being something terrible, dehumanizing, and a pointless endeavour to detriment of all mankind. In 1987 at the film’s debut, it was it was exactly what people wanted to see from a war movie, because that narrative held true for millions of people.

FMJ does many things differently than most other war movies, namely because of the time period it was filmed in. If we look at different eras of the genre we see very different themes. Look at the John Wayne “Sands of Iwo Jima” or anything staring Audie Murphy, especially the one where he played himself, and you will probably be left with a very different feeling than if you were to watch something like Platoon, or even American Sniper. The early era focused on the heroism and unfortunate necessity of war due to the incontributable existence of evil in this world. They depicted warriors as heroes and the world as black and white.

Following this, the second major era attempts to break that in a sort of genre revolt. War movies began showcases war as a pointless affair, having no meaning than to make people suffer, both the participants and the victims. They go further into personifying the warriors, namely our own, as being universally deeply flawed to the point of being the villains, in efforts to make the genre more “realistic” and gritty. It’s noteworthy to also point out that this was the point when war movies were no longer being made by military veterans, and veterans were consulted less and less often in ensuring accurate tellings of their stories. Many stories from this period don’t even depict actual events, but only place them within actual time periods, such as the Battle of Hue City. Perhaps this was due to peace activists not involved in the war taking up degrees in liberal arts and film and entertainment. I can only really guess as to why the dramatic shift in war movies, around this time.

The third (the modern era) which I will say started around Saving Private Ryan, is the war epic. Your Black Hawk Downs, American Snipers, even the detestable Hurt Lockers, fall into this category. During that era, all war movies center around 1) Paying at least token respect to the individual troops, while 2) ironically showcasing each as deeply flawed because of the war, and 3) never given credibility to how war may benefit anyone (such as the Jewish people in Germany, the liberated France, or the empowered Kurds of Iraq). Modern war movies are themselves inheriting a stance of only being allowed to say something along the lines of “war is bad” and never veering from that rhetoric, while not socially being allowed to showcase the warriors as the deranged, murderous, barbarians depicted in Kubrick’s film. I guess that’s an improvement. This may be because in the modern era people felt more vulnerable after 9/11 and no longer accepted this view of veterans. It may be that more veterans have more social power to influence the way they are viewed via Social Media, as I am doing now. All that I can say for sure, is that something happened that broke from the way that second era war movies showcased us, from the way modern era movies do.

Having said that, no era is perfectly honest in their depiction of the military or of war. Take for example Black Hawk Down. I liked the movie, but it is filled with much of the spectral of the era while itself being the cinematic telling of one of the greatest modern military research projects in history. To make my point, my favorite line was when one soldier is given an order by a commanding officer, and replies, “But Sir, I’m wounded.” and the Officer replies back nonchalantly, “Everybody’s wounded.” I loved that line, but nothing like it happened in the book, which like I said, is one of the most factual retellings of events in modern history there is, so much so that the Army and Marine Corps, have adopted it as part of their reading programs for all non-commissioned and commissioned officers. All that to say, dramatic license for some is embellishment, for others, outright fiction and rarely is it priority to get the story right for history’s sake.

The honest truth is that all three, the military, war, and the individual warriors are extremely complex, but that complexity is too much for the average movie goer to be entertained by in only a two hour sitting. It is far easier to think of the average warrior as either a faceless bad guy, or a broken human because war is so bad, or keep overall ideas simple “War=bad, peace=good” and all things relating to one or the other falling into only one of those two categories. We’ve been made to think that war is some unsurvivable event, either physically or psychologically and that no normal person would be able to endure it, much less that some may see war as necessary and gain satisfaction from being part of one because they know their efforts provided some measure of good to others. (This sentiment in films correlates with the start of the Vietnam War and the end of the first era of war movies). Now, it is very hard for moviegoers to accept a purely heroic, purely rational, purely normal war hero figure because to do that they have to think of him as an average person, like us, who goes for a little while to do something important, unpleasant or not, and then going home to be normal again. Movies like that first present a false view of war and warriors based on stereotypes and tropes, one filled only with suffering and atrocities and with no good reason motivating thousands of rational people at all, then disturbs viewers a second way by making them uncomfortable with the thought, “Could I do those terrible things?” People don’t like that. They don’t want to identify with the common warrior that most of these movies depict. Part of them feels like the bad guy. This was the era in which Full Metal Jacket made its debut.

Having said all this, we can start to get into our conversation on Full Metal Jacket itself.

Full Metal Jacket is the perfect film to showcase second era war movies and the values they were meant to communicate. I am not saying that Kubrick told the truth in the least with the film, nor am I saying his goal was to try to lie to viewers. I think he is just trying to sell movies. He has to make a movie that doesn’t lead viewers into his way of thinking, whatever that may have been, but plays into their already existing biases and beliefs. That is how they identify with characters they know so little about and how they become emotionally involved. Movies don’t make money by correcting people’s notion of how the world really is. They make money by amplifying their beliefs to the point that viewers will tell their friends, “This is the truest thing in history of things and if you don’t watch it, you’re an idiot.” In 1987, no one was viewed anything that happened in the Vietnam War as anything similiar to WWII and the general consensus was that there was no point to it at all. With a legacy such as My Lai and the many thousands for a war more than 13 times more than were lost in Iraq, people wanted nothing to do with a “Sands of Iwo Jima” film depicting anything favorable about Vietnam, a heroic film depicting the period well wasn’t the type of movie that would have reached audiences. They were tired of the Cold War (which hadn’t yet ended) and had no sense that anything since 1945 having had any real value. Boil it all down, and FMJ depicts that belief. Note that it might not tell the truth that well, but it perfectly captures the mentality of the people of the time.

Take a look at the film’s hero/victim/protagonist, Pvt. J.T. ‘Joker’ Davis. He is symbolic on many levels which are meaningful to the time in which FMJ debuted. From before he is physically even seen on the screen, he is shown as a rebel, during the iconic introduction of the Drill Instructor played to near perfection by an actual Marine Corps Drill Instructor, R. Lee Ernie, where he outright mocks the Drill Instructor to devastating results. From that moment on, we sympathise with the character who obviously doesn’t belong here. Throughout the movie he is portrayed as not fitting in. He stands out from the brutish, womanizing, cruel or ignorant Marines, as most of them are depicted in the film. Davis instead is an intellectual, symbolized by the non-military regulation eyeglasses and the fact that his Military Occupational Specialty wasn’t infantry, but as a writer. He both stands for intelligence as well as truth, morally setting him above and opposed to the rest of the other “lower” infantrymen. Once he actually does deploy, he stands out as a continued rebel (remember he is morally and intellectually superior to all the other troops) by brandishing proudly the “Born to Kill” label sarcastically graffitied on his helmet and a peace sign on his flak jacket. Given that during the 70’s the symbol had more to do an anti-military sentiments than actual peace, Joker was Stanley Kubrick’s very deliberate attempt to make viewers see the character as being little more than the only rational, non-barbarian militant in the show, who is more a victim of circumstance than someone who wants to be a part of the war at all. All this combines to help viewers of a certain ilk, Kubrick’s target audience, identify with what the protagonist’s presumed views of what the war should be, when really, the truth is that the protagonist was written to personify the average viewer’s perception: “This is barbaric, this is senseless, this is wrong.”

Looking at the rest of the movie and you see a series of messages tailored for a moment in time, and that subgroup of Americans in 1987.

“War will utterly destroy the minds of good and innocent people.” Private Pyle was, to me, the worst part of the best part of the movie. He was over the top in personal treatment in how troops are treated in training, and major elements of his plot could not possibly have happened exactly because of the fate he met in the most acclaimed scene of the movie. Regardless, while the depiction of boot camp was novel for all war movies before or since, Pyle’s presence detracted from the film in a way that, for me, was little more than over the top sensationalism.

“War creates barbarism in American Warfighters where murdering innocent people is acceptable.” I’ve honestly never been able to deal with this scene, given what I have known and experienced in countless hours on the law of war, code of conduct, rules of engagement, and escalation of force training during my own time in the Marines. Honestly try to watch this scene and imagine your nephew or neighbor down the street being this evil, and also try to imagine everyone in the military just looking the other way as it happened.

Then there is the theme that “incoming warriors can only degrade the population of a region through their corruption and immorality.”

And finally, that the enemy that has been causing us so much harm is a much more impotent, underwhelming force than we had ever imagined, personified by nothing less than a little girl, making the American military machine appear, in retrospect to be the bullies and the aggressors.

Rob Ager, a Youtuber who has made a side profession of analyzing films, has even made a very potent argument for the numerous ways in Kubrick used metaphor to convey how military indoctrination forces young men into becoming rapists and killers through psychological rewiring of mind’s inner workings.

“Kubrick is acknowledging the universal truth about military brainwashing, soldiers who can’t be turned into brutal psychopaths by their Drill Instructors, can certainly be persuaded in the battlefields by the overbearing peer pressure of their lesser minded friends.”

If you’re curious, I must add at this point before watching, that the training that the Ager’s analysis and Kubrick’s film depict taking place in the first half of the FMJ, which is necessary for the following analysis and FMJ’s second half narrative to make sense, was nothing like what I experienced in Marine Corps boot camp. We never named our rifles girl’s names, we never slept with our rifles, there were no sexual connotations with them and the “This is my rifle, this is my gun” thing was never uttered in my tenure either. As a Marine Corps rifle instructor, I never even met anyone could explain to me what that meant. One can’t know if boot camp has changed and my experience is just because of reforms, or simply that Kubrick took a great deal more dramatic license than seems in hindsight unjustifiable.

In the end, Kubrick’s film does one thing exceptionally well, it tells the story many people wanted to believe to be the way it was. Was Vietnam hard? Yes, it was. Was it traumatic for many? Yes, it was. Was boot camp filled with mind altering psychopath building brainwashing? Umm… No. What Kubrick’s piece on Vietnam was can simply be called propaganda. It wasn’t the type of propaganda that encourages youth to join up or to make people support a war of one kind or another. It was quite the opposite, but still propoganda. It was a war film that used just as many inaccuracies to promote all the values of the anti-war movement prominent in the late sixties and early seventies and into the eighties, as the Nazi half truth films depicting the virtues of the German Third Reich. That said, it was filled with all the spectacle that makes a war movie entertaining, right down to the incredibly odd and ill fitting Mickey Mouse Club ending to the film.

So, to answer the big question, why did so many people like it? If I really had to guess, I would say it is because the movie boils down into under two hours everything they already believed about war. It supports their stereotypes, reenforces their biases, and conveys a message they have already accepted in their hearts and which society has generally accepted to be true, whether it actually is or not. When you stumble on something that so many people agree with, though few have experienced first hand, and which you yourself find inline with your own beliefs, you tend to declare it as the greatest thing ever made. I don’t know a lot of veterans who think that the Full Metal Jacket is the greatest movie ever made. Everyone laughs at the first half because, frankly, we all had scary drill instructors. Beyond that, I don’t agree that this is a very good film. It’s great propaganda for a certain viewpoint, or at best, a very good story about one very fictitious man’s journey, which unfortunately ended up misrepresenting the factual experiences of a whole generation of warfighters. That being the case, it really doesn’t surprise me that a democratic ranking forum would skew the results of an OK movie, when it has many moral and political undertones not obvious to many viewers.


How would Marines judge Colonel Jessep in the movie “A Few Good Men”?

A few good men can be summed up for Marines in the speech by Col. Jessup. You seriously need to watch it to get any of what I am about to say.

The climax of the movie, the famous minute and half “You can’t handle the truth” scene, is so loaded with theatrical and thematic nuggets of gold that it renders the rest of this great movie feel like a waste of time by comparison. I think that this movie it is a wonderful display of a subculture built on the mentalities of violence necessary for its success and survival, that is unable to coexist or to even be understood by the larger culture which birthed it. Full Metal Jacket and Rules of Engagement are also two great movies to get that experience.

The premise of the movie is based off the unintentional murder of a young Marine. The progress of the movie goes into a very deep story that eventually leads to one Marine’s death as a result of a secret disciplinary action, the “Code Red”. The Code Red was carried out by two junior Marines to forcibly improve one of their members. I even paused when I wrote murder. Murder wasn’t the intention, but the outcome. This is an extreme example and, of course, we don’t actually go this far in disciplining each other. We have at one time used various degrees of the off the books discipline, but never in my experience was physical violence part of that. Usually it means cleaning after you should have gone home or doing the platoons scut work. I want that much on the record.

In the end, Col. Jessup is arrested. The moral is fitting. Perhaps we can’t defend America if we have to give up our humanity to do it. What’s important though, is to see this from the Marine’s point of view. Really this may be the view of any warrior in a country like America. Sometimes we feel like we don’t belong anymore. There is a point when you have been in long enough you start to realize that it takes some very difficult choices to be a Marine. You have to first get over this moral problem of killing people and that is just the start of the journey.

Eventually you have to accept your role in life. Your very presence is something that, whether you fight or not, is meant to instill fear and demoralize anyone who would think about fighting the United States or harming its people from doing so. That is our purpose and to do so we have to be incredibly violent, scary men willing to do terrible things to people in order to protect that country, if only because of our reputation.

But this isn’t really acceptable behavior, not by normal people’s standards. In my answer to Under what, if any circumstances, is war morally justifiable? I touch on this (and actually reference this speech by Col. Jessup). My answer to that question was “A war is morally justifiable when the alternative to it is the destruction of your people or their way of life.” Someone didn’t like that answer. He asked me questions like:

“Are we one species, one world, one genus, yes or no?” and  “Just because their way of life is different?” and then decides “War is never morally justifiable, except when your very life, or the life of one of your children who are unable to defend themselves. War is deep rooted arrogance, greed, fear, nationalism and patriotism.  And wrong.  Just like Col Jessup.  The walls defenders should stand on should be around their own homes.  Not in some far off country.  That’s not defense, no matter how it’s painted.  It is either attack or revenge.”

This isn’t war. It’s self-defense. I don’t agree with him there. It is war, just one that isn’t done very well and lacking any real chance of defending the ones you love.

Yes, we are all the same species, however, we are not animals. We have cultures, religions, values, systems of law and different things that makes us enjoy life while add value to it. Each culture on Earth also enjoys the freedom to have all of these differently than anyone else. At the point that someone attacks not just me, not just my family, but other people like me, my country for example, then I am willing to make war on that person. This is a choice they made and the consequence of it. This is war, as a means of self-defense. But this is what you are missing, but the time that an enemy has already made their way to your homeland and endangered your family, they are already capable of inflicting ungodly amounts of harm on all the people around you.

Furthermore, if you are just a guy on a roof with a gun protecting yourself from whatever might be out there, you will lose. You will be outmaneuvered. You will be targeted. You will be killed and your family along with you. You’d be the most morally justified victim in history, but you would be dead nonetheless. This isn’t war, it’s a form of suicide. This is why we have armies. This is why we have the Marine Corps. This is why we fight wars at our enemies’ homeland and not our own. War must happen somewhere else if you don’t want your own people to suffer, and quite honestly and fairly I don’t want my people to suffer as much when there is the option to make war elsewhere. By the time someone is making war on you in your home it is already too late. That is why when we face a threat we handle it there.

Frankly, it is the reasoning of a person who calls out the military, or rather those willing to protect you and everyone else you know, as arrogant, ignorant warmongers [he did]. This is not only ungrateful to the fullest degree, but the reasoning of a coward who is too afraid to defend himself and his loved ones while resting comfortably and verbally attacking those rougher men who do.

Look. Whether you like to believe it or not, if you are using a computer that you own in a comfortable house, with internet connection, and you have the time to write your opinions, you are better off than at least 90% of the world. And many of those 90% would love to take from you what makes you happy and comfortable. A few are even organized enough to do it. The only real protection you have from that small bit of the world who are less fortunate, but more violent than yourself, are two oceans and a very large, very powerful military. Most of the world experiences war first-hand often. It is the most real condition that humanity has had since before recorded history began. To say that it is wrong because you don’t like it is childish, because there are so many others who, very happily would make war on you if given the opportunity.

Now, your statement that “only self defense is appropriate” is another subject altogether. You are a person who sleeps comfortably beneath the veil of security provided by rough men and women while declaring your position the moral high ground. This is absurd. You know good and well, as well as everyone who will ever read this, you will never be faced with an opportunity to need to defend yourself. You have a happy life. Be thankful.

While there are people of every country who swear to defend everyone in their country; the children, the beggars, the nurses, the teachers, the grandmothers, the prisoners, the firemen, the tall, the brown, people like you, and every single other person in their country, you say that it is rightonly to protect yourself and your immediate household. This isn’t morality. This is self-centered, selfish and cowardly. The fact that you refer to the people who are part of war as acting out of “arrogance, greed, fear” is incomprehensible. You have obviously spent a great deal of time justifying your position, without actually considering the reality of the world. So enjoy your moral high ground. It may be paved with gold, but it is really just a glorified pile of garbage.

This conversation goes on much more, especially later on when it is picked up by Feifei Wang, whom I am now a major fan of. Great job Faye. But I have already gone far enough off topic.

You see the conversation I had with the moral man is one that I have to think about all the time. People disagree with the war, or war in general or with civilians who die or with Marines and soldiers who lose and start to go into a place where they believe that the military is evil or unjust or wrong for existing. They forget that there are powers out there who very clearly want them to die and all that stops them is the idea that there are people out there who are well trained, well funded, highly motivated, vicious, angry and unforgiving enough to cross the entire planet to find them and kill them.

I’ve mentioned before that being a Marine is at times resenting the civilian population for not taking part in what we are experiencing. We do. We can’t talk about it, but we think about it on a cold night in a desert in some place no one you know can find on a map. We think about how we have tried to rationalize war in our minds, yet how the people we went to high school with are at college, or at the mall, or with their families and why is it that I am not? Why is it that I am here and they are safe and free and warm? Why is it that they are questioning me in doing this, or painting me as some sort of villain? What happened to the victory gardens or the war bonds of WWII? Does anyone really care that we are still here?

And then it all comes full circle. “Because I am willing. I want to go and fight so that my family doesn’t feel danger and so that my friends can be happy. I want to preserve my way of life for one more generation so that my kids can one day have the chances and opportunities I do. I am willing to stand on Col Jessup’s wall and do those things that moral men and polite people turn away from in polite conversation. And though no one will understand why or think about how there has to have been some other way, I am willing to do it.” That is why I always loved this movie, because no one really got what Jessup was saying. No one else really feels it.

To the common viewer who watches this movie in their comfortable living room Col Jessup is a barbarian. There is a darkness in him they can’t understand and fear ever being able to. He is a cold and vicious man willing to do anything for the mission. Marines who watch it always quietly smile and agree.

Was it wrong to order a young Marine to be beaten for his failures? Yes. Today he would probably just administratively separated, but that doesn’t make for good story. Whatever you viewpoints on Col. Jessup, be he right or wrong in his decision, I obviously view it as wrong, but I see where he was coming from, the film’s closing was correct in how it viewed the morality of the matter.

Thanks for reading. This is a post presented by the Quora blog Jon’s Deep Thoughts. If you would like to support the author, please visit: Support Jon Davis creating Short Stories and Essays in Military, Science Fiction and Life.

Review of American Sniper from Marine Iraq War Veteran

So far, I haven’t seen very many reviews of American Sniper from anyone who was present in Iraq during the time Kyle was there. My first base, Al Taqaddum was about thirty minutes from Fallujah , the location of much of the story. Some of the times we were there coincided, so I feel like I have a different view of the story than most movie goers or professional reviewers.

I really don’t like seeing war movies about Iraq because, like “The Hurt Locker” and “Brothers”, they are critically acclaimed by millions who never took part in the wars, but create ridiculously stereotypical caricatures of real people who deserve more respect, and are abysmal failures of research into the actual military methodology that deserves more understanding. To me, movies like these are just riding waves of war curiosity and civilian guilt while telling their over-sensationalized story, rather than any semblance of a real story – essentially, an insult to anyone who actually took part in the conflict while making millions for people who didn’t. I fully expected American Sniper to be much of the same, so I was probably just going to wait and rent the DVD. It wasn’t until my sixth grade students, some of which still in diapers when I went to war, started asking questions about what it is was like for me after seeing they saw the movie that I decided to watch so that I could give an answer based on their new context, rather than mine.

When I sat down for the movie I fully expecting all the nonsense and war porn that was The Hurt Locker. My only hope was that Clint Eastwood, whose work I have enjoyed in the past, would do better. The lights went down and the opening began to the Islamic call to prayer. Before even the first frame of actual film footage, I was shocked that I was immediately taken back to that other time and place. What the Adhan means, to me, is an immediate sense of anxiety and foreboding. I know that for billions of people, that is not the case, but when the first place you hear it is over hundreds of loudspeakers echoing from the village of Haditha below your base, it is more reminiscent of the people living there lobbing rockets at you every week than of any religion of peace. Eastwood starting the movie with that, I feel was intended as a spiritual call to arms for Iraq veterans and for me at least, it landed. What the opening first scene actually ended up being, locked me in for the rest of the movie.

Where this film shines, in my opinion, was in the degree of accuracy it had in its presentation. As I said before, movies like The Hurt Locker turned me off for military flicks for years. This one got details right that I have no idea how they could have known. I have no idea how they thought to even ask. My case in point, which no one reading this noticed, was a water bottle used to automatically close the wooden door in their plywood shelter on the first deployment. It is an almost meaningless detail of that war that we walked past every day, but that you would never think to see in a movie because it is just so mundane and inglorious. But there it was. It meant a lot to me that that detail made it in, among countless others which will go unheralded. Honestly, the whole living area was done perfectly. It felt exactly like what I would have expected to see in Iraq. In fact, it was too perfect. There was no dust and everything was at right angles so shelves didn’t look like they were made by a cross-eyed Lance Corporal who lost his glasses. But besides being too perfect, it was perfect. To be clear, this was a very researched and well done military movie. There were times where troops wore the wrong gear and other things, but overall, very well done in most regards.

Second, was the actual portrayal of military deployments. Every war movie I have ever seen shows you and your war buddies gearing up for “The Big One” and going off to war. Those who miraculously survive come home to ticker tape and beautiful women, the war forever just a memory. What the regular people don’t get is that we go to war, once, twice, four times, eight times… I commented to Jay Wacker‘s review to his point that, “The film dragged a little in the 3rd tour, which began to feel a bit same-same…” which shows a great deal of how good movies run counter to real life. There’s a reason that the film drug during the third tour. By the third 6-to-10 month combat tour, life is same-sameish. That said, the fact that Eastwood showed the transition – civilian home, killing insurgents, having a baby, seeing a child murdered, playing with the dog, seeing your friend killed, going to the mall, nearly dying, as a realistic sequence of events does far more to display life for those of us who really deployed and our families. Living in that perpetual state of transition was a a mind numbing experience, delivered of course, by the film’s leading actor, Bradley Cooper.

Cooper got it right in so many ways I can’t even describe how much I now respect this Hangover alumni. It wasn’t his general badassness in battle. Every war movie tries to make their hero a superhero. Whatever, boring. I’ve seen that before over, and over, and over… So to those who see this as just a real-life Iron Man or Captain America”, you missed so, so much.

The scene that meant the most to me when thinking about Cooper’s acting ability was one that most people were probably bored by, but for veterans, really drives the point home that they got it right. I’ll throw a spoiler because the plot point really doesn’t matter. It was the scene where Kyle and his family are having the tire on their car changed. A Marine recognizes Kyle and comes up to thank him with all the “You saved me in, blah, blah, blah…” and “A lot of guys didn’t come back, blah, blah, blah…” tropes that are in every war movie. What you probably didn’t notice about that scene was Cooper. To moviegoers he was boring, but what I saw was something I don’t understand how he got right.

In that scene, Cooper displays classic signs of a veteran who doesn’t enjoy being thanked. He immediately deeply retreats upon being recognized and becomes politely evasive. His speech breaks down into monosyllabic chirps of general acknowledgement, while not maintaining eye contact and attempting to not carry the conversation further. While I’ve never saved anybody, I’ve had this experience dozens of times when random strangers thank me for my service. You really can’t describe the feeling that follows, but last Veterans’ Day when my boss made a big deal about thanking me in front of all my students, a motive I am deeply appreciative of, I was overwhelmed with a feeling I can only describe as a profound and sudden sense of humiliation which I can’t begin to quite understand. I had to ask her to stop. Like seriously. All I can say is Cooper’s portrayal of this feeling was something I saw in his short chirps and expressionless awkward glances that communicated a level of detailed research, coaching, and acting, to say the least of getting to know real veterans that needs to be known and acknowledged.

What I didn’t like most was the wife, played by Sienna Miller. The character was too one-dimensional. The acting was fine, but the role was built to serve as a person who represented the state-side life of deployed military personnel and nothing else. For that reason, regardless of the real Taya Kyle’s persona, the character came off as deeply unsupportive and against the war or at least her husband’s participation in it. It lends to the idea that “normal” people wouldn’t be all right doing what he does. The only time you actually see her mention that she is proud of her husband’s achievements was when he retired from service, which left a very ambiguous taste in my mouth. What exactly was she proud of? This felt very unrealistic as the SEALs are pretty much the most gung-ho, hyper military individuals that Hollywood often paints them to be, but their families are just as gung-ho proud as they are. They suffer the deployments, sure, but “My husbands a SEAL, dammit!” In my experience, you don’t find successful military people who have a home life with someone that unsupportive of their efforts “over there”, particularly when they were in service prior to their romantic life. I can easily dismiss this because this character, in the movie, is a symbol meant to showcase the torn nature of Kyle’s character, and rounding her out would have taken away from the plot while adding time to an already very long movie, but it just didn’t land home with me. The brother’s extremely short feature in the late story also seemed remarkably unrealistic and more Hollywood than real life. I get that he may not have liked the war (who does?) but the day you go home is the happiest day of your life. You’re happy. Act happy.

There were other plot problems, as well. Specifically, on his first deployment he is pretty much looked at as some sort of key leadership role, which isn’t realistic. He’s a SEAL, not a God of Warfare. What it seemed to me to happened was that several key leaders, namely SEAL officers, were merged with Kyle’s character for story telling convenience. By his third or fourth tour he would have been an actual Chief (Chief Petty Officer) and had a leadership role, but not by the first deployment. Abandoning overwatch to go house to house was also a bit unforgivable, because I said so. “Let me show you a few things,” to the Marines, which were filmed as almost incompetent, was a bit annoying. Getting a phone call in the middle of a mission? Umm… no. The whole climax scene was also really over the top and highly fictionalized for the movie from several different events in the book at once.

The last thing I didn’t really enjoy seeing; all the PTSD and blown up troops. Honestly, the next time you see it, attempt to find me one single veteran who left the military and was not very much traumatized or horrifically maimed. If movies like this were the only evidence you had to go on, everyone would believe that all 2.5 million of us who went would to Iraq or Afghanistan are sporting a titanium leg. I’ve seen a dozen different reviews that speak about how they did a great job of showing what it’s like for returning troops mentally speaking, but they really didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, they did better than any other, but you don’t feel what having cancer is like by watching an actor play a person with cancer. You just feel sad for the character. You don’t understand it, though. I appreciate how very, very hard they obviously worked on showcasing the issue respectfully, but honestly I’m concerned that the fact that since every war movie must show returning veterans as irreparably broken and destroyed individuals, (Brothers anyone?) is just perpetuating the idea that we are creatures to be pitied in the best case scenario; that is, pitied but kept safely away from friends, children, dogs, your workplaces, or guns because we will probably murder you in a fit of PTSD rage. We have enough problems without dealing with the stereotypes that films about the war continually reinforce in a population that has no first hand experience with its actual military veterans.

These few major points and the numerous small inaccuracies were why it isn’t a five star movie for me. That said, I can dismiss these because I get that we need certain things in a movie to take place and be entertaining to movie-going audiences. Enough of the details and story were preserved and given their proper respect that I can deal with the hyped up sensationalization of much of the movie. I do want to end on a positive note.

Many have spoken to the fact no one says a word when the movie ends. It was the same for us. The ending was extremely powerful and brought to the surface many emotions that you just can’t go back to the real world immediately from. For my wife and I, it remained silent for most of the twenty minute car ride home, as well. I dealt with a lot of personal feelings that the movie dug up. I’m usually livid after movies like that, talking about how this was wrong, or that was wrong, but Eastwood’s film just reached me in a way that others who want to tie themselves to the trials of military personnel couldn’t. The film respectfully and as accurately as I could imagine, tells the story of one American warrior’s struggle in making terrible choices, fighting against terrible people, separated from his family and doing it again and again for something he believed was important. To many of us who were there, the story also helps in a small way to communicate parts of ourselves we simply failed to communicate before. I honestly don’t know if there will ever be an Iraq War movie that I would give five stars to, but I am deeply appreciative to the work that Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, and the team that brought American Sniper have done to bring this story to the big screen.

In summary: Must See.

unnamedJon Davis is a US Marine Corps veteran writer, focusing on the topics of US veterans and international defense. His work has been featured in Newsweek, Forbes, Gizmodo and elsewhere. He is also a writer of military science fiction with his first book, The Next War, due out early this year. You can follow Jon Davis via his personal blog Jon’s Deep Thoughts, and can support his writing via the web donation service, Patreon.

What You Should Know About The Hunger Games

This is for everyone out  there who is thinking about the movie, but haven’t seen it or hasn’t read the book. More precisely, for those of you are thinking about letting your kids go. Before you get any further I am not about to tell you it is evil and wrong and shouldn’t be watched by anyone. In fact, I think the movie is pretty good and the books are even better.

What I will tell you is that if you are young person, this is one of those films that can change your view of the world. Even though it is a fictional story set in a distant future, it touches on some very deep, important, and disturbing ideas. These are ideas that at one point or another every child needs to consider and ponder before they can truly be ready for adulthood. But the ideas of this movie are very, very intense and can deliver to children who aren’t ready, a jaw dropping earth shaking set of ideas that could really bother them for some time.

So what are the basic themes of The Hunger Games? If you are going or letting your kids go you should know. Plus it would also be good to be able to hold some sort of an intelligent conversation about the thing everyone will be talking about for the next three months. Well here is one…

The central theme and the idea that literally drives 100% of the plot is about a world where children are violently murdering each other. Whether you are looking at it from the point of a girl’s struggle to protect her family, to how will these two young people will overcome impossible odds (really… only one is allowed to live) to the world they live in to the giant dude who has quite literally been waiting his whole life to kill the cute little kids. This entire plot is centered around a gladitorial match pitting young people against each other to the death, and not “Ha! I sunk your battleship! Now you’re dead!” No. More like arrow to heart, sword to the neck dead. And don’t kid yourself, these scenes are graphic enough that you get the point. There are scenes where children are slicing each other up, breaking each other’s necks and throwing spears at one another’s chests. It isn’t an “idea” of killing. It is some deep heavy stuff. Did I mention it’s kids doing the killing? Cause that’s important. It’s freaky.

I think I made my point on that. If it bothers you that Joker kind of killed people in a funny ways in Batman, than this is not something that you should let kids into. But here is something that you should consider: What value this does offer society is that it can help children understand some very important ideas, provided they have strong adults to guide them through it. The first is the concept of evil. Most children have a view of evil is that bad guy in the mask or the terrorist or someone so very dissimilar from them that they are instantly recognizable. Children automatically know that the slimy monster with two heads is evil. They know that Darth Vader as evil. They automatically know a Jihadist with an AK-47 is evil. What they don’t yet know is that evil is something that anyone is capable of doing. They don’t understand that even we, that is you and I and the children reading the books, are all capable of great and terrible deeds when put in difficult places.

Another story that captures this mentality and shares this theme is The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. The Lottery’s themes so closely match the story that one has to wonder if was an inspiration for The Hunger Games. The Lottery involves a town meeting where an annual lottery takes place. The people all scurry and talk and gripe about lottery and how annoying it is and how recent it was since the last one. They discuss how long it’s been going on and how other towns aren’t even doing one. They argue about tradition and meaning without the reader knowing what really is going on in the lottery. One woman is staunch supporter of the lottery and its meaning. In the end the men of the town draw for each of their family members and they then have a big unavailing. The woman from before, the one who was one of the advocates for the lottery, is the one chosen. She is unwilling and cries out about how now it isn’t fair. The townspeople then tell her to take her fair share like everyone else before… and then the townspeople, children first, stone her to death.

Both these stories touch on the idea that with no rational reason, every day people, our neighbors, friends and relatives are capable of unspeakable evil. This may sound far fetched, but it isn’t far from the truth. I was a Marine who served in Iraq. I have seen what can happen when people lose their rationality. When we see other humans as less than human and as evil, without truly understanding what has brought us to this point. History has also shown us this. What I am talking about is the numerous acts of world decimation that happen when good people unspeakable evil, because they lose their rationality. To see what I am talking about follow these links, but remember this, they are real, and did happen. Auschwitz, Rwandan Genocide, The Great Leap Forward. There are many, many more, but these three help serve my point best. They each are events that can still be remembered by many of good people doing what to them seemed right at the time, but which history will never ever forgive them for. Most still look back without ever thinking they actually did anything wrong. I note the fact that the commandant of Auschwitz, when interviewed, was quoted as seeming proud and unapologetic, because to him he had done a fine a job and had help Germany produce what was one of the most advanced industrial manufacturing super complexes in the world. This is what happens when people lose their rationality.

But you might know that something like a kids book can get that deep. Or that one should take it that far. But I did. And I think you should too. I think that it is important to use books like The Hunger Games and stories like The Lottery to introduce the real concept of evil. Not the kind of evil like the bad guy that the good guy throws into jail and starts again in the next episode, but the kind of evil of a starving person, or of someone who is truly scared, or the kind of evil of someone who follows a very influencial leader without ever questioning what is really going on. It speaks out that within our nature we are all good people, but we are capable of doing such very very hurtful, dangerous and deadly things if we think our life, or our way of life or even our convenience is put at stake.

So what do you do with all of this heaviness? I think it is important to ask yourself, or your kids, what they thought about it. Did it bother them (you should be worried if it didn’t) and what bothered them. Why? You should tell them about how people can be. That the story is real in many more ways than it is fictitious. And perhaps you should take the opportunity to teach them many of the ugly things that happened before they were born. It is my belief that you have to at some point wake kids up to the reality of the world in that sense. They have to learn and they have to think about, because someday these kids will be leaders and if they don’t understand what can happen, it will happen again. If you don’t teach kids about things like Auschwitz then future historians will be talking about some event in the future where thousands died in Ardmore, Oklahoma, or the millions who lost their lives in Bedford, Indiana, or of the holocaust at Auburn, Alabama.

So my point is, use the movie. In all honesty, it is pretty good. The actors do a good job, in my opinion of conveying some real emotion, namely terror. The filming was great and in all honesty, some of the most gore filled scenes were done in such delicate ways to not send the whole audience into shock. So visually it won’t freak you out as much as when the kids leave the theater. But all and all it is a good movie. Watch it with your kids. Think about these concepts and decide an age when you think it is appropriate for your kids to start tackling these difficult subjects. For instance, my wife works at a local elementary school. She told me that there about one in four kids is reading the book.  I feel that this is too young and that the books were meant for a much older audience, seventh and eighth graders perhaps. You might decide that your kids are ready.

The one thing I hope you take away from this article is this: This is not an ordinary movie. It is not an ordinary book and you need to understand it before your kids see stuff they can’t forget.