Demond Mullins, a 24-year-old Iraq War
veteran living in Prospect Heights, recommends everyone - especially
those young people considering joining the military as a way
to finance their college educations - check out the powerful
new documentary, "The Ground Truth."
Scheduled for DVD release by Universal Studios on Sept. 26 following a brief theatrical run in select cities, this documentary by social activist-filmmaker Patricia Foulkrod offers an unflinching look at the controversial, U.S.-led war in Iraq from the point of view of several men and women who fought in it, then returned home with horrifying physical injuries or deep emotional scars, only to find what they describe as inadequate programs in place to help them recover.
Veterans interviewed for the film recount how they willingly signed up for the military because they wanted to serve their country or find a fulfilling career and a path to a better life. However, most also say they became disillusioned with their choice, because they felt there was no clear purpose for their work in Iraq.
Pointing out how they were constantly in danger because there are no designated "front lines" in this war, and because it is hard to separate their foes from innocent bystanders, other survivors express grief over unnecessary civilian deaths or describe an inability to deal with problems at home rationally and peacefully after they were trained to dehumanize and eliminate their enemies overseas.
Several soldiers speak of singing cadences about gunning down children and reveal how they refer to their targets as "rag-heads" and "bin Ladens" during training. They also allege the military fails to address the psychological impact that killing people has on its soldiers and say it downplays the actual bloody business of war by using euphemisms and game-like weapon simulators to emotionally distance the soldiers from the people they are trained to annihilate.
The film also features confessions from vets who say they are afraid to tell their loved ones what they are going through when they come home for fear of disappointing those who consider them heroes.
A soldier’s testimony
Mullins is one of the soldiers who describe on camera the impact his experiences in Iraq have had on his civilian life.
"I think all Americans should check the film out and find out what the soldiers are experiencing and find out what is going on in Iraq and find out what could possibly happen to individuals who join the military," Mullins told GO Brooklyn in a recent phone interview.
Having signed up as a means of financing his own college education through the G.I. Bill, Mullins served five years in the U.S. Army National Guard and was deployed to Iraq in 2004.
"I didn’t join the active duty," Mullins says in the documentary. "I joined the National Guard and my recruiter told me I would be stateside. He said, ’The National Guard doesn’t get deployed. You will receive the college benefits; the only thing that would happen is, if there is a riot, then you would be deployed.’ "
The veteran says he ended up going on about 150 combat missions in Iraq, most of which "had no purpose."
"You’re so compromised," he says in the documentary. "You drive on one block and children are playing football and people are laughing and screaming: ’America! America!’ And on the very next block, you’ll be shot at and blown up."
Upon returning home after a year of combat, Mullins says he suffered feelings of rage and depression. A moment when he nearly punched out the car window of a driver who cut him off on the expressway served as a wakeup call that he needed some help. However, he says seeing a psychologist at a Veterans Administration hospital proved ineffective.
Although Mullins says he wasn’t suicidal, he admits in the film: "I would think that I would die any way; that I would walk outside and get hit by a bus just because I had been through so much. Death couldn’t be far away."
Mullins says speaking to men and women dealing with similar emotions and sharing his own experiences through the activist group, Iraq Veterans Against the War, helped to alleviate some of the pain. Now in his senior year at Lehman College in the Bronx, Mullins has completed his service with the National Guard and is applying to graduate programs with the hopes of pursuing a career in academia. He also plans to continue spreading the word about a topic that concerns so many yet is so seldom discussed.
"I hope that the film will increase American civilian awareness of our experiences in Iraq and also increase their concern and, thereby, increase their activity with the administration, as far as voting goes, with the congressional elections coming up," says Mullins.
A better life?
The former soldier says he thinks people will be shocked to see how different war-time military life actually is compared to the adventurous existence the government sells in its TV commercials and print advertisements or the way it is glamorized in some Hollywood movies.
"Someone asked me the other day about how graphic the film was, and I don’t think it is graphic enough," Mullins noted. "It can’t show even a small portion of how graphic war really is; the reality of war. So, I think everyone in America should see this. I think children should watch the film."
Mullins, who was inspired by an Army commercial to enter the military, says a lot of soldiers he has encountered also did so for the education benefits - or because they were victims of socio-economic immobility and wanted a shot at a better life.
"They want to use the military as an elevator or staircase to get out of this stagnant state, but it’s not very useful in that sense because they are exploited," he added.
The veteran also says he thinks the reasons soldiers are sent to fight a war and the manner in which they are trained have much to do with the way they deal with their feelings regarding their actions in combat.
"It’s possible to have a military that has more honorable practices and respectable training programs when the war effort is one that is honorable," said Mullins. "To train soldiers to do something that is against all their better judgment and their morals, the training programs have to be in some way dehumanizing and immoral."
So, does that mean Mullins thinks the war in Iraq has been more psychologically damaging than previous conflicts because he and many of his fellow soldiers think the mission is ambiguous?
"The soldiers get on the ground in Iraq, and they find that they have no clear objective and they have no clear purpose and so, therefore, their only objective, their only purpose is to make it back home and to make sure their buddies make it back home," Mullins explained. "The whole time that they spend in Iraq, they are trying to escape from the experience that they are having.
"This war is traumatic; if the soldiers felt like they had a clear objective and like they were doing something to benefit Iraqis, to benefit America, the experience would probably be a lot less traumatic, because there would be a light at the end of the tunnel."
That said, Mullins admits he believes it is possible for someone who has served in the military, but not gone to war, to return to a "normal" life once they leave the service.
"I think once you experience war, it’s a catalyst, it’s a huge part of your life, a huge change and you’re not the same person afterwards," he observed. "You can go back to a normal life as a person, but if you mean, a ’normal life,’ as if you are who you were before, you’ll never be who you were before; that’s not possible."
As for the man he is today, the student and activist says he will keep speaking out against the war even though some critics might deem his message "unpatriotic."
"There are definitely some people who call you ’unpatriotic,’ but I’m not really worried about being patriotic; that’s not really on my list of priorities," Mullins said. "What I concern myself with is honesty and just telling people about what is really going on over there and trying to wake Americans up. That’s my priority. Patriotism is arbitrary."
"The Ground Truth" will be
released on DVD by Universal Studios on Sept. 26. Brooklyn’s
Greenpoint Reformed Church (136 Milton St. between Manhattan
and Franklin avenues) is planning a special screening of the
film for Oct. 10. Call (718) 383-5941, or visit the documentary’s
Web site, http://the