Being in the United States, you hear often of the casualties of the Iraq war. Sometimes in sound bites on the news, dedications at the end of broadcasts, or politicians speaking about it, it's there. And while this subject has been in the background of the American conscious since 2003, it somehow, at least for me, has stayed right there: in the background. I've contemplated many things when thinking about the Iraq war: the strategy of it, the politics, the principles, the right vs. wrong and all sorts of other things. But the idea of the human tragedy of it all remained a back-of-the-mind logical thought, with no emotion or feeling. Maybe that's speaking to my ignorance, or naivety, or lack of caring, but I think more than likely, it's because of something else. I think the reason I couldn't seem to grasp how fundamentally wrong, how unbelievably sad and tragic this war is, is because I had no idea just how bad it really was.
I'm a visual thinker, so let me put it this way: In my mind, the concept of the sadness and tragedy caused by the war could be envisioned as a far-away river. At its banks, are the mourners, paying their respects the family, friends, and loved ones of soldiers injured, disabled, or killed in the war. Most people stay away from this river, perhaps due to fear, ignorance, denial, or just disinterest. Deciding to watch this documentary is like reluctantly deciding to go to this river, maybe to pay tribute, or to try and gain some understanding, or maybe just to feel less guilty for putting it out of your mind. Once you arrive, however, you realize that the mourners were not standing at the banks of a river, but rather an ocean. And this documentary throws you in.
You realize that as astoundingly beautiful the lives of some of these soldiers are, and how amazingly sad it is to see them cut-off, that this is just one small part. That there are thousands of stories, thousands of American lives, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, all with equal stories of grief, suffering, and sadness. While you could never expect to know exactly how those directly affected feel - both Iraqi and American - for the first time you actually understand the immensity of it all.
This film does not cover as much as an Iraq war documentary could cover, or as some of its viewers seem to think it should have. It is exclusively about fallen American soldiers, when there are many nationalities affected, with the most being the Iraqis themselves. They don't mention the amount of Iraqi civilians killed, the many number of troops left wounded or disabled, or the largely ignored population of soldiers left with combat-related mental illness.
However for the few soldiers that are mentioned, it is a small glimpse into the lives they lead, the plans they had, and how they affected their family. You can hear their voice in the letters, from mundane weather reports and status updates to dreams, aspirations, and declarations of love. To watch this film is to understand that for every person killed or injured, so many more are affected. For me, those numbers that sit beside the death tolls that once seemed a foreign, cold, lifeless number are revealed as having so much more meaning than I could have ever known.
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