In this film, shot in a documentary style, we see the American marines at work and the lead up to a tragic and pointless massacre of innocent Iraqi lives, including woman and children. History tells of the horrific things that human beings do to other humans, but if you see this film, it seems like cycle that will never be broken. The politicians send the military into conflict, the officers overlook and prompt it and the foot soldiers witness or carry out unthinkable actions. We just have to switch on the news to see terrible images coming out of Iraq; images of ordinary Iraqi people with hoods over their heads and heavily armed soldiers aiming physical or mental abuse at them. Before the war started, I was among many who marched against it. I could never imagine how this war would pan out, especially considering the abuse and torture of prisoners, by the American and British soldiers. Of course, Saddam’s regime is well documented for its cruelty and for the mass killings of Kurds, but for the invader to behave in an equally barbaric way is hard to contemplate.
This film takes place in a suburb of Haditha. Compared to the surroundings we are used to in the West, it seems a very different environment; goats roam freely, and the cars people drive seem dated. We see cultural differences. The film starts off with some interviews with the marines, setting the film up with vignettes of their perspective on Iraq. Then we see some "Hummers" at speed, moving through a dessert area. The marines are exhilarated. Heavy metal music blasts away, there is banter, the soldiers are on a high. There is even a quick shot of two camels, away in the distance. These are no doubt some battle hardened marines, while others are new to this environment. We see examples of strong camaraderie and the marines are "pumped up" full of adrenalin, I imagine in the same way an American football team is before an important game. They are indoctrinated to kill who ever might pose a threat, be it woman or child or innocent bystander.
Meanwhile, we see Iraqi’s going about their everyday lives, buying chickens from a market, preparing for a party. We see the strong love between a husband and his beautiful young wife. We see beautiful children learning from their elders. The marines are getting bedded in to the conditions and routines in Iraq. We see them entering households, bawling away in English to the men, who they suspect have been making bombs, having discovered some gas canisters. They also use an Iraqi interpreter. The men are taken away, there is every notion they could be innocent and know nothing, but they are still hooded, threatened and caged. The most interesting and complex and central to a lot of what happens is Cpl. Ramirez played brilliantly by Elliot Ruiz. He is a leader, but he is a man who has seen terrible things during his time on duty. He suffers from a problem of not being able to sleep and tells of terrible nightmares. Ruiz is told he can only address this problem only when away on leave. He is obviously a man with a terribly troubled mind and is living on the edge.
There is a terrible shadow looming over this normally peaceful suburb. Two men with the help of insurgents or Al Qaeda plan to blow up an American forces hummer with a road side bomb, triggered by a mobile phone. They are stopped by an American check-point, but are let through, without their lethal load being uncovered. They are Uncle and nephew, and have received money for their efforts to the cause, as well as the mandatory promise of a place in paradise. At times in the film you get the sense they are amateurish, the uncle being the wiser of the two, compared to his carefree nephew. We learn that the uncle was once in the Iraqi army and pensioned off for a derisory amount. They dig a hole in the road in broad daylight and find a vantage point. Their actions are not discrete and all the locals are aware they have a terrible situation on their hands. They are caught between two evils; which ever way they turn there will be repercussions. They could inform the Americans, but if they do so, there will a terrible price to pay from the insurgents. There is nowhere safe they can retreat to, they living in this extremely dangerous country. The two men wait for their moment. The consequences of their action mean initially the loss of one life, a marine, his entire lower body blown away and two other marines severely injured. Obviously somebody has to take control and Cpl. Ramirez is the one, but with terrible results. We see some innocent men forced out of their car and cold bloodedly mown down. In their final moments they look confused, as the Americans reek immediate revenge on some innocent bystanders.
We are given a perspective of how the Iraq war is being fought. The two men who have exploded the bomb also have filmed the event, with a camcorder. Wars are fought on different fronts, one of them is the propaganda front. The guilty perpetrators run away, firing shots at the Americans, but soon out of range to hold responsible for causing the carnage.
It is the ordinary people who pay the price. The marines follow their training and kill regardless, from household to household families are all but wiped out. We see marines taking sadistic pleasure in shooting an innocent man who is searching for his wife. I was reminded of a shot in Schindler’s List when a Nazi officer shoots an internee of a concentration camp, for mere sadistic pleasure and no justification. Killing innocents with no justification seems to be norm, in this hellhole country. Of course the actions of the military leaves an indelible stain on the marines. Cpl. Ramirez is at first honoured for his actions and awarded a medal, but is later one of the culpable marines as the horror of what went on is revealed.
We see real footage of George Bush, making an insipid comment on the incident. We should not forget the instigators of this war and this terrible human tragedy that has unfolded. We should not forget that this master piece of film making by Nick Broomfield is only one incident among many in this country washed by blood and the sorrow of ordinary people.
I am sure that many pacifists will go to see this film, but lets also hope that some who support the use of military force might re-consider their points of views. It also interesting to consider how war has been depicted in the cinema. Films after the second war, showed the bravery of soldiers, while often skirting round the realities. We have had absurd films like the Rambo series that have trivialized war. When I saw the first twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan, I was struck by a far more realistic picture of the horrors of war which was far more resonant, than the standard war film. The Battle of Haditha is an extremely resonant and powerful depiction of war that shows the behaviour and psyche of the marines and the terrible consequences of the actions of both sides. We see the older perpetrator of the road side bomb going home, hugging his child and bursting into tears of remorse, having triggered a terrible series of events. The names and true identities of the soldiers have been changed.
This is an outstanding film which draws light on the horrors of a war that still is amongst us and this is surely a haunting thought. This film will surely bring great sadness to the hearts of anybody with any kind of sensibilities for the present day state of mankind.
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