Monday, November 28, 2005


"OFF TO WAR"
You that never done nothin'But build to destroyYou play with my world Like it's your little toy. You put a gun in my hand And you hide from my eyes And you turn and run fartherWhen the fast bullets fly
- Bob Dylan
Discovered the relatively new series 'Off To War' on the Discovery/Times channel. New episodes air Saturdays from 10 to 11pm. I high ly recommend it. Discovery/Times had a special 'Off To War' marathon over the weekend and I got a chance to watch the entire first season and the beginning of this season at my cousins home in Connecticut. Since I don't have cable television anymore (I turned it off because there was simply nothing of quality on and the news on all channels was completely worthless. I read) I will unfortunately be unable to watch the rest of this season. I am hoping to find a way to either download it, buy the DVD or convince a friend of the necessity of taping it for me.
'Off To War' is a documentary filmed by the brothers Brent and Craig Renaud. It follows the lives of a group of men (and boys) from the Arkansas National Guard (239th Engineer Battalion from Clarkesville, Arkansas) starting the day they learn their outfit will be sent to Iraq. This is the most riveting documentary I have seen in quite some time. It really provides the viewer with a first hand look at what these men (both young AND old) go through in preparation of being sent into combat for the first time.
Along with following the soldiers, it also follows the soldiers families back at home. This dual "plot line" provides an often harsh look at what can happen to the family back in the United States when the main financial provider is suddenly sent overseas. One woman is pregnant, expecting the couples first child. One young lady is left at home with 3 small children and clearly no idea how to deal with finances or taking care of the duties she would normally rely on her husband to perform. Another woman is left to care for their turkey farm after both her husband AND her oldest son are sent to Iraq.
Neither the men NOR the women in 'Off To War' are not highly educated and I doubt that many of them ever attended college. This is a part of the country where people graduate (hopefully) from high school and immediately set out to marry. The men work on farms or in industrial jobs. The women have children and stay home to care for them. Their knowledge of politics is whatever they read in the local newspaper or catch on CNN or Fox News. Most don't pay attention to the news. Until their loved ones are sent to war.
Follow these young men as they head to Iraq, come under fire for the first time, receive nightly mortar fire, mourn their friends who are killed, and try their hardest to just be kids. It's interesting to watch young Matt Hertlein, age 19 (picture above), grow from a boy into a man in a matter of months. As Matt comes to the realization that they were sent to Iraq on a lie, that their friends are being killed for nothing and that the Iraqis don't WANT them in their country, Matt becomes openly hostile. He begins to criticize both Bu$h AND the military and wishes nothing but death for the people of Iraq. This sentiment is shared by the majority of the men in Matt's outfit. It is clear that they are there to help their buddies get home and for nothing else. By then beginning of the second season (which began back in October) Matt, after losing one of his best friends to sniper fire, is hostile towards the Iraqi people (including the children) and he will have absolutely NOTHING to do with them. Again and again he and others in his group talk about killing all the Iraqis and getting the hell out of the country. This documentary provides an honest look at what the soldiers are dealing with in Iraq, not the rose colored vision offered by the Bu$h admini$tration and the reich-wing neo-con pro-war contingent.