The Ground Truth


REVIEW by Willard Manus

It's a cliche that war is hell but that doesn't render the saying meaningless. As long as wars continue to be fought human beings will still suffer from the consequences, often in unforseen, heart-wrenching ways.

THE GROUND TRUTH, a documentary about the young Americans who went to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, deals vividly and unflinchingly with the price they've paid for their

actions. Director Patricia Foulkrod weaves newsreel footage, interviews, home movies and snapshots into a composite portrait of these ex-soldiers, both male and female.

THE GROUND TRUTH looks at the various reasons why these youngsters went to war. Some joined out of a visceral, patriotic response to 9/11; others, like Robert Acosta of Santa Ana, out of a desire to escape poverty and gangbanging. Still others signed up for the National Guard as a way to earn extra money and college subsidies.

The film pays close attention to those men and women who recruited them, whether on behalf of the Guard, Marines or Army. In each case lies were told, false promises made: Guardsmen would never be posted overseas, the Corps would never betray or abandon them, and so on. Like the snake-oil salesmen they are, the recruiters sold a phony, dangerous product with much cynical glee.

Four years into the Iraq/Afghanistan wars, we know that the National Guard is still caught up in those overseas misadventures. We also know that the wars themselves are unspeakably nasty and deadly, thanks to hand-to-hand battles with insurgents, suicide bombers and Sunni/Shiite militias. Americans have fought bravely and valiantly under terrible conditions, resulting in over 2,500 deaths and 18,000 wounded. (The numbers on the Iraqi/Afghanie side are far larger, of course).

THE GROUND TRUTH sheds light on the murky, lesser-known side of our crusade against radical Islam. Because of better medical equipment and treatment, the survival rate for injured soliders is higher than in previous wars; many are living with severe diasabilities, such as burns, spinal disorders and amputated limbs. Countless others are suffering from the mental effects of killing in combat, whether in self-defense or not.

The clinical term for this condition is PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), also known as shell shock or combat fatigue. How serious is the problem? Consider this: from 2003-05, 210 active/deployed U.S. army soldiers have committed suicide. The number has risen in each successive year, and the 2005 toll was the highest since 1993.

Among the people interviewed in THE GROUND TRUTH are Joyce and Kevin Lucey, whose son survived the Iraqi war, came home and tried to turn himself from a killing machine--the definition of a combat soldier--into a normal, decent citizen. Some ex-soldiers make the transition; young Lucey didn't. Months after his return, he hanged himself in the family garage.

It's equally saddening and disheartening to learn from THE GROUND TRUTH of the U.S. government's callous treatment of those suffering from PTSD. Instead of acknowledging that the war itself is the root cause of the disorder, it tries to put the blame on the individual, claiming that he or she is suffering from a bipolar disorder, a mental deficiency. On top of that, the government has often denied treatment to the needy, cut benefits, buried applicants for help under a sea of red tape. That goes for the Marine Corps as well.

"I tried to create a film that would blow the yellow ribbons off the trees and encourage people to really wrap their arms around our soldiers and their families. I wanted us to sit with the broken hearts and troubled minds of these young veterans, so we can take responsibility for their suffering that is being experienced in our name," said Foulkrod. "And most important, I wanted to share with all Americans the profound wisdom these young men and women have to impart. Their first step to healing is our listening."