September 16, 2011

Happy Fri. Damp here, after raining off and on all night. Temp in the mid-40s.

We watched Gunner Palace, the 2004 documentary about an infantry battalion in Iraq that was quartered in Uday Hussein’s pleasure palace. The camera follows the “Gunners” (as they called themselves) around Baghdad on routine patrols, shows them breaking in doors to raid suspected opposition “cells” and search for weapons and large amounts of cash. You see a dozen US soldiers brandishing weapons in people’s living rooms, ordering everyone “Down! Shut up! Down! Get down! Shut up!” etc. scaring the be-allah out the occupants, women and children crying, men hauled off in hand-cuffs to be questioned and sent to Abu Ghraib prison. One such raid looking for a sheik suspected of gun-running resulted in four men being arrested. The sheik wasn’t home at the time. When they arrested him a few days later, they released him after questioning. No mention of whether the four men were released also. On one patrol the Gunners are pelted with rocks by an angry crowd outside a Mosque. In between patrols and raids, we seen them diving and swimming in Uday’s large swimming pool, giving impromptu rap and dance performances, playing the Star Spangled Banner on electric guitar, looking at pornography on their laptops, writing home.

The portrait of soldiers in Gunner Palace is much more sympathetic than in Restrepo (filmed in rural Afghanistan), perhaps because the fear level was not as high in 2003-04 when the film was shot. As it happened, three of the Gunners, including one woman paramedic, ended up on the cover of Time Magazine representing the US soldier as Person of the Year. Despite a growing fear of IEDs, many of the street scenes during Gunner patrols look almost like normal night life in a large city, with open-air restaurants and milling pedestrians late into the evening. That was to change radically not long after the film ends. Even so, several of the Gunners were killed or wounded during their tour. And meanwhile, of course, water and electricity in Baghdad were intermittent while the US HQ in the Green Zone glowed all night. The US aversion to “nation building” did Iraqis and the US grave harm in the long run. This film may be old news, but it provides a good, long look at what our “warriors” were asked to do when we sent them to Iraq after toppling Saddam. As for its quality as a film, Ebert gave it 3.5 stars out of four, crediting the filmmaker for his unusual rapport with the troops.

In local news,

Memorial recalls lives of 2 Strykers killed while on duty in Afghanistan

Stryker soldier killed in Afghanistan

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