"Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest." ~ John Stuart Mill
Young Oliver Stone in Fallujah
While you finished your second cup of coffee or morning commute, a young soldier in Iraq recorded 'a world of hurt' as troops used to say in Nam .
He recorded them in his mind. He saw so many things that young people just out of high school shouldn't see. He saw them while shouldering a heavy pack and wearing body armor, unaware his mind was recording them. All the things he saw jumbled together, became a kaleidoscope of images, some of them unnerving, a few of them amusing but most of them just unsettling.
He saw the dirt, the poverty, the death, the destruction. He recognized early the pervading filth of corruption, the greed everywhere, within weeks if not days of his arrival. He felt the scorn, the pity, the apathy, the outright animosity of every pair of eyes staring back at him. He smelt the stench of decay, the acrid smoke, the gunpowder, the pungent diesel fumes, the sweat, the sewage, everything overpowering the mask of tobacco smoke. He heard the rancor of a foul foreign language, the basso throb of a helicopter, the chatter of gunfire, the scream of the wounded, the shriek of hate and anguish of an occupied people. Bits and pieces would compose into a mosaic in his brain, even when he consciously tried to forget.
And yet he saw the beauty too: The faces of smiling children, the palm groves, the reflected light off the Tigris and Euphrates, the fireworks of white phosphorus at night, the tracers arching to a target. All these odd bits of beauty--many of them deadly--lodge in his mind.
He was a young US soldier far from home. Nobody special. And all his delicate senses suddenly brutalized, together with his soul, would conspire to make a masterpiece one day.
You don't know his name yet but one day you will. Maybe not for five or ten or 20 years, but one day you and millions of others around the world will finally see what really happened in Fallujah and Samara and Tikrit and Baghdad .
At this very moment his eyes are recording the details, like that dead dog, bloated like a balloon that may or may not contain an improvised explosive device (IED). His eyes squint back at the lethal stares of old men, who have never seen such callous, well-fed, heavily-armored troops.
He finds himself looking away at times and staring intensely at others. All the brutality of this particularly venal war'a war based on the theft of one country by another but sold as liberation--will be captured on his film.
But he does not even know that yet. The stupidity and cynicism and the daily shock to the conscience, together with the mirth and cruelty and assorted acts of courage by both sides, will be captured exactly as our visionary imagines one day. The film, as untitled since our filmmaker does not even know yet he will create such a lasting masterpiece, will stun most Americans about the horror of the Iraq War. As well it should.
The smashing of Fallujah, the bombing of civilians, the strafing of passing cars, the casual death followed by laughter, the suspenseful boredom of checkpoints, the banter of the best fighting forces in the world suddenly forced to be cops, the interrogation of suspects, the casual brutalization (of occupied and occupier), the soul-numbing process of forced entry and house-to-house search, all will be edited for maximum effect.
The film--still inside the head of some introspective young soldier--will garner no less than six Oscar nominations. Maybe even a dozen. Tens of millions, hundreds of millions around the world, will see the masterpiece and be forced to feel all the emotions'hate, anger, rage'they neglect to feel now.
Certainly the apologists of the disastrous Iraq War'most of them still entrenched in privileged places years later--will trumpet their good intentions, noble aspirations. And more than a few Americans will believe them.
But the movie will remain as an indictment. The light will shine on lies'for sometimes film is a powerful light forced through a lens onto tiny images of truth magnified'and the liars of today will skitter like cockroaches till the end of their shameful lies.
This one filmic masterpiece, still many years in the future, will not save a single life today. The soldiers destined to die, in that filmmakers experience, may be on patrol as you finish your breakfast. The young soldier/filmmaker may be even unaware of his destiny. He may be destined to receive horrific wounds. Or, if not, perhaps the sight of a wounded comrade or the after effects of an ambush or the body of a slain child or a brutalized prisoner will trigger the creative genius.
Or perhaps the cumulative effects of everything, when the psyche can no longer contain the pain and confusion, will inspire him to put words onto paper. Then the next Oliver Stone will begin to compose his masterpiece, his confession, his indictment.
Footnote: Wounded in action during his tour in Vietnam, Oliver Stone returned and wrote and directed the Oscar-winning films "Platoon" and "Born On The Fourth of July."