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Review :: International : Politics
Gunner Palace of Lies- Movie Review
24 Mar 2005
This review may be a bit belated but I didn't really figure out what was bugging me about the movie until yesterday. "Gunner Palace" bills itself as a neutral, objective, "no politics," documentary which lets the soldiers fighting the Iraq war speak for themselves.
Gunner Palace of Lies
That's a crock and a 100% cop out. First of all, there is no "no politics" take on Iraq. This supposedly neutral "soldiers on the ground" reality TV view of the war in practice functions as the rankest U.S. propaganda. Neutrality as a response to an inherently evil occupation is at least acquiescence, if not outright collaboration.

It's no secret that American police love the right wing Fox/Murdoch TV show Cops, glorifying "the men and women of law enforcement." Otherwise why would police give the show access year after year for twenty years? Cops purports to show police work impartially from the cop on the street's perspective, but the show lies by omission and serves the purposes of the police state by glorifying police and police state tactics, pitting cops only against street lowlifes while overlooking the brutality, entrapment, perjury, and political racketeering routinely perpetrated by American police.

"Gunner Palace" is just "Cops: Baghdad." Why else would the military allow filmmaker Michael Tucker unrestricted access to sensitive police operations and occupation troops unless it served its purposes?

One of the biggest sacred cows of wartime America is the holy U.S. soldier, to whom we must always pledge unqualified support even if we oppose the war. Watch Gunner Palace, though, and you realize U.S. troops are the war, and any rational opposition to the war also requires opposing American soldiers directly.

The film shows the post invasion operations of the U.S. Army's 2/3 Field Artillery, which was hunting members of Hussein's deposed regime from their base in the bomb damaged former palace of Uday Hussein. The film covers from May 2003 through mid-2004, the period which saw the rise of today's hardcore insurgency.

Michael Tucker's concept is letting the soldiers tell their own war story. So what do they have to say for themselves? First, they whine like a bunch of babies. Nobody's paying attention to them. They don't get paid enough, and they don't get enough weapons or Humvee armor or whatever. (Where's the Iraqis' body armor, to protect them from our underclass heroes?)

Personally, I haven't spent 10 seconds with anyone like these soldiers since standardized testing sorted us out. In their mannerisms and speech the soldiers take after hip hop ghetto celebrities like Eminem and Tupac, especially the rural white boyz. They laugh hysterically at things that aren't remotely funny. They attempt little routines in front of Tucker's DV camera that bring to mind Harry Shearers' warnings against "amateurs and comedy." The bottom line is, the troops don't have anything particularly enlightening to say. It's what they do that speaks volumes.

By day, they rap and lay around Uday's pool, making inane Real World quips about Snapple to their documentary filmmaker. Lots of our "boys" appear to be pushing 40 and probably are cops in the rural southern backwaters they're from.

(BTW, how much of a hardship is it for these soldiers to live in a palace while wielding absolute, unchecked authority over Iraqis? The nearest any of these dudes will get to a palace in America is working security at the Bellagio.)

By night, the troops perpetrate systematic violations of the civil rights of Iraqis, executing house to house search and seizure raids so outrageous they would have made General Gage join the ACLU.

The troops are depicted perpetrating the most violent outrages and oppression against occupied civilians: warrant-less smash and grab raids, and mass arrests without charge or process. The worst of it is, they scream at their terrified Iraqi victims in English. Think I'm exaggerating? See the movie for yourself and behold what kind of moral idiot Tucker must be to attempt neutrality in light of what occurs right in front of his face. Obviously, the insurgency was at least partially provoked by the heavy handed tactics and U.S. arrogance on display in Gunner Palace.

The one truly compelling statement made by anyone in the movie is made not by a rapping, hip hop American high school graduate, but by an English speaking Iraqi detainee, captured during a nighttime arrest raid. The Americans are yelling, "Shut up! Shut up!" at their prisoners. A man is shown sitting quietly with his hands bound behind his back with plastic handcuffs. For Tucker's camera, he states that he is a journalist. "Shut up!" yell the soldiers.

"Yes I heard," he says. "Just shut up, in Iraq."

"How many people can say they're combat veterans?" crows a U.S. soldier at one point. Oh so that's what it's about. I've got news for you, schmuck. Being a "combat veteran" in high tech America doesn't mean squat, and hopefully, in future labor markets, will function similarly to a felony conviction. Everyone knows that in modern America only the dregs enlist. Recall that Fahrenheit 911's pair of US Marine Corps recruiters didn't go trolling for suckers in the AP calculus sections of Palo Alto. No, they went straight to the Flint mall.

In a spoken word autobiography, accompanied by a mime performance from his buddy, one of Tucker's featured soldiers confesses to pretty much exactly what we suspected all along about our brave boys. First he dropped out of high school in some fundamentalist backwater in Colorado. Then he hung out drinking and doing drugs. But then he pulled it together and finished high school, but he didn't know what to do then, so he enlisted. Then the military sent him to Germany, and he partied hard in Berlin for a year. But now the party's over cuz he's stuck in Baghdad.

What I said. In the U.S., only the dregs enlist.

There's plenty of not too bright and vulnerable people out there, but there's nothing particularly heroic or brave about them ending up as cannon fodder in the service of Wolfowitz and Bechtel. It's merely sad and pathetic.

One soldier at the end of his tour calls Baghdad "trash." Uh, no. That would be Baghdad, ancient "hub of learning and commerce," historically one of "the largest and most cosmopolitan cities in the world," according to Wikipedia; and however fallen, a city far more compelling and important than Fayetteville, North Carolina or whatever flatland American ghetto the soldier calls home.

I've seen the argument bandied about that the risk of the Iraq war is that a bunch of mentally deranged Timothy McVeighs will come home and start blowing stuff up. To me, that doesn't seem half as bad as the risk of these soldiers coming home satisfied that they didn't do anything wrong and that they are heroes for doing what they did. At least McVeigh wrestled with his conscience over the crimes he committed on behalf of the U.S.

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Re: Gunner Palace of Lies
24 Mar 2005
Dude your so right on these soldiers are dumbasses jerks living phat off those poor people. They kill iraqers what do they expect?!! They shuld come back home and get a job like everyone else not go to other countries and steal their stuff. The movie was boring i saw it makes me sad to be an american.
very classist article
24 Mar 2005
I strongly disagree with the war, but the soldier bashing is what you guys would call "classist." I found it as entertaining as the next guy, but it certainly falls short of the moral purity of left wing angelicism.

See what rank hypocrites y'all are? As soon as you feel it is "safe," or "the coast is clear," out come the prejudices in full force.
Re: Gunner Palace of Lies- Movie Review
25 Mar 2005
I agree with Rob. I find the "only the dregs enlist" bit is pretty disgusting. Many of the individuals in these poorer communities--where the armed forces do their strongest recruitment--are being oppressed by fundamentally the same corporate forces that are powering this war. My sense is that, in most cases, people join the military in a state of severe ignorance of the real place of the American military in world history, and this is an ignorance that is pretty carefully crafted by the people who benefit from it. It's the usual manipulation of the elite by the disenfranchised. It's just myopic to ignore the context these soldiers are coming from.

That's not to say that I am a fan of some of the behavior of the soldiers depicted in the movie, which runs from lewd to just troubling. I also, of course, totally condemn the raids that are depicted, though the movie made no serious effort to explain what the objective of these raids was supposed to be exactly, who it was that was actually captured, etc. But, anyway, the often idiotic behavior of the soldiers undercuts, I think, the suggestion in the review that the movie serves to glorify the war. How do you glorify the war by letting the soldiers portray themselves in such a ridiculous way? If the object is glorification, why let them portray themselves as aimless, not terribly bright or motivated, and even often ambivalent about the moral status of their actions? I didn't have the sense that glorification was attempted; certainly, it wasn't achieved.

But I do agree (I think) with the reviewer that any remotely factual presentation of the current brutal war should come off as plainly anti-war. This movie is, correspondingly, both morally and factually defective. The film was just poorly made. The filmmaker's tone is annoyingly melodramic, and (much much worse) he gives no serious amount of background detail about the raids, etc. that are depicted. The movie just lacks information, and one has the sense that it does so out of sheer, and highly blameworthy, ineptitude. As with any film about this war, were the facts actually filled in, this movie would be hard not to see as anti-war.

Anyway, if the film has any interest, it is to get a glimmer of (some of) the attitudes and behavior of (some of) the US soldiers.
Re: Gunner Palace of Lies- Movie Review
28 Mar 2005
I've just come off an Easter weekend hanging out with my wife's grandfather and others of his generation who fought in World War II. Thinking about this movie in the light of their experiences, and those of my own family (ambulance drivers, combat riflemen, B-24 crewmen, artillerymen), and this movie as a document of our current military experience in Iraq, I am fairly disturbed.
Think about the literature and attitude that came out of World War II. Read the novels of Norman Mailer, Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, Edward Abbey, and others. Think about American military experiences in World War I, World II, Korea, and Vietnam. Think about the words they introduced into our vocabulary: lousy, SNAFU (Situation Normal All Fucked Up), FUBAR (Fucked Up Beyond All Repair), Catch-22, Section 8, fragging, the French Bounce...
These are all terms that conveyed that the military was a bureaucratic nightmare, an imposition upon a free people, which might have been necessary to fight a war, to acheive an objective, but was nothing to be worshipped or emulated. In fact, those who loved the brass or the military culture were usually derided as "shavetails", "glory hogs," or other epithets.
What has this war given to our vocabulary so far?
Near as I can find, "hu-ah" is the contibution. This conveys a very different view of the military, the military as a campaign adjunct to a certain view of American foreign policy. There seems to be, in contrast to earlier American wars, an embrace of the brass, the instution of the military per se, and a scorn for civilians.
While a lot of this can be attributed to the insular Praetorian Guard like nature of an all-voluntary military, I fear it also signals a disturbing shift in American life in general away from anti-authoritarian ideals and towards a lickspittle, kowtowing-to-the boss mentality which threatens the very fabric of our country.
Construe none of this as a glorification of the atrocities committed by "citizen soldiers" in Vietnam, the No Gun Ri Bridge, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, and other places.
Or perhaps American culture in general might actually be more ignorant and stupid than it used to be, despite increased communication and technology?
I remember a story of my uncle's, an artilleryman whose unit had occupied a German farmer's house in Alsace-Lorraine on December 31, 1944. The farmer talked to the guys in the unit, one of whom spoke a little German, and asked to listen to the Fuhrer's New Year's Eve speech on the radio. These American G.I.'s said yes, and spent New Year's Eve listening to Hitler on the radio with this old German guy.
Can anyone imagine the yahoos in "Gunner Palace" listening to an anti-AMerican broadcast with Iraqis in their kitchen?
Re: Gunner Palace of Lies- Movie Review
29 Mar 2005
you're a fucking classist asshole. " I haven't spent 10 seconds with anyone like these soldiers since standardized testing sorted us out."
"only the dregs enlist." Go back to weston.
Right Now? Only An Uneducated Fool Would Enlist!
30 Mar 2005
The writer mistaked the Dregs for soldiers. Nah...The Dregs are in the White House!
As for the idiots who get off killing anyone that moves? These people need real help. They've been trained to kill and treat people like shit. A good shrink and shock therapy would help their sick minds!
The war is wrong. And illegal. Anyone who disagrees? You need a shrink too!
Re: Gunner Palace of Lies- Movie Review
03 Apr 2005
where's weston? i live in roxbury. and the word you're looking for is "elitist." i plead guilty, yo 'ona.