Martha Raddatz on National Geographic’s “The Long Road Home”

Posted on November 9, 2017 at 4:58 pm

Michael Kelly(L) portrays Lt. Col. Gary Volesky and Jason Ritter(R), Capt. Troy Demony on set of The Long Road Home at U.S. Military post, Fort Hood, Killeen, Texas. (Photo: National Geographic/Van Redin) Ep1

National Geographic’s new series “The Long Road Home” is based on the best-selling book by journalist Martha Raddatz about soldiers sent to Iraq on a peacekeeping mission in 2004 who were ambushed on a day that came to be known as “Black Sunday.” The series is powerful, inspiring, and deeply moving as it lets us into the lives of those who were there and their families. In an interview, Raddatz talked about how she got the story, what she learned, and what she hopes the series, premiering as we prepare to observe Veterans’ Day, will teach us about the people who risk their lives — and give their lives — for our freedom and for each other.

The news footage from Vietnam on the news every night played a significant role in eroding the support for the war. We do not see that kind of coverage of what our troops are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We did in the beginning. It was it was on all the time and take it from me because I was covering it. But it hasn’t been more recently and never in this way, in the way we tell this story about U.S. soldiers and their families and particularly families. It’s a really realistic, really raw, really warts and all, very nuanced look at war, if you can imagine nuanced war, this has got it.

What does nuance mean when you’re talking about war?

These aren’t a bunch of action figures. There is lots of breaking down doors and things like that. But they’re also very distinct people, regular people, real people. These are not Navy SEALs. These are not elite forces. These are soldiers who went over there thinking they were involved in a peacekeeping mission and found themselves ambushed and the other men in the battalion who reached out to rescue them in whatever vehicles they could find. Some of them are still serving on active duty, and I can’t remember a time when a series has portrayed soldiers still on active duty.

Was that an impediment to you in reporting on the story? Were there a lot of restrictions on what the soldiers were allowed to talk about?

They shared everything they possibly could with me. And one of the most remarkable things about this series is that the Army gave it its blessing and cooperated with us. They allowed us to shoot on base and build a 12 acre set with 85 buildings.

I think in so many ways right now Americans are ready to see this. And the Army is ready to see this. The Army is ready to say, “This is what we did and this is how we fought. This is where we went into places where we were totally unprepared for what was to come.” They saw everything before we shot it, including scenes with anti-war protesters. There’s an entire episode about a soldier who became a very outspoken war protester. So that is the kind of eye-opening experience you have with this series.

We see very clearly in the series that this is a war that’s being fought in the streets and in people’s homes.

It’s about as hand to hand combat as you can get. You look each other in the eye. There are some remarkably intimate scenes with soldiers facing down an enemy.

What have you learned about courage through reporting and telling this story?

Sometimes the people who are most courageous are the ones you never expect to be. You cannot predict it. But I also learned that courage is defined in different ways. It’s not always the ways you think. When we walk into a situation sometimes it takes a little while to find the courage to find that leadership or to find that bravery that keeps them going. Everyone finds it in a different way. And again some people don’t. And that’s the kind of broad spectrum you have.

Why was it important for you to talk to the families as well as the soldiers who were directly involved?

It’s the soldiers who told me to go talk to family because they said, “If you think it’s bad for us you should see the families and what they went through and what they have to experience and just not knowing.” The soldiers know what’s happening; they know what’s coming next. Those families just have to wait and their courage and their bravery every day, starting with that day of the ambush and years that follow this unit is I think really eye-opening for people. One of the wives would not drive into the garage behind the house without driving by the front of her house first just to make sure there was not a car up there that was going to notify her of her husband’s death.

Your work has been in television. What could you do in a book and now in a series re-creating the events that you cannot do in television news?

When I first began reporting on the story, we never had was any video. From the descriptions from the soldiers and the survivors of that battle we can see it come to life in the miniseries. It is the first time I’ve seen that come alive.

What is it that you want people to talk about with their families after they watch this show?

I want people to talk about the cost of war and to understand what it means to go to war. I want people to think about their responsibility to be informed and to have a voice to vote to do whatever it is that involves them in those life and death choices because fewer than one percent of our country serves in the military. Ninety nine percent do not. And the very least people who do not serve can do is understand the consequences.

Originally published on HuffPost.

Related Tags:

 

Based on a book Based on a true story War Writers
ir.gif

Movies for Memorial Day

Posted on May 24, 2015 at 8:00 am

I’ve already written about great documentaries and feature films about the military to watch on Memorial Day.  These recent documentaries about our 21st century conflicts give the military a chance to tell their own story.  They are not pro-war or anti-war. They are pro-soldier.

The War Tapes Operation Iraqi Freedom was filmed by three soldiers on the front lines in 2006.

Restrepo This documentary tells the story of the deployment of a platoon of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. The movie focuses on a remote 15-man outpost, “Restrepo,” named after a platoon medic who was killed in action.

Gunner Palace This film shows us the lives of soldiers from the 2/3 Field Artillery in a bombed-out former pleasure palace once belonging to Uday Hussein.

Bomb Hunters: Afghanistan The US Army’s 23rd Engineer Company is are charged with clearing routes in southern Afghanistan and disarming the military’s number one threat: IEDs.

Always Faithful Military dog teams are on the front lines of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Always Faithful” follows five young Marines and their four-legged partners.

Baghdad ER Like a real-life update on the kinds of facilities portrayed in “MASH,” this film looks at life and death at the 86th Combat Support Hospital, the U.S. Army’s premier medical facility in Iraq.

 

Related Tags:

 

Documentary For Your Netflix Queue War

The Unknown Known

Posted on April 3, 2014 at 5:59 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some disturbing images and brief nudity
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Wartime violence, terrorism,
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: April 3, 2014
© 2014 Radius/TWC
© 2014 Radius/TWC

Errol Morris turns his famous “interrotron” camera on two-time Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for something between a bookend and a counterpoint to his Oscar-winning The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara. But this SecDef (as they say in the Pentagon) is not here to confess or apologize even in part, as McNamara did.

He says, in the movie’s final exchange, that he is not sure why he agreed to submit to more than 30 hours of what must have felt more like the cross-examination in “A Few Good Men” or even a detainee interrogation than the back-and-forth press briefings Rumsfeld conducted during the early days of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We see many clips from those celebrated exchanges, at the time referred to as the best show in Washington, and still undeniably entertaining. Rumsfeld’s good humor and confidence were bracing and reassuring at a time when everything seemed to be what he would call an unknown unknown. Like Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men” he does not think we can handle the truth. He may be right.

He’s not here to explain.  What he is here to do is to repeat the same version of the story, despite the fact that the audience has had the benefit of making some of those unknowns more known.

Rumsfeld’s constant memos, perhaps 20,000 by his count over his final term at Defense, were called “snowflakes” by the staff, based on their color and frequency. It must have seemed like an avalanche. Morris shows us long shelves of folders filled with snowflakes. He has Rumsfeld read some portions aloud, beginning with his famous taxonomy of information. There were known knowns, things we know and know to be true. There were known unknowns, things we do not know and wish we did. There were unknown knowns, things we do not realize that we know. And unknown unknowns, things we don’t know and don’t know that we need to know. Yes.

But what we do with those categories is the tough part, especially when assigning facts. The boxes and labels are nice and neat. The things we do and do not know are not. Rumsfeld often seems Wittgensteinian when he calls for dictionary definitions or makes a distinction between a Pentagon term and standard English. But definitions are not answers.

“Pearl Harbor was a failure of imagination,” Rumsfeld says. So, we gather, was 9/11. Vietnam was “the inevitable ugly ending of an unsuccessful effort.” How do we not make that mistake again? How do we destroy terrorists without a Hydra effect, creating two more for every one we cut down? We might think those answers are known unknowns. But Rumsfeld does not have the luxury of waiting to be sure.

He tells us he found out the US was going to invade Iraq when he was called into a meeting with then-Vice President Dick Cheney (Rumsfeld’s former assistant in the Nixon White House), along with Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar. And that he never read the Justice Department legal memos about “enhanced interrogation.” He insists that he never said and the American people never thought there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks. Cut to tape of the press conference where he called Saddam a liar for denying there was a connection.

Rumsfeld is aware of the inherent conflicts. He cheerfully acknowledges the inconsistency between two principles: Belief in the inevitability of conflict can be one of its causes. And if you wish for peace, prepare for war. Plus: all generalizations are false, including this one. He sounds like a zen master, but a jolly one. His good humor can be disconcerting, but not chilling. At the time, it was reassuring to us and undeniably disconcerting to our enemies. Rumsfeld often seems exceptionally forthright, as when he calmly discusses his two offers to resign following the revelations of abuse at Abu Ghraib.  Would you rather have someone in that job who is grim?

His demeanor comes across today as oddly disengaged.  He tears up once, telling about a visit to a gravely injured soldier who was not expected to live, but who did.  There are no stories about those who did not.

Morris sometimes overdoes it, with a celestial choir and a snow globe of the Washington Monument as repeated commentary/symbols. Repeated sped-up shots of traffic in Washington, obviously far after the events being discussed, add little.

One can’t help thinking that part of what draws Morris to this story is his own belief in the capacity for absolute truth, in its way as limited as Rumsfeld’s belief that he can tie down the unknown unknowns tightly enough to support a military strategy.  Or disinfect a morally compromised decision.  But then, how many decisions in wartime or in time of terrorism are not morally compromised?  There are unknown knowns, and unknown unknowns, and there are also political and historical quagmires.

Parents should know that this film has disturbing subject matter and some graphic images of the victims of “enhanced interrogation” and abuse.

Family discussion: Once you have created the categories of “known knowns” and “known unknowns,” how do you know when you have enough information to decide? What qualities should one have to serve as Secretary of Defense? What surprised you about this version of the story and why?

If you like this, try: The Fog of War, No End in Sight, also by Morris, and Taxi To the Dark Side

Related Tags:

 

Documentary Movies -- format Politics War
ir.gif

The Green Zone

Posted on June 23, 2010 at 11:10 pm

The star and director of the last two “Bourne” movies are back and much is the same — the gritty, intimate, documentary feel, the sense of peril and dynamic staging of action, the able but conflicted leading man. But there is an important difference. “Bourne” is based on a series of novels, but “The Green Zone” is based on a non-fiction book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City by former Washington Post Baghdad bureau chief Rajiv Chandrasekaran, about the failed search for weapons of mass destruction in post-Mission Accomplished Iraq.

The “Bourne” movies were more than the usual slick spy story. Bourne was spying on his own past and what was revealed did not match real-life events but it resonated with them, giving the films some extra heft. “The Green Zone,” however, bases the story in recent events. It tweaks the names and some of the circumstances of the main characters, but not enough to establish a separate, consistent reality, just enough to be distracting. Audiences will look at the Wall Street Journal reporter played by Amy Ryan and stop to whisper, “Is she supposed to be Judy Miller? Is there a reason that a different character’s name is Miller? And who is that other guy supposed to be?” Those who are up on all of the details of the Iraqi war will be distracted by what is missing. Those who are not will be distracted by what is included.

As Damon and his men chase through crumbling buildings on blown-up streets, chasing and being chased, we see that all of their crack training and cutting-edge technology are no match for a situation that does not meet any previous military definitions or capacities. There are no foxholes or battle lines. Like the Light Brigade, they are expected to charge forward, “theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do & die.” But when a Chief Warrant Officer (Damon) finds that he is repeatedly risking his life to retrieve weapons of mass destruction that do not exist, he wants to find out why the intel is so consistently unreliable. And then, when no one else seems to care about that, he wants to find out why. Shock and Awe seems to have deteriorated quickly into a quagmire.

His quest takes him though a crumbling palace, chandeliers incongruously shoved aside, to an even more surreal location in the American compound, with girls lounging in bikinis by a pool, being served pizza and beer. He meets a local with a prosthetic leg (Khalid Abdalla, excellent as “Freddy”), who leads him to the man who is the Jack of Clubs in the war criminal deck of cards. But it turns out that his mission is not what he had thought. “Democracy is messy,” a Pentagon official (Greg Kinnear) tells him. “We’re here to do a job and get home safe,” another soldier says. “I thought we were all on the same side,” the Chief Warrant Officer tells the CIA representative (Brendan Gleeson). “Don’t be naive,” he responds. It turns out hardly anyone is on the same side as anyone else. Both sides have splintered into factions with shifting loyalties and murky motives. And the wall of the prison where Iraqis are being tortured says, “Honor Bound to Serve Freedom.”

But this script’s attempts to be intricate underscore how much it simplifies the reality, especially with a gesture at the end that is supposed to be cathartic but instead just makes us question the reliability of everything we’ve seen. Over-simplified and under-played, this movie wants to be more than the fictional Bourne series but ends up being less. I’m betting that this was a studio-imposed effort to make the film more marketable after a series of disappointing box office returns for Iraqi war movies. Some day, maybe, there will be a director’s cut that will recognize that like democracy, some movies need to be messy, too.

Related Tags:

 

Action/Adventure Drama Inspired by a true story War

Stop-Loss

Posted on July 8, 2008 at 8:00 am

stop%20loss.jpgA young soldier who has come home from Iraq is forced to rethink his ideas about heroism and patriotism when he is “stop-lossed” — informed that instead of leaving the Army he has been involuntarily assigned to another tour of duty. Brandon (Ryan Phillippe) and Steve (Channing Tatum), his best friend since high school, were greeted with an old-fashioned hero’s welcome right out of a Norman Rockwell painting, with a parade and a warm handshake from their Senator, who says his door will always be open to real-life American heroes. They speak proudly about “killing ’em in Iraq so we won’t have to kill ’em in Texas.” But when Brandon finds out that the government has the right to send him back, he goes AWOL and leaves for Washington with Steve’s estranged fiancée (Abbie Cornish), hoping the Senator will find a way for him to stay home.
The real-life Army euphemism “stop loss,” sometimes referred to as a “backdoor draft” for the all-volunteer army, takes on multiple meanings as the film progresses. Brandon’s efforts to stay home are his own stop loss program. When he first comes home, he seems to be the most stable and responsible of the returning soldiers. But he crumbles quickly when ordered to return. For him, leaving the Army is the only way to stop further loss of his ability to return to a normal life. His efforts to resist only create conflicts with the people closest to him.

(more…)

Related Tags:

 

Drama War
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2024, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at Rogerebert.com, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik