Posts Tagged ‘MPT’

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Hell and Back Again

February 1, 2013
88 Mins. Documentary, Docuramafilms

88 Mins.
Documentary, Docuramafilms

Hell and Back Again is a touching film following Sergeant Nathan Harris and his regiment in Afghanistan, documented by photojournalist Danfung Dennis in 2009. As a sequel to the World War II documentary of Audie Murphy, this documentary depicts an important aspect of war that is often forgotten or under-articulated in the media. Danfung Dennis was working in Iraq and Afghanistan for several years prior, taking pictures for the media, he felt that society was becoming numb to the horrific events of the war due to the monotonous way they were shown. Dennis was determined to obtain a different perspective, one where people could actually understand what was occurring on the ground in Afghanistan, so as to bring renewed interest and a personal aspect. In achieving this goal, Danfung Dennis found Echo Company 2nd battalion 8th regiment. The documentary goes back and forth presenting scenes of Marines fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan and the post-service life of a Marine from Echo Company who was injured in battle. Sergeant Nathan Harris, with the support of his wife Ashley, works to heal a gunshot wound to his hip that left him unable to walk normally. This rare combination of first-hand live action, coupled with the opportunity to see the candid, direct effects of war on a Marine once he has returned home is both an honor and a heart-wrenching experience. Hell and Back Again has won the Grand Jury Prize and Cinematography Prize at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and has gained praise from many critics. AMC’s filmcritic.com calls it “one of the greatest war films of this generation”, and the New York Post’s Vincent Musetto said it is “stunning… a breathlessly paced look at the realties of war”.

            The Marines of the United States are trained to be experts in the application of violence, as voiced in the documentary. Their strategy is to become the offensive player and take control of the population outside the grasp of the Taliban. In the first of the numerous battle scenes shown, shooting erupts from an unknown area and we experience the first death of the film. Lance Corporal Sharp, nicknamed “Sharpie” by his comrades, had been shot. His fellow Marines carry him out of the gunfire and tend to his wound; however, he is unable to be revived. Sergeant Nathan Harris becomes his successor, leading the platoon through the next 6 months as Dennis’s journey with them begins. The film alternately turns to the future when the Marine’s return home on a bus. Their loved ones are waiting for them while holding up signs. There is a overwhelming abundance of hugging, kissing, and tears of joy shared within the group. However, Sergeant Nathan Harris has been severely wounded just prior to his planned return home and is not able to attend the homecoming. Sergeant Harris is not brought home with his fellow men in a spectacle of celebration, but sent home from the hospital in a wheelchair with a handful of addictive prescriptions such as oxycontin and morphine.

            After his injury, Sergeant Nathan Harris is no longer able to be completely independent. He relies on his wife for many things, such as helping him change clothes or getting his medicine from the pharmacy. He has to use a machine on his leg for 8 hours each day to stretch the muscles, and the intense pain makes him physically sick. Even through this, Harris says at the Pain Management Clinic that he does not have a problem with his injury because he was prepared and knew what it would be like to come home, and later he reiterates that he is just glad it wasn’t a chest injury. From the soldiers’ perspective, the importance of defending the United States is unquestionable;  however, the methods being used to wage war are leaving a generation of men with physical and psychological hindrances. This is shown in the documentary through the course of Nathan Harris’s physical training, which makes him ill from the pain, as well as his unprovoked aggravated behavior. The physical toll is exampled after touring a potential house with a realtor; Nathan Harris finds himself in too much pain to walk and must take pain medication. In a very sobering scene, Harris goes to the funeral of thirteen fallen soldiers. There is a long line of Marines seen honoring their dead comrades. To look not only at the major physical damage, including the deaths and injuries, Mrs. Harris describes her husband’s behavior since his injury. She acknowledges that he has become a completely different person, his temper has left him as someone whom when she looks at she sees emptiness instead of her husband.

In the Bonus Feature, Invisible Wounds, a professional stresses to the soldiers the importance of seeking help instead of keeping everything inside. Stress injuries are nothing to be ashamed of. As spoken by Sergeant Harris, these men must accept the possibility of death as a real option.  No matter how well prepared, there is still the possibility that you could lose your life on a daily basis.

            Harris’s change of emotional stability is clear with his quick, aggravated mood changes. As Nathan Harris and his wife search for a parking spot at the local Walmart, a frequent action of daily life, Nathan becomes abrupt and frustrated. He says looking for a parking spot while it is crowded stresses him out and he would rather be back with his platoon in Afghanistan fighting then worrying about such stressful things. This statement is not logical to people who have not suffered such trauma. This odd behavior is brought up again when going through a drivethough and Sergeant Harris becomes unnecessarily aggravated when people talk over each other or interrupt; unable to function with his frustration he simply puts his head between his hands. Another strange habit of Sergeant Harris is his unique relationship with his gun. He constantly has it with him throughout the documentary, whether in the car or at home, and even chooses to keep it under his mattress with the handle ready for him to grab. Gun use is an extremely controversial topic in today’s society but Sergeant Harris does not shy away from displaying his weapon. This could be emulating his fear that built during his active duty and his current need to feel protected. Physical wounds are clear and there is a exact way they must be treated; however, psychological problems are equally as pressing while socially less recognized. The possibility of a stress disorder or other psychological impact is quite real when soldiers return from the war, a consequence that is brought up in the bonus features Did You Kill Anyone? Families ask how to handle their newly home soldiers; this is an excellent source for anyone who has had a loved one in the military.

            There is a significant disconnect between the goals of the United States to help Afghan villagers and how these locals perceive the militias presence that is brought up in Hell and Back Again. This can definitely be partially blamed on the cultural and language barriers that exist. The United States Marines constantly reiterate what President Obama says during a speech in the documentary. The United States does not want to occupy or rule Afghanistan, such as the Soviets or Al-Qaeda fighters did; they simply want to end the suffering and become partners. In this sense, the ultimate goal is long-term and results in peace, whereas the villagers see the short-term threat of being moved from their villages, unable to farm, and fearing the safety of their children. They see the temporary occupation as a bother that continuously brings the Taliban into their region. Each side has a valuable point. Afghanistan has long been under foreign occupation and needs encouragement to build a sustainable infrastructure; however, the use of firefights and violence is costing lives of many American soldiers as well as disrupting the lives of the innocent civilians. After his time in the Marines, Sergeant Harris explains his belief that the big picture is lost within the fighting. He supports that the Marines are rightfully dedicated to defending America but using this form of defense also has major costs, as he first-handedly experiences.

Lauren Mooradian, MPT Intern

Resources:

  • Hell and Back Again. Dir. Danfung Dennis. Perf. Sergeant Nathan Harris and Ashley Harris. Docuramafilms, 2011. DVD.
  • Willie Nelson – Hell and Back   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IXAmeY0b52M  – Comments by Marine’s in Echo Company during this period
  • Bonus Feature– Blue Star Families PSA: The experience of war is unimaginable to those of us who have not experiences it first-hand. Your loved ones may not know what it’s like but there are people out there who do, contact them.
  • MSNBC Interview (Dylan Ratigan) with Danfung Dennis   http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/31510813/#44792225
  • Hell and Back Again Trailer   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=luoc9UM-G40
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MPT’s Fall Newsletter

October 29, 2012

Click here:  MPT’s Fall 2012 Newsletter 

Knowing that active nonviolence is always our MPT focus, how do we keep on doing the good work with informed action in community, and with commitment in the face of obstacles? And secondly: What are effective ways of overcoming our own, our community’s, our world’s sense of hopelessness, paralysis, atomization, apathy and cynicism?

This Fall 2012 Newsletter offers the following answers to those questions:

  • Some Tools for the Long Haul – Peter Dougherty (pg. 1)
  • A Noble Difference – Annette Thomas (2-3)
  • Where There Is Apathy, Let Us Bring Hope – Albert F.J. Kreitz (3)
  • This is It!: Experiencing Beloved Community – Kim Redigan (4)
  • Seeing the Other  – Kristie Guerrero-Taylor (5)
  • The Outcome Is Not In Our Hands – Sandra Schneiders, IHM (6)
  • Cynicism & Community – Lydia Wylie-Kellermann (7)
  • Making a Difference, Moment by Moment – Paula Marie (8)
  • Nonviolence Training (8)
  • Peace Teams and the Fall 2012 Peace Team (9)
  • Growing Community Events – Elizabeth Walters, IHM (10-11)
  • Help Continue the Dream (12)
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We Have Not Heard the Last Word!

August 31, 2012

By Elizabeth Walters

MPT Staff Member & Peace Team Member for Michigan Peace Team in Gaza

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The verdict came on August 28, 2012, when the Israeli Court declared that the military is free of blame and absolved of any wrongdoing with regards to the death of twenty-three year old Rachel Corrie on March 16, 2003. The investigation concluded that Corrie’s death was an accident and that she had endangered herself by entering a combat zone. Simply stated the court believes that Rachel chose to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and that is why she died.

Days before the verdict, at a meeting at the US embassy in Tel Aviv the ambassador, Dan Shapiro, told Rachel Corrie’s parents and her sister that the government did not believe the Israeli military investigation had been “thorough, credible and transparent”, as had been promised by Israel. (The Guardian, Friday 24 August 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/aug/24/israel-rachel-corrie-us-ambassador

I join with people around the planet who are shocked and dismayed by this verdict.

Beginning of MPT’s Involvement:

My concern and commitment date back to the beginning. In early June 2003, Mary Ann Ford, Jim Noble and I arrived in Rafah, Gaza two and a half months after Rachel’s death and shortly after peace team member Tom Hurndall was shot in the head and journalist Jim Miller had been killed by Israeli military personnel. Also, Mary Ann and I returned to Rafah, Gaza during Operation Rainbow in 2004. In both instances, local people in Rafah, Gaza had invited Michigan Peace Team to come. Once in Rafah we were able to monitor and document human rights violations and carry out other aspects of our peace team work.

Also we were committed personally to investigate the circumstance surrounding Rachel’s death. We interviewed eye witnesses including members of the peace team of which Rachel was a part. We went to the site of Rachel’s death. In addition, we gathered, organized, and studied documents, photos and videos regarding Rachel’s death that were in the peace team office and at key agencies that had been involved in investigating the death of Rachel.

Here are some of our findings

1.   Rachel Corrie was in the right place at the right time. She was doing what people are called to do worldwide: to nonviolently protect people, homes and neighborhoods from unjust and illegal demolitions. The Israeli military was destroying homes and neighborhoods in spite of international condemnations, and concerns about violations of human rights and international law.

 2.   The dictates of human rights, international law, and moral code enjoin military personnel to make a distinction between civilians and the military and to ensure the safety of unarmed civilians.

 3.   Eyewitness accounts and documents confirm that the Israeli military was given every opportunity to be aware of the presence of the nonviolent peace team on the ground on March 16, 2003 because:

•        Rachel Corrie wore a reflector vest and the whole team wore bright clothing;

•        These nonviolent protesters posted signs for all to see regarding their presence and protest against home demolitions that day; and,

•        The peace team was using a bull horn to announce their presence and to urge the military to stop destroying the homes of Palestinians.

4.   Rachel Corrie and the whole peace team were unarmed and nonviolent. The military was armed, moving in armored vehicles, and guarded by tanks and gun towers. Clearly there was no threat to the soldiers.

5.   The ISM peace team’s expectation that they would not be shot or crushed by the military during their nonviolent protest was in my view a reasonable expectation at that time.

In spite of these findings and hundreds more, Rachel Corrie was crushed to death by an Israeli military bulldozer on March 16, 2003 and years later, on August 28, 2012, in response to the civil suit brought to court by the parents of Rachel Corrie, the Israeli court declared the Israeli military free of blame and absolved from any wrongdoing with regard to Rachel’s death.

Today the Haaretz Digital Edition is reporting that Corrie’s mother, Cindy, put it this way at a news conference following the court ruling:

“The state has worked extremely hard to make sure that the full truth about what happened to my daughter is not exposed, and that those responsible for her killing are not held accountable.”

(Haaretz, August 31, 2012, http://www.haaretz.com/news/features/double-take/what-the-rachel-corrie-case-reveals-about-israeli-justice.premium-1.461938)

As mentioned earlier, Mary Ann and I served on MPT peace teams in Rafah, Gaza during 2003 and 2004 and I went back to Gaza on another team in 2005 with Karen Donahue and Mary Miner. Our MPT peace teams lived and worked among the people of Gaza, and along with the people, we experienced firsthand the horror of the occupying military forces.

Here are some of our lived experiences: Sealed shut, by land, sea, and air, Gaza was and is the largest prison in the world. The Israeli military continued destroying Palestinian neighborhoods, seizing land, and declaring military zones in Palestinian neighborhoods. Throughout this process, when shooting from the gun towers, tanks, helicopters the military operated as if there was little or no distinction between civilians and military personnel. Many Palestinians died at the hands of the Israeli military and more than 2000 Palestinian homes were destroyed at the border to create the so-called Philadelphia Corridor. Also, we and Palestinians living in Gaza endured Operation Rainbow in 2004.

Then in 2007, after MPT was prevented from entering Gaza, the Israeli military invaded Gaza and conducted Operation Cast Lead.

In light of both Rachel’s death AND the on-going misery of the people of Gaza it is impossible for me to believe or accept that the Israeli military is blameless and absolved of any wrongdoing.

For years, the situation in Gaza and Rachel’s death has had a lasting effect on my life and the lives of many others. We continue to remember the commitment to active nonviolence so evident in Rachel and in many Palestinian people in Gaza. In that same spirit we continue to resist nonviolently on behalf of human rights, peace, and social justice.

In closing, I want to share with you my message to the parents of Rachel Corrie:

Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Corrie!

I am grateful beyond words that you to seek justice regarding your daughter’s death while continuing to speak on behalf of Palestinians.

Do not lose heart. Know that the truth IS breaking through and a light shines on your work. Know too that the courage and love of your daughter Rachel continues to inspire and move us to action on behalf of justice for Palestinians. Know too that we have not heard the last word! The arc of history bends toward nonviolent resistance, peace, and social justice.

Your sister, Elizabeth Walters, MPT Peace Team Member who witnessed the horror of the Israeli military in Gaza during 2003, 2004, and 2005

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