Introduction: A Better War Movie
In American cinematography, war movies have come in two flavors exclusively: those movies which ultimately support and fetishize war, and those films which are critical of certain wars and actions; typically coming from a liberal perspective with proper amounts of patriotic sentimentalism, apologism for the barbarous acts of US soldiers and a weak message that only scratches the surface of the true horrors of imperialist war. Redacted (2007), written and directed by Brian De Palma, is a rare break from the typical Hollywood dynamic.
A Dramatization of a Real Crime
In 2006, five American soldiers serving with the 502nd Infantry Regiment of the US Army participated in the rape of a 14 year old Iraqi girl and the murder of her and her family in their home. Redacted follows the story of these soldiers on their deployment before, during and after their rape and mass murder. Having their tour in Iraq extended for additional months, we are made to see the psychological state of these soldiers deteriorate until, after mowing down a car with a pregnant woman in it with 50 caliber rounds and having their commander killed by an IED, the soldiers decide to take out their frustrations on a young girl and her family during a horrific and unsanctioned night raid. This crime, and the events leading up to it, are depicted in a pseudo-documentary style, with much of the footage being “documented” by Private First Class Angel Salazar (Izzy Diaz), making for an experience that appears very genuine considering that this is indeed a dramatization.
For more information on the crime itself, read this article: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/world/2006-07/10/content_637134.htm
One thing that this film does well to capture is the colonialist attitudes that US soldiers hold towards those whom they are occupying. Soldiers, no matter their ethnicity or background, refer to the civilian populace as “hajis,” “ali-babas” — or even more telling examples of colonialist rhetoric — ““rag-heads” and “sand-niggers.”
While this may seem exaggerated to some readers, one must keep in mind that creating racial epithets and using dehumanizing rhetoric towards ones enemy in war is a military past-time as old as weaponry itself, especially as far as the United States’ colonial interests are concerned.
Logically following this ideological effort at dehumanizing their enemy, some of the soldiers make comments about how killing Iraqis is like “stomping on cockroaches.” There is even a reference to the utility of having a nuclear holocaust visited on the country, with one character saying that the US Air Force should “vaporize every sand nigger… leave nothing but scorched Earth!”
After using his 50 caliber machine gun to blow apart a pregnant woman and her unborn child at a checkpoint, Specialist Reno Flake (Patrick Carroll), the main antagonist and driving force behind the rape and murder, responds to questions of his remorse for the killing of this innocent woman “The only language these sand-niggers understand is force” and denies any feelings of remorse. The Inevitability of Sexual Violence in Imperialism
While the film focuses on one individual crime and its perpetrators, an effort is made to communicate that this isn’t an isolated phenomenon. Rather than being an “unfortunate incidents” carried out by “bad apples” rape in war serves an important function to imperialism. It serves to make clear the dominating position of the occupiers over the bodies and minds of the occupied. Even if rape isn’t an openly accepted tactic and policy, as it was in the case of Japanese imperialism in Nanking and in the case of US-backed regimes in Latin America, rape is destined to occur with more frequency as an occupation and insurgent resistance carries on.
In Redacted, we see how the fear and hatred the soldiers have for the Iraqis eventually consummate in the acts they perpetrate. The combination of their colonialist attitudes towards the occupied, the strain of having to stay in Iraq overtime and the day-to-day stress of the occupation brought these soldiers to the breaking point. From the massacre at Mai Lai to the rape and murder of Abeer Qasim Hamza al-Janabi and her family, this is a pattern as old as imperialism itself.
The Victims, Foreign & Domestic
The rape committed by US soldiers in the course of their campaigns of imperialist adventurism isn’t always targeted at civilians. Rather, a large percentage of rape in the military involves soldiers raping their comrades. For a good article on this phenomenon, check out this Salon.com article: http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2007/03/07/women_in_military
Additionally, you can find out more at http://www.stopmilitaryrape.org/
Cover-Ups and Silenced Witnesses
When it came to acting on reports of the crime, authorities within the military acted with skepticism and hostility when Corporal Lawyer McCoy (Rob Devaney) came forward with the accusations. McCoy, who did not participate in the rape and murder and was forced at gunpoint out of the house by the rapists, is at one point told by his own father (a veteran himself) that his accusations will be met with “questions of his sanity.” The prevailing attitude of authorities is that they’d prefer to “save face,” in a nationalist sense, and at the end when they are finally confronted and interrogated, the perpetrators justify their actions by saying “you persecute guys like us… you’re just aiding the terrorists.”
THIS is War
A few months ago, the Red Phoenix reviewed a war movie released with the title “This is War.” That little gem of imperialist propaganda, however, would seem to be entirely at odds to the reality of imperialism as experienced by the citizens of countries occupied by the United States military. Redacted, while it is a fictional dramatization of an actual event, does more to showcase the colonialism, the physical and sexual violence, as well as the generally macabre circumstance which imperialism creates for both the occupiers and the occupied. This film is important in that it makes an earnest attempt to communicate the horrors of imperialist war and is a must see for anyone with any “support the troops” illusions about the occupation. Viewers should keep in mind that what they will see in this film is graphic and incredibly disturbing, but so is the truth of imperialist violence.