This is the second in a five-part series, “Retelling the War,” in which veterans discuss how books, movies and other tales of combat shaped their perceptions of themselves and of war.
I was eager to see “The Hurt Locker” since it is one of the first movies about my war.
I found it very interesting. I saw a lot of reality there. I have seen and dealt with, to a limited extent, the addiction to adrenaline. I do not know of anyone who loved it more than their wife and child, but I do know that it can be extremely addictive. Jumping out of an airplane affords great odds of survival. Combat or disarming a bomb does not afford such great odds. Your body will react similarly but with more intensity. When this occurs daily or more than once daily your body craves it like a drug addict craves a drug. I found the movie entertaining, but given my experience, I imagine it was scary to me on a different level than most.
War movies in general are great for what they are: entertainment. I grew up in the 1980s and saw almost all of the good war movies of that time. I was in the theater for “Full Metal Jacket” and have a copy of “Platoon” at home. I own “The Boys in Company C,” “Kelly’s Heroes,” “Sands of Iwo Jima” and a few others. Like I said, they are good entertainment. But of course there is a darker side.
These movies glorify a situation that has no real glory in it. Turn to one of your relatives or friends who has been in combat and ask them what they think of war. I am sure that they will tell you that it is scary, gruesome and requires extreme intestinal fortitude. There are no Sgt. Strykers or Gunny Highways in the real Corps. We don’t have a director who can step in when all hell is breaking loose and yell, “Cut!”
I joined the Marine Corps because I was looking for a way to get my life on track. My grandfather did 28 years in the Corps (Korea and Vietnam) and my father did eight years in the Corps (Vietnam), then 13 in the Army. When I was given the opportunity to go to war in Iraq I was as happy as you can imagine. That was what I grew up watching in the movies. I wanted to be my own “Animal Mother” (see: “Full Metal Jacket”).
When I got to Iraq I soon learned that it was not the movies. In my first few weeks we drove over an I.E.D. We caught the guys as they were driving away by riddling their car with bullets from machine guns and few M-16’s. The driver was struck twice and the passenger was not shot but I think he was having a heart attack when we got over to them.
A few days later while on a foot patrol I spotted a blue blinking light in the road and walked up to it. It was a phone taped to a canister. While running for my life the thing exploded. I was not injured but was very shaken up.
We went to Falluja in April of 2004. Our company saw two to three firefights a day. It was the first time I saw one of my friends get shot. In one month we took light casualties (thankfully, no dead Marines). We then went to Zaidon and a handful of Marines received serious wounds. Our radio man lost his foot; one of our rifleman lost his arm. A friend of mine took shrapnel to the throat and there were other serious wounds. Thankfully, no dead Marines. After that it was back to Mahmudiya: on the second day there we drove over an I.E.D. The only casualty was our Marine “Big Country” getting a concussion from the overpressure.
Later in the deployment my Humvee was hit by a large I.E.D. I had my forehead crushed in, lost both eyes, had to have my right hand fully reconstructed and took severe damage to my left knee. One buddy lost a foot; one of the others took shrapnel to the forehead but lived; one took superficial shrapnel wounds to the arm and one of my best friends died.
Would you bring your children out to the battlefield to witness it live and in person?
On a later deployment to Iraq that I did not go on, I lost three more friends to I.E.D.’s. One of them was the Navy Corpsman (Marine medic) who saved my life on the battlefield back in Mahmudiya. I have a tattoo over my left breast (where my heart is) that says “Semper Fidelis,” the Marine Corps motto. It is Latin for “Always Faithful” and refers to always accomplishing the mission. Around the “Semper Fidelis” are four names. “Thompson,” “Belchik,” Cockerham” and “Hodshire.” All great guys that I would let date my sister.
“The Hurt Locker” and all the other movies I mentioned, whether they are good or bad as entertainment, are still war movies and war movies glorify the acts of violence that I described above. How do you feel about that? Would you bring your children out to the battlefield to witness it live and in person? There is no happy ending. Kelly does not get the gold, Stryker does not make it to the top of Mount Suribachi and 8-Ball gets cut down by a sniper. Please remember that when you watch a war movie you are watching stories about young Americans who went far from home and risked their lives; some of them died there with only their brothers in arms to witness. Hollywood is now taking our money by walking on their graves.
Maybe that’s extreme. Of course I understand why people watch war movies. I watch them, too. But I have seen my friends die and most of the movies just bring up very painful memories.
The author responds to readers on why he continues to use the words “see” and “watch,” even after he has lost his sight.
Michael Jernigan served in 2004 with Easy Company, Second Battalion, Second Marine Regiment in Mahmudiya, Zaidon, and Falluja, where he was severely injured and blinded by a roadside bomb. He was medically retired from the Marine Corps in December 2005.
Full article and photo: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/02/home-fires-the-war-movie-you-dont-want-to-see/