Stop-Loss

In the case of the Vietnam war it took long after the war had ended for the first critical films to come out. Americans in this respect still aren’t as bad as the French, who have yet to own up to their crimes in the colonies. Even today the best they can offer is oblique references to colonial depredations (take for example the awful Flanders). The French were so sensitive about their colonial legacy in Viet Nam even in 1979 that Francis Ford Coppola had to edit out a long section from Apocalypse Now lest it upset judges at the Cannes Film Festival.

However, the Iraq war has been unique insofar as it has produced some excellent cinema even as it has continued to grind on. Yet, most of these films have failed at the box office. Some of them perhaps understandably so: War Inc., Redacted, Lambs for Lions and Battle for Haditha were well-meaning, for example, but didn’t work so well as films. In the Valley of Elah, on the other hand, had all the right elements: an a-list cast comprising of multiple Oscar winners, an Oscar-winning writer and director, a superb screenplay; and yet, it was a complete commercial failure.  So was Grace is Gone; and Rendition. So was another — perhaps one of the best — which also had all the right elements: Stop-Loss. The film is based on the experiences of director Kimberley Peirce’s own brother, and it makes news stories such as the following from the Guardian rather predictable.

An Iraq war veteran has been arrested and charged with threatening to kill his officers after recording a violent rap protest song and sending it to the Pentagon.

Marc Hall, a junior member of an infantry unit, wrote the song in protest at the US army’s unpopular policy of involuntarily extending soldiers’ service and forcing them to return to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Hall completed a 14-month spell in Iraq last year, expecting to be discharged next month, but was told he would have to go back to Iraq under the policy known as stop-loss.

The song includes lines saying the army “fucked me over”, and a warning that he would shoot his officers and “watch all the bodies hit the floor”…

But the soldier’s civilian lawyer, James Klimaski, said Hall was using the hip-hop genre, which often includes violent lyrics, to legitimately voice disgruntlement among troops at stop-loss. The stop-loss policy has forced 185,000 service personnel to stay in the military beyond their contracts to meet the demand over two wars…If you listen to what the song’s about, not the specific lines, it’s against stop-loss. And it’s the anger of troops who go over and come back and go over again and come back in an unending war.” .

Hall, who sings under the name Marc Watercus, directs his anger at officers. “Fuck you colonels, captains, E-7 and above. You think you so much bigger than I am? …” The song suggests he will round up the officers and put them against a wall. “I got a … magazine with 30 rounds, on a three-round burst, ready to fire down. Still against the wall, I grab my M-4, spray and watch all the bodies hit the floor. I bet you never stop-loss nobody no more.”…

The Bush administration introduced stop-loss to ensure it had enough service personnel to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without enforcing a draft that would have been politically unpopular and brought home the true cost of the war to many people. Critics have described the policy as “involuntary servitude” and as a severe blow to morale. The military has said it will end stop-loss next year.

Author: Idrees Ahmad

I am a Lecturer in Digital Journalism at the University of Stirling and a former research fellow at the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies. I am the author of The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War (Edinburgh University Press, 2014). I write for The Observer, The Nation, The Daily Beast, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Al Jazeera, Dissent, The National, VICE News, Huffington Post, In These Times, Le Monde Diplomatique, Die Tageszeitung (TAZ), Adbusters, Guernica, London Review of Books (Blog), The New Arab, Bella Caledonia, Asia Times, IPS News, Medium, Political Insight, The Drouth, Canadian Dimension, Tanqeed, Variant, etc. I have appeared as an on-air analyst on Al Jazeera, the BBC, TRT World, RAI TV, Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon, Alternative Radio with David Barsamian and several Pacifica Radio channels.

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