At the risk of dating myself, I can recall televised news reports from
the jungles of Southeast Asia during the late 1960s and early 70s. In fact,
the conflict in Vietnam has been referred to as the "living room war" since
for the first time in history, American television viewers saw just what the
troops were facing firsthand. They did not have to rely on newsreels or
printed articles. There was definitely a "you are there" aspect. When the
United States moved to assist Kuwait in the early 1990s, cable news set
the bar for coverage. When American troops returned to the region after
the events of September 11, 2001, the concept of an "embedded" journalist
--  one who traveled with the troops -- was introduced, but eventually the
novelty wore out and the news from the region has in many ways been
circumspect. While the government would deny any censorship, certain
images rarely have been broadcast or photographed (like the arrival of
flag-draped coffins carrying the remains of servicemen and women killed in
the line of duty).

Instead of relying on television to tell the story of the Iraq conflict --
an outgrowth of the Bush administration's "war on terror" -- filmmakers
have been stepping in to fill the void. Over the last several years, there
has been almost a cottage industry of documentaries about the war told
from virtually every angle, including
GUNNER PALACE,THE WAR TAPES,
and THE BLOOD OF MY  BROTHER, to name but a handful.

Patricia Foulkrod has attempted something a little different in the
exemplary documentary
THE GROUND TRUTH. Watching her film (which
admittedly takes a while to get to its point), I couldn't help but to be
reminded of
WINTER SOLDIER, which was released earlier in 2006 on DVD.
Like that film,
THE GROUND TRUTH has veterans confronting some of the
acts they perpetrated in the name of war. The main difference between the
films is that
WINTER SOLDIER was a concerted effort on the part of
Vietnam Veterans Against the War; an event to which the press was invited.
Perhaps it says something about how times have changed (or how the
government has cracked down on the media) that it is almost impossible
to imagine a similar event occurring in today's climate. The closest thing
is Foulkrod's documentary.

THE GROUND TRUTH interviews men and women who have served
in the armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead of dealing directly
with the political divisiveness around the war, Foulkrod has chosen to
turn a laser-like focus on the plight of these men and women -- who
more than epitomize the term "walking wounded." Some have lost limbs,
others carry psychic scars, but the main thing that ties them together is
the lack of support offered by the Veterans Administration. Just as the
men and women who flocked to the debris-strewn field of the World Trade
Center in New York City and are now facing high rates of cancer and other
life-threatening illnesses, these combat veterans are facing physical and
psychological problems. It's made clear in the film that because of medical
advances in the past four decades, some of those wounded are being
saved whereas in other arenas of battle (World War II, Korea or Vietnam),
they would have succumbed to their injuries. THE GROUND TRUTH
gains its power from asking the question -- what happens now?

Again, the parallels with Vietnam ring loudly. Many of those who
served in Vietnam returned to the United States and were treated as
if they were invisible. The Veterans Administration was not able
to handle the influx of patients requiring treatment for post-traumatic
stress disorder (and for a time, there became a stereotype in the media
of the loose cannon Vietnam Vet who ________ [fill in the blank]).
Now, despite the passage of time and the purported medical advances,
the men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are also
suffering from the same syndrome. We're told that some who indicate
this to a superior officer are not allowed to come back to the States are
rotated in for another round. I guess the commanding officers feel it
is better to have a loose cannon fighting the "enemy." (Although
events in Haditha and other areas might prove them wrong.)

Foulkrod's film eschews a political bent to concentrate on the toll
taken on a group of people who are trained to kill the "enemy" but who
are unsure exactly who that "enemy" is. Her documentary is a sobering
and thought-provoking film essay and should be seen by all, regardless
of partisan beliefs. The one thing that can be taken away from
THE GROUND TRUTH is that more than a quarter century after the fall
of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam conflict, the United States still
fails to provide adequate support services to the men and women who
have bravely served the country in the armed forces. As the old saying
goes, "those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it,"
and Foulkrod's film sadly proves that adage.


      Rating:                B+
      MPAA Rating:        R for disturbing violent content, and language
      Running time:       78 mins.


                               Viewed on DVD
The Ground Truth
©  2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.