by Luke Goldstein
“How can tomorrow ever come when today never ends.”
Rating: 8 out of 10
There are experiences that can never be truly traded away or passed along, no matter how hard we try. The amazement and beauty of childbirth, the crushing sorrow of losing a parent, or even the serenity of knowing a job is well done. Try as we might, these things exist inside us and everyone else will only feel a sliver of what it is like through how we describe it. One of the most profound and life altering experiences is war and no one is affected by it more than those on the front lines. There is always training, there is always a new method to try to prepare, but no one comes back from war the way they went in. Our country is now in the midst of welcoming home thousands upon thousands of soldiers from the fighting in Middle East and those brave warriors face not only the struggles of reintegrating into society (and finding a job), but figuring out rote answers to that all too common question, “What was it like?” Those can be extremely hard conversations to have, but this film documents a program trying to help those soldier find a path to communication.
Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience is an essay/memoir writing program that teaches soldiers how to use creative and journal style writing to get their thoughts and experiences cohesively onto paper. These tales of horror, fright, bravery and solitude pull the curtains away from the glorified image of war and patriotism, humanizing the soldiers.
The film brings together not only some of the authors of the essays, but also fellow writers, professionals in telling stories, who happen to also have personal experiences with wartime and being soldiers themselves. Together they weave a painfully accurate and unflinching tapestry of what wartime is really like, not painted in the bright red, white and blue of the flag, but doused in the blackest of night and dripping with the deep red of dead enemies, comrades and innocents. Some of them show the confusion suffered at the other end of a motor attack, while others detail the adrenaline rush of being ambushed and making the split second decisions on whether the person your sights is a combatant or a bystander, and does it even matter.
One by one, you hear about the deconstruction of the basic human belief to protect life as it rages against the programmed need to defend your country, your fellow soldiers and yourself. The documentary does not play itself out as a case for pacifism by any means, but there lingers a certain belief when the screen finally goes black that philosophers have intoned for years: in war, there is no winner.
Politics and beliefs aside, the real effort and success of this is the program itself and how it helps those soldiers returning from a living hell on earth, find their way back into a society that will never be completely theirs. It allows them to find a method of communication, almost a new way of speaking to the uninitiated about the nightmares they have lived through and continue to struggle with. More and more soldiers are coming back with PTSD and a variety of psychological issues, leading to drinking, drugs and a silently suffering uptick in post-return suicides. This program is certainly not the only weapon needed in the fight for the mental health of our returning warriors, but every effort counts and they’re are worth it.
The End of the Page recommendation: Operation Homecoming is an incredibly clear picture of the true life and times of our soldiers, including the issues they face returning to civilian life.
You can also watch replays of this on the Documentary Channel on 2/25 (8pm & 11pm EST) or go ahead and stream it here.