Nothing shows the senselessness, the insanity, the cruelty and the criminality of the Iraq war better than Michael Ware’s documentary ‘Only the Dead See the End of War.’ George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and all their neo-con cronies should be forced to watch it every single day of the rest of their lives. Ware lived in Iraq from 2003 to 2010 and filmed the war on both sides, embedded with the US forces and as an eyewitness of the actions of the emerging insurgency, the precursor of ISIS. The film consists of four parts. In the first part Ware is in Baghdad right after the American invasion. There is hope, even excitement, until the US starts handing the government over to the Shiites and the first suicide bomber strikes, under orders from Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, a butcher who was even too barbaric for Al Qaeda. The second part shows the US effort to retake Falluja, where the insurgents make a stance, a surreal battle for an empty city. The third part takes place in an American army outpost in Ramadi, and the fourth part again in Baghdad, when the US finally realizes that it has totally messed up in Iraq.
The film evokes raw emotions, and many of the images are gruesome. Innumerable mutilated corpses, of US soldiers, insurgents and Iraqi civilians, are shown in close-ups, and I had to turn my head away when the insurgents decapitated a hostage and when the US military watched a critically wounded insurgent die without providing any medical assistance, a scene that lasted at least five minutes. The battle for Falluja could have taken place on a distant planet, between armies of clones and zombies, and the total emptiness of life in the Ramadi ‘hotel,’ where the American presence didn’t seem to serve any other purpose than to emphasize that they were still there and the massively outnumbered troops were engaged in a daily routine for survival, makes a profound impression. Ware did not only tape nightly incursions by the Americans, but also terrorist actions by the insurgents. At Zarqawi’s instruction he was given DVDs with videos of suicide attacks that show how carefully the insurgents recorded their own operations, both for training and propaganda purposes, providing shots of explosions and the following carnage.
If the movie exposes anything, it is the total horseshit of the US government propaganda about Iraq during the Bush years, when Pentagon spokespeople constantly trumpeted that progress was being made, while in fact ISIS was emerging. It also shows that you cannot look at these kinds of events through a military lens, because it completely distorts reality, not only of civilian life, but also of the military operations themselves. The US army has this down to a fine point.
In retrospect, Bush’s ‘Mission Accomplished’ was just as delusional as the current Republican narrative that Obama lost the war because he halted the surge. The film justifies the president’s unwillingness to send any more troops into an Iraqi quagmire, and it strongly illustrates why soldiers who were not sick already could not escape this war zone without acquiring PTSD.
In a recent interview Michael Ware said that he walks with ghosts every day, but that he can finally sleep again and has come to consider it a privilege. It’s a privilege he now shares with all of us, no matter how hard it is to unwrap the precious gift.