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arts and culture | imperialism & war

Gunner Palace of Lies

This review may be a bit belated but I didn't really figure out what was bugging me about the movie until yesterday. "Gunner Palace" bills itself as a neutral, objective, "no politics," documentary which lets the soldiers fighting the Iraq war speak for themselves.
That's a crock and a 100% cop out. First of all, there is no "no politics" take on Iraq. This supposedly neutral "soldiers on the ground" reality TV view of the war in practice functions as the rankest U.S. propaganda. Neutrality as a response to an inherently evil occupation is at least acquiescence, if not outright collaboration.

It's no secret that American police love the right wing Fox/Murdoch TV show Cops, glorifying "the men and women of law enforcement." Otherwise why would police give the show access year after year for twenty years? Cops purports to show police work impartially from the cop on the street's perspective, but the show lies by omission and serves the purposes of the police state by glorifying police and police state tactics, pitting cops only against street lowlifes while overlooking the brutality, entrapment, perjury, and political racketeering routinely perpetrated by American police.

"Gunner Palace" is just "Cops: Baghdad." Why else would the military allow filmmaker Michael Tucker unrestricted access to sensitive police operations and occupation troops unless it served its purposes?

One of the biggest sacred cows of wartime America is the holy U.S. soldier, to whom we must always pledge unqualified support even if we oppose the war. Watch Gunner Palace, though, and you realize U.S. troops are the war, and any rational opposition to the war also requires opposing American soldiers directly.

The film shows the post invasion operations of the U.S. Army's 2/3 Field Artillery, which was hunting members of Hussein's deposed regime from their base in the bomb damaged former palace of Uday Hussein. The film covers from May 2003 through mid-2004, the period which saw the rise of today's hardcore insurgency.

Michael Tucker's concept is letting the soldiers tell their own war story. So what do they have to say for themselves? First, they whine like a bunch of babies. Nobody's paying attention to them. They don't get paid enough, and they don't get enough weapons or Humvee armor or whatever. (Where's the Iraqis' body armor, to protect them from our underclass heroes?)

Personally, I haven't spent 10 seconds with anyone like these soldiers since standardized testing sorted us out. In their mannerisms and speech the soldiers take after hip hop ghetto celebrities like Eminem and Tupac, especially the rural white boyz. They laugh hysterically at things that aren't remotely funny. They attempt little routines in front of Tucker's DV camera that bring to mind Harry Shearers' warnings against "amateurs and comedy." The bottom line is, the troops don't have anything particularly enlightening to say. It's what they do that speaks volumes.

By day, they rap and lay around Uday's pool, making inane Real World quips about Snapple to their documentary filmmaker. Lots of our "boys" appear to be pushing 40 and probably are cops in the rural southern backwaters they're from.

(BTW, how much of a hardship is it for these soldiers to live in a palace while wielding absolute, unchecked authority over Iraqis? The nearest any of these dudes will get to a palace in America is working security at the Bellagio.)

By night, the troops perpetrate systematic violations of the civil rights of Iraqis, executing house to house search and seizure raids so outrageous they would have made General Gage join the ACLU.

The troops are depicted perpetrating the most violent outrages and oppression against occupied civilians: warrant-less smash and grab raids, and mass arrests without charge or process. The worst of it is, they scream at their terrified Iraqi victims in English. Think I'm exaggerating? See the movie for yourself and behold what kind of moral idiot Tucker must be to attempt neutrality in light of what occurs right in front of his face. Obviously, the insurgency was at least partially provoked by the heavy handed tactics and U.S. arrogance on display in Gunner Palace.

The one truly compelling statement made by anyone in the movie is made not by a rapping, hip hop American high school graduate, but by an English speaking Iraqi detainee, captured during a nighttime arrest raid. The Americans are yelling, "Shut up! Shut up!" at their prisoners. A man is shown sitting quietly with his hands bound behind his back with plastic handcuffs. For Tucker's camera, he states that he is a journalist. "Shut up!" yell the soldiers.

"Yes I heard," he says. "Just shut up, in Iraq."

"How many people can say they're combat veterans?" crows a U.S. soldier at one point. Oh so that's what it's about. I've got news for you, schmuck. Being a "combat veteran" in high tech America doesn't mean squat, and hopefully, in future labor markets, will function similarly to a felony conviction. Everyone knows that in modern America only the dregs enlist. Recall that Fahrenheit 911's pair of US Marine Corps recruiters didn't go trolling for suckers in the AP calculus sections of Palo Alto. No, they went straight to the Flint mall.

In a spoken word autobiography, accompanied by a mime performance from his buddy, one of Tucker's featured soldiers confesses to pretty much exactly what we suspected all along about our brave boys. First he dropped out of high school in some fundamentalist backwater in Colorado. Then he hung out drinking and doing drugs. But then he pulled it together and finished high school, but he didn't know what to do then, so he enlisted. Then the military sent him to Germany, and he partied hard in Berlin for a year. But now the party's over cuz he's stuck in Baghdad.

What I said. In the U.S., only the dregs enlist.

There's plenty of not too bright and vulnerable people out there, but there's nothing particularly heroic or brave about them ending up as cannon fodder in the service of Wolfowitz and Bechtel. It's merely sad and pathetic.

One soldier at the end of his tour calls Baghdad "trash." Uh, no. That would be Baghdad, ancient "hub of learning and commerce," historically one of "the largest and most cosmopolitan cities in the world," according to Wikipedia;however fallen, a city far more compelling and important than Fayetteville, North Carolina or whatever flatland American ghetto the soldier calls home.

I've seen the argument bandied about that the risk of the Iraq war is that a bunch of mentally deranged Timothy McVeighs will come home and start blowing stuff up. To me, that doesn't seem half as bad as the risk of these soldiers coming home satisfied that they didn't do anything wrong and that they are heroes for doing what they did. At least McVeigh wrestled with his conscience over the crimes he committed on behalf of the U.S.

xcellnt ! 24.Mar.2005 11:52


Dude your so right on these soldiers are all dumbass jerks living phat off of those poor people. They kill Iraqis what do they expect?!! They shuld come back home and get a job like everyone else not go to other countries and steal their stuff. The movie was boring i saw it makes me sad to be an American.

how many instances? 24.Mar.2005 13:37


"I did what everybody else did. It was not according to doctrine, but that was standard practice. That was how things were done," Brand said in a statement.
Investigators described the Afghan holding center as a two story, hangar-style building of interview rooms and isolation cells fitted with ceilings of concertina wire. The night before Dilawar's death, Brand said in a Jan. 24, 2004, statement, he went to Dilawar's isolation cell to help another guard give the man water. The guards then attempted to place a hood on Dilawar's head, a practice reserved for unruly detainees or those being escorted from a cell to an interrogation room. Dilawar - in chains, his wrists shackled above his head - resisted, and Brand said he struck him twice with his bent knee.

(Just a comment that I can't help...A guard needs 'help' to give a man water? I guess it would take two to do that, since the man is 'in chains, his wrists shakled above his head.' Kind of makes you wonder how much resistance a man could give, in that condition, to them putting a hood over his head. Maybe he shook his head from side to side, or front to back, huh?
This is sick, and Rumsfeld, in front of Congress, boasts about how he's happy to have 'battle-hardened veterans.')

In a Feb. 3, 2004, statement, Brand acknowledged that at another time, he delivered more than 30 knee strikes to Dilawar. Asked what provoked the punishment, Brand told investigators he couldn't remember....
Army investigator Angela Birt said that delivering knee strikes was so routine for Brand that "the two [detainees] didn't stick out in his mind because he couldn't remember how many he had struck."
Brand's lawyer, John Galligan, said outside the courtroom that "everything that was done was done in order to perform his mission.. I'm greatly disturbed a young soldier like Brand who, responding to his country's call, does what he thinks is right and we turn around and place him on the criminal docket."
Brand, the father of four, sat expressionless at the defense table as autopsy photographs of Dilawar were entered into evidence.
When investigators had asked him during a 2004 interview if the knee blows were wrong, he replied: "No, not wrong wrong but necessary to achieve what you wanted them to do."

One other comment: When did we ever get the idea that expediency is a philosophy? What in hell is 'wrong wrong?' Didn't anyone tell this guy two wrongs don't make a 'right?'

When they bring back the draft... 24.Mar.2005 14:27


When they bring back the draft, maybe we'll see some real resistance to the war, like there was in response to Vietnam. Because then it'll start to affect middle-class people too.

You say, <<Personally, I haven't spent 10 seconds with anyone like these soldiers since standardized testing sorted us out.>>, <<The nearest any of these dudes will get to a palace in America is working security at the Bellagio,>> and <<Being a "combat veteran" in high tech America doesn't mean squat, and hopefully, in future labor markets, will function similarly to a felony conviction. Everyone knows that in modern America only the dregs enlist.>>

Notice the classism and elitism that these comments reflect.

Some of these soldiers signed up to try to get a chance at the college education that middle class kids' parents hand to them. The recruiter told them all kinds of lies, told them they'd see Europe, Germany, or serve "one weekend a month" in the National Guard.

(Sure, there are other ways to get a college education. You can always work AND go to school, and graduate when you're 40, like I did. Or end up with massive student loan debt. There are other ways, I know.)

Maybe if you spent "10 seconds" or more with people from different backgrounds than your own, you might learn something about what life is like for many oppressed people in the American class system. And maybe they could learn something from you too, as long as you don't completely turn them off, since nobody likes being talked down to.

Check out Military Families Against the War. These are the soldiers and families who want the madness in Iraq to stop.

Maybe if we actually talked to people outside of our small circle of friends, we might have a chance of a revolution- or at least significant social change- in this country.

But as long as we're congratulating ouselves on how enlightened we are, it's not going to happen.

I strongly agree that the war is imperialistic and wrong. I haven't seen this movie, so I can't add my own comments about it yet.

It's clear to me that stupidity comes from all social classes. Just look at George Bush. After all, it's Bush and his gang who are responsible for this mess.

feeling superior? 25.Mar.2005 06:38


Yeah, if it wasn't federally mandated standardized testing I wouldn't know who to associate with.