Two New Films Examine Trauma of War and Healing
By Adam Phillips
14 April 2005
War, it has often been said, is hell. Less often noted are the ways that that hell can continue for soldiers and civilians long after the guns of war have been silenced. A new documentary film,
Voices in Wartime, focuses on the firsthand experience of war and its aftermath. It was produced in tandem with another short film, Beyond Wartime, designed to help communities understand and heal the traumas caused by war.
Voices in Wartime's opening sequence shows a horrific montage of battle scenes culled from the world's many wars. The uniforms on the soldiers and the rationale for sending them into battle differs from war to war, but the looks of fear and grief on their young faces are uncannily similar.
"These are emotions that anyone can relate to, regardless of one's politics," says Andrew Himes, the films' executive producer, adding that he did not want to make a war film purely about politics. "I think all of us have had too much of politics," Mr. Himes says. "I wanted to make a film about the core human experience; the values that we all share and we all have together."
The producer says the film raises two crucial questions: how do we heal the trauma of war, and how do we heal the societies and the individuals who are damaged by war in order to diminish the chances of war's reoccurring? "I think we sometimes forget that war is not a video game," says Mr. Himes. "War involves the terrible destruction of human life and shattered dreams. How do we bring that home to people in a way that people understand?"
To judge by the film, the answer seems to be through simple truthful storytelling. Unlike traditional documentaries, there is no outside narrator in Voices in Wartime. It consists mostly of personal accounts and poetry about the horrors of war spanning the millennia from ancient Greece up to the present. Mr. Himes says he hopes soldiers and veterans and others affected by war can find in those narratives a path to healing. "If you are able to relive the story of what happened to you," he says, "and say 'let me tell you what happened. I was at this place. Here is what happened to me. Here is how I felt about it,' then suddenly you are enabled to move through and past the trauma. You don't have to just flick that switch of anger and resentment and hyper-vigilance."
Writing poems about his wartime experiences and sharing those poems has helped David Connolly, a veteran of the Vietnam War who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, who is featured in the movie Voices in Wartime. Here's an excerpt from a poem he wrote that recalls a battle he and his best buddy fought in together:
He lifts his head just a little, but just enough,
for the bullet to go in one brown eye
And I swear to Christ out the other.
And he starts thrashing, bleeding and screaming
and trying to get the top of his head to stay on.
And we have to keep shooting.
That sort of battlefield carnage can be difficult for non-combatants to comprehend, and returning veterans often feel misunderstood. But the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are keenly perceived in the community. That is why a short companion film, Beyond Wartime, is being shown in living rooms, community centers and veterans halls nationally to promote awareness, dialog and empathy.
Eric G. Glaude, a readjustment counselor at the Harlem Vet Center in New York City, was wounded in the Korean War. He supports the film's message. "The community I am from could benefit from knowing that there are people other than themselves that have really been affected by war," he says. "Not only hurt -- but damaged! They will be reminded of the horrors and introduced to the horrors -- the smell of fear, the smell of death. When it gets in your nose, you can never get rid of it." Mr. Glaude adds that people won't know that without films like Voices in Wartime and Beyond Wartime.
The two films also focus on veterans' families and friends, many of whom experienced the pain of war indirectly through its effects on their loved ones. Poet Emily Warn recalled growing up with her dad, who participated in D-Day as a U.S. paratrooper.
"He was a war hero and the rest of his life he suffered from being a war hero," she says. "He drank a lot. He fought a lot. He was unable to hold down a job, and the marriage ended when I was quite young. He died at the age of 53 walking home from a tavern and he was found in a snowdrift the following day."
Executive producer Andrew Himes says that ultimately, wars hurt everyone - including soldiers and those they return to. Still, he emphasizes that opening our hearts to those who fight can help heal us all. "When you hear that soldiers have the same thing inside of them that you have,' he says, "that terrified soul, that piece of them that can be so awfully sad, so terribly desolated, you can identify with them … and you can really understand what their pain is all about. And I think that is what is required for us to have compassion for another person."