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By Doug Brunell | September 7, 2005

The Arlington West of this film is a “temporary cemetery” (one of many around the country) on a beach in California. It is made by the
Veterans for Peace to mark the deaths of American soldiers in Iraq. As a sign at the display notes, there isn’t really enough room to honor the dead Iraqi civilians. “Arlington West” records the public’s reaction to the memorial. Some of the people react positively, others not so much. That’s to be expected of any war demonstration, though. And just to make my feelings on the subject clear, I believe that any war fought by the poor for the rich to be immoral.

One interesting contrast stood out while watching this film. The soldiers who come to the display to honor their fallen comrades are subdued and realists. They talk of being duped and not being able to get help for the mental problems they are experiencing. They seem to distrust their government and wonder if what they are doing is worth it. The war supporters, however, feel quite differently about the display, and some of them are downright angry.

There is one man who thinks that those who put up the crosses should be put on trial next to Saddam Hussein. Upon further questioning, this man admits to being “too weak and cowardly” for the military and lets
“braver” and “tougher” people fight his battles. Any person even thinking of joining the military should remember that man before signing up.

There’s also a complex contrast between those who have seen combat and those who are about to enlist. Those who haven’t seen war firsthand seem almost eager to experience it and protect the country. Those who have been in Iraq are quick to point out that this war isn’t about protecting freedom (witness the Patriot Act) or even liberating Iraqis. It’s about oil and establishing bases for long term occupation. Whether or not you are a supporter of the war, it’s hard to discount these soldiers’ experiences over there.

As is the problem with most films of this nature, it won’t reach those it most needs to, though it may stop someone from enlisting. The most a documentary of this sort can hope for is to raise discussion points, and in this case, “Arlington West” succeeds. And if those discussion points lead to the end of the Iraqi war, then the makers of this film have secured their legacy. Until that happens, however, this is merely a document of a war memorial that is bound to triple in size before too long.

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