As “Gunner Palace” proves beyond human reason, politicians and soldiers see the Iraqi War differently. People like Bush and Rumsfeld see the war through numbers. How many soldiers are fighting, how many have been killed, what operations are going on and how they can spin the bad news into cautious good are just some of the issues they face. They see it as hard work amongst themselves to try to keep the media abreast of some positive developments, while public support falls away. The soldiers deal with individual activities. There are patrols along the streets of Baghdad and other areas of Iraq. Raids are a nightly event, bringing in insurgents and weeding out those who pose a danger to the streets and the people of Iraq, along with the soldiers who stay there doing the job they have been assigned to do by their government. They don’t think in terms of right-wing and left-wing. For all we know, those terms may well describe support teams during raids or even more gravely dangerous military tactics that are necessary just to stay alive.
Of course, many soldiers question the reason why they are there. One man, PFC Michael Comisso, doesn’t feel he’s defending his country any longer. Some wonder what each day will bring. No two days are the same, certainly not in Gunner Palace, which was formerly one of Saddam’s lavish palaces, which was first for his wife and then given to Uday for his wild parties. Now troops reside there. Troops of all colors, thoughts, and opinions. People here are divided constantly as to whether we are doing the right thing in being in Iraq and supposedly rebuilding the country. These troops have no choice but to stay together and keep surviving together. And these men aren’t easily defined by the polls or numbers or brief soundbites that our own media throws at us each night. The personalities of Gunner Palace stand up and out throughout. Stuart Wilf is slightly cynical, yet understanding of his job in this war. There are also freestylers, who rap about their place in this war. They, like any others, are worried about the bombs and bullets whizzing by and at them. A casket is not their desired choice of transport home.
Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein know that now is the time to make sure people know what the Iraqi War looks like and hopefully they will. Both cannot see judging the war on their own terms and therefore are only there to watch what goes on and to capture the feelings of those involved. Smart move because “Gunner Palace” will shape up in time to be the most important journey into the Iraqi War. Michael Moore can fight all he wants when it comes to what our troops are doing over there and in some respects, he’s right. In fact, these films are connected in that “Gunner Palace” confirms what “Fahrenheit 9/11” put up for examination: Big numbers of the soldiers in Iraq come from towns no one realizes are actually on the map. One soldier comes from Argyle, New York. But in going straight to where the media doesn’t, beyond the slow camera feeds presented on CNN, “Gunner Palace” gets right to the gut of the war. Listening to the words of these soldiers are wrenching enough and the footage of Iraq, including an orphanage where kids don’t exactly know what place they are growing up in, it will trigger much discussion among those who agree or disagree with this war or even agree on some parts and disagree with others. Beyond simply causing loads of discussion, “Gunner Palace” will always remain powerful just by showing us what we’ve never seen. Never have we been this close in Iraq, especially in seeing the bombed-out remains of Uday’s palace. It’s still workable for these troops but wow, we really do possess heavily artillery. One day they’ll all be out. And “Gunner Palace” will reflect a historical period for us. I think within a few decades, it should be considered by the Library of Congress for permanent preservation. It’s just one of those documentaries.
To the DVD’s credit, there’s about 28 minutes worth of deleted scenes that serve the purposes that Tucker didn’t see working in the actual film. Some extended bits are here, such as troops waiting 48 hours at Baghdad International Airport before being able to fly home, as well as more freestyling by some talented troops. Three freestyles are also in audio form, while the theatrical trailer boosts the film as showing you what the media does not. That’s part of it. But it’s also what makes “Gunner Palace” a film that must be seen. No war should ever be forgotten and it’s time to start remembering this one, even while it still goes on.