Our Daily Bread
(Issue 3, Volume 1, 9-4-09)
The Horror of War Is World’s Best Kept Secret
By Joe Ortiz
I have always been opposed to war (except when I was in the Air Force in the early sixties), and I attribute the reasons for my anti-war feelings primarily to what the Bible teaches and also my exposure to stories I received first hand from many Viet Nam veterans that I counseled both as a Job Agent and Parole Agent, jobs I had in California in the early seventies.
Most of my conservative friends tell me that God is not necessarily opposed to war, because we see many wars in the Bible and God Himself was directly orchestrating the defeat of the enemies of Israel. My response has always been that those stories come from the Old Testament, which basically chronicles the history of mankind from Adam to Malachi, the last prophet recorded in the Bible. I add that Jesus has told us in the New Testament that we are to be children of peace, love, forgiveness and the turning of cheeks.
Several days ago I saw a movie, “In the Valley of Elah” starring academy award winners Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron and Susan Sarandon. In fact, Jones was nominated for “Best Actor” in 2007 for playing the part of Hank Deerfield, a veteran of the Viet Nam conflict (which is still a war even though it was not declared as one).
The movie is based on actual events, and portrays Deerfield's search for his son whom he discovers has been brutally killed, dismembered and burned beyond recognition. The film explores various themes including the Iraq war, abuse of prisoners, and post-traumatic stress disorder following active combat.
The film’s title (written and directed by Paul Haggis) refers to the biblical valley where the battle between David and Goliath took place, according to 1Samuel 21:9.
The film tells the story of Deerfield’s search for his son, Mike, a soldier who recently returned from Iraq but has mysteriously gone missing. Mike's body is found a few days later and Army officials initially attempt to block the police investigation, and then suggest Mike's death was probably due to drug-related violence. His squad’s mates, who last saw him, lie to Hank and the police. Hank, a former military police officer, tells the police that although he suspects the soldiers are lying about something, he eventually concludes that his son’s military comrades could not have killed his son. Sadly, it turns out that Hank is wrong; the soldiers had killed his son over an innocuous and insignificant quarrel.
The movie has many shocking aspects to it, especially when we see Hank Deerfield examining videos of the Iraq war his son recorded, which included his son torturing an enemy soldier by sticking his hand into the prisoner’s wound, and also by viewing his son running over an Iraqi child with the military truck he was driving. Deerfield also finds out during his investigation that his son was using crack cocaine and other drugs upon his return (and probably while he was in Iraq) and almost believed that his son was actually killed by Mexican drug dealers, which later was proven wrong.
One of the other shocking aspects of the movie came when the soldier who finally confesses to Hank and the police, seems emotionally detached from his words and actions, likely due to post-traumatic stress disorder from the war, as if to convey that him stabbing Deerfield’s son forty seven times was no big thing, they indiscriminately killed people all the time in Iraq.
After I finished the movie, I knew that many who saw it would say that here is another film being made by Hollywood’s liberal elite and is merely anti-Irag-War-propaganda. Included among many reviews, there were many folks who claimed the movie was a “condescending, liberal film and that In the Valley of Elah is just as awful as a thousand Fox-News commentators.” This, even though the movie claims it was based on a true story.
The movie also immediately took me back about 25 years, to the days when I used to counsel Viet Nam veterans at my local church and heard first hand accounts of them committing the most atrocious crimes against humanity, ever. These veterans trusted me with their accounts of hidden crimes because they knew I would not report them, and because they knew my belief in the Bible that God can forgive the most heinous act in the world if they fell before the Lord and confessed their sins.
One of those incidents was reported to me by a soldier (whom we will simply call him Rudy), who went berserk and single handedly killed about 25 villagers (woman and children included) after his buddy was blown to pieces.
“I was on the ground, holding my buddy’s head, half blown off, other pieces of his arms and legs a few yards from me, and his intestines oozing out right in front of me,” Rudy confessed to me, while sobbing uncontrollably.
Rudy said he couldn’t remember killing those twenty-five villagers, but was told by his buddies that he went ballistics and used his bayonet from his M16 rifle and began cutting people left and right, while they watched the unbelievable slaughter, a surreal horror, and right in front of their very eyes.
It was never reported by his Army buddies, but he said he believes his commanders knew about the incident but did not want to make it public, for fear of reprisals and media coverage that could affect the war effort, and impact the morale of the soldiers. But yet Rudy carried that shame for years and years, experiencing nightmares every single night during his sleep, always waking up in a pool of sweat, hurriedly praying and seeking forgiveness from God, but never knowing if he got it or not.
I told Rudy that God has forgiven him because he confessed his sin and God forgives people when they confess their sins, rather than those who hide them or fail to admit any sin was committed at all. The last I heard from Rudy was 20 years ago and heard he was working for a church in Oregon.
One other poignant part of the movie was when Deerfield was at a school and was showing a Hispanic employee how to properly raise a flag on the giant flag pole. He told the employee never to make the mistake of raising a flag upside down, because it represented a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.
At the very end of the movie, as the reality sinks into Deerfield’s heart, of how cruel and unforgiving it can be to send our children to fight a war, by appealing to their machismo and or challenging their patriotism, he can be seen again with the Hispanic employee of the school, helping him in raising the flag, but this time the flag was being raised upside down!
[Joe Ortiz is the author of two books that challenge the left behind and Pre-Tribulation Rapture, and dispensational premillennial precepts and doctrines being promoted by right-wing evangelicals. The two books include The End Times Passover (Etymological Challenges to Millenarian Doctrines) and Why Christians Will Suffer Great Tribulation (The Sequel to The End Times Passover). The former talk show host, journalist and news columnist is the first Mexican American to host a show on an English-language, commercial radio station, beginning in 1971 at KABC-AM Radio in Los Angeles.]