Happy New Year Gives Red County’s Swier the Blues

The aftermath of an IED.

I attended Tuesday’s screening of Happy New Year. On the list of panelists scheduled to participate in a discussion after the film was Dr. Richard Swier Sr., who blogs for the conservative website Red County. Sadly he was a no show. In his absence, veterans of the Korean War, the first and second Iraq wars and Afghanistan commended writer/director K. Loral Manning and lead actor Michael Cuomo, who spent a great deal of time in VA hospitals, with a former Marine drill sergeant and on the streets of Manhattan in his wheelchair to research his character. “We interviewed veterans, for 2-5 hours and alot of time we were the first people that they had spoken to,” said Cuomo. “We also interviewed families of soldiers, as well as personnel.”

One veteran (and I’ll leave names out for their sake), a man well over six feet tall, well-built, broad and strong, became choked up talking about the film.

Linda Craig, the executive director of Manasota Operation Troop Support, said the film was brave, relevant and that “It’s unpopular. It’s not anything anyone wants to think about. As a mother of a soldier and an Air Force child I know a lot of these things to be true. Everything I’ve seen on the screen I know to be true. This is real and it is not what people want to look at.”

Apparently, Dr. Swier is to be included in the people who don’t want to look at it or think about it. Swier showed up a day late, participating (if we can call it that) in the panel after Thursday’s screening. Swier took the stage and lambasted the film, saying it wasn’t true, that the film did not represent the experiences of soldiers returning from war.

Dr. Richard Swier Sr., author of the Red County-Sarasota blog.

This morning we received an email from Swier and Red County titled “Sarasota Film Festival promotes movie that viciously attacks veterans” in which Swier, in his exaggerated Beckian manner  called the film “the most vicious attack ever made in any film about wounded veterans…It is anti-veteran, anti-VA Hospital system and generally anti-military. [The] film is a travesty” He then went on to call those involved in the film propagandists* and offered hasty sketches of the film’s characters—”dictatorial ego maniac” nurses or doctors who are “lairs (sic—I believe he meant ‘liars’).”

He claims the veterans receive the very best in care, that they are not victims of neglect nor are they “drug addicted, sexually dysfunctional, violent psychopaths who are treated like children in a prison posing as a VA Hospital.” He asks his readers to demand a defunding of the SFF, which is “doing untold harm [to the] veterans’ community (sic).”

I dissent from Swier’s claims wholly. Now, he could make the argument that the film perhaps portrays the exception and not the rule w/r/t the experiences of our returning soldiers and the care they recieve—and that would take some arguing, surely. But Swier is being dishonest, both with himself and his readers, in his claim that there is not neglect and mistreatment of troops happening. The statistics are there. Suicide, depression, violent behavior. No one is fabricating this to make the military look bad. They are presenting these stories in hopes of changing things, making them better, doing right by our troops. We have never seen suicide and depression rates like those seen in the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. This may be because we’ve never seen wars like those waged in those places, where anxiety reigns and the enemy is both everywhere and nowhere at once and always.

Perhaps if Swier had stuck around yesterday for the second screening of Where Soldiers Come From he would have changed his mind, or at least his tone. Where Soldiers Come From is a documentary, a factual account of our young and brave soldiers and the problems they face upon returning—the neglect, the bureaucracy, the misdiagnoses, etc.—all of which align serendipitously with those same problems presented in Happy New Year.

Films like these force people to confront the realities of the wars we wage and to consider what happens when funds are cut for services to our veterans. They present us a reality we may not want to accept, but a reality nonetheless. They open our eyes and force us to pay attention when it is much easier to look away, or in Dr. Swier’s case, say it isn’t so.

*”All art is propaganda.” – George Orwell

Please note: The opinions contained within this piece are those of the writer and do not reflect those of the publication nor the rest of the editorial staff of SRQ Magazine.

9 thoughts on “Happy New Year Gives Red County’s Swier the Blues”

    1. I love it when one employs ad hominem attacks on sound arguments. According to your logic, no one can say anything about the military unless they have served. Does the same go for homeless people? Can we not make statements concerning the homeless unless we, ourselves, have been homeless? I believe anyone who employs respectful, sound rhetoric and logically sound argument can make any case he pleases.

  1. Also, Dr. Swier, I ask that you look up the term ‘hypocrisy.’ I don’t believe your employing the right term.

  2. Ashton,
    I would like to help you understand what happened. I was first approached by Marissa, from the Film Festival, to put together a panel for the showing on Wednesday. I did that and included myself as a member. That was the plan until it changed on Monday. I was contacted by the producer and asked to be at the showing on Tuesday and provide a second panel. I was booked for Tuesday and asked Andy Hooker and others to attend on Tuesday. Now I regret that I was not at the Tuesday showing, as I would have expressed by dismay and shock at the tenor of the movie then and perhaps saved embarrassment for those I recruited to attend.

    The hypocrisy I am referring to is that of the makers of this movie. At the end they dedicate Happy New Year to all veterans, when the movie is clearly anti-veteran, anti-VA Hospital and anti-military. None of those who made the film are combat veterans, so they do not understand what being in combat means and how different men and women react to it. The vast majority of veterans – from WWII to today – adapt very well and lead extremely productive lives. I can give you many examples of wounded warriors overcoming their injuries and becoming role models. That is the story not being told.

    A documentary done by National Geographic title, “Restrepo” is an example of courage under fire and what it is really like on the front lines of the War against Shariah Islamists.

    I look at our wounded warriors and those who care for them (e.g. family, VA health care professionals and fellow veterans) as heroes to be recognized, thanked and held in high esteem. Happy New Year if filled with dysfunctional characters that you seem to want to defend. I will not accept that as normal nor see their behavior on screen as something to be held up as good.

  3. Dr. Swier,

    Thank you for the respectful response. It is much appreciated.

    I was at the discussion on Tuesday and witnessed the veterans you recruited express their gratitude to the filmmakers. I listen to them thank them for showing a part of veterans’ experience that very few care to see or acknowledge. Veterans in the audience followed suit, lauding the film. No one shared your sentiments on Tuesday and from the accounts of both Ms. Walch and from the recording of the discussion that ensued after you left the theater, no one shared them on Wednesday. Having made your case, you left the theater and went on to post your piece, claiming to speak for all veterans, especially for those who saw the film.

    The fact of the matter is you speak for yourself, as I do, as anyone does. Simply because you have served and been in combat does not give you the right to speak for all those that have served and been in combat. I do not claim to speak for those that have served. I speak as a citizen of a free country defended by those who served, as one who appreciates the sacrifices made by those who have served, and who is ashamed that his country does not provide them every conceivable service they might need to recover.

    The movie is anything but anti-veteran. The film celebrates the strengths and recognizes the weaknesses of human character. The veterans portrayed in the film are a particular group of damaged men, a handful of unfortunate cases. To say that every single veteran that returns from war is like these characters is absurd, and not in any way what Manning is doing with the film, which makes it very clear that the wing of the hospital Lewis is in is for people suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is not about veterans hospitals as a whole, but about how specifically they are dealing with incidents of PTSD.

    Now PTSD is a relatively new term. You might have used the term “shell-shocked.” Think of Hemingway’s “Soldier’s Home” story, or perhaps the most celebrated novel of the Vietnam War, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, which contains the story of Norman Bowker, a veteran who drives around all day unable to speak of his experience in the war and ends up hanging himself in a YMCA locker room. O’Brien served in Vietnam, his stories are largely true. Would you call O’Brien “anti-veteran” because he depicts a soldier’s suicide? Or is he doing every soldier a service by truly presenting the emotional and psychological costs of war, which are unending, forever. Horror can not be unseen.

    Surely our soldiers are heros worthy of praise. But they are also worthy of our full, compassionate attention. They deserve to be treated as heros, not made to feel they can not feel scared, be vulnerable, suffer. By your statement “Marines don’t kill themselves, they kill other people” you are trivializing the very real and heavy suffering our veterans are enduring, often silently, often alone. You are doing them no service. You are hurting them.

    Sincerely and respectfully,
    Ashton Goggans

  4. The discussion on Tuesday was something that should never have happened. I was approached as the President of the Sarasota County Veterans Commission to lend support to the movie. I made the inexcusable mistake of not seeing the movie first. Had I seen it I would not have agreed to have anyone there.

    Unlike the movie’s producer and director, I am qualified to speak on veterans issues. For ten years I have been the President of the Sarasota County Veterans Commission, which represents over 50 veterans and patriotic organizations in Sarasota County.

    I was lied to and used to promote a film that sends a message clear and unequivocal message that veterans and those that care for them are failures, incompetent and dysfunctional. This cannot stand.

    I invite you to go with me to the poly-trauma center in St. Petersburg and talk to real wounded warriors and real VA staffers.

    Finally, I will do everything I can to see this movie is not supported by the veterans community anytime or anywhere.

  5. My great concern about movies made today is they focus on failure rather than success. When I was growing up we had heroes, real and faux. Both helped to shape my life as an American and later gave me the strength and courage to face the hell of war. Today I fear our youth are being fed stories that have no real heroes while there are millions of them all around us – many veterans. That is what we should be looking for – diamonds along the road.

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