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.
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.