A Letter from Dr. Swier

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.

Ashton Goggans responds:

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 listened to the veterns 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 veteran’s 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

Read Dr. Swier’s original post: http://www.redcounty.com/content/sarasota-film-festival-hits-hard-our-soldiers-and-vets

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