Silver Screen: Soldiers Speak Out: Carbondale Oscar Winner Barb Trent’s Latest Film

Silver Screen: Soldiers Speak Out: Carbondale Oscar Winner Barb Trent’s Latest Film
Jennifer "Jay" Bull

Barb Trent, a Carbondale native now based in North Carolina, has directed and produced a staggering number of films, including The Panama Deception (which won an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, among many other awards), Waging Peace (which won the 2003 Burke Award for Best Documentary), Stand up Rise Up, Days of Resistance, Is War the Answer?, Coverup: Behind the Iran-Contra Affair, Destination Nicaragua, and Bus to Topanga.

Trent’s latest film, Soldiers Speak Out, codirected by David Kasper (who also briefly lived in Carbondale and Makanda around 1983), was recently released in an expanded form on DVD.

“We’re both from the Vietnam era,” Trent told Nightlife. “Both [Kasper and I] were involved. I was involved fighting the war here at home, actually right there in Carbondale. David, of course, was in the service.”

As a political rallying cry, “Support Our Troops” has become almost as cliché as “God Bless America.” With Soldiers Speak Out, the very troops that people have claimed to champion tell many stories that may cause discomfort in self-proclaimed supporters. Soldiers Speak Out gives veterans a vehicle through which to talk about their experiences, and allows younger viewers a chance to learn from them.

“One of the things that we both were aware of is that no one likes to talk about what went on during Vietnam,” Trent said. “Particularly, the soldiers don’t want to— they want to leave those experiences behind, which is not so easy to do, but one of the big detriments to society is that young people never hear those stories and they don’t hear what it is really like. They don’t really understand what it’s like to be an occupying force in someone else’s country, and they are ripe for these lies from the recruiters, because we’ve lost our history....

“One of the big purposes was to give soldiers, people coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as people who were in Vietnam, but primarily people coming back from our present wars, to be able to speak out in their own words, be able to talk about what it really was like and what it’s like to be in a war where you know that the majority of people dying are civilians, and how hard it is for these young people to justify that when they get back home and look at their own loved ones,” Trent added. “The longer people are there, the more they realize that we can’t win, and it’s a war without purpose, so to speak.”

Soldiers Speak Out is about veterans, American veterans who are opposed to war,” Kasper told Nightlife. “These are veterans who have been in war themselves and are now actively trying to do what they can to stop and prevent war, and also to warn people who are considering entering the military. It consists almost entirely of veterans talking in their own words about their experiences and what they went through and what their perspective on it is.”

Soldiers Speak Out also exposes the differences between what recruits were told versus the reality of their experiences in the military.

“There’s a lot of information in there, and one thing that the video and the DVD has been used for has come to be known as counter-recruiting, which is making public information about the military for people who are considering joining the military,” Kasper said. “These are often high-school-age kids who are being very aggressively pursued by military recruiters and often in very deceptive ways....

“What happens with a lot of people who end up deciding to join the military is that it turns out to be a whole lot different than what they expected it to be, and they often are tricked and deceived by the recruiters, who create an image of what it is going to be like, an image that has very little to do with what it really is,” Kasper added. “So there’s a whole lot of soldiers who regret their decision to do that, but they get deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan and then there’s no escape— they pretty much have to do what they’re told and try to finish out their commitment. That’s a big purpose of the documentary... to provide some alternative information about what it is really going to be like from people who were actually in the military themselves.”

The documentary also gives many soldiers the chance to discuss their rarely heard experiences.

“I think it’s important to be able to do something about an injustice, and it makes life a little better,” Trent said. “I think it gives them an opportunity to take action. They’ve continued to tell their story around the country in different platforms that have been created for them to do that. It’s really important for the public to hear their stories and hear their disgust for this war.”

Even though the United States has suffered 4,414 military casualties in Iraq and 1,220 in Afghanistan as of this writing, because Americans have heard heard about atrocities of the Iraq War since 2003, many people may have become desensitized. But if people feel that the war does not really affect them because they and their loved ones are not actively involved in the military, Trent disagrees.

“One of the things that deeply concerns me is the how this impacts our entire culture, which at this point is a culture of militarism,” Trent said. “If you take people at a young age, teenagers basically, and convince them in a sense that the only way to resolve issues is through violence— and war is the ultimate violence— that becomes a part of who they are.”

War also confuses the nation’s priorities, Trent said.

“It’s important to follow the threat of how this violence permeates our country and what it costs us,” Trent said. “The war itself is costing us our healthcare, which every other developed country in the world has healthcare. It’s costing us our transportation infrastructure. It is the reason we don’t have mass transit, we continue to have to all use cars, and all use fuel. It’s this continuous circle, keeping us dependent on those things. We continue to have to go to war to secure oil fields. And now we’re rattling the saber against Venezuela, which of course is sitting on one of the largest oil reservoirs in the world.

“All of those thing feed each other and they all work to the detriment of the average citizen in this country,” Trent continued. “The only people who are profiting off of this cycle are of course the large corporations and the people who build the weapons... and all the private contractors. It is extraordinarily profitable.”

Another problem Soldiers Speak Out addresses is the high suicide rate of veterans.

“We’re seeing more suicides— more veterans from Iraq have taken their own lives than have died in Iraq,” Trent said. “Same with Vietnam— more people have committed suicide that were in Vietnam than died in Vietnam. There, we’re looking at something like fifty-five-thousand [suicides]. Those are big numbers. It’s also reflected in family violence, and murders on the bases amongst members of the military. The military is just now beginning to see how big the backlash is to desensitizing people to a point where they can kill innocent civilians, including young children who you can’t possibly argue would be setting an [improvised explosive device].”

The DVD includes additional tools for peace activists.

“The DVD is much more than the documentary,” Kasper said. “The documentary is short; it’s only a half-hour, and that makes it more usable for a lot of the organizing and public-information purposes that people need it for, but there’s also other videos, short videos on the DVD, and other information and other sources with live weblinks to websites about information that is useful for anyone who is opposed to war or considering joining the military.”

Find out more about Soldiers Speak Out and Trent’s other films at <http://www.EmpowermentProject.org>.