I hate to say it, but 2012 was my first year attending Hot Docs. And because I didn’t get my act together, I ended up seeing one movie. (The other two we tried to see were sold out, one a week in advance.) So what follows is my review of that movie, Invisible War:
Invisible War details the pervasive sexual abuse, sexual assault and rape that has existed in the US military at least since women were allowed in to the US Armed Forces. Though it acknowledges that the rape of men is far more commonplace than that of women – simply because there are more men in the armed forces – the film is primarily focused on the alarming number of rapes in the US military and also the shocking lack of interest the military has in prosecuting most of the rapists who, of course are, by definition, serial offenders. The film is well made and highly affecting. I think it is one of those must-see documentaries. But there is a but, and it’s a fairly big one.
I understand that to effect actual change one needs to be moderate. This is a political truth, not an artistic one. The filmmakers, hoping to affect policy makers in some way, therefore took a somewhat moderate tone – despite the rampant evidence that tells me that I would never, ever, ever want my son or daughter to have anything to do with the US military, but then I felt that way already – to the artistic detriment of the film. The film seeks to condemn the lack of prosecutions but at the same time honor the armed forces. They have to take this tone in order to give the film even a remote chance of being successful enough to get noticed on say the level of Bully, which is the level of notice it would need to actually find enough of an audience to effect change.
Unfortunately because of that decision the film does not condemn the military itself, which is the real problem. A systematized military (as opposed to say, a militia), especially a systematized military involved in more than just the protection of the state – as we know the US military is involved in wars of aggression, though many of us would like to deny this – has to, as a matter of course, dehumanize the “other”. In order to create successful professional soldiers, people need to believe their opponents are not human; otherwise they would not be able to live with themselves – and of course it doesn’t exactly work, given the frequency of PTSD. Is it such a stretch to believe that a) in such a system some people are likely to misinterpret this and project the other on to people within their own organization and b) that such an organization would attract those who want to dominate other people (whether in sexual or other ways)? Of course it isn’t.
But nobody in the film makes this point. If they did, the filmmakers chose to leave it out (for the reasons stated above). And though I understand this decision on a practical level, it hurts the actual film, which should go to its logical inclusion in morally condemning this system that perpetuates rape. Because we know that rape is wrong. And it doesn’t matter how culturally ingrained the military may be in the US, rape is still wrong. And so is covering it up.