Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Taking Chance


An HBO movie. If you have a sentimental bone in your body, this short movie will make you cry. Like most humans, I have 206 bones, and at least 205 of them are sentimental slobs who will weep at the drop of a hat. (One bone is hard-hearted enough that it didn’t even cry when Old Yeller died.) Naturally, I was tearing up before the first five minutes were done, and the hardest parts were yet to come. On the other hand, if you have a brain, this movie will make you so angry you will want to string certain people up from the nearest tree.

Sad: I don’t know what the Army and Navy do, but if you are a Marine and are killed in action, your body will be escorted by another Marine from the moment of your death until you are laid in the ground. This movie follows one Lance Corporal, Chance Phelps of Wyoming, from his death (which we do not see, but only hear the sounds of combat) to his home. Along the way we see the humane and tender attentions paid to the body at Dover Air Force Base (where until recently our government has shamefully hidden it all away behind a “no photographs” policy). It will break your heart to see the body being prepared, cleaned of blood and dirt, dressed in the finest uniform with brasswork meticulously polished. (We never see Chance’s face, only his uniform and hands.) Then Lieutenant Colonel Michael Strobl (Kevin Bacon) takes over, shepherding the cardboard box with the coffin inside through airports and onto and off of hearses, at each stage rendering military honors. It is not usual for a colonel to take on this duty. Strobl did it because the boy (he was 19) was from his home state … and from guilt feelings because he was not over there in Iraq, but safe at home with his wife and children. All along the way he is amazed and moved by the solemn respect shown by ticket clerks, baggage handlers, cabin attendants, and passengers. (I’m tearing up as I write this.) Then he arrives at the small town in Wyoming … You can imagine it from there. I can’t write about it through the tears.

It made me proud to be an American. Though opposition to this obscene Iraq war runs strong and deep—nowhere deeper than at our house—I have yet to hear of any war opponent attack the soldiers and marines who are fighting and dying. There have been no shouts of “baby-killer,” no uniforms spat upon. (If it did happen, the spitter would swiftly get the crap beat out of him, and I wouldn’t lift a finger to stop it.) I think everybody recognizes that those boys and girls were thrown into a situation not of their making, and have been mercilessly overworked and scandalously ill-equipped and poorly provided for by the profiteers for whose benefit the whole insane project was undertaken. These young people signed up to defend America and its ideals (many of them in the wake of 9/11, as my dad’s generation signed up after Pearl Harbor), only to be blown up in under-armored vehicles by angry men and women conducting guerrilla warfare, and to see those ideals undermined and subverted by cynical men back home.

I recognize that not all those serving over there see it that way, that many if not most believe in the mission, but that’s okay. They need to believe that in order not to despair, as Vietnam soldiers often did, and so they can believe that their comrades who have died didn’t die in vain. I believe that the passage of time will teach them a bitter truth. And that may be the most evil legacy of all the evils left to us by the Bush misadministration. How will we ever raise a military as passionate and committed as the one we had in August, 2001, after they have been once more thrown into a fight that was sold under false pretenses, by lying politicians? Is there an inexhaustible supply of naïve young men and women who can be herded into line with a call to patriotism by those who don’t know the meaning of the word? … sadly, that may be the case.

Anger: Well, you know who you are, you Masters of War. At one point Chance’s mother says that, though she tried to dissuade him, she is glad that he went. It’s hard to fathom for someone like me, but I think what she meant was that he wanted to be a Marine more than anything else in the world. I don’t understand that, either, but I know there are such men and women, and I’m glad there are, because the world is a dangerous, nasty place, and when the shit hits the fan, as in Pearl Harbor, we need people who are willing to go and put their bodies between us and the nasty people … because I sure don’t want to do it. So she meant that, if he hadn’t joined up, he would have spent the rest of his life feeling a shirker and a failure, and that’s no way to live. Being killed by a piece of shrapnel to the head so that your casket is closed at your funeral is no way to die, either, in my opinion … but he seems to have been happy up to that moment. Who am I to say he was wrong, that he shouldn’t have gone?

Those that sent him, however, knowing full well that the reasons they had concocted to sell the war to people like Chance and his family were lies, lies, and more dirty fucking lies … well, it just makes me want to explode. The invitations to Chance’s memorial service asked that, instead of flowers, contributions should be made to a fund that was providing Kevlar vests to our troops in Iraq. Can you fucking believe that? That the families, the families of those who died, have to pay for their own armor? Donald Rumsfeld, you murdering fuck, you who said “You go to war with the army you have …” grinning, grinning, joking, you’re a lotta laughs, Donald … you didn’t put your pint-sized hide into an unarmored humvee, which is all we had, did you, Don? [The letters of condolence Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld sent to the Phelps family were signed by a machine! How fucking disrespectful is that?!!!] George W. Bush, you murdering fuck, where were your hard-partying daughters while patriotic families like the Phelps’s paid the price? And most of all, Dick Cheney, you murdering fuck, you had “other priorities” when it came time to pick up a rifle in Southeast Asia, didn’t you? Better men than you died, and then when you were an old murdering fuck, you sent even more young people to die where you should have died, on the battlefield, in defense of your right to torture prisoners.

That’s all. I can’t go on. Blood pressure soaring …