The good soldier

(AFP Photo / Johannes Eisele)

What does it really mean to be 'a good soldier'? Following the journeys of four veterans from three generations of wars, we realize that it means killing without hesitation, never asking questions and accepting innocent casualties as 'collateral damage'.

"There is no other feeling in the world like hunting a human being". As Vietnam's neon rice fields turned red, and the French countryside erupted in bombs, and snipers emerged from Iraq's desert dust, each soldier felt the adrenalin pulsing through their veins. And each felt the devastating come down: "I suddenly realise 'we just shot a bunch of unarmed protestors'", remembers Jimmy, "but then that little voice in your head goes off, which says 'well that's war'".

They were pushed into war by poverty, fear of race attacks or because "it was an important thing for a young man to do" and suddenly they were soldiers. "The first week I was terrified", says Perry. He'd look out of his helicopter at forests lit up by flashes of fire and would "try not to see or hope that I didn't hit anyone". The distance helps, but sometimes, death comes to confront you. "We were told that anyone in black pyjamas was an enemy", says William, remembering how he and his troops sat staring at the white legs of teenagers lying motionless in a rice field.

"It got to the point where it bothered me if I didn't get the chance to kill someone", admits William. Years later in Iraq, Jimmy would feel himself succumbing to the same addiction. Until one day some of his troops opened fire on a car of unarmed Iraqis and then dumped the bodies by the roadside. "His brother just kept sobbing, crying 'We're not terrorists!'. I just wanted to close my ears", remembers Jimmy, "And I lost it".

"You first come home and you completely forget about war". But the change of pace is extreme and the memories always come back. Some find themselves prepping their gear every day, their senses still heightened, still constantly on edge. Most lose sight of the direction in their life: "I was ashamed that I'd been injured, I was ashamed not to have been a hero". All live with the burden of guilt: "Even though Robert McNamara came out years later and said 'Vietnam was a mistake', it did not take the pain from me", declares William, teary-eyed. This might be the most affecting film you've ever seen.

Out of the Blue Productions.

Directed by Lexy Lovell and Michael Uys

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