The haze of war is especially ominous when eyes are blurred, unable to perceive ensuing atrocity. Eyes cannot discern images obscured by the pain of senseless devastation and the subsequent search for meaning. Imagining an act of war is distressing enough for us all, especially in light of recent events. But experiencing it head-on is a shattering nightmare civilians in Iraq were, and still are, forced to endure.
With their new documentary, The Hidden Wars of Desert Storm, filmmakers Gerard Ungerman and Audrey Brohy shed some light on the obscurities of the last war and the ambiguity of its aftermath. They also amplify some of the skeptical questions voiced by various national and international government officials. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, Denis Halliday, the former head of the United Nations Iraq program, and Ambassador to Egypt David Welch all give their testimonies about U.S. involvement in the Middle East from the 1930s to today. Not all their views align, of course.
The primary reason that Ungerman and Brohy cite for America’s concern with Iraq is greed. They say the U.S. government covets oil on Iraqi soil and will, in turn, do anything to obtain it – the argument being that oil is “too important to be left to the Arabs.”
During the first Gulf War, the media was asked to avoid coverage so the only images presented to Americans were those sorted out by the U.S. government. Hidden Wars contends there was no proof of Iraq’s plans to initiate conflict. The film also stresses that not only were Iraqi military forces attacked, so were “average Joes.” According to the film, U.S. cruise missiles were used to cripple the food chain, as well as water filtration and the flow of electricity, to the detriment of the country at large rather than precise targets.
The victims of the Gulf War were many, on battlefronts and along the periphery. The film proposes that thousands of men, women and children are still struggling with the pall of repercussions incurred by the involvement of U.S. troops in Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War of 1991. As accounted by Ungerman and Brohy, parts of the country were scattered with radioactive spent rounds made from uranium-238. One effect has been the exponential increase in cancer among both Iraqi civilians and American soldiers who served in battle.
According to the film, all of this has been kept from the American public.
Images of Iraqi infants flash across the screen, their horrifying deformities penetrating and tragic. The film, though grotesquely sobering, is intended viewing for conscience, sensitive audiences. Others, though, may find the filmmakers’ tactic to persuade somewhat manipulative. At very least, the film offers a face to the helpless casualties of the aftermath Operation Desert Storm.
Perhaps the most haunting moment of the film (and of the government’s reflection of the outcome) is Madeline Albright’s laissez-faire explanation for the ongoing anguish: “On balance, we think (the deaths of innocents and children) is worth the price.”
Hidden Wars of Desert Storm ends abruptly and raises more questions than it can answer as it whirls to an ultimately anticlimactic conclusion. When the filmmakers start pleading with the U.N. to turn a corner and alleviate the problems they’ve helped cause, the tonal shift is uncharacteristic and jarring. Still, for the most part, the film serves as a highly effective provocation to the U.S. government to tell the harsh truth about their global military measures. As a former U.S. official bluntly states in the film, “If the government did lie to us – does that come as any surprise?”