Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
This two-disc set compiles four hours of the 2003 Irag war onto two discs. It's really about the
embedding process wherein journalists and cameramen cover the war by following and living with
individual fighting units. It's a worthwhile practice that gives the public what they want, which is
lots of first-hand pictures, sometimes live. The combat experience is thus
directly to the viewing public. As shown by the very interesting accounts on this disc, the journalists
can't help but identify with their fellow soldiers, as they share with them most of the hardships
and the same risks. An embedded newsman on the front lines basically substitutes the "local color" of
war experience for meaningful journalism. For the first time a war became a kind of entertainment for
the viewers back home. The Army seems to prefer this kind of coverage to reporters
asking them difficult questions back at headquarters.
But the accoounts presented on this disc set are impressive and fair. Our soldiers are indeed
committed men and women doing a difficult job at no small risk to their own lives. The Army, Air Force,
Marines and Navy are each represented by at least one docu., and the show overall is a great
resource for explaining what it's like to go to war in the 21st century.
Each segment is hosted by a particular television journalist, starting off with the very well known
Ted Koppel accompanying an Army unit. This time around in Iraq there were no tank battles in the desert
was plenty of action. As one soldier puts it, just the crazy driving in the dark in a convoy of
thousands of vehicles was scary enough.
Each segment focuses on individual officers and men and the conditions under which they fought: heat and
cold and miserable sandstorms that sting any exposed skin and fill every crevice with dust as fine
as talcum powder. There's relatively little fighting on camera and no coverage of corpses and other
gory details. Nobody ever seems to get a clear
view of the enemy, and most of the danger time is spent navigating minefields and getting by
exploding ammunition dumps. The most important pack item for combat in Iraq appears to be baby wipes,
those lanolin tissues that soldiers and reporters clean themselves with for weeks when there's no
access to any kind of hygiene.
The shows are politically fair. Koppel and others express some misgivings about the whole embedding
concept, with especially harsh words for the lack of planning for the post-victory period. One
reporter talks about the five weeks of bliss after Baghdad fell, when the Iraqi public was largely
grateful to their liberators. But from then on it's all downhill. One soldier-engineer expresses it
"If we don't get their power and water back on right away, we're going to lose control."
Some journalists talk about Army "guides" who try to make suggestions about their coverage, and we
see one young newsman having to tell one of them to butt out of his business. But the reporters
all affirm that there was little or no Army interference with reportage from the front. The only truly
frustrated newsman is on an
aircraft carrier. He can report that there are aircraft taking off and that's about it: Where they are,
when they're flying, where they're flying and even what kinds of planes are flying are all classified.
A female journalist (Stephanie Gosk) is with a portable patriot missile unit that moves up to be
part of the "tip of the spear," a familiar proud statement of many interviewees. But the group
doesn't go into action because the Iraqis never attack with SCUD missiles. We see preparations
for many a hurried anti-gas
defense, with the soldiers donning full biological warfare outfits. Those fears also never
materialize. Curiously, one soldier describes coming upon a factory that may be making nerve gas
weapons, and he (and we) are surprised when nothing is made of it in the news. Perhaps it didn't turn
out to be a real WMD plant.
A very young Matt Frucci is the journalist-host in the final segment on board a cruise missile
ship. It anchors in the ocean and helps start the hostilities by lobbing cruise missiles on long trips
across Saudi Arabia and into the Iraqi capitol. The sailors take digital pictures of the launches
(each costing a million dollars) and then go below decks to see the destruction live on CNN and ABC
By wisely sticking to the soldierly experience the shows avoid the bigger issues of the war that
have so thoroughly divided our country. One soldier opines that the military itself is
divided 50-50 over whether we should have gone to war. One Marine episode shows a battalion leaving
home with tearful farewells. Some wounded soldiers are seen and discussed, and one top
sergeant's death becomes a main theme of one episode. President Bush is seen in most of the
episodes giving his 48-hour get-out-of-Baghdad-Pilgrim demand, and isn't discussed further. The
aircraft carrier episode ends with him making a personal appearance (to cheers), but the show makes
no comment on it.
The episodes appear to have been assembled by different teams of producers and editors. A
post-assignment interview with the journalist provides the backbone of each segment; these shows
are really about reporting from the frontlines and don't try to give an overall picture. They
provide a number of first-person perspectives, of soldiers and journalists who certainly aren't
privvy to the big picture of the fighting.
Koch Vision and ABC's DVD of War With Iraq: Stories from the Front is a nicely mastered
set of shows, professionally assembled. Although the main menu has big network-styled graphics
and martial music, the individual shows do without the promotional hype. Peter Jennings provides
an introduction to each disc. The stereo audio is very good.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
War With Iraq: Stories from the Front rates:
Packaging: Two discs in slimline Keep case
Reviewed: June 26, 2004
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2004 Glenn Erickson
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