I might not even be aware of this movie’s existence if I didn’t know one of the directors. Maybe someone else will learn of it only because they know me. If so, that’s a good thing. And it’s also a good thing if someone learns of the movie by stumbling onto this blog post without knowing either of us. If either of those things happens and someone watches From War to Wisdom who otherwise would not, I’ll be a happy man. It’s a movie that deserves to be seen with a story that needs to be heard.
It is primarily a story of Afghanistan and Iraq combat veterans. To some degree it is a new version of the oft told tale of guys going off to war then having difficulty returning to the civilian world. It’s a view that the tagline “When the war ends, the real battle begins” encourages and the movie’s general organization supports. The film’s front end focuses on the war and the second half focuses on the return. The “off to war” part is made extra effective through the use of gripping footage shot by embedded journalists Mike Cerre and Mike Elwell. The “difficulty returning” part is made personal through excerpts from interviews with those having the problems. But excerpts from those interviews also appear in the film’s early scenes and create a solid connection between the two halves.
Creating a marker between the halves is a text only shot. In front of the shot we see returning soldiers marching between welcoming signs and banners then being dismissed to reunite with their families while veteran Hans Palmer describes the time as “the proudest I’ve ever felt in my life.” Following the text is a scene with Josh Hisle talking about needing a “place to decompress — every day.” He’s sitting outside his apartment waiting for everyone else in the complex — his “area” — to go to sleep. “It’s not insomnia,” he says. “It’s duty.”
Five panels fade from one to another in that near midpoint text shot. The number of troops killed and wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan is mentioned along with the average number of veterans — a gut-wrenching 22 — that commit suicide each day. The last phrase is “many veterans are taking it upon themselves to help their fellow warfighters to truly come home.” That’s what this movie is about. It’s what makes this more than another war sucks story.
War does suck and From War to Wisdom makes that clear. It also makes clear the serious damage that war can inflict on those who survive it and it tells the stories of some of the veterans who overcame that damage. Then the stories go a little farther. Some of those veterans not only overcame their own issues but have made major efforts and established ongoing organizations to help others overcome theirs.
There’s Common Ground on the Hill’s Veterans Initiative that Josh Hisle was instrumental in establishing after he personally benefited from the Common Ground experience. There’s The Battle Buddy Foundation that veterans Kenny Bass and Joshua Rivers created to help other veterans obtain service dogs like Atlas who makes a normal life possible for Kenny. There’s New Directions for Veterans that was established in 1992 by a pair of Vietnam veterans and is represented in the film by Iraq veteran Matthew Lorscheider. Matthew does a pretty good job of capturing the spirit of this film when he says “That’s what we did in the military. Help a buddy out. I’m not going to stop now.”
There are many other examples of veterans helping veterans both in the film and out. They are bright spots and their successes are to be celebrated but they aren’t enough to make From War to Wisdom a feel good movie. It is, however, an encouraging movie and an informative one. Most of the veterans that appear in the film fought in either Afghanistan or Iraq. There is one notable exception. He’s a Vietnam vet who’s legal name is now Ragtime. He is a stained glass artist who teaches at Common Ground and started 1,000 Points of Peace back in 2006. The warriors recorded in this film say many wise things; The “wisdom” in the title is there for a reason. But I found a couple of Ragtime’s utterances particularly memorable. I don’t really think it’s a generational thing but maybe. From Ragtime: “America forgot what it was supposed to be doing… but I remember.”
The movie’s website lists a number of ways to see it. They include purchasing a DVD or watching online as either a rental or purchase.
This is my third movie review. When I did the second, I had actually forgotten the first (which I called a video review) and repeated a line about being even less qualified to review movies than books. I had done a few book reviews before starting this blog so doing some here didn’t feel too awkward. I wasn’t quite as comfortable with music reviews. I remember the circumstances behind that first one. Josh Hisle was working on an album and I knew I wanted to review it when it came out. I reviewed other albums so it would not be the first. Josh got distracted. Not by something shiny but by this movie. Between it and his work with Common Ground and being a full time husband, father, and student there was no time left for an album. That’s OK. It’s a lot more than OK. The album still hasn’t been released but we instead have this movie which I have a hunch is going to do a whole lot of good for a whole lot of people.
Even though I’m still waiting for that album and this is the first chance I’ve had to review a Josh Hisle product it is not his first mention here. He was the subject of this blog’s ninth post (There’s Something Happening Here) in 2011 and appears in at least three trip journal entries: February 19, 2010, July 23, 2010, and October 10, 2011.