The Invisible War

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invisible warEveryone is shocked by the shooting in a movie theatre in Colorado. I was just as shocked by what I saw in downtown San Diego at the Gaslamp Reading a few nights ago. It was what I watched unfold on screen.

The Invisible War is the latest documentary by Kirby Dick (Twist of Faith, This Film is Not Yet Rated).

I enjoy a well-made documentary, but this is the second military one I’ve seen this year that’s made me want to shoot the screen.

Maybe I’m naïve, but I remember being a boy and watching actors like Gregory Peck screaming for justice in the court room, and getting it.

I was 21 when I interviewed a cast member of A Few Good Men, and we talked about how bizarre it was that CampPendleton made them stop filming there because they didn’t like how Marines were portrayed. We both thought they were shown in a good light. They did what they were told, no matter how dangerous the situation. There were just a bad apple in the bunch (Jack Nicholson), and that resulted in the death of a weaker Marine. And guess what? Justice prevailed.

It doesn’t always.

And that’s one of the reasons this is a hard movie to take. Yet it’s an important one to see. It deals with rape in the military. Now, I always feared female soldiers being captured because of torture and the possibility of rape. I never imagined it would be from our side!

It’s disturbing to think that 22,800 sexual assaults occurred last year in the military. Most of them not reported, and less than 200 of the men convicted of those assaults. It’s approximately 20% that are sexually assaulted at some point during their military career.

When you hear people say that for women in the armed forces this is an “occupational hazard,” you want to yell – It shouldn’t be! Getting shot should be, not this!

You’ll be tempted to walk out of the movie, and into your local recruiting office and slap somebody, when you hear that one victim was “dressed provocatively.”

It reminded me of a date I went on to see The Accused  (another naïve thing on my part, thinking that would be a good “date movie”).

The woman I was with was Christian and felt Jodi Foster “deserved” to be raped because she dressed inappropriately and turned the guys on. I refrained from slapping her, or walking out of the restaurant where we had the argument. I kindly explained that that was the whole point of the movie. None of her actions warranted rape.

And what was it that was deemed “ dressed provocative” to the military brass? Her official uniform.

A week before I saw this movie, a friend and talented local comedian named Allison Gill, posted something on her Facebook about comedian Daniel Tosh. He had gotten into hot water because he made a rape joke.

As we all debated whether comedians should have subjects off limits, Gill said “I’m both – a comedian and a rape victim. And I say as long as it’s funny…”

I was shocked. Not about the “funny” part of her statement. That’s what comedians do. I was more shocked when she informed me that she was one of the many women interviewed for this documentary.

We had a chat about the whole thing.

Josh Board: I was surprised with what you had been through, you felt that rape jokes weren’t off limits to comedians. I had a problem with Michael Richards (Kramer) using the n-word, because it wasn’t funny and just sounded angry. Had he made a funny joke that was a bit racist, that would’ve been fine.

Allison Gill: I fully support any comedian that wants to tell a funny joke about any subject. I even have a rape joke; a really good one, too. Tosh wasn’t talking about rape just for the shock value. He actually has well-thought-out humor behind his jokes. If you don’t like what a comedian says on a particular subject, then deem it unfunny and move on to the next joke. If you don’t like any of their jokes, you should have done a little online research before paying Daniel Tosh prices to get into the Laugh Factory.

JB: Can you tell me what actually happened to you?

AG: Many moons ago, I enrolled in Nuclear Power Training Command; 600 men and about five women. I was drinking with my buddies, whom I considered brothers and would have my back for anything one night. I drank too much and was physically forced into sodomy, though I may have been drugged because I don’t remember much. I left bleeding and felt I had to tell someone. When I went to report it, I was interrogated and told that I should not have been drinking. I was told that I had probably just made a terrible mistake. I was then told that if I filed a false report for rape and was caught that I could be kicked out of the prestigious school, I could be court-martialed, I could lose rank and rate, and be fined.  “So how about you just chalk it up to a bad night and go back to your barracks”. That’s what I did.

JB: I could see how at your age, you went along with that. When you were older and wiser, did you try to do something about the incident? At the very least, it would be nice if the idiot involved had a wife that found out about this.

AG: Sadly, I don’t remember his name, nor do I remember the names of the men who victimized me a second time by talking me into believing it was my fault.

JB: Geez! I never even thought of it as being victimized a second time.

AG: Actually…it’s three times. Once for the attack, once for the backlash when you try to report it, and when the VA denies your claim saying it never happened because you didn’t report it.

JB: Do you think the military has more problems with sexual assaults because of the people that they attract? I think about the hazing rituals we hear about relating to the military, whether it’s an initiation or an award you receive….

AG: Well, the movie talks about the statistics of men already convicted of sex crimes that enter the military, and it is a boys club, but I would never dump on the Navy. The hazing can be fun. I remember when I got my crow tacked on (a phrase meaning you just made the rank of petty officer and your shipmates “tack” it on, or punch your arm so it “sticks”). They’d hold my arm against a tree and punch it over and over until my entire arm was black and blue. That was part of it. I oddly didn’t mind that. But studies have shown if you take things too far, the group will go right along. Look at Abu Graihb.

JB: Is it hard to watch a movie that has subject matter of this nature? I remember watching The General’s Daughter (John Travolta, James Cromwell) and being uncomfortable. I can only imagine what it feels like for victims to watch these types of things on screen.

AG: I don’t think seeing rape scenes has any more of an impact on me than it does anyone else, but I’ve never asked. They’re disturbing and unsettling. I get more nervous in large crowds than I do watching sexual violence portrayed in the movies.

JB: What’s your opinion about all the debates people have in regards to women being allowed in the military? Sometimes it involves going into battle. Other times it’s about the physical requirements or getting pregnant.

AG: Well, if a woman gets prego in the military, she can stay in or is given the option to get out. If she hasn’t yet served 24 months and opts out, she is ineligible for VA care. I think women belong in the military, but I don’t think the military needs to be what it is. We don’t need ground troops. We can do everything with male special forces and everyone else using technology to back them up. The structure of the armed forces needs to change, not the fact that there’s women in it.

JB: What can the military do better when it comes to sexual assaults?

AG: Military sexual assaults should not be investigated by the command. It’s a conflict of interest. They should be investigated by a civilian team of law enforcement agents that have the best interest of the victim in mind as opposed to the best interest of the command. I believe there is currently a bill in congress that proposes just that, and this movie was the catalyst.

JB: That’s a very good point. I read in Roger Ebert’s review of this movie, the comparison to the PennState scandal. He goes down this path of sports and military being these macho places. I think he’s totally wrong in that analogy. I think what happened at PennState and in the military, is similar to the church scandals involving priests. The high ranking officials don’t want the PR nightmare if this stuff gets out, not to mention the millions it will cost in lawsuits.

Is there any last thing you’d like to add, whether it’s about comedy, your military service, or anything?

AG: Any comedian worth their salt has a good rape joke in their arsenal.  Let’s have a rape joke festival and donate the proceeds to fighting MST. I can attest that laughter is way better than Paxil.

JB: With that being said…you can possibly hear Gill’s rape joke, and great set (which often includes a guitar and humorous songs) July 26 – 28th at The Comedy Palace in Kearny Mesa (and other local venues in the near future).

You can see The Invisible War at the Gaslamp Reading, proving why it deserved to be named the best theatre recently in the Reader. They not only carry the blockbusters, but movies like this that aren’t playing anywhere else.

I’m giving it 4 stars out of 5.