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James Hirsch Headshot

The Soldier in All of Us

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The other night my wife and I settled in to watch TV just as NBC's show highlighting this year's Clio winning commercials was finishing up. I figured we'd watch the last few minutes because the commercials shown are usually pretty amusing and sometimes downright funny.

The only commercial we managed to see was a Clio winner based on Call of Duty: Black Ops. It is certainly beautifully made. The cinematography and the production design are nothing short of stupendous. It is a commercial designed to make you feel that if you play Call of Duty: Black Ops, you'll experience something almost as real as being in the battle.

To accomplish this, the makers of the commercial have taken a slew of ordinary folks and iconic celebrities and filmed them firing away in a battle-scarred inner city landscape, with unbelievably sophisticated weapons of war -- as if they were in the midst of the real violence. And they are grinning happily as they enjoy every minute of it. From the neighborhood truck driver to the local pizza delivery guy; from the slightly overweight young girl who looks as if she'd been left out of the school prom to the iconic celebrity of a Kobe Bryant. The "soldier in all of us."

The result is beyond disturbing. And it was playing on free television, in the middle of prime time. In fact, it's available on YouTube for anyone to see. Is this the way we honor our military heroes?

We are in the midst of a national nightmare in which our returning men and women are coming home forever scarred by what they've seen and experienced in far away places. Suicides among veterans are rising at an alarming rate. Marriages fall apart. Homes are broken.

Why? Because the realities of war do not go away by themselves. The nightmares and the contradictions don't disappear. And yet, in the midst of this struggle, someone decides to give an award to a commercial that celebrates the very violence our veterans can't seem to shake.

Am I missing something?

My wife and I stared at the television screen in stunned disbelief. All weekend long we'd been watching the horrifying images of the shootings at a theater in Aurora, Colorado. All of America had been inundated with pictures of the tragedy and has been "lectured" by countless pundits arguing over whether or not the shooting was the result of a "gun crazy" mood in our culture.

One advocate of the NRA questioned why no one in the theater had a gun so that he or she could shoot and kill and thus stop the bloodshed. Others argued that to blame movies and television shows for the violent outburst of one sadly deranged young man in Colorado is like blaming the mirror for the pimple on your face.

This isn't about gun control. And it isn't about censorship. As a writer, I've always believed in the freedom enjoyed by the creators of this video game or any other. This is about our own responsibility, each and every one of us, to recognize what is happening to our veterans and why. It is up to each of us to understand, or try to understand, the unsettling stories of veterans trying to assimilate back into civilian life.

What happens when we send 18-year-old men and women into battle? What scars remain when we bring them home (if we are lucky enough to bring them home)? If we are to welcome back our returning soldiers, we owe them more than suggesting that the war they've just been through can be "fun."

My partner and I recently produced a film entitled Least Among Saints. It will be in theaters in October. Whether or not it succeeds is secondary to this discussion.

We were given an R rating by the MPAA, due almost entirely to the issue of language. To be certain, the language in our movie is raw, as is the gritty and realistic portrayal by writer/director Marty Papazian of a returning Marine plagued with PTSD, a broken marriage, and little future.

The story, however, is an uplifting experience -- a story of hope and redemption found in the simple act of human compassion. The Marine's new "mission" becomes his effort to help an
orphaned youth living next door.

Mental health advocates across the country have praised the movie, but the R rating is designed to keep anyone under 17 from seeing the film without a parent or guardian. To protect them, I suppose, from the "dangers" of curse words, which 99 percent of us use every day. Yet a commercial featuring a blitz of violence and mayhem can play at any time of the day, reaching anyone under 17 -- and win awards in the process.

I hope our movie succeeds -- for both selfish and altruistic reasons. I hope people see this movie and our message is conveyed. But what I hope most is that the American people will wake up and begin to assert some simple logic to the issues that face us. We have no right to suggest that war is a video game. We have no right to diminish the sacrifices and the suffering of our returning men and women. We have an obligation to get our own priorities straight, starting with what we consider acceptable and what we consider "dangerous" to our kids.

If I'm guilty of blowing a trumpet to gain attention for Least Among Saints, then I accept the guilt. I have the certainty of knowing that our movie, no matter how many "f-bombs" are dropped, does something positive for our returning soldiers.

I can live with that.