Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 7, 2006

The Ground Truth

Filed under: antiwar,Film,Iraq — louisproyect @ 3:31 pm

“The Ground Truth” is a wrenchingly powerful documentary about the mental and physical disorders of GI’s returning from Iraq and their political awakening. Made up almost entirely of interviews with these soldiers and soldier-activists from previous generations, it follows a taut dramatic narrative that evokes Ron Kovic’s “Born on the Fourth of July.”

The first part describes how the soldiers were recruited with false promises of the sort seen on television commercials and made by recruiters, including one former Marine Staff Sergeant Jimmy J. Massey who looks and sounds like a bedrock Bush supporter. Not only was he a recruiter, he was a drill instructor as well. On December 8, 2004, the Washington Post reported:

A former U.S. Marine staff sergeant testified at a hearing Tuesday that his unit killed at least 30 unarmed civilians in Iraq during the war in 2003 and that Marines routinely shot and killed wounded Iraqis.

Jimmy J. Massey, a 12-year veteran, said he left Iraq in May 2003 after a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress. He said he and his men shot and killed four Iraqis staging a demonstration and a man with his hands up trying to surrender, as well as women and children at roadblocks. Massey said he had complained to his superiors about the “killing of innocent civilians,” but that nothing was done.


Jimmy J. Massey

“The Ground Truth,” which is directed by Patricia Foulkrod, and dedicated to “soldiers, veterans, military families, and civilians, who may never be counted as casualties of war,” explores how unnatural it is to become a professional killer, which is really what serving in the infantry or the Marines is all about. Despite promises made to new recruits, they all get shipped to Iraq where they all become targets of the insurgency no matter their assignment. Denver Jones, a specialist in the U.S. Army Reserve had his life shattered not by a bullet but by a bump in the road. As a passenger in the front seat of a Humvee being driven recklessly by a fellow soldier, Jones first hit the roof of the cab and then bounced off the seat. A seemingly routine accident left his spine and bladder permanently damaged.

Jones, like Massey, is a stereotypical “good old boy” from the South. He speaks in a deep drawl and wears bib overalls. One can easily imagine a Northern liberal seeing him as their worst nightmare. But his wounds have woken him up politically. In an October 27, 2004 interview with Alternet’s Lakshmi Chaudhry, Jones responded to the question of “What are your hopes and fears now that you look at the future?” as follows:

My hopes are that the world can communicate as people – not governments communicating for us. If we communicated as people, there wouldn’t be disputes and problems and war.

The governments of countries go and speak as though they represent the people of the country. But they don’t represent what the people are actually saying. I’ve spoken to Iraqi soldiers who at one point wanted to kill me. And once we talked, there was no reason for fighting. Their leader tells them one thing while our leader tells us another. And we go on that.

Just because someone is in a “Third World” country, they’re not different than I am. They’re human beings and one of God’s children. Because I have been blessed with the opportunity to achieve what I have, it doesn’t mean that as a human being that I’m more deserving or any better than they are.


Denver Jones

“The Ground Truth” follows Iraqi war veterans in their daily struggle to adjust to civilian life. They might be hampered by the loss of a limb, as is the case with Robert Acosta, a former US army specialist, or by unrelieved psychological trauma, as is the case with Navy veteran Charles Anderson. (Anderson was deployed with Marine Corps Second Tank Battalion and was part of the initial invasion.)

Acosta decided to join the army to get out of the barrios of Santa Ana, California and openly admits, “If it weren’t for the army, I’d probably be locked up right now.” On July 13, 2003, a grenade was thrown into his Humvee and it shattered his left leg and blew off his right hand. Today Acosta works with Orange County high school students, presenting alternatives to military recruitment.


Robert J. Acosta

Anderson eventually hooked up with Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) and marched to New Orleans alongside Vietnam veterans demanding that funds be channeled into the hurricane-stricken area. The Nation Magazine reported:

At times the connections between Iraq and the Gulf Coast became all too real, or even surreal. The ruined homes, lack of water and sporadic electricity along the way reminded many vets of the war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan that some had left only months before.

“In Gulfport I heard a pop or a snap and looked back, and one of my guys took a knee,” said Navy corps and combat vet Charles Anderson, referring to the common military position of kneeling in preparation for action. “I went back to him, put my hand on him and told him: ‘It’s OK, we’re in Mississippi now.’ “

Among the marchers was Stan Goff, who is interviewed in the film and seen speaking at a rally. Much credit should be given to Stan for helping to organize the march to New Orleans and other antiwar activities that involve soldiers and their families. Like Jimmy J. Massey and Denver Jones, Goff is a dyed-in-the-wool Red Stater with a deep drawl and long experience in the military. After serving in Haiti in 1994, Goff went through the same kind of political transformation that the younger soldiers featured in “The Ground Truth” have gone through. In his case, it lead to a deeper commitment to understanding and changing the underlying economic institutions that make horrors like the occupation of Iraq possible.


Stan Goff

By demonstrating the capability of such soldiers to overcome their training as killers and evolve into peace activists, “The Ground Truth” serves as an inspiration for those working for social change in general. Although the physical and psychological wounds of the war in Iraq are extreme, there are wounds almost as great to working people on a daily basis in the USA from mining accidents to layoffs. If post-traumatic stress disorder led Army Ranger Chad Reiber to pistol whip a complete stranger in a bar and to fight off the cops who were trying to arrest him (he faced a five year sentence for felony assault), is it any surprise that American workers end up “going postal” in increasing numbers? Eventually, the injuries and insults of class society in general will lead working people to confront their oppressors and create a more rational system that puts human needs over private profits. When that day arrives, it will be the soldiers of “The Ground Truth” who will be remembered as the advance guard.

“The Ground Truth” websites:



Stan Goff’s blog:



1 Comment »

  1. Hi Louis, forgive me for leaving this in your comments box – it’s off-topic – but I couldn’t find your e mail address:

    I was meaning to say hello as you had forwarded a number of pieces of
    mine to the marxmail list and because we seem to share an interest in a
    couple of areas of Marx’s thought – in particular his very late
    writings and their implications for underdeveloped societies and indigenous

    I was wondering what you thought of this piece by Jack Conrad, which
    has appeared in the Weekly Worker and on the Aussie Labor Tribune


    It seems to me that Conrad is guilty of recycling some pretty shaky
    theories about the impact of Aboriginals on the Australian landscape,
    about the nature of Aboriginal society, and about Marx’s views on
    primitve communism (Conrad seems to ignore the differences between Engels’ and
    Marx’s attitudes to Morgan).

    I was interested to read your account of the 1996 conference
    organised by Rehtinking Marxism, and the splits that resulted from the impact
    of the Sokal affair. Do you know of any good articles linking the
    political positions of Resnick and Wolff with their interpretations of
    Marxist philosophy – their views on epistemology etc? I’m just reading their
    new collection of essays, ‘New Deaprtures in Marxist Theory’.


    Comment by Scott — September 10, 2006 @ 7:05 am

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