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A Review of Operation In Their Boots, Pt. 1

Last week, On Violence was honored to receive an invitation to the premiere of Operation In Their Boots, a series of five documentaries about the experiences of America’s veterans. Every video is available for viewing, for free, at their website, InTheirBoots.com, and we strongly encourage you to check out these films.

Today regular guest-poster Matty P and Eric C will provide a short review of each documentary.

The Guilt

(Watch "The Guilt" here.)

Clint Van Winkle, in his personal, almost confessional, documentary, The Guilt heads to Philadelphia to convince a good friend, and fellow veteran, to seek treatment for PTSD brought on by survivor’s guilt.

The Guilt, like his memoir Soft Spots, is raw and personal; intimate interviews complement intimate personal interactions--even Van Winkle said afterwards he was surprised one of the participants agreed to be in the film. Van Winkle has a knack for presenting the ugly truth of post-war life for Iraq veterans, putting all of his life out on the table.

My initial reaction to the ending of the film was, “What happens next? Tell me!” I wanted a nice, apropos title card explaining what has happened to all of the participants, as if reality could provide a pat, happy ending. Obviously, The Guilt didn’t give me one.

I had the same complaint with Soft Spots, and I realized something about his film and memoir: reality isn’t neat and tidy. For these three men, the saga continues. As one of them said, they could go on this way forever. W. D. Ehrhart--whose on my reading list now--says at some point in the film, in response to the question how long did it take you to get readjusted to home, “What makes you think I’m readjusted?”

I talked to Clint Van Winkle after the screening about his future plans. He’s working on a new book--non-fiction--and I have to say I’m looking forward to it. Instead of viewing Soft Spots as stand alone book, I should probably look at it as the first chapter in an ongoing project. And every one should needs to see this second part.
- Eric C

No Religious Preference

(Watch "No Relgious Preference here.)

It’s disturbing what the works of a few men can do to a culture’s psyche. In the post 9/11 environment, paratrooper, veteran of Afghanistan, and filmmaker Kyle Hartnett openly addresses his own, and by extension America’s, seething prejudices toward Muslims and Muslim Americans.

Hartnett describes his inner struggle between paranoia that takes the guise of preparedness and self-loathing for his own irrationality. After the events of Fort Hood, in which a Muslim soldier fired upon fellow soldiers, Hartnett’s misgivings resonate more as outright disdain for Muslims, forcing him to take action.

In a quest for knowledge to battle his own ignorance, Hartnett journeys to Dearborn, Michigan and beyond to come face to face with fellow service members of Arab decent. What he finds is not simply a glimpse of honorable men and women who have served their country, but also a tales of betrayal by the very country they fought to protect.

At times, No Religious Preference is brutal in it’s honesty, creating moments of both awkward discomfort and laughs as the audience relates their own stereotyping to Harnett’s. The stories range from comedic cultural misunderstandings to dark depictions of how fear and unfounded suspicion can justify injustice.

At the story’s end, one man, one soldier is able to face his misgivings with hope. While Hartnett is the first to admit he’s not fixed yet, his journey was an experience that served to alter the way he perceives an entire religion. And it’s my hope that No Religious Preference does the same for others.
- Matty P

(On Monday, On Violence will review Enduring Erebus, The Academic Front and Rudy Reyes: The Way of the Warrior.)

eleven comments

I took it for granted—when I started the memoir project—that most authors would have the professional memoir sensibility to write honestly and impassioned about their experiences, without self censoring. Jarhead, Soft Spots, and War I Always Wanted—the first three books I read—did this better than any memoir I’ve read since, so my view of those three books was somewhat skewed.

In other words, they’re better than when I originally reviewed them (though my feelings towards memoirs hasn’t changed.)


When I first read, and then responded to, Soft Spots, I saw it as part A of work to come. It just left me with the sense that oft Spots was one tile in a much larger mosaic, that this writer had more to say. And, as I noted in my blog response at the time, I want to read whatever Van Winkle writes next.
The Guilt “reads” like a complement to, and completion of, Soft Spots. It completes our readerly perception of these men, makes tangibly visual, emotional, their connection, and makes the memoir finally “click” shut for me. It is a brutal film, raw, as you say. I had to watch it multiple times to be sure I’d heard correctly some of what the men say.
Nice review of The Guilt. Echoes much of my own feeling. Thank you.


“America’s, seething prejudices toward Muslims and Muslim Americans.”

This is an absurd statement and simply factually incorrect. There have been very few “hate” crimes against Muslims in the United States even after such volatile incidents as the shooting of American soldiers in Arkansas and Texas by a Muslim and the Ground Zero mosque issue or the Times Square bombing attempt or the attempted Christmas bombing from 2009. In fact, the entire absurd TSA airport screening process is because people don’t want to use racial profiling against… Muslims!

Why would America rush to the defense of Muslims in Bosnia if we hated them so? Why would be liberate them from Saddam’s tyranny if we hated them so? Why would we be building schools for girls in Afghanistan if we despised Muslims? Why does Iraq maintain 100% control over its oil reserves if we hate Muslims so?

Ironic that the review of a movie about tolerance exhibits the opposite.


@Harrison – With respect, I’m not entirely clear on your position. It seems at the beginning of your comment that you feel there was no rise in prejudice towards Muslims post 9/11 while near the end in citing the TSA incidents you seem to support racial profiling. While my comment may be subjective (meaning I may see the current societal opinion toward Islam and Muslims inappropriate while others may not), it is based on facts. For example; in the US in 2000 prior to terrorists attacks the number of hate crimes against people of Middle Eastern descent was near 350 as opposed to 1,500 in 2001. It is naive to assume the rise in violence is independent of such impacting events as 9/11. Recently, according to polls relating to Islam and the ground zero mosque, only 30-40% (depending on the poll’s source) of people polled have a positive opinion of the religion of Islam. With regard to changes in violence or opinion after the Fort Hood attacks, I don’t have information of that. However, let me clarify, after Fort Hood was when the filmmaker stated his prejudice reached its peak, while the assertion I made above was that there is elevated prejudice towards Islam and Muslims in the post 9/11 era.

With regards toward your questions, I think you are confusing cultural opinion with foreign policy. We do not allow the uninformed masses to dictate policy but elect informed representatives. You are also confusing hatred with prejudice. The majority of Americans surveyed do not distinguish differences between Islam and radical Islam. This is an example of prejudice.

To answer the above questions: the US did not intervene in Bosnia to save Muslims but to save human beings (the fact that they are Muslims was incidental). Further, the intervention was largely to prevent escalation of violence in the area, which threatened based upon the nature of the conflict, to spill into other nations. As a side note, I do wonder though what the approval rating on operations in Bosnia would be if the general public was fully aware that those being protected by US forces were in fact Muslim. Regarding Iraq, the liberation was conducted, and this is based upon numerous Presidential and appointed representative statements, due to Saddam’s possession of WMD’s and ties to AQ. Finally, Iraq maintains control of its oil supply because the United States does not conquer sovereign nations. Confiscating a nation’s natural resources and industry is an act of conquest and would cause major problems with European and Asian nations as well as alienate us from allies like Saudi Arabia.

These responses are all overly simplified answers to your questions because detailed answers could warrant essays worth of discussion. Yet, I believe they demonstrate the difference between US government actions and general perceptions of US citizens.


First off, there is no such thing as a “hate” crime. Regardless of the reason someone is murdered, they have been murdered and the guilty must be punished. We do not have “love” crimes and thus no “hate” crimes, either.

Looking at the FBI’s statistics for 2009, there were 1,575 victims due to religious reasons. Of that, 8.4 were against Jews to put that number in perspective and 3.7 against white people.

Crunching the numbers, 132 Mulsim victims in 2009 versus 669 white victims.

Is America anti-white? It must be if 537 more whites were the victims of crime because of race versus only 132 Muslims.

I will leave the statistical games at that.

Regarding Islam, there is no “radical” Islam. There is only Islam as it appears in the Koran according to what Mohamed wrote. Like Catholicism or Judaism, you either follow the whole lot or you are not really Catholic or Jewish. Orthodox Jews would not agree that Reform Jews are really practicing their faith any more than the Pope would agree that a Catholic who gets an abortion is being Catholic.

There is one major difference between Islam and Christianity or Judaism and that is the fact that Mohamed said if two passages contradict themselves you MUST follow the later passage. In Christianity or Judaism this is not the case so the Bible or Torah are open to some interpretation. In Islam there is no gray area. People can try and say Islam has been “perverted” by Osama bin Ladin but the history of Islam shows this is not really the case.

I think it was common knowledge that the Bosnians were Muslims and the Serbs were not.

Simply because Americans do not hold a favorable view of Islam does not mean that they contain seething rage against Muslims or that American hate Muslims. Very few people said it should be against the law for Parc55 to build their mosque, only that it was in poor taste, which it certainly is.

Regarding Iraq and its oil… the tune most on the Left were singing was “to the victors go the spoils” but yet almost all of the oil contracts did not go to American companies. There has been no voicing by Americans that we should take the Muslims’ oil. If we were an anti-Islamic people, we would have been saying this.

My statement regarding the TSA was simply that these new security procedures have been put in place specifically so there will not be profiling of Muslims.

And our elected officials are supposed to do the peoples’ bidding. I do not consider the “people” to be “uninformed masses” which is an elitist and, in my opinion, ignorant view. On the contrary, the American “masses” seem to know what’s best for their country.


de facto trolls are just as enlightening as volitional trolls.

don’t feed the trolls.

(i almost made this same mistake last weekend, with this exact same minion of entropy – fight the urge)


Ease up on the personal attacks, fellas. Let’s just let the arguments speak for themselves.


@ Satori – Unfortunately, I like spirited debate. While I realize we will most likely not change each others’ minds, I still like the opportunity to discuss politic, religion, etc.

@ Harrison – This will be my final response to the issues stated on this thread. I will leave you with the last word.

I actually agree with you in regards to hate crimes. The term is a redundancy. However, it is a legal term used by law enforcement and our legal system to reflect crimes motivated by racial, religious, or other bigotry.

I respect your use of statistics to address you point. I found the data to which you referred. This is the link: (http://www2.fbi.gov/ucr/hc2009/incidents.html) Unfortunately, there are major flaws in your analysis.

First, the data is to be compared by category. For example, there are categories for race and religion. You cannot directly compare a data set from religion to race. You did so attempting to compare anti-Islamic hate crimes to anti-white hate crimes. Doing so assumes that the two sets are mutually exclusive. A more accurate comparison should be anti-Islamic to anti-Protestant crime.

However, using your model, comparing anti-Islam to anti-white, you fail to consider the populations of the United States. Demographics show those who categorize themselves as white make up 63. So if we are to assume that the level of violence is to be evenly distributed throughout the population, the number of hate crimes against whites should be about 63 times that of Muslims to have an appropriate ratio. Yet according to the data, the incidents are only 5:1.

Also, your question whether America is anti-white isn’t necessary. On one hand, it’s to broad a statement. On the other hand, it’s absurd looking at that data. Note also that over 70 of people of voting age are registered and less than 50% of those people vote, further compounded by the fact that the vast majority do not know the ins and outs every proposition on the ballot for their area; I call the masses uninformed. Our form of representative government exists because pure democracy or the idea that people know how best to run the country is a fallacy assuming that every person has full knowledge of every issue and has the wisdom to address every issue accordingly. I’m sorry if you’re insulted by this, but they do not. And let me clarify I am not saying I do, rather that our elected officials should.

Further, elected officials cannot follow the bidding of the people because the people will always be divided on each and every issue. You assume we are of one mind. We elect representatives based on stated stances on issues. If I didn’t vote for Barrack Obama or George Bush because I don’t like their policies, they still are my President for the term that they were elected and represent me to the best of their ability. They can do opinion poles to see what Americans think of certain issues, but not every trade agreement, foreign policy, or voting issue necessitates or should be put to a general election; there isn’t time and on certain issues the public is without a doubt less informed than those who represent them.


matty p: i suppose we'll have to agree to disagree on the definition of debate. i remain unconvinced your opponent is as interested in feedback and discourse as he is in pontification. ( Eric, not an attack so much as an observation… more polite this time, though).

on topic, however, for the sake of meaningful contribution, i found this analysis (dated, but relevant): http://www.law.ucla.edu/Williamsinstitut..

a good read for someone interested in using statistics to buttress their points (despite what aversion they may have to “statistical games”), and one that makes more in-depth some of the very points you made.

the concept of governing elites, however, i find particularly interesting.

while i agree that a certain amount of expertise is required of representatives in our republic, i’m not sure those representatives need to be as elite as surgeons, physicists, or specialized engineers. i think it would be much more beneficial to have representatives culled from a wide breadth of professional citizens than to have them drawn from a narrow population of “elite politicians”. no?


er… i have no idea what’s going on with the formatting there… must have used some kind of code i didn’t realize i was using. apologies.


There are more whites than Muslims in America. However looking at the data again, whites, gays, and Jews are more often the target of “hate” crimes than Muslims are even though it’s easier to “spot” a Muslim than a Jew or a gay person. In 2008 there were 105 “hate” crimes against Muslims. I do not believe these numbers show “America’s seething prejudices toward Muslims and Muslim Americans.”

Regarding the Koran, you may want to look into what is called “Abrogation” or, Google “AL-NASIKH WA AL-MANSUKH.” Basically, it says that in the case of conflicting verses, you always follow the later one. The later ones are almost always more violent than the early ones and yet, oddly enough, this fact is rarely remarked upon in the West.

The Koran also gives permission for Muslims to lie to non-Muslims. This concept is called “Al-taqiyya.” In this way, a Muslim could quote an earlier Koranic verse which is peaceful even though a later verse supersedes it. This is done to portray one thing while, in reality, furthering a different goal. It is also a fact.

This point goes back to my comment regarding the fact that there is no “radical” Islam there is only Islam. Again, if someone follows the teachings of the Pope are they a “radical” Catholic? No. If a Catholic gets an abortion the Pope would not likely feel that person has been a true Catholic, would he?

And regarding your taste for elites running our government it should be noted that these elites of which you speak have run the country into the ground through enormous debts, an unhealthy trade balance, and entitlements that are bankrupting our society. If this is the kind of “leadership” we get from elites then I believe it’s fair to say they have done a poor job and your confidence in this group is misplaced.

Although the Founding Fathers were far from perfect, they disliked the ruling class in Europe and the elite aristocracy of which those people were a part.