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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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War: It’s only natural

When there is no war, the war-like man attacks himself.
-Friedrich Nietzche

Sometimes a hot war is healthier than a cold one. Making claim to a kind of war beyond the battlefield, “Buffalo Soldiers” (Miramax) tackles the topic of war as a natural and internal human condition. Starring Joaquin Phoenix (“Gladiator”), the film, set at the close of the Cold War in West Berlin, tells the tale of a U.S. military flooded with boredom and inclined towards self-destruction.

Here, ill-educated would-be criminals are given a choice: join the Army or go to jail. The result is a base ruled by gangs, plagued with drugs and wrought with thievery. But sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and with “Buffalo Soldiers,” one can see just how strange truth can be.

In a recent Hatchet interview, director Gregor Jordan spoke of his film’s strange but true realism, where bored, self-destructive and ill-educated soldiers took the war to themselves, for lack of a war anywhere else.

“You have to understand that there are people out there who really like war, and if there is no war, they’ll go out and create one for themselves,” Jordan said. “For these people, peace is actually something quite unnatural…War films of the past have put forward the idea that war is this unnatural thing, a sort of tragic aberration instead of something that is actually quite innate and necessary.”

Taking the lead role of Elwood, Phoenix finesses a character that falls under Jordan’s description. As head clerk for the West Berlin supply base, Elwood’s lifestyle consists of many self-initiated powder kegs. He cuts heroin in the Army’s medical labs, sells it retail to the bases military police and supplies a German black market with any Army goods he can get his hands on. Tense as his circumstances are, Elwood’s big break comes when a truck of heavy weapons falls into his possession. Profits outweighing what he stands to lose, which is nothing, he enters the world of arms dealing.

More than cinematic fantasy, what’s strange is that it’s real.

“It’s actually amazing how true it is,” Jordan said. “Upon displaying a pile of U.S. Army documents, most people don’t realize that almost everything shown actually happened. These things are real…all you have to do is look through research material to see that billions of dollars in (U.S.) weapons disappeared during the Cold War, that heavy drug use, homicides and suicides were not all that uncommon.”

Stranger still is that on top of such a brazen criminal presence, the film displays an area of the military few films have dared to touch upon, namely being the largely ill-educated element of a military put in charge of the world’s most advanced weaponry.

“Only 40 percent of recruits had high school diplomas.” Jordan said. “There was even a program where misdemeanor offenders could choose the Army or jail, so there was already an ill-educated criminal element within the Army. They were armed with the most technologically advanced weapons in the world, but had no war to fight. It’s almost like it would be surprising if this sort of thing didn’t go on.”

Bleak as it is, the scenario “Buffalo Soldiers” paints has its darkly comic undertones. Watching a criminally minded Elwood con his way through the high command should be disturbing, if only he weren’t so clever in doing it. As Jordan stated, “the black comedy is potentially very powerful. If you can tell a story that is quite bleak but make people laugh, it makes them able to swallow the bitter pill.”

Comparatively, it may not be so hard to grasp the comedic elements of “Buffalo Soldiers,” especially when considering past comedies based upon the numerous misdeeds of bored people. Yet popular misconception tells many that such military misdeeds aren’t supposed to be happening.

“The Army isn’t very different from any other huge organization,” Jordan said. “There are elements of it that are open to corruption. One former Army Ranger who was actually stationed on the base we filmed at commented that although he was very proud of his career, felt sick of how glorified and sanitized Army portrayal often is.”

“Buffalo Soldiers” leaves off on a bitter sweet note, showing that not all war leads to unnecessary destruction, and that ultimately, it may be the wars we start for ourselves that paradoxically define ourselves.

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