Incensed with indignation Satan stood
Unterrified, and like a comet burned
That fires the length of Ophiuchus huge
In the Arctic sky, and from his horrid hair
Shakes pestilence and war.
—John Milton, Paradise Lost (1667)
I can swear there ain't no Heaven
But I pray there ain't no Hell.
Clayton-Thomas, with Blood, Sweat & Tears
To the remnants, the war never ends.
Milton's epic Lucifer was far more
successful than his (her?) wildest imagination with the advent of “modern”
warfare where, if the battles don't kill or maim you, the failed tools of
destruction most certainly will (singular: still-live grenades and mines; mass: canisters of
phosgene gas and the ongoing poison horrors of Agent Orange remains lurking in
rubble, soil or streams). Daniel Sekulich's chilling
documentary, Aftermath: The Remnants of War, brings new meaning to the
acronym NIMBY—Not In My Bombed Yard.
Starting in France with WW I ordinance
whose unexploded tips bear eerie resemblance to the human breast and including
an unforgettable sequence in the Devil's Nursery, populated by grotesque
present-day mutated babies—the offspring of the impoverished residents of the
dioxin capital of the world, Vietnam's Aluoi Valley—this film should be capable
of stopping armed conflict in its tracks, if only its propagators could satiate
their lust for power and control (hiding behind the skirts of racism when it
suits) by volunteering for the front themselves. Sadly, those who call the
shots seldom place themselves at risk, being content with the more important
work of sending their idealistic or conscripted youth to early graves.
Based on the book by Donovan Webster, the
point of view is mainly taken from those whose work is to detect, stockpile and
destroy “leftover” ordinance.
France: There are 140 démineurs; 80
tons per year are extracted in Lorraine alone; annually they make 11,000 “house
calls”; in 1991—the last year the government reported figures—36 were killed. Others find, identify and bury the human remains.
hundred thousand German and Russian soldiers were “left where they fell.” The
crows had a feast during the battle of Stalingrad; “There will be work for my
grandson,” says Valery Streikov, battle-field-sifter extraordinaire.
Vietnam's Aluoi Valley: Parents try to explain to their children why limbs are deformed or missing or why their eyes will never see.
Michael Grippo's camera captures the
current reality of the long-term disasters with a dispassionate tone that,
coupled with timely stock-footage of the instigating events, make a multitude of
points as silently as the hidden weapons will devastatingly make theirs unless
discovered on purpose. The transition from the Russian Steppes to the forests
of Vietnam via helicopter is magical; equally powerful is the barrage of smoke
from another “successful” ordinance demolition-blast (ironically done in
the trenches), dissipating into wisps of smoke from incense sticks, quivering in the
breeze of the recently opened German war memorial: “15,000 names inscribed, so
far, but not—yet—my comrades,“ disparages a German vet.
The discreet musical score, featuring low
strings and a haunting vocal line for the siege of Sarajevo sequence, only
misses the mark in South-east Asia where the instrumentation and overall
soundscape comes across more as cliché than vérité.
“It's the most miserable job there is,”
says the young leader of a Bosnian mine-sweeping team, donning his near
child-like protective gear then returning to his low-paying job, “But what
choice do we have?” How similar to the fate of impoverished men of Alang,
India (brilliantly documented in Shipbreakers, cross-reference below)
who—equally—risk life and limb daily due to the inability of their government
and the Western industrialists to clean up their own mess after playing with the
well-being of the world.
Films like these tell the story, who will
act on the news? JWR