‘Army Issues Warning About Iraq Documentary’

Someone recently told me in passing — someone who should know, since he’s there now — that what’s been happening in Iraq the last 38 months “doesn’t really rate the word ‘war.’ ” I think I understand the sentiment. We shouldn’t raise the significance of a battle with a bunch of murderous thugs (“primitive screwheads” is the term my acquaintance used) with such an important appellation. But to me, even sheltered as I am from the reality of what’s really happening over there, the suggestion this isn’t a war just doesn’t ring true. Call it what you want: People are dying by the thousands — by the tens of thousands — in a sustained siege of organized violence. Call it a picnic or a police action or the latest beachhead for democracy, the dead and wounded and the shattered pile up just the same, whether we’re paying attention or not.

HBO is about to air a documentary on one of the remarkable stories of the war: the work of the frontline U.S. military trauma hospitals in Iraq. It is not an untold story: many big media organizations have dipped their toe into it already. The HBO movie, “Baghdad ER,” is a little different, though, in that it’s the product of a longer-term immersion into the world of combat medicine. The makers spent two months filming in a combat trauma hospital in Baghdad’s Green Zone. And the movie’s 63-minute length represents more than the usual gnat’s-attention-span treatment that TV news accords such stories.

“Baghdad ER” is scheduled to air on May 21. It’s graphic. The filmmakers say so, and the Army is backing them up, with the service’s surgeon general issuing a memo advising the film may provoke flashbacks or nightmares among those who have served in Iraq.

(The New York Times had a different spin on the story over the weekend. Quoting Army sources, a Saturday article says the Army is backing away from the documentary over concerns “that its grim medical scenes could demoralize soldiers and their families and negatively affect public opinion about the war.”)

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