A Soldier’s Magnanimity: Comment from Brady Van Engelen


I posted a comment the day before yesterday on a New America Foundation sponsored screening that I helped host (with my colleague Jenny Buntman) of Gunner Palace.
There were some interesting folks in the audience, including the mother of one of the memorable characters in Michael Tucker’s documentary. I think his name was Sargent Beasley, but I may have the name wrong. This was her first time seeing the film — and meeting her, seeing her reactions to the environment her son lived in day after day in Baghdad, added a dimension of gritty humanity to the evening and viewing.
In the film, Beasley (if I have his name right) said that Americans had no idea what was going on over in Iraq. He said they wouldn’t tune in if they could and said that even if people did see Michael Tucker’s film, they’d forget it by the time the evening sitcoms were on. We wouldn’t remember him, he said.
It’s been a few days for me though, and this film keeps churning around in my head. It’s important to see and ought to be required viewing for all members of Congress and the administration who are making decisions about our troops.
This note below was sent to me by Brady Van Engelen, one of the soldiers profiled in the Time Magazine person of the year issue in December 2003. He was shot in the head by a sniper a few months later — and survived. He spent his recovery time at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. I shared with him that many readers of this blog had made phone card and financial donations to help the soldiers and their families at Walter Reed.
Brady Van Engelen wrote:
Mr. Clemons,
Had a wonderful time at the screening on Wednesday. It was great to share some of the experiences that I have been through with others that have not been there. So many different experiences that I could not have put into words that Mike (Tucker) tries to capture with a camera, and oftentimes does so very succesfully.
I do think it is very important that the American taxpayer has an idea as to what is going on with THEIR troops.
You guys paid for it, whether you agreed or disagreed with the troop deployment it was still your tax dollars. So once again I would like to reiterate how pleased I was to see such a packed house for the screening and thank everyone for the positive dialogue regardless of your stance on the war.
Brady Van Engelen

This war veteran — a very young man — has it exactly right (except that he really needs to call me Steve).
We should see what is happening with our tax dollars and we should engage in a principled and serious debate about this war has wrought, good and bad, and whether those who led us in this direction should be praised or criticized and removed from the helm of foreign policy making.
Michael Tucker’s film provides a somewhat haunting collage of memorable faces and personalities of young men and women doing what they were ordered to do in Baghdad — and I have to think that as intensely unique and human each of these soldiers in the 2/3 Field Artillery was on the screen, Tucker could have found these kinds of people throughout the ranks of those deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Meeting them, particularly John Powers and Brady Van Engelen (and his fiance), just underscores for me why it is so important to hold our political leaders accountable for their successes and failures — and Captain John Powers said it best the other night when he reported that he and many other soldiers no longer know what our objectives in Iraq are.
— Steve Clemons