SAN FRANCISCO–Despite its title, “A Just War?” does little to question basic U.S. involvement in the Persian Gulf war. Focus of this short but harrowing Swedish doc lies instead on the conflict’s catastrophic consequences for Iraq’s civilian populace.
Since extent of civilian damages was largely kept out of mainstream U.S. media, this film ought to be a hot fest item. A short but busy specialty gig/TV career also seems likely.
U.S. leaders are shown claiming that “avoiding civilian targets was a priority,” but graphic footage shows otherwise. Communication and transport lines, power and fuel sources were all methodically hit, instantly throwing Iraq decades backward in modern progress.
Worse are the agricultural and health consequences of the war — polluted water, a destroyed sewage treatment system and lack of human/veterinary medicine have set an escalating disaster in motion. Over 50% of sheep and livestock died in the last year, spiralling food prices through the roof. Infant mortaility is up 350%, and U.N. sanctions preventing med importation have allowed people to die of routine maintenance illnesses like asthma and hypertension.
Film also explores little-publicized gruesome military tactics (such as soldiers on both sides blinded by U.S. laser range-finders), and contains a short history of the last 40 years’ lead-in to the recent crisis.
Action is often hard to watch, with footage of shelled Iraqi soldiers mangled past recognition, skeletal babies in incubators, and civilian burn victims. Brit narrator’s cool BBC tones help avoid any sense of overt agitprop. He sums up the film’s essential point early on: Yes, war is inevitably cruel, but “How hard must a people be punished for being ruled by a despot?”