As America's plan to overthrow Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, Guatamala's democratically elected president, grew bloodier and bloodier, President Eisenhower ordered his sanguine commie-hating Secretary of State John Foster Dulles to send more CIA airplanes to bomb the capital saying, "If at any time you take the route of violence or support of violence, then you commit yourself to carrying it through, and it's too late to have second thoughts." Watching Blood of My Brother, a documentary that traces the aftermath of an Iraqi teenager's life after his brother is killed, the first part of Eisenhower's conditional formulation is unequivocally fulfilled. On March 20th, 2003 around 8pm EST, America took the route of violence as the first American troops landed in Iraq. But, where are we carrying "it" through to? And though the time for second thoughts has passed, what about third, fourth and fifth thoughts?
Blood of my Brother helps answer the first question. The documentary, like an M.C. Escher drawing, lacks a discreet beginning and end. The story seems to be merely one repetition in an interlocking pattern. The film begins with the recent death of Ra'ad Fadel Salman, shot by American soldiers while guarding a mosque. Who was once a handsome and proud owner of a photography studio is now a corpse seen in nocturnal grainy green night vision. We hear his younger brother Ibrahim founder for words to describe his anger and grief. We see Iraqi women in hijabs wailing and beating their breasts, hands held palms upward. We see large groups of Iraqi men, chanting, brandishing arms, holding Ra'ad's picture. We see American troops destroying a stall in the market as bewildered and hostile Iraqis watch. We see a helicopter crash. Each scene of anguish and anger following necessarily from the one before it and feeding the one after. But despite this tragic logic, the documentary is chaotic and as scatter shot as a burst of shotgun fire. Interview s with Ra'ad's family are cut with extended scenes of street battle. We see Muslim worshippers being exhorted to wage war against the American infidels and the American infidels themselves, gingerly carrying a sleeping Iraqi girl to "safety" as they handcuff and blindfold what looks to be her father. We see Ibrahim slaughter a lamb as a sacrifice to his brother, it's bright red blood spilling across the screen as the animal convulses. The chaos, it seems, is simply part of the pattern.
The filmmaker's take pains to portray American soldiers fairly. In the numerous interviews, soldiers struggle with their reticence to take another human being's life while balancing the need to protect their own and those of their company. They argue convincingly why it is o.k. to shoot an Iraqi who refuses to stop when being told to (he might be carrying a bomb). They struggle to make themselves understood, to make their intentions clear, to differentiate between civilian and insurgent, to justify the killing. If you shoot an Iraqi who is carrying an explosive device and in so doing kill two innocent Iraqi bystanders to save the lives of your own men, are you justified? "What would you do, civilian?" one soldier asks. "We have a right to live too."
In one of the final scenes of the film, a burst of gunshots erupts during what is either a protest for war or for peace (it's not clear which) on the road to Najaf. Shots are fired, though by whom it is not clear since everyone is carrying massive weaponry. When the smoke clears, a couple of corpses lie among the sandals of the fleeing men. Black veils, crying women, the posters and coffins. By now, the chants are a familiar chorus. You can sing along. Ra'ad's shop has closed despite Ibrahim's best efforts and now, Ibrahim would like to kill Americans and Jews.
Operation Success, as Dulles called America's coup in Guatamala, was just one repetition in America's pattern of regime change in which Operation Iraqi Freedom is merely the latest addition. With Iran increasing its menace and a 1953 redux in the offing, we may have the answer to where are we carrying through to. And sadly, Blood of My Brother will probably shape up to be the first installment in a very long serial.