Recently, I had the opportunity to catch up with an old friend during a Hallowe’en party. He was masquerading as Bad Santa, whereas I opted for Bob Dylan, ca. 1966. (Men and women all have their ideas about who best personifies masculine cool: Steve McQueen, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Depp. For me, it’s ’66 Dylan. But I digress.)
As we’re also both musicians, writing songs and playing the odd gig when and if time allows, we chatted about what we’d been up to in that area of our lives. He told me that he’d been becoming more involved with music therapy, something that stemmed from a performance he’d done last November during a Toronto Remembrance Day ceremony commemorating both war veterans and those who lost their lives in past conflicts. I’ve played plenty of gigs over the last couple of decades – some in front of a good number of folks and more than I’d care to admit in front of bar staff – but my friend’s Remembrance Day gig is one I was truly envious of.
Throughout my family history, various relatives have fought in various wars. My uncle Millard was a member of the First Special Service Force, a joint American-Canadian commando unit established during the Second World War, also known as The Devil’s Brigade. Now 95, he recently had some of his anecdotes about his experiences published in a book about the war, but it’s not something I’ve ever talked with him about that much.
During this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, I attended a session previewing HBO Documentary Films’ Wartorn: 1861-2010. Directed by Jon Alpert and Ellen Goosenberg Kent and executive produced by The Sopranos’ James Gandolfini, the documentary offers a historic account of the harrowing realities of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. The project combines rare archive footage with a wide range of revealing interviews. American veterans from WWI, WWII, Vietnam, Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, families of soldiers afflicted with PTSD and top military personnel all weigh in on the topic.
With the presentation taking place in early September, only a few clips were available to be shown. But they were all that was needed to hammer home the impact of this project. The material was heart-breaking and difficult to watch but in the end, it brought into sharp focus the painful wounds that may be invisible to the naked eye but are all too real.
In the Western world, television audiences can have hundreds of channels at their disposal, and while often we feel overwhelmed by choice, sometimes, with some topics, we feel we’ve seen it all. As another Veterans Day/Remembrance Day passes, let me take this chance to encourage you, regardless of your country of origin, what it says on your passport or whatever your stance on conflicts current and past may be, to see Wartorn. By the time you read this, it will have already premiered on HBO, but hopefully it will air repeatedly, internationally. Programs such as this one, and the lessons they can teach, are for the ages, and not just for once a year.