We made this film with a specific goal of encouraging dialogue and understanding. We also made this film to honor those who are willing to serve our country in the armed forces — all of them, including both conscientious objectors and sincere war-fighters.
We started making this film with the misconception that only conscientious objectors suffer profound moral pain from having to kill another human being in war. We soon learned we were very, very wrong. Every soldier has a conscience. Every soldier who kills in combat suffers the burden of his or her conscience. Some soldiers suffer so deeply after killing another person that they end up committing suicide over the guilt of what they have done. The Army’s own combat stress manual reflects this and describes the mental trauma resulting from the act of killing to be as great or greater than the mental trauma of seeing one’s fellow soldier killed.
Adding to the trauma is the silence around the issue. Soldiers often feel cut off from friends, family and society because they have done the unspeakable — at the request of their nation — and cannot share that pain with their familiar support networks. For this reason, many soldiers and veterans find talking about killing to be healing. The overwhelming response from active-duty soldiers and veterans following screenings has been an appreciation for the opportunity to simply discuss this taboo subject. We think perhaps this is why the Army decided to support our film with their assistance agreement — to help soldiers heal so they can lead healthy and productive lives after the stress of combat and war.
With this in mind, we came to see the profound agreement between the sincere war-fighters and the sincere conscientious objectors. Both understand the horror of having to kill. In fact, when thinking about killing, these two types of soldiers actually agree more than they disagree. We hope that when soldiers and veterans view the film, that they will come to the same conclusion: seeing their own common ground and learning to honor and respect each other more, even when they do disagree.
In a very real way, we have seen this occur in many public screenings. We have had peace activists speak about how the film has helped them appreciate soldiers in a way they never had before, and we have had active-duty soldiers voice their understanding of conscientious objectors in a way they had not imagined possible before seeing the film.
However, soldiers represent only a small portion of our nation’s population. We wanted to make a film to encourage civilians to find common ground as well. We tried to make a film that was so respectful of all points of view that viewers would find themselves agreeing with many different opinions expressed in the film, even if some of those opinions seem contradictory. We hoped that the result would be to encourage discussion that helps us all to sort out what we believe and why — and to do so in a spirit of respect that emphasizes our agreement rather than our differences.
Gary’s grandmother often expressed an opinion that we seldom hear these days, but was once an often-recited statement of a core American belief: “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” This is why we end the film with a quote about dissent:
Freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.
— US Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, 1943
We believe it is okay to disagree. In fact, it is necessary. By respectfully sorting out our disagreements, we can create a better world. That process starts now.
— Catherine Ryan and Gary Weimberg