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Archive: April 2008
Commentary
Hollywood Agent-Turned War Documentarian Profiles Young Americans in Iraq
04/13/2008 11:39 AM ET
Matt Sanchez
Given the slew of poorly performing Iraq war movies recently produced, it's no wonder why so many in Hollywood believe the situation in Iraq is so dire. There are few in Tinseltown who really understand the situation in Iraq, but there are some diamonds amid the lumpy mountains of coal.

This spring, Pat Dollard's Young Americans will air on cable television, the result of years of work. But there's a good reason for the time it has taken: Pat Dollard is a man obsessed with reality, his reality of the war he experienced while embedded with the 3rd battalion 7th Marines in Ramadi.


An excerpt from "Young Americans."

Mixing that desire with Hollywood never is simple, either. Getting attention for movie projects often is a large part of the goal, with much of a project's budget going to advertising. Just that attention can make a film a blockbuster or package it for the discounted DVDs. Publicity is everything in Hollywood, and that's what makes the films about the war in Iraq so different.

Despite a lot of attention, films like Redacted have been shunned by mass audiences and panned by critics who actually wanted to like the film or agree with the message.

"I am glad the movie was made, and I wish it were better," said a New York Times film critic in an attempt to be as flattering as possible to much celebrated director Brian De Palma.

Dollard got nowhere near that type of generosity. In an article written for Vanity Fair, Pat Dollard is excoriated as a pro-war cheerleader. Surprisingly, The New York Times also gave an unflattering portrayal of Dollard.

Despite the criticism from places both expected and not, Dollard's Young Americans will be a make or break endeavor.

At a studio in Santa Monica, Pat and his editorial assistant Donnie "dB" Bracamontes put the final touches on the third episode in the Young American series. Critics who complain Hollywood has not accurately portrayed Iraq will need to be careful for what they wish.

Dollard trumps the pretenders by giving such an engaging view of Iraq, I found myself watching the 30-minute episode half-way out of my seat. The episode showed the Marine response to a major bombing at the Ramadi glass factory. What follows is not just a CNNesque report on raw violence, but a pulsating pictorial of the effects of terror.

Marine from the 5th Anglico preparing to sweep a home for weapons in Ramadi.
Marine from the 5th Anglico preparing to sweep a home for weapons in Ramadi.

The first five minutes were exhilarating and frightening. I found myself nodding my head and anticipating what was going to happen, because I had been there before.

Dollard himself makes no pretense of objectivity, his website sells "Jihad Killer" shirts and during Young Americans the audience will hear Dollard's voice give on-the-spot editorials.

"You see, you liberals, this is what you're supporting!"

There really is no substitute for being there, but it takes an entirely different personality to choose a place because it's dangerous.

In 2005 and 2006, Ramadi was reputed to be the most dangerous place on the planet.
In 2005 and 2006, Ramadi was reputed to be the most dangerous place on the planet.

"I went to Ramadi because I knew it was going to be the next Fallujah," Pat said, referring to the 2004 Battle of Fallujah, when Marines cordoned off the city and swept through to weed out entrenched terrorists dreaming of jihad.

By the time I saw Fallujah in 2007, I met some of those Marines who helped to clear out the town nicknamed "The City of Mosques." But even those riflemen had an eerie reverence for the violence in Ramadi.

The battles of Fallujah were extremely violent, but Ramadi was supposed to be the capital city of the al Qaida-proclaimed Islamic Republic of Iraq. Unlike Fallujah, Ramadi was the city that had kept the Marines under siege, and not the other way around.

Young American editor dB Bracamontes won a Clio Award for editing, and has worked on the trailers for major releases: Transformers, Batman Begins, I Am Legend and the list goes on. In a city where people make a lot of money pretending to be someone else Bracamontes is the real deal working behind the scenes to make so many others stand out. Although dB is accustomed to demanding directors, Dollard is obsessed.

"I knew I had to go over , because Hollywood would never make this film." It's one thing to believe in a cause – Dollard says he was not at all surprised by 9/11 – it is entirely another to risk bodily harm in order to prove a point. So far, Dollard is right, Hollywood has not attempted to make an accurate film on Iraq, and Dollard has paid a high price to prove this point.

On a night patrol, Patrick Dollard and his Marine escorts were hit by an IED. Lt. Almar Fitzgerald and Cpl. Matthew Conley were killed in the violent assault. Dollard still has physical problems from that night, but speaks less of his own injuries and more of the Marines who lost their lives. "Corporal Conley's first child was born within a week or two of his father's death."

Feeling emboldened. Today, the people of Ramadi celebrate on streets that were deserted. Ramadi was the focus of the al-Qaida attempt to subdue Iraq and form an Islamic Republic.
Feeling emboldened. Today, the people of Ramadi celebrate on streets that were deserted. Ramadi was the focus of the al-Qaida attempt to subdue Iraq and form an Islamic Republic.

This is the mood permeating Young Americans, a blend of dread, suspense and violence mixed in with sorrow, reflection and humor. In other words, this is precisely what being in Iraq is like.

"This isn't Dog the Bounty Hunter, this is the real thing," Dollard said when we talked about the rush of going on night house raids in places where the participants had no intention of making speeches for the cameras.

Over half a year and 600 hours of footage in the formerly most dangerous place on earth has had a spill-over effect into how Dollard perceives the world today. "The best of spiritual America, the spirit of America is in Iraq," is how he describes it. Being spared when so many around him died has had a profound effect on this documentarian. "I'm a God man myself."

A part of this literal cultural warrior still is in Ramadi. "I feel contempt for the average civilian," Dollard says. "I can't stand that I live in a culture, especially in Hollywood, where measure of man is self-indulgence."

Young Americans debuts this spring on Showtime. You have been warned. __________________
Matt Sanchez is a war correspondent who has embedded with the American, Iraqi and Afghan military. He resides in New York City and is a frequent political commentator in both American and French media. His work has appeared in the New York Post, National Review and Human Events.

Commentary
"It Remains to be Seen if Americans Will Enjoy Victory Even if It Comes"
By MATT SANCHEZ 04/03/2008 11:32 AM ET
Matt Sanchez on the French Meet the Press program, Kiosque, talking about the war.
Matt Sanchez on the French "Meet the Press" program, "Kiosque," talking about the war.
Five years after the initial invasion of Iraq, Americans wonder where we are.

Iraq is like no other conflict in American history. It is arguably no longer a war, but a low-level insurgency. We are not fighting a country, but a transnational conspiracy that operates more like an international fast-food franchise than a military force. In this conflict, there will be no "D" Day or signing of a peace treaty.

What is victory? It is easy to take for granted the fact that there has not been another attack on American soil since 9/11 – how do you show progress when the goal is basically for nothing to happen? Few are gullible enough to believe that victory in Iraq would mean turning back the clock to a pre-Sept. 11 bliss of bloodless security.

Those who complain there was no al-Qaida in Iraq before 2003 lament how many terrorists have been created since the fall of Saddam, but how many had been created before Sept. 11, long before we ever went into Iraq? How many decided to join the jihad when they saw the falling of the World Trade Center broadcast throughout the world?

If the invasion of Iraq has indeed created terrorists, it most certainly has killed at least as many. Al-Qaida declared Iraq the battleground for jihad, and al-Qaida has lost that battle. In Ramadi, American soldiers had to prevent a mob from killing a potential terrorist who wanted to plant a roadside bomb. In small towns, members of al-Qaida beat men for shaving their faces and cut the fingers off of those who wanted to smoke. (Smoking is a favorite Iraqi pastime; Iraqis tend to smoke Gauloises, a French brand of cigarettes.) After assassinating many innocents, today no one believes al-Qaida has the well-being of the average Iraqi in mind, but Osama bin Laden was a hero after pulling off the initial attacks.

There is plenty of acrimony over the "intelligence" or a lack thereof.

In 2002, a United Nations report estimated a six-figure casualty toll due to the inevitability of Saddam's use of weapons of mass destruction. Egypt, Saudia Arabia and Iran believed Saddam had acquired nuclear capabilities, which was not a stretch. Again, in 2002, Pakistan surprised the international community by successfully testing an atomic bomb. "They'll have to deliver it from the back of mule," joked one late-night comedian, but the situation was serious, as Pakistanis, many of whom sympathize with the Taliban, danced in the streets.

In the build-up to the war, I recall sitting in Germany and reading the mostly anti-American press that did not care for American action of any sort. The German chancellor was elected mostly on the basis that he would prevent Germany from cooperating with the United States or Britain, regardless of whether or not Saddam had weapons. In the novel "One Bullet Away," author and former Marine Capt. Nathaniel Fick describes the enormous precautions taken to protect American troops from biological weapons, much like the biological weapons that were used against the Kurds. In the blistering heat of Iraq, putting on NBC gear (Neurological, Biological and Chemical) is like wearing a full-body fat-burning suit and a plastic bag over your head while only breathing through a straw. When you add the carbon that is smeared to provide an extra layer of protection, you discover a whole new level of discomfort. No one would take such precautions on a whim.

We believed WMD were in Iraq, and Americans overwhelmingly supported the cause. Now, we believe we were wrong, but do we believe the action in Iraq helps to protect us back home? Would we rather fight al-Qaida and radical terrorism in Baghdad or in Boise?

Five years later, where are we in Iraq?

Since the 2007 strategy of increasing troops by 30,000, there can be no doubt, the situation in Iraq has drastically improved. The killing has gone down, but for some the casualty rate was never a barometer for success or failure in Saddam's former fiefdom. Many Americans don't want to be bothered with an "unpopular war," but wars are not contestants on "American Idol" and should not be voted on or off our television sets according to the whims of callers with speed-dialing capabilities. War is devastating and should always be unpopular.

Five years after the initial push into Iraq we are heading in a positive direction, yet it remains to be seen if Americans will enjoy victory even if it comes. ___________

Matt Sanchez is a war correspondent who has embedded with the American, Iraqi and Afghan military. He resides in New York City and is a frequent political commentator in both American and French media. His work has appeared in the New York Post, National Review and Human Events.

Sanchez is a Marine and student at Columbia University who says his mission in Iraq is "to report on the stories that matter the most, first-person accounts by the men and women on the ground and in their own words."

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