Der Krieg, der bleibt
War has returned. After peaceful and war-free decades in Germany from 1945 onwards, the Germans are at war once again, or at least involved in war-like operations: ex-Yugoslavia, Somalia, Afghanistan. Yet what happens to the young men who go to war? Many values that are important in times of peace seem to be inverted in times of war. While in civilian life one tries to avoid every kind of danger, soldiers are strictly trained to consciously enter into situations that put their lives in danger; military drill serves above all to repress the inherent instinct to flee. Just as in civilian life the act of killing is punished with the maximum penalty, in war the goal is to kill and this is in some cases even honoured with a medal. The deadly weapons give the impression of omnipotence that can be quickly transformed into complete powerlessness in the case of ambush. This inversion of values and the extreme dangers that soldiers are exposed to cause them to return changed by the war even though they appear outwardly to have survived it unscathed. The consequences for the individuals and for the society they return to are hard to assess. Not everyone succeeds in making the double twist from civil life to war and back again. Some will be incapable of working for the rest of their lives while others have got so used to war that they no longer want to stop. Both Italian fascism and the German National Socialism (or currently Al-Qaida) are movements that are essentially supported by veterans.
Korpys/Löffler are renowned for their patient, precise observations of politically relevant processes. They open up new levels of perception for the viewer in particular with view to the relationship between political space and body politics. In the film Gesang der Jünglinge (Song of the Youths) they document special instruction for policemen who – for training purposes – allow themselves to be shot at with weapons that emit an electronic impulse, the so-called Tasers. One can see the strenuous attempt to overcome fear in their faces, the repression of the escape reflex in anticipation of the strike and then the pain before breaking down. The composition Gesang der Jünglinge (im Feuerofen) (Song of the Youths) by Karlheinz Stockhausen is a work that is central to electronic music with vocals and is based on the Biblical story, in which Nebukadnezar has three men thrown into the fire, who all survive unscathed. (Daniel 3:19f).
[peinliche Ordnung] is based on official Swiss guidelines for guerrilla war. Under the severity of the studio lights Theo Ligthart himself reads a chapter about the way people respond to torture. Meanwhile he is constantly interrupted by an authoritarian voice from off-stage, which obviously vexes him. The situation thus becomes more and more embarrassing and painful; the setting for the recording and the content of the spoken text intertwine.
The source material for Thomas Galler’s Week End are YouTube-clips that have been uploaded by US soldiers stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq. They show the somewhat strange leisure rituals performed by the soldiers, ranging from more or less playful violence to humiliation also intended to be a comradely gesture. Like children, the GIs – who are in fact still almost children themselves – seem to echo the cruelty learned on a daily basis in their games.
With its aggressive, flickering colour images and the deafening audio track taken from war films, the abstract video Murphy by Bjørn Melhus simulates an official veteran illness: post-traumatic stress disorder. For a few moments the viewer can physically feel the visual and acoustic violence of the war. In contrast to the usual war films that show the viewers the danger but do not let them participate in it, Murphy contains a – minimal – moment of “real“ danger: In sensitive people the flickering effect can trigger an epileptic shock.
Bad Blue Boys by Branko Schmidt portraits a Croatian veteran who cannot escape the war. As a result of his traumatic experiences he is permanently incapacitated for work and is completely caught up in his fascination for weapons. When he sharpens his numerous knives, smells the gun smoke of his pistols, or fires anti-tank grenades into the woods with friends, he really is in his element. The war seems to have become an emotional home for him. The protagonist does not allow himself to be shown completely in the film and his name is not revealed. He agreed to the film shooting because he is aware of the danger he represents and because he wants to warn people about himself and his comrades. Branko Schmidt on the other hand only became involved in this somewhat risky film with conflict potential because he is a veteran of the same war – as a war correspondent.1
1 Discussion with the director during the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen 2008.
- Gesang der Jünglinge, Andree Korpys & Markus Löffler, DE 2009, video, col, 15 min
- [peinliche Ordnung], Theo Ligthart, DE 2008, video, col, 13 min
- Week End, Thomas Galler, CH 2008, video, col, 17 min
- Murphy, Bjørn Melhus, DE 2008, HD, col, 4 min
- Panj pun olova – Bad Blue Boys, Branko Schmidt, HR 2007, video, col, 28 min