Full Battle Rattle: How We Teach Our Troops to Kill (and Survive) in Iraq

One of our military training corpses.

A combat doc once removed from combat and twice mediated by stagecraft, Tony Gerber and Jesse Moss’ Iraq (or rather “Iraq”) Full Battle Rattle depicts simulated war in a theme-park reality. Part scripted, part improvised, the doings on a back-lot battlefield are experienced as the real thing—whether actual war movie or actual war. The set is a facsimile Iraqi village, somewhere (along with a dozen other such villages) in the National Training Center, a 1,000-square-mile chunk of the Mojave (location for countless westerns and sci-fi films), inhabited by some 1,600 role players, mostly Iraqi refugees hired by the military and American soldiers. For the past several years, this simulated, interactive Iraq—irresistibly comic and deeply disturbing—has served as an introduction for American troops to actual Iraq. Tracking the education of an Iraq-bound battalion and its by-the-book colonel, Full Battle Rattle looks just like a regular war movie. In their effort to train soldiers for all contingencies, including civil war, the largely invisible powers-that-be script staged executions, attacks, and, most intricately, a checkpoint accident. An information officer interviewed by the filmmakers inevitably compares the setup to reality TV. The show ends with the American actors being sent to Iraq as the Iraqi performers prepare to entertain their next batch of recruits.

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