Michael Ware’s Only the Dead knows that the end of War documentaries are not snuff films






By ann summers

No one wants to see the explicit images of death and the dying, the actual rather than the Michael Bay cinematic explosions, and yet like the spectacular trainwreck of the 2016 elections season, we can’t really ever look away. Nor should we. If we don’t we wind up with a sanitized view of a world that while we idealize peace it comes usually after much death and destruction.

We are provoked by the videos of executions  or combat deaths regardless of who does it or how it’s mediated or framed. That Michael Ware’s film of the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath includes the explicit films produced and edited by the insurgents is no different, yet how we act after understanding its message is how we proceed whether textual slapfights online or actual warfighting rather than civil disobedience.

Only the Dead is a war story unlike any ever seen.

Salon suggests that Only The Dead See The End Of War (2015) captures the horror and confusion, but skimps on analysis. Variety thinks that “Heavy-handed narration mars journalist Michael Ware’s gripping account of his time reporting in Iraq…”.

All of this is to say that the 78 minutes of uncensored combat footage compiled in Michael Ware’s documentary, “Only The Dead See The End Of War,” which premieres on HBO on March 28, is still very relevant today. Filmed over the course of Ware’s tenure as a TIME and CNN war correspondent in Iraq, “Only The Dead” is a brutally honest, and necessary, summary of a conflict most Americans are still struggling to make sense of, even as we are being drawn back in for round two…

“I can understand that for any veteran this is not an easy film to watch,” Ware told Task & Purpose in an interview on March 22, the day ISIS bombs killed 31 people and wounded more than 300 in Brussels. “It’s going to bring back more than any other film has done.”  taskandpurpose.com/…

those better media times at CNN


No film can give us analysis whether in 90 or 190 minutes, it opens a framed and edited world. It is only a moment in a much larger media landscape. Only we construct analysis as discourse especially as we see the relation between media documentation of war and the policy analysis made by a democratic society.

No differently than Vietnam, it depends on the construction of policy analysis and no attempts to control any war’s media coverage by loosely affilated or embedded media workers makes any difference until the fullest scope of truth is known. Did interwar America need to see even more images of the Rape of Nanking to get past its isolationism or was there no media difference until the public threshold of outrage was reached whether Pearl Harbor or 9/11.



What happens when one of the most feared terrorists on the planet chooses you – personally – to reveal his arrival on the global stage?

PTSD and trying to reconcile reporting from even deeper than the front


While it might be dated, that the legacy of the dead-enders was to create what has become Daesh and Michael Ware was there at the beginning of the death cult and the documents show the entre fog of war during the battles in Fallujah and Ramadi. What is more poignant is the perspective from the enemy’s media point of view, which is how Deaesh directs its PR campaigns

Ware was more fully embedded, perhaps going native like Apocalypse now, complete with Ware in the Dennis Hopper role.

In September 2004, while investigating reports that Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi’s nascent “al-Qaeda in Iraq” group was openly claiming control of the Haifa Street area of Baghdad, Ware was briefly held at gunpoint by fighters loyal to Zarqawi who had pulled pins from live grenades and forced his car to stop. The men dragged him from the car and stood him beneath one of the banners, intending to film his execution with his own video camera. By threatening them with immediate and violent retaliation, his local guides, including members of the Ba’ath Party, were able to win his release. Ware has stated that, had this happened only a few months later, when Zarqawi’s group had grown stronger, he would have been killed.

On 18 October 2006, CNN aired a small portion of a videotape sent to Ware that showed snipers shooting at, and apparently killing, American troops. The video was a tape sent to CNN to which Ware added narration for the edited broadcast that showed American soldiers being stalked and eventually brought under fire by the shooters. After the news report was shown, Press Secretary Tony Snow accused CNN of “propagandizing” the American public. Representative Duncan Hunter, then-chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, asked Donald Rumsfeld to remove CNN embedded reporters following the airing of the news report, claiming that “CNN has now served as the publicist for an enemy propaganda film featuring the killing of an American soldier.”



The Cruziphate dominion on seven mountains is like midnight on Twin Peaks, and without the usual equivalency sox/rux discourse dichotomies one can say that Daesh has its roots in the Bush43 debacle in Iraq. Ware’s film shows how easy it was for it to be created by the incompetence of GOP policy in West Asia.

GOP candidates are uniform in their desire to return us to military engagement, whether in Syria or Libya or some new conflict yet to be revealed, as well as making the home front filled with fear of any potentially violent ‘Other’.

The 2016 elections will see whether the US will return to Iraq and beyond, just as Daesh’s shrinking territory will drive global terrorism into new realms as recent events in Europe have suggested. This is not a film for the squeamish, with actual killing recorded in all its banality and horror, but even in print journalism, non-US media tends to be more explicit, much like the actual digital images shot by troops and still on the web.

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3 Responses to Michael Ware’s Only the Dead knows that the end of War documentaries are not snuff films

  1. This is good material, and if it upsets people….well then. It did what it was supposed to!

  2. pete says:

    “captures the horror and confusion, but skimps on analysis.”

    That’s the point.

  3. As usual, Pete nails it.

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