TATTOOED UNDER FIRE Filmmaker Discusses Fort Hood Shootings

Posted on November 9, 2009

TATTOOED UNDER FIRE, airing this month on public television (check local listings), looks at the River City Tattoo Parlor in Killeen, Texas--home to Fort Hood, America's largest military base--where war-bound and returning soldiers go under the needle and confess their deepest secrets and fears. Watch video clips from the film and read filmmaker Nancy Schiesari's thoughts about the recent shooting at Fort Hood, which left 13 dead and 30 injured.

The massacre at Food Hood was a terrible reminder of the vulnerability and mental fragility of our forces currently engaged on two war fronts with the prospect of multiple tours. One could only imagine last week’s fatal event––young men and women recruits waiting for flu shots and filling out paperwork, nervous and anxious about their eminent deployment, when suddenly they are being shot at with an automatic weapon. They had no means to escape or defend themselves. Perhaps only families who have lost a son or daughter can understand the enormous grief that has befallen the parents and loved ones of those killed on November 5. The rest of us stand bewildered and distraught looking in from the outside at the impenetrable façade of Fort Hood. 

We also carry an uneasy burden knowing there is a war going on over which we have no control, but few of us will ever experience. So who goes and why? While working on TATTOOED UNDER FIRE, my crew and I sat listening for many hours while soldiers underwent the lengthy preparation and execution of getting a custom-made tattoo at the River City Tattoo Parlor. 

Tattooing satisfies a serious creative need for self-expression by soldiers in the face of anonymity and possible death––a unique art form that relies on a subtle relationship between artist and client. There are as many unique tattoos as there are reasons for enlisting: to escape small towns where there are few jobs or future prospects, to pay for college, to gain citizenship or to leave unhappy families or abusive parents. While some, mainly women, could only gain vital heath care for sick children by going to war. Others are told the discipline of the military would turn them into men. As one of the soldiers in the film says to an elderly lady who offered to pray for him, “Lady it ain't going to do much good, I’m either gonna get to kill a whole bunch of people or my ass is gonna die.” Soliders must be ready to kill. 

Is Nidal Malik Hasan, the accused psychiatrist, the mirror image of the hate we muster up towards our enemy? Did he hear one story too many of the hate, brutality, inhuman behavior from both sides of perpetrators of violence? Did he begin to feel like a victim himself, after hearing about body parts of comrades falling to the ground to be picked up, bagged and sent home? Or the stories of Muslim children being killed by accident or because they had a bomb strapped to their bodies heading towards a convoy? What all troops at war risk is a dangerous gamble that they may return permanently scarred by memories out of their control that bring anguish every time they flash back. And what happens to their perceptions and feelings towards people from the Middle East? Doesn’t hate turns into racism and become contagious? Slowly this seeps back into the culture and before long other groups are feeling uneasy and an otherness towards Arabs and people of Middle Eastern descent. 

After Pearl Harbor, thousands of Japanese Americans paid for their ethnicity by internment and losing everything they owned. What can come of fighting hate with hate, but more death and mental illness. In the meantime, we owe our soldiers fighting in our country’s name the best mental heath care available. The documentary team of TATTOOED UNDER FIRE would like to express our deepest sympathy to the families of the brave men and women who died in the service of their country. -Nancy Schiesari, filmmaker of TATTOOED UNDER FIRE Get a look at what daily life is like in Killeen, Texas, home to Fort Hood--America's largest military base: 


Young men and women share their thoughts about joining the U.S. military and going to Iraq. 


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