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thedrifter
12-10-06, 08:08 AM
tv alert: For God and Country: A Marine Sniper's Story
Posted on Sun, Dec. 10, 2006

TELEVISION REVIEW
Young Marine films agony of Mideast fighting

BY GLENN GARVIN
ggarvin@MiamiHerald.com

• For God and Country: A Marine Sniper's Story, 8-9 tonight. MSNBC

Matthew Orth joined the Marines right out of high school because he thought ''war was cool.'' A couple of days in Iraq, where the temperature was 140 degrees ''and there was sand in everything,'' started to change his mind. The car bombs that redefined the word shrapnel for Orth finished the job. ''I didn't imagine pieces of car engine flying at you and embedding itself in the wall behind you,'' he admits.

For God and Country: A Marine Sniper's Story, which airs tonight on MSNBC, is a brand-new documentary that tells a very old story: that of giddy boys who march off to war in search of glory and trudge home as sober men who long for anything but. It's not about the politics of the war in Iraq, and it's not really about Iraq at all. Orth could be coming home from Vietnam or Korea or Normandy and, except for the names of the villages in which his friends died, the tale would be the same one.

Orth, who grew up in Clearwater, Fla., enlisted in 2002 and served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan before mustering out last month. For God and Country is a rambling, anecdotal description of his time in war zones, illustrated mainly with his own snapshots and home movies, and all the more affecting for its elliptical, conversational style.

Orth, a champion marksman on his high-school ROTC rifle team, joined the Marine scout snipers as a way to get into combat quicker. A good chunk of For God and Country is devoted to the way snipers target and kill other men thousands of feet away, a process at once so intimate and yet so detached that, as Orth notes, ``some people consider snipers to be assassins.''

If that's not entirely fair, neither is it entirely incorrect. Orth tells of killing one Iraqi who was working as a forward observer for insurgent mortar teams, releasing different-colored doves to signal corrections in their aim. But in Afghanistan, he stopped just short of shooting a suspected car-bomber who turned out to be carrying nothing more lethal than cases of Atomic Fireballs candy.

''I have the power to determine whether somebody gets to wake up and breathe the next day or not,'' Orth muses in some wonder.

Most of the documentary, however, is not about snipers in particular but simply the day-to-day drudgery and terror of a war where both the enemy and the environment are ruthless and where there are no front lines. Some home-video footage shot from Orth's vehicle as it careens through city streets, followed closely by a volley of mortar shells fired from an unseen site, is both harrowing and emblematic.

The war took a toll on Orth's body -- he weighed 173 pounds when he arrived in Iraq, 139 when he left -- and his psyche. ''We put killers away in jail for life for killing one person,'' he broods as he prepares to return to civilian life. ''What are people going to think of me when I just killed hundreds?'' For all the anguish of the question, it's somehow reassuring to hear it. War may sometimes be justified, but it's never cool.

Glenn Garvin posts news and mini-reviews on his weblog, Changing Channels.

Ellie