Monday, August 01, 2005

Brats Are People Too

While in Washington at my wife’s high school reunion which, by the way, was for the graduating classes of the 60’s from Seoul American High School in Korea, we were privileged to have a private screening of a remarkable film about brats. “Brats” is a term used to identify the children of military personnel. While I am married to one, I had never spent a lot of time thinking about what the impact of a childhood spent in this environment truly meant.
The movie was titled BRATS: OUR JOURNEY HOME and it is the first feature-length documentary about this hidden American subculture which the Director Donna Musil describes as “a lost tribe” of over 4 million children who were raised on military bases around the world. These kids came from everywhere in America and from all strata of the society but they all shared the experience of having grown up separate from America and under vastly different circumstances than the rest of us. The film is narrated by brat Kris Kristofferson and he even volunteered his time and his music to the project. The film uses archival film sources, home movies, and first-person interviews to tell the fascinating story of life in this very unique world. One of the brats interviewed is General H. Norman Schwarzkopf.
While I have been married to a brat for over thirty years and have experienced first hand how her “different” childhood made her what she is I had never really stopped to consider how “different” that childhood really was.
Consider living and going to school in post-war England, Germany, Greece, Japan and Korea. Packing and moving every few years to a different country. Saying good-bye to all your friends and having to make a new set each time. The movie covers all the good and the bad of such an existence. What is it like for children living in the socialistic and authoritarian world of the military base? What was the impact of growing up in a completely integrated society 20 years before integration came to America?
What is very interesting is that for many years these brats sort of existed in a kind of limbo. They knew they were different than those around them. They felt alone and isolated and had no one to share their experiences with. With the emergence of the internet it has become possible for these people to reconnect and begin to share in belonging to a family that is defined by this shared childhood experience.

Author and Marine Corps brat Pat Conroy(The Great Santini) sums up the feeling eloquently in his introduction to Mary Wertsch's book, Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress:

“I thought I was singular in all this, one of a kind. From Mary's book I discover that I speak in the multi-tongued, deep-throated voice of my tribe. ...[I]t's a language I was not even aware I spoke... a secret family I did not know I had. ... Military brats, my lost tribe, spent their entire youth in service to this country, and no one even knew we were there.”

It is an excellent film and it really needs to have wider distribution but, as with any first time filmmaker, it is a challenge to find the traction. The amazing thing is, Donna has done this with spit and baling wire. It is an impressive first effort at filmmaking (she’s actually is/was an attorney). Donations of a few dollars here and there and six long years of sweat equity are rolled into this. Other brats have donated editing bays and other resources. The film is still not released, or even quite finished its final editing, but Donna is presenting in a few places around the country. If you visit the website there is a list of where she is presenting this year. She still needs support and she has a great website where you can see a lot more about the film and the people involved and of course make a donation.

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