“National Bird” Event Considers the Future of Warfare and the Military Experience

national bird independent lens pop up

Veterans and community members gathered at the Japanese American National Museum April 5th for an advance screening of National Bird, the second in the Indie Lens Pop-up event series in partnership with KPCC In-Person.

The film follows the dramatic journey of three whistleblowers determined to break the silence around one of the most controversial issues of our time: the secret U.S. drone war, which has been waged globally for more than a decade. KPCC reporter Dorian Merina led a thoughtful post-screening conversation about veteran experiences in Los Angeles with a panel including with clinical social worker David Barr, former Air Force intelligence officer Shannon Corbeil, Pasadena City College (PCC) veterans’ services coordinator Patricia D’Orange-Martin, and USC School of Social Work fellow, Ronnie Eo.

The candid conversation touched on the morality and future of warfare and the wide range of military experiences, as well as focusing deeply on the challenges facing veterans as they reintegrate into civilian life.

“The military does a good job creating soldiers, airmen, marines; but doesn’t do a good job turning them back to civilians,” according to Martin, who provides veteran services to students who can arrive in her office as early as the day after being released from the military. This quick transition time, she says, is challenging, as many veterans have yet to fully process their experience. “Seeing somebody die, especially in a combat atmosphere, can be very traumatic,” adds Barr, “regardless of whether you have boots on the ground.”

Transitional challenges were explored further in an audience question asking how members of the military deal with the need to pause some of their deeply held beliefs in order to serve a military function, especially in cases when the success of the mission takes precedence over human life. Barr explains that in his clinical work counseling veterans, this dichotomy is referred to as “moral injury–the shattering or breaking down their principled way of life.” Healing from moral injury and PTSD are major challenges for many returning veterans; and the panel agreed that the support from and connection with other veterans can be enormously helpful for those in transition.

Despite a general consensus that, like most technological advances, there’s “no going back” to a world without drones, Corbeil finds promise in the people behind the systems: “It’s my hope that compassionate people join the military and become the decisionmakers, and change the way we approach war.”

Listen to the full Independent Lens conversation. This event This event is the second in the series of free Indie Lens Pop-up screenings presented in partnership with KPCC In Person. Up next: Real Boy on May 24. Click here for more info and to RSVP for “Real Boy”.