A Canadian play and a Palestinian film offer similar insights about war
by Arthur Milner
In Hannah Moscovitch’s This is War, four Canadian soldiers recount and relive the events that led up to a horrific mass killing. This is a story of Canada’s participation in the Afghan war, and the soldiers, whose places of origin range from Hamilton to Red Deer, seem properly and believably Canadian. But This Is War, as one might judge from its title, is also about war. At Ottawa’s Great Canadian Theatre Company in January 2014, the staging – a patch of desert, endless shades of olive and tan, the infinite horizon – reinforced the parable-like quality of the writing.
Moscovitch is an immensely talented, still-young playwright. What makes her especially exciting is her always eccentric and brave point of view. This is War is a pretty ambitious title for a 30-something – I was not looking forward to another war-is-hell story, but Moscovitch delivers far more. This has to be the most anti-romantic view of war ever. Our Canadians are not heroes, nor are they evil. They’re just banal. In the midst of constant dreariness, recurring horror and occasional atrocity, their concerns are youthfully mundane.
The play takes the form of a series of interviews and scenes with the soldiers. We don’t see the interviewers or hear their questions, only the soldiers’ responses, spoken directly to the audience, recounting the events leading up to a joint operation with, and an atrocity committed by, the Afghan army. When asked about the night before the “joint op,” the soldiers evade or won’t answer. Instead, we see what happened: a card game, a sexual encounter, a love triangle, egos bruised. But it’s all immaturity and naiveté and self-indulgence: