The Invisible War by Kirby Dick


We’ve lost more than our direction of late

Try as hard as I might, every year there still seems to be one or two Oscar categories that for one reason or another, I just don’t get to see enough of the nominees from.  Last year, clearly Documentary Feature took the hit as I only saw one (Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory) of the five finalists.  I’m on a mission this year to make sure that that doesn’t happen again.

I have to be honest though, looking at the race from the outside, from a vantage point of having seen none of the nominees, I figured that the winner was a foregone conclusion.  There is just so much positive buzz out there for Searching for Sugar Man, and so little talk that I’ve seen about any of the others.  After watching director Kirby Dick’s The Invisible War however, it’s become crystal clear that there’s some serious competition brewing here.

With his latest documentary effort, Dick points his camera lens at all branches of the US military as he interviews both male and female veterans that have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of their peers, and in some cases their superior officers, while serving their country.  The stories they have to tell are downright shocking.  The military’s response to the increasing number of sexual assaults reported year after year is tragically laughable.

Their super aggressive strategy for solving the rampant problem?

  1. Blame the victim.
  2. Threaten the victim with reduction in rank if they attempt to pursue their claim.
  3. Charge the victim with adultery, even if it’s the rapist, not the victim, who is the married party.

When questioned, the military eventually does cave in.  It decides to combat the problem head on by of course once again blaming the woman.  They make public service announcements reminding female officers that they should always travel with a buddy wherever they go.  I guess anyone could be a rapist, so why not ratchet up the paranoia.

Hey girl, you got attacked while travelling alone through the military base that’s populated with your fellow brothers and sisters in arms?  Well then you must have been asking for it.

Another PSA delivers the best tagline EVER:


Yeah man, what the heck is wrong with you?  Don’t harass her only when she’s drunk!  Bother the shit out of her ALL. THE. TIME. until she finally relents.  She won’t find you creepy at all.  She’ll appreciate your perseverance in the face of adversity.

There’s some regurgitation of historical facts to be found here as well: The Tailhook scandal (Navy) from ’91, the Aberdeen scandal (Army) from ’96, and the Air Force Academy scandal from 2003.  This approach serves a dual purpose however.  First, it strengthens the testimony of the interviewees that have come forward.  Second, it sets the stage for a mind blowing look into the previously unreported sexual harassment culture at Marine Barracks Washington.

My favorite part of the entire picture though, and when I say favorite I mean the part is the most disgusting, is that when a group of assault survivors brings a civil suit against the Department of Defense which alleges that they failed to adequately protect them, the case is dismissed.  What’s the reason?  Rape is considered an occupational hazard.  Wait, because that deserves repeating:

If you are member of the United States military, rape is an occupational hazard that comes along with your job.

What the FUCK?  Where else in life does that apply?  How, in 2013, is that a possible defense?  I’m speechless.

Filled to the brim with stories of violence, sexual aggression, and the heartbreaking tales of lives left ruined by sexual assault, The Invisible War a timely, important piece of documentary film making that not only highlights the history of where we’ve been, but also casts a giant spotlight on the reality of where we are today, and just how much further we still need to go in order to protect the members of our armed forces from the predators who have little fear of ever being punished for their heinous actions.

The_Invisible_War ★★★★½
The Invisible War
Directed by Kirby Dick
Nominated For:
Documentary Feature (TBD)
United States
93 Minutes


Looking for more Oscars coverage? Click here to access and download our complete guide to all of this year’s nominated titles and browse links to each of our reviews.

About Aaron Westerman

Aaron Westerman is the Manager of Web Architecture for a national human services organization. When he's not busy tearing sites apart and rebuilding them, he spends his ever shrinking free time trying to keep up with his twins, reading works of translated literature, and watching far too many Oscar nominated movies.