Theater of War

Sean Huze went over to Iraq as a soldier, and came back a playwright, using his experiences as inspiration for his work.

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On September 12, 2001, Sean Huze, an aspiring actor who’d been scoring bit parts in B movies and television shows, marched into the Los Angeles Marine recruiting office at Sunset andLa Brea and enlisted. Huze loved his life as a SAG-card-carrying actor “but I didn’t think that anything I was doing personally was more important than defending my country,” he says. Although it’s common for Marines to keep their war stories bottled up when they return home, after serving as a corporal in Nasiriyah, Al Kut, Tikrit, and Baghdad as the “tip of the spear” with the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, “Hollywood” (as Huze’s Marine buddies liked to call him) needed to put his experiences down on paper. He penned a 70-minute play called The Sand Storm, which played in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., as well as Weasel, a comedic courtroom drama inspired by Huze’s experience, focusing on a Marine commander intent on suppressing dissent within his ranks.

Huze is currently in pre-production on his new feature film with Ed Asner, The Dragon Slayer. Mother Jones caught up with him in Los Angeles to talk about life after combat, art, and the penalties facing troops who speak their minds during wartime.

Mother Jones: What is The Sand Storm about?

Sean Huze: It’s an account of the Iraq experiences of nine Marines and one Navy corpsman. Each one focuses on an event that’s had the deepest impact on him. Lance Cpl. Dodd talks about the assault on Nasiriyah and the death he was party to. In particular he is haunted by a four- or five-year-old kid he saw dead in the street.

MJ: How did audiences react to the play?

SH: A major from Camp Pendleton saw it and told me, “Just keep telling the truth.” Another Marine, who was part of the 1st Marine Division during the invasion, just like I was, came up to me afterward and told me he felt now he could talk about his experience. From a civilian perspective, I think people have many strong opinions about the war but really have no idea what actually happens on the ground. For them it is an eye-opening experience, and it helps to give names and faces to the men and women who served in Iraq.

MJ: Any negative reactions?

SH: After a show in L.A., a girl asked me about the final monologue, where a character talks about the kindness of the Iraqi people toward us, which was based directly on an experience my platoon had providing security for a community. And she said, “But that didn’t happen. They don’t like us.” She was fixed in her opinion that every Iraqi absolutely loathes the U.S. military, but that certainly wasn’t accurate in April 2003. It happens on both sides. People ask for your opinion and your experience, but all they really want to hear is something that rubberstamps their bullshit.

MJ: The genesis of Weasel is that you had an Article 134 hanging over you. What is that?

SH: There are a couple of “conduct unbecoming” articles that are used largely to ensure that military personnel are not able to speak freely. If we say something publicly, we’re hyperaware that if it is not supported by the administration, we could face criminal charges. I think it’s important for people to realize this. They assume that the silence of military personnel is an endorsement, when in reality there are people who strongly disagree with our involvement in Iraq but don’t want to face a court-martial.

MJ: What do you think about all the sanctions on military blogging?

SH: Look, you’re talking about an administration where the secretary of defense’s initial response to Abu Ghraib was, “Hey, the guys aren’t allowed to have cameras anymore.” Because if guys aren’t allowed to take pictures of it, then it didn’t happen. If it’s not a DOD press release, they don’t want the public hearing it. They’ve got most of the embedded journalists running so scared they won’t even venture outside the Green Zone. So they take afteraction reports from some officer, and that’s what they report. It gives the appearance of active journalism and reporting from Iraq, but it’s not real—it’s smoke and mirrors.

MJ: What are soldiers and Marines passionate about when they’re over there?

SH: You want to do your duty and get home. You don’t want to die, you don’t want your buddies to die, and you’re going to do everything in your power to ensure that you come home to your wife, your kids, mommy and daddy. That’s what you’re passionate about. There’s not a whole lot of politics on the ground. Even for someone like me who’s politically active, that’s not a concern when you’re going through the war-torn streets of Nasiriyah. George Bush couldn’t have been further from my thoughts.

MJ: Tell me about your new film project.

SH: The Dragon Slayer is based on a two-man play I wrote. Ed Asner plays Father Lawrence, who’s a Roman Catholic priest, and I play Joey del Riva, a Marine Iraq veteran who is in a naval hospital psych ward dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. Father Lawrence is Joey’s childhood priest, who helped guide and nurture him his entire life. Joey is one of those kids who did everything he was supposed to do. He was a good Catholic, a good Marine, and he’s tortured internally by his experiences in Iraq. His PTSD manifests in such a way that he feels he has to disconnect himself from God—that his faith has failed him. He’s convinced himself that if he can kill his priest, sever that last link to humanity, somehow that will make the pain go away.

MJ: Speaking of films, how do you feel about stars like Brad Pitt or Colin Farrell who play warriors but would be hard pressed to go to war themselves?

SH: Let’s not forget guys like Pat Tillman, the NFL player, who died in Afghanistan from friendly fire. He was a millionaire, man. He gave that up to go. A recent article in USA Today dispelled a myth I had. I thought there was a recruiting surge after 9/11, but that wasn’t the case. Some people enlisted because of that, but there was not a significant spike. As a society, we’ve become much more focused on the self than the collective. It almost takes tragedies such as Katrina to shake us out of our immediate wants and needs. I was certainly like that. I don’t know why I was so passionate about enlisting after 9/11; I just knowI was. I’ve had some friends, family, and press who’ve asked, Given your political views, why would you enlist in the Marines? I said I didn’t do it despite them; I did it because of them.


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