The reputation of the American soldier is one of valor and bravery, an image that continues to be sold to young patriots in an effort to recruit them into the military. However, the reality of war and its long-term psychological consequences is a world apart from the strapping hero one may conjure in their mind's eye. Battle at Home examines trends of violence in American soldiers, and the contributing factors that may play into their acts of misconduct.
What could make someone capable of enacting egregiously violent crimes not only against foreign civilians during tours of duty, but friends and loved ones once home? Through interviews with legal experts, psychologists, and veterans, host Shawn Musgrave explores the role of pre-existing mental health afflictions, post-traumatic afflictions, and increasingly aggressive military instruction in creating desensitized soldiers. While one subject blames the violent misbehavior of veterans on existing psychological conditions, the more common belief is that the stresses of wartime combined alone are often enough to cause an otherwise good soldier to snap.
In one of the most powerful stories shared in the film, author David Philips tells of Jon Needham. A well-liked and honorable young man, Needham left his life as a professional surfer to serve his country at the peak of the Iraq war. Regarded as one of the best soldiers in his platoon, he faced backlash from his peers when he failed to support them in killing civilians, mutilating dead bodies, and covering up their transgressions. In an act of retaliation, Needham attempted to shoot a member of his platoon - an act that resulted in his being discharged and returned home. Failing to receive treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to overcrowding at the nearest VA Hospital, Needham continued to suffer flashbacks and disorientation. It was most likely during one of these episodes that he unwittingly beat his girlfriend to death.
Needham's story is just one of many addressed in this episode of Aperture. Also focusing on the fluctuation in military standards of conduct and how they've changed in the time between Vietnam and Iraq, as well as the effects of serving back-to-back deployments, Battle at Home strips away the romanticized notions of war by revealing the suffering of the warriors.