Sunday, December 05, 2010

Restrepo: Remembering again that war is real and John Wayne is long gone

I saw a documentary a couple of days ago about American troops in Afghanistan. The film was made by Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington. It's called Restrepo.

What I found most interesting was a comment by the filmmakers that they have received strong positive comment both from those opposed to the war and those more hawkish.

This is the promotional description:

RESTREPO is a feature-length documentary that chronicles the deployment of a platoon of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley. The movie focuses on a remote 15-man outpost, "Restrepo," named after a platoon medic who was killed in action. It was considered one of the most dangerous postings in the U.S. military. This is an entirely experiential film: the cameras never leave the valley; there are no interviews with generals or diplomats. The only goal is to make viewers feel as if they have just been through a 90-minute deployment. This is war, full stop. The conclusions are up to you.

Whatever one's politics, I would hope that this film reminds them that we should never forget what we do to soldiers when we put them in a combat situation, that we should always make political decisions with a clear understanding of their implications for everyone involved.

I thought the film was extremely well done. I found it moving and an honest attempt to do justice to the experiences of soldiers doing the fighting. I highly recommend it. 

There are a lot of things I would want to say about what makes young men and women join the military and go to war. There are things about the relationship between decision-makers and those who carry out their orders about which, in a democracy, we should always be mindful.

There are things about what I think are justifiable views on patriotism and other forms less savory that I believe we should discuss.

But these weren't the kinds of thoughts I was having as I watched this film.

Maybe it's because I grew up in the kind of working-class neighbourhood in which a lot of kids went off to war, some as draftees and some who joined. Maybe this is the reason I have a lot of compassion for those who find themselves being shot at and having friends die in conflicts the political dynamics of which are probably not very clear to them.

I was too young to go to
Vietnam but not too young to know of families devastated by its impact. Today, largely due to social class and maybe age, I don't know many young people who have gone off to war, but it's not a total abstraction to me either.

My workplace is not far from the coroner's office where some soldiers killed in
Afghanistan are brought once repatriated. More than once I have stood on the sidewalk to watch a long procession of cars wend its way through downtown streets. On one occasion I saw what was undoubtedly a young widow in the lead car with the window open. I could see her clearly. The look of pain on her face is impossible to describe – there's nothing abstract about that at all.

All the debates: why young men and women choose to go to war; the extent that economic class plays an important role; whether we should ever have been in these wars at all; what supporting our troops really means – these things are important discussions.

I'd suggest you find this documentary – Restrepo – and that you remember that wars are fought by young people who, once the shooting starts, seem to want only to get back home.

These wars have been going on too long, so long that we have forgotten the sacrifices that we are expecting of our soldiers, except in speeches that have become so clichéd we no longer think about what the words mean.

So little do we now seem to care about the people we put in harms way that it wasn't even an honourable mention as an issue in the last round of campaigning.

How sad is that?

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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  • I'm glad to read your post on Restropo, I found it impossible to watch all the way through and almost impossible to express my feelings about it.

    I do have a hard time thinking of it as anything but a doomed exercise based on a naive idea that kids with guns are going to change an ancient culture and end ancient rivalries or turn anyone's mind toward western ideals.

    By Blogger Capt. Fogg, at 1:46 PM  

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