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Sunday, January 12, 2014

"Lone Survivor" 2013: What Are We Doing in Afghanistan?

"Lone Survivor" is a brutal, graphic, combat movie. It depicts US Navy SEALs fighting against Taliban in Afghanistan in 2007. It is based on Marcus Luttrell's book of the same title. There is very little plot. The movie opens with scenes of Navy SEALs undergoing rigorous training. Trainees are shown lying down under oncoming ocean waves, being dunked in water so that they cannot breathe, doing pushups, etc. 

After this brief segment, the film sets up each SEAL team member. They are shown to be lovable guys who have families back home whom they cherish and who cherish them. One SEAL wants to buy his fiancée an Arabian horse. Another is concerned about his wife's redecorating in a color called "honeydew." Given Marcus Luttrell's fame and the title of the movie, most people will know how this movie ends. That knowledge gives these scenes that much more poignancy, but also a sense of the director manipulating the audience. We know what's coming, and we know why the director included these scenes.

The SEALs are assigned to assassinate Taliban commander Ahmad Shah. They are shown with all their gear, penetrating a steep mountain covered with pines and strewn with boulders. They see their target, and are ready to carry out their mission. They are discovered by three Afghan goat herders. They consider killing the goat herders, but Luttrell advises against it. If they kill the goat herders, they will be condemned on CNN as bestial Americans who assassinate Afghan civilians. Immediately after the soldiers release the goat herders, the goat herders inform the Taliban of their location. They Taliban quickly surround, outnumber, and begin firing on the four SEALs.

The firefight is depicted in graphic, brutal, realistic images. A SEAL is shown aiming his weapon, firing, and a Taliban's turbaned head explodes into a squirting fountain of red liquid. Bullets penetrate flesh and blood and gore ooze out. This gunfight is lengthy and tense. I have to ask how it will affect viewers. Will viewers want to get a gun and make someone's head explode? Yes, our media is saturated with violence. Is that a good thing? Have we given up even asking this question?

The film never addresses the larger questions at play, and by not addressing them, they become all the louder. What are we doing in Afghanistan? How do we win in Afghanistan? Are we wasting the lives of fine, patriotic Americans and other allied men and women in uniform? Not to mention the polio workers, doctors and other aid workers the Taliban murders in Afghanistan?

How about the rules of engagement? If we are at war in Afghanistan, then why aren't we acting as if we are at war? Should the goat herders not have been immediately killed, thus possibly saving many soldiers' lives and leading to a successful mission – the death or capture of Ahmad Shah? If soldiers are forced to conduct a war while wearing kid gloves, how can they be expected to win? What if we had imposed these rules of engagement on our soldiers during WW II? Would they have been able to win that war? Would the swastika not still be flying in Europe as we engaged in endless talks with our "partners for peace"?

Again, none of this is discussed in the film, making the discussion all the louder inside the viewer's head. In fact there was some controversy when CNN's Jake Tapper asked Marcus Luttrell about the "Senseless" deaths depicted in the film. Marcus Luttrell asserted that no, the deaths depicted in the film were not senseless. Americans are asking this, though. What are we doing in Afghanistan?

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