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Nick Turse: Death on Your Doorstep: What Sebastian Junger and Restrepo Won’t Tell You About War

July 14, 2010

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By **Nick Turse**

I’ve never heard a shot fired in anger. But I might know a little bit more about war than Sebastian Junger.

Previously best known as the author of The Perfect Storm, Junger, a New York-based reporter who has covered African wars and the Kosovo killing fields, and Tim Hetherington, an acclaimed film-maker and photographer with extensive experience in conflict zones, heard many such shots, fired by Americans and Afghans, as they made their new documentary film Restrepo—about an isolated combat outpost named after a beloved medic killed in a firefight. There, they chronicled the lives of U.S. soldiers from Battle Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, during a tour of duty in eastern Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley.

The film has been almost universally praised by mainstream reviewers and was awarded the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. A New York Times “critics’ pick,” Restrepo moved the newspaper’s A.O. Scott to end his glowing review by telling readers: “As the war in Afghanistan returns to the front pages and the national debate, we owe the men in ‘Restrepo,’ at the very least, ninety minutes or so of our attention.” In the Los Angeles Times, reviewer Betsy Sharkey concluded in similar fashion: “What ’Restrepo’ does so dramatically, so convincingly, is make the abstract concrete, giving the soldiers on the front lines faces and voices.”

Along with Hetherington, Junger, who has also recently experienced great success with his companion book War, shot about one hundred and fifty hours of footage in the Korengal Valley in 2007 and 2008 during a combined ten trips to the country. “This is war, full stop,” reads website prose above their directors’ statement about the film.

It isn’t.

Junger and Hetherington may know something about Afghanistan, a good deal about combat, and even more about modern American troops, but there’s precious little evidence in Restrepo that—despite the title of Junger’s book—they know the true face of war.

War on Your Doorstep

Earlier this year, Junger reviewed a new Vietnam War novel, veteran Karl Marlantes’s Matterhorn, for the New York Times Book Review. In a glowing front-page appraisal, he wrote, “Combat is not really what ‘Matterhorn’ is about; it is about war. And in Marlantes’s hands, war is a confusing and rich world where some men die heroically, others die because of bureaucratic stupidity, and a few are deliberately killed by platoon-mates bearing a grudge.” Analyzing Junger’s misreading of Matterhorn helps to unlock his misconceptions about war and explains the problems that dog his otherwise cinematically-pleasing, and in some ways useful, film.

Millions of Vietnamese were killed and wounded over the course of what the Vietnamese call the “American War” in Southeast Asia. About two million of those dead were Vietnamese civilians. They were blown to pieces by artillery, blasted by bombs, and massacred in hamlets and villages like My Lai, Son Thang, Thanh Phong, and Le Bac, in huge swaths of the Mekong Delta, and in little unnamed enclaves like one in Quang Nam Province. Matterhorn touches on none of this. Marlantes focuses tightly on a small unit of Americans in a remote location surrounded by armed enemy troops—an episode that, while pitch perfect in depiction, represents only a sliver of a fraction of the conflict that was the Vietnam War.

It’s not surprising that this view of war appealed to Junger. In Restrepo, it’s his vision of war, too.

Restrepo’s repeated tight shots on the faces of earnest young American soldiers are the perfect metaphor for what’s lacking in the film and what makes it almost useless for telling us anything of note about the real war in Afghanistan. Only during wide shots in Restrepo do we catch fleeting glimpses of that real war.

“[W]e did not interview Afghans,” Junger and Hetherington write in their directors’ statement. These are, however, precisely the people who know the most about war. And somehow I can’t believe Junger doesn’t intuitively know this.

In the opening scenes, shot from an armored vehicle (before an improvised explosive device halts a U.S. Army convoy), we catch sight of Afghan families in a village. When the camera pans across the Korengal Valley, we see simple homes on the hillsides. When men from Battle Company head to a house they targeted for an air strike and see dead locals and wounded children, when we see grainy footage of a farm family or watch a young lieutenant, a foreigner in a foreign land, intimidating and interrogating an even younger goat herder (whose hands he deems to be too clean to really belong to a goat herder) —here is the real war. And here are the people Junger and Hetherington should have embedded with if they wanted to learn—and wanted to teach us—what American war is really all about.

Few Americans born after the Civil War know much about war. Real war. War that seeks you out. War that arrives on your doorstep—not once in a blue moon, but once a month or a week or a day. The ever-present fear that just when you’re at the furthest point in your fields, just when you’re most exposed, most alone, most vulnerable, it will come roaring into your world.

Those Americans who have gone to war since the 1870s—soldiers or civilians—have been mostly combat tourists, even those who spent many tours under arms or with pen (or computer) in hand reporting from war zones. The troops among them, even the draftees or not-so-volunteers of past wars, always had a choice—be it fleeing the country or going to prison. They never had to contemplate living out a significant part of their life in a basement bomb shelter or worry about scrambling out of it before a foreign soldier tossed in a grenade. They never had to go through the daily dance with doom, the sense of fear and powerlessness that comes when foreign troops and foreign technology hold the power of life and death over your village, your home, each and every day.

The ordinary people whom U.S. troops have exposed to decades of war and occupation, death and destruction, uncertainty, fear, and suffering—in places like Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Iraq, and Afghanistan—have had no such choice. They had no place else to go and no way to get there, unless as exiles and refugees in their own land or neighboring ones. They have instead been forced to live with the ever-present uncertainty that comes from having culturally strange, oddly attired, heavily armed American teenagers roaming their country, killing their countrymen, invading their homes, arresting their sons, and shouting incomprehensible commands laced with the word “fuck” or derivations thereof.

Since World War I, it’s been civilians who have most often born the disproportionate brunt of modern warfare. It’s been ordinary people who have lived with war day after day. In Restrepo such people—Afghan elders seeking information on someone the Americans detained, villagers seeking compensation for an injured cow the Americans butchered into fresh steaks, and a man who angrily asks the Americans and their translator to point out the Taliban among civilians killed by a U.S. air strike—are just supporting characters or extras.

“[W]e did not interview Afghans,” Junger and Hetherington write in their directors’ statement. These are, however, precisely the people who know the most about war. And somehow I can’t believe Junger doesn’t intuitively know this. Surely it stands to reason that Afghan civilians in the Korengal Valley and elsewhere—some of whom have lived through the Soviet occupation, the bloody civil war of the early 1990s that saw the Taliban take power, and now almost a decade of American and allied foreign occupation—have a better understanding of war than any of Junger’s corn-fed twenty-somethings who are combat tourists for about a year at a time (even if they serve multiple tours of duty).

War in the Dark

This critical local knowledge, all but missing from Restrepo, is driven home in footage from a PBS Frontline report in which one of Restrepo’s “stars,” Captain Dan Kearney, speaks to an Afghan elder, Haji Zalwar Khan, in the Korengal Valley in July 2008. It’s around the time Restrepo ends, just as Kearney is about to hand-off his command to another American officer-cum-war-tourist.

“You people shoot at least one house a day. Last night you shot a house in Kandalay,” says Khan. In response, Kearney offers a visibly skeptical smile and predictable excuses.

“You people are like lightning when you strike a house, you kill everything inside,” Khan continues. Later, when Frontline correspondent Elizabeth Rubin is able to talk to him alone, the elder tells her that the conflict will end when the Americans depart. “When they leave there will be no fighting,” he assures her. “The insurgents exist to fight the Americans.”

Perhaps it’s only natural that Junger is focused (or perhaps the more appropriate word would be fixated) not on Afghans wounded or killed in their own homes, or even guerillas seeking to expel the foreign occupiers from the valley, but on the young volunteers fighting the U.S. war there. They are a tiny, self-selected minority of Americans whom the government has called upon again and again to serve in its long-festering post-9/11 occupations. And presumably for reasons ranging from patriotism to a lack of other prospects, these mostly baby-faced young men—there are no female troops in the unit—volunteered to kill on someone else’s orders for yet others’ reasons. Such people are not uninteresting.

For an American audience, they, and their suffering, provide the easiest entree into the Afghan war zone. They also offer the easiest access for Junger and Hetherington. The young troops naturally elicit sympathy because they are besieged in the Korengal Valley and suffer hardships. (Albeit normally not hardships approaching the severity of those Afghans experience.) In addition, of course, Junger speaks their language, hails from their country, and understands their cultural references. He gets them.

Even in an American context, what he doesn’t get, the soldiers he can’t understand, are those who made up the working-class force that the U.S. fielded in Vietnam. That military was not a would-be warrior elite for whom “expeditionary” soldiering was just another job choice. It was instead a mélange of earnest volunteers, not unlike the men in Restrepo, along with large numbers of draftees and draft-induced enlistees most of whom weren’t actively seeking the life of foreign occupiers and weren’t particularly interested in endlessly garrisoning far-off lands where locals sought to kill them.

In his review of Marlantes’s Matterhorn, Junger confesses:

“For a reporter who has covered the military in its current incarnation, the events recounted in this book are so brutal and costly that they seem to belong not just to another time but to an¬other country. Soldiers openly contemplate killing their commanders. They die by the dozen on useless missions designed primarily to help the careers of those above them. The wounded are unhooked from IV bags and left to die because others, required for battle, are growing woozy from dehydration and have been ordered to drink the precious fluid. Almost every page contains some example of military callousness or incompetence that would be virtually inconceivable today, and I found myself wondering whether the book was intended as an indictment of war in general or a demonstration of just how far this nation has come in the last forty years.”

If Americans care only sparingly for their paid, professional soldiers—the ones A.O. Scott says deserve ninety minutes of our time—they care even less about Afghan civilians. That’s why they don’t understand war.

As the American War in Vietnam staggered to a close, U.S. troops were in an open state of rebellion. Fraggings—attacks on commanders (often by fragmentation grenade) —were rising, so was the escape into drug use. Troops bucked orders, mutinied, and regularly undertook “search and evade” missions, holing up in safe spots while calling in false coordinates.

AWOLs and desertions went through the roof. During World War II, Marine Corps desertion rates peaked at 8.8 per one thousand in 1943. In 1972, the last full year of U.S. combat in Vietnam, the Marines had a desertion rate of 65.3 per one thousand. And precious few Marines were even in Vietnam at that point. AWOL rates were also staggering—166.4 per one thousand for the much more numerous Army and one hundred and seventy per one thousand for the Marines. In a widely-read 1971 Armed Forces Journal article, retired Colonel Robert D. Heinl, Jr., wrote, “By every conceivable indicator, our army that now remains in Vietnam is in a state of approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their officers and noncommissioned officers, drug-ridden, and dispirited where not near-mutinous.”

It didn’t take rocket-scientists to figure out that you couldn’t conduct long-term, wheel-spinning occupations in distant lands with a military like that. And so the long-occupation-friendly all-volunteer force that Junger has come to know was born. That he has such a hard time understanding the citizen-soldier response to the American lost cause in Vietnam essentially ensures that the civilian story of war, especially that of alien civilians in a distant land, would evade his understanding. This is what makes the relative isolation of the unit he deals with in Restrepo so useful, even comfortable for him as he assesses a very American version of what war is all about.

By 1969, it was apparent where the Vietnam War was going and, increasingly, soldiers balked at the prospect of being the last man to die for their country in a disastrous war. While it turned out that about fifteen thousand Americans would die in Vietnam from 1969 to 1971 (almost as many as had died from 1965 to 1967), the troops were increasingly angry about it.

Body armor, drone warfare, ultra-rapid medevacs, and a host of other technological innovations, not to mention battling tiny numbers of relatively weak, ill-armed, and generally unpopular guerillas, has meant that Junger’s new model military can fight its wars with minimal American casualties and, so far, less upset at home (or even perhaps in the field). Today, the numbers of dead Americans like Juan S. Restrepo, the medic for whom the outpost in Junger’s film was named, remain relatively few compared, at least, to Vietnam. Just over eleven hundred U.S. troops have died in and around Afghanistan since 2001.

On the other hand, who knows how many Afghan civilians have died over that span, thanks to everything from insurgent IEDs, suicide attacks, and beheadings to U.S. air strikes, special operations forces’ night raids, and road checkpoint shootings, not to speak of every other hardship the American war in Afghanistan has unleashed, exacerbated, or intensified? Who knows their stories? Who has documented their unending suffering? Few have bothered. Few, if any, have risked their own lives to chronicle day-to-day life for months on end in embattled Afghan villages. Yet it’s there, not in some isolated American outpost, that you would find the real story of war to film. In the place of such a work, we have Restrepo.

Even an all-volunteer army will eventually collapse if pushed too far for too long. Soldiers will eventually slip, if not explode, into revolt or at least will begin to evade orders, but the prospect looks unlikely any time soon for the U.S. military. Unlike Afghan civilians, U.S. troops go home or at least leave the combat zone after their tours of duty. And if most Americans don’t necessarily give them much thought much of the time, they evidently have no problem paying them to make war, or engaging in effortless tributes to them, like rising at baseball games for a seventh-inning stretch salute.

In what passes for a poignant scene in Restrepo, Captain Kearney addresses his troops after a sister unit takes uncharacteristically heavy casualties. He says that they can take a few moments to mourn, but then it’s time to get back into the fight. It’s time for pay-back, time to make the enemy feel the way they’re feeling. He then gives his men time for prayer.

If Kearney ever called his troops together and set aside a moment for prayer in memory of the civilians they killed or wounded, Junger and Hetherington missed it, or chose not to include it. Most likely, it never happened. And most likely, Americans who see Restrepo won’t find that odd at all. Nor will they think it cold, insensitive, or prejudiced to privilege American lives over those of Afghans. After all, according to Junger, “military callousness” has gone the way of America’s Vietnam-vintage F-4 Phantom fighter-bomber.

If Americans care only sparingly for their paid, professional soldiers—the ones A.O. Scott says deserve ninety minutes of our time—they care even less about Afghan civilians. That’s why they don’t understand war. And that’s why they’ll think that the essence of war is what they’re seeing as they sit in the dark and watch Restrepo.

Copyright 2010 Nick Turse

________________________________________________________________________

This article originally appeared at : Tomdispatch.com.

Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com. His work has appeared in many publications, including the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, In These Times, and regularly at TomDispatch. A paperback edition of his book, The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives (Metropolitan Books), an exploration of the new military-corporate complex in America, has just been published. His website is Nick Turse.com.

To read more blog entries from Nick Turse and others at GUERNICA click HERE .

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9 comments for Nick Turse: Death on Your Doorstep: What Sebastian Junger and Restrepo Won’t Tell You About War

  1. Comment by Jason Mace on July 14, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Reading this article, I am reminded of several others just like you. So many people these days want to see the movie, read the book, watch the interviews, and then twist them to fit their own political views. War isn’t about the war in Afghanistan(and I’ve only known Junger since he covered my platoon for this story, so I’m going out on a limb here when I try to interperit what the title means), it’s about what war actually means to the people fighting it. For those of us who have fought in an actual combat zone, there are no politics. Sure, we debate them ruthlessly when we are back in America, and talk about “what we would do if we ran the country”, which luckily we don’t, but how I feel about Obama, the economy, or the up coming elections has absolutely NOTHING to do with trying to make sure my soldiers, my friends, MY BROTHERS come home alive. As grim as it may seem, we don’t care about whats happening in the next province over, let alone in the next Valley. What is on our own plate is our only concern, and getting the mission accomplished is our only task. So when you talk about Junger not knowing what War is because he doesn’t talk about how certain areas of Vietnam were hopelessy destroyed by American soldiers in Vietnam, or because he doesn’t show the effect of us being in Afghanistan on the civilian population, you are stretching what you saw and read to make a point that should have no association with what Junger produced. His entire intent was to show what soldiers in a COMBAT platoon go through, emotionally and physically. To that point, he accomplished it. Your views of war, Sir, are what is terribly wrong with America today. War isn’t about politicans, it isn’t about some policy that some general in his cushy safe chair comes up with, it’s about young men and women dieing. It’s about groups of soldiers, suffering and bonding. It’s about humanities greatest follies and greatest sacrifices. So from all the soldiers who have fought in this war, right, wrong, or indifferent, how dare you belittle what we did and what we went through so that you could get a few more readers for your poorly researched blog. I’m glad you write e-zine articles and don’t fight in this war, because God forbid anyone have to rely on you with his life.

  2. Comment by Tim Hetherington on July 14, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    The issues that Nick raises about the cost of civilian lives by the US war machine are important – and I welcome them – it’s obvious that Nick is a skilled reporter and makes valuable contributions to a conversation about both the military and Afghanistan. As someone who has resided and reported on conflict in West Africa for many years, the issues of human sufferings are something that I know only too well. I remember walking among a massacre of civilians on the Chad / Darfur border when working for Human Rights Watch. I also remember seeing the executed bodies of civilians in Liberia’s civil war – their hands tied behind their backs. Making images and reports about civilians blighted by war has been the focus of my work for many years, and I am therefore familiar with the challenges posed in getting attention to these issues.

    In ‘Restrepo,’ we tried a different strategy to connect a distant western audience to the war in Afghanistan. We don’t demand moral outrage – and yes, we do see things from the soldier’s perspective – but we provide a warts and all view of the war from this perspective. Not all journalism has to include all things – in fact, it’s important to gather views from many different perspectives. We applaud the many excellent reports on the war, many of which focus on the civilian cost. We hope that our strict focus on the soldiers becomes part of a wider conversation on the entire war. Judging by this article and the conversation, it has.

    I’ve recently been attending Q+A’s at screenings across the country, and it’s clear that ‘Restrepo’ is bringing together people to discuss the war and what is going on in Afghanistan outside of the partisan lines that have divided the discussion. While I welcome Nick’s important contribution of information, his passion gets the better of his judgment and his emphasis on attacking my colleague Sebastian Junger and myself is misplaced.

    By the way – if you need more information about the civilian casualty figures, I would recommend reading Human Rights Watch reports. Their figures cite over 400,000 civilian deaths as a direct result of the civil war in the 1990’s, and 16,000 since the Nato / US war began in 2001. These are again exceeded by over a million civilians who died under the Soviets following their invasion.

  3. Comment by Alice de Tocqueville on July 14, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    Jason Mace;

    How dare you belittle the question of why the war is going on in the first place. You say:

    “For those of us who have fought in an actual combat zone, there are no politics. Sure, we debate them ruthlessly when we are back in America, and talk about “what we would do if we ran the country”, which luckily we don’t, but how I feel about Obama, the economy, or the up coming elections has absolutely NOTHING to do with trying to make sure my soldiers, my friends, MY BROTHERS come home alive.”

    I say politics has everything to do with you, and your BROTHERS survival, and the fact that you, and millions of so-called Americans like you seem to abdicate your duty which is “running the country” is what is costing, not only their lives, but those of the innocents killed in greater numbers in every succeeding war.

    What if they had a war and nobody came?

  4. Comment by S. Lacy on July 16, 2010 at 8:01 am

    Ms. de Tocqueville,

    If you have never served in a combat zone, nor had Soldiers under your charge, then you have no right to question what it is that we do, how we think, nor how we go about our business.

    Politics, and the media have no place on the battlefield.

    If the civilian government lets slip the dogs of war, do not ask us how we do our jobs, nor what it takes. Trust us to do the right thing, and to do it honorably.

    Otherwise stay the hell out of our way, and tell us when enough is enough. Once we have accomplished our mission, we turn it off. It’s that easy.

    As for more innocents getting killed in every successive war, you need to check you history.

    In World War II, a typical bombing raid would consist of 100 aircraft bombing a target, with less than 20% of the bombs hitting the target. The rest went where ever gravity and the laws of physics determined. Civilian casualties were in the millions. The firebombing of Japan, the Russian use of massed infantry assault, the systematic destruction of German industry are all prime examples of the collateral damage done in the past.

    Modern war is less lethal for civilians than any of the wars before it.

    The difference is that now the Media seems to want everyone to know only what gets them ratings.

    Death.

    No one wants to hear about the schools we build, or the lives we save, only the mistakes and bad apples. Restrictive ROE’s, solely put in place to pacify the media, put our soldiers at risk.

    If you have never served, nor experienced combat, don’t you dare tell us what it is, or talk to us about policy.

    I don’t make policy. I enforce it. Policy is set by the civilian government, and enforced by soldiers.

    We do not care about policy when our friends, our comrades, and as Jason Mace so eloquently put, our brothers are getting shot at, hurt, killed, and maimed by an honorless foe. We care about keeping them alive. The big picture for us is the next day, and whether or not we live to see it.

    Policy is for politicians to determine, not Soldiers.

    If they had a war, and nobody came, Soldiers would be the happiest of all, we’re the ones who have to fight them.

  5. Comment by Kanani on July 17, 2010 at 8:33 am

    When people start pushing their own agendas as to what soldiers should think, rather than seeing what they experience and also grasping their humanity, then in a sense they’ve become paralyzed by the polemics that divide this country. Restrepo offers the chance to break through stereotypes about soldiers which have been both divisive and denigrating.

    I have to take issue about Turse’s assertion that the soldiers do not care for Afghan civilians. They do. My husband set up a pediatric burn clinic, and treated even more locals than soldiers during his time as a deployed surgeon. Navy Seals and Special Forces and Rangers have given much time to going into villages, having shuras and getting to know locals. It’s not unusual for them to assist them with medical aid and also bring them onto the FOB hospitals for treatment.

    This scenario is repeated over and over again in outposts and FOBs throughout Afghanistan. There is a great deal of subtlety to war and to make sweeping statements such as Turse’s assertion ignores them completely. There are also civilian efforts, such as those by FabLab, Arghand, and a school in Jbad supported by a Rotary Club in La Jolla CA to name a few. Were it not for an intervening presence of military efforts, these projects would quickly lose ground. Read Sarah Chayes’ book, The Punishment of Virtue, and she echoes these thoughts. There is a great deal at risk should we pull out quickly and completely. Every single small gain we’ve made, which includes those made by the Marine Female Engagement Teams, and the NGO’s –would be lost quickly.

    For more complete reading see the Free Range International blog. BabaTim has an excellent viewpoint (as he is there), and while he has been a critic of strategy, he understands the nuances and also that there are good guys and bad guys.

    I found Turse’s anger over the film misplaced. It wasn’t a review of the film, as much as it was to promote his own opinions.

  6. Comment by Schmidt E on July 17, 2010 at 9:45 am

    Saw the film last night in Berkeley, CA. Not a giant pink glove in sight! Perhaps the Code Pink people get what Nick doesn’t- that The film Restrepo is not pro or anti-war. It is simply a view of the combat that took place in one valley in Afghanistan from the US soldier’s perspective, plain & simple. It is only one of many perspectives on the conflict, but in and of itself brings to light, I believe, a bit of frustration on the part of the paratroopers’ for the lack of understanding by those who weren’t there but would like to write as if they were and say they understand. If Nick Turse hasn’t had a shot fired at him in anger then how can he speak for those who have, civilian & soldier alike? What DOES he know about war? It’s like me as a man trying to explain the nuances and experiences of childbirth to a mother. Like, yeah right.

  7. Comment by Christina on July 17, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    Where to begin… I suppose I’ll start off by expessing my gratitude that there are people in this world like the soldiers of Second Platoon, Battle Company, and the many others who serve. I certainly couldn’t have done my job in the military if everyone were like Mr. Turse, although his work is essential in understanding the bigger picture of war. It seems though that Turse fails to realize the the objective of Junger and Hetherington was not to provide the public with the bigger picture of war, but to “convey what soldiers experience – what war actually feels like.” Perhaps Turse didn’t bother reading the the inside flap of Junger’s book.

    To Ms. de Tocqueville and Mr. Turse: Of course our primary concern is for the lives of those who stand beside us on the ground just like your family members come before strangers. But if civilian casualties were no big deal to American troops, ask those who are haunted by them why they can’t sleep at night. We’re not ruthless savages; we’re human beings with loyalty to our country, to the American people. You guys can bicker about politics and what you feel is best for our country – we leave the decisions up to you. And meanwhile, we’ll hold back any opposition to our country’s beliefs and values so we’re free to debate and disagree, and hope that when we come home from doing what we’ve been asked to do we’ve met your expectations. That’s it. You can argue that Restrepo and War don’t tell enough about war, but Junger and Hetherington mastered what they set out to do which was to provide an unknowing public with an intimate view of the experience of a platoon of soldiers answering the call of duty. Their experiences are theirs and they at what they are and thanks to Junger and Hetherington civilians have the opportunity to understand what men and women go through in combat. Whether or not you choose to step outside of yourselves to understand us on a more personal level is up to you. But you’ll never be able to do that if you continue to seek confirmation for your political beliefs. Furthermore, you can’t possibly understand war so well if you’ve never been the direct target of an enemy trying to kill you. Mr. Turse, you do a great job of delivering a side of war the public doesn’t see much of, but with all due respect Sir, don’t kid yourself. You don’t know the half of it.

  8. Comment by Jeff Courter on July 19, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    Nick –

    Having been in Afghanistan for a year, fighting the Taliban and knowing American Soldiers who have died there, let me tell you why Americans like me have bothered to enlist and fight in this particular war.

    In 2001, America was attacked by adherents to a radical religious ideology. In the name of Islam, they killed thousands of innocent Americans at work. These actions were sponsored by an organization which had attempted to attack Americans before, and continues to do so to this day. On September 11, war came to us. We did not choose to be attacked.

    Your references to Vietnam are short-sighted. Vietnam was part of a larger “cold” war, which the U.S. did not want to escalate into direct confrontations with either the U.S.S.R. or China. Otherwise, the tactics might have been different. But you fail to go back in history far enough – you stopped at Vietnam, not WWII.

    The closest ideological link I find in history to the kind of oppressive Islamic outlook I see in Waziristan would be Nazism, an ideology which butchered millions of its own citizens in the name of politics. The Taliban do the same thing, let me assure you – in 2007, when I got there, the Taliban had murdered 60 Afghan teachers for having the temerity to teach girls to read and write. If they had an opportunity, they would kill me and you both without any feelings of guilt about it, using a warped view of their religion as justification.

    I suggest you read more religious and philosophical writers before you make comments about knowing more about war than the creators of “Restrepo.” You seem to have no real understanding of why the Taliban are still fighting, or why Americans bother to volunteer for this war. Simply put, the Taliban believe it is their right to force ANYONE who does not adhere to their ideology to adopt their brand of Islam or be killed. I (along with everyone I have met in a NATO uniform – remember, we are NOT the only ones fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan) believe in freedom of choice and conscience. It is a battle over principles, like most modern warfare has become.

    Unfortunately, evil exists in the world, and war is one result of this. I wish we were more enlightened as a species, but so far we are not, so we must defend ourselves and others against perpetrators of injustice (yes, I realize the irony of “fighting for peace,” but even the Buddhists understand the need for warriors to protect their temples). If the Amish had tried to stand up to Hitler, the Gestapo would have rounded them up and taken them away – non-violence does not always work.

    So remember, the Soldiers who are fighting in Afghanistan now completely support your right to denigrate what they are doing. While war is not necessarily noble, having met Soldiers in Afghanistan who are trying to do the right thing (which includes almost all of them, certainly the ones I had the privilege of serving with), I can assure you our cause is noble enough. We are not oppressors. We are not forcing conversions to Western ways, “secularism,” Western media and attire, etc. Unlike the Taliban, when we enter a local village, we bring food, medical assistance, even clothing and toys. The Taliban take money and food, and threaten villagers with death.

    If there was a better way to stop evil, I want to know it, for no Soldier with any conscience likes death, killing or dying – the images we take home from war remain with us the rest of our lives. But in 5000 years of recorded human history, we haven’t found a way to end war yet.

    Regards,

    Jeff Courter

    Sergeant First Class

    Army National Guard

    Author, “Afghan Journal: A Soldier’s Year in Afghanistan”

  9. Comment by Jeff Courter on July 19, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    Nick –

    Having been in Afghanistan for a year, fighting the Taliban and knowing American Soldiers who have died there, let me tell you why Americans like me have bothered to enlist and fight in this particular war.

    In 2001, America was attacked by adherents to a radical religious ideology. In the name of Islam, they killed thousands of innocent Americans at work. These actions were sponsored by an organization which had attempted to attack Americans before, and continues to do so to this day. On September 11, war came to us. We did not choose to be attacked.

    Your references to Vietnam are short-sighted. Vietnam was part of a larger “cold” war, which the U.S. did not want to escalate into direct confrontations with either the U.S.S.R. or China. Otherwise, the tactics might have been different. But you fail to go back in history far enough – you stopped at Vietnam, not WWII.

    The closest ideological link I find in history to the kind of oppressive Islamic outlook I see in Waziristan would be Nazism, an ideology which butchered millions of its own citizens in the name of politics. The Taliban do the same thing, let me assure you – in 2007, when I got there, the Taliban had murdered 60 Afghan teachers for having the temerity to teach girls to read and write. If they had an opportunity, they would kill me and you both without any feelings of guilt about it, using a warped view of their religion as justification.

    I suggest you read more religious and philosophical writers before you make comments about knowing more about war than the creators of “Restrepo.” You seem to have no real understanding of why the Taliban are still fighting, or why Americans bother to volunteer for this war. Simply put, the Taliban believe it is their right to force ANYONE who does not adhere to their ideology to adopt their brand of Islam or be killed. I (along with everyone I have met in a NATO uniform – remember, we are NOT the only ones fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan) believe in freedom of choice and conscience. It is a battle over principles, like most modern warfare has become.

    Unfortunately, evil exists in the world, and war is one result of this. I wish we were more enlightened as a species, but so far we are not, so we must defend ourselves and others against perpetrators of injustice (yes, I realize the irony of “fighting for peace,” but even the Buddhists understand the need for warriors to protect their temples). If the Amish had tried to stand up to Hitler, the Gestapo would have rounded them up and taken them away – non-violence does not always work.

    So remember, the Soldiers who are fighting in Afghanistan now completely support your right to denigrate what they are doing. While war is not necessarily noble, having met Soldiers in Afghanistan who are trying to do the right thing (which includes almost all of them, certainly the ones I had the privilege of serving with), I can assure you our cause is noble enough. We are not oppressors. We are not forcing conversions to Western ways, “secularism,” Western media and attire, etc. Unlike the Taliban, when we enter a local village, we bring food, medical assistance, even clothing and toys. The Taliban take money and food, and threaten villagers with death.

    If there was a better way to stop evil, I want to know it, for no Soldier with any conscience likes death, killing or dying – the images we take home from war remain with us the rest of our lives. But in 5000 years of recorded human history, we haven’t found a way to end war yet.

    Regards,

    Jeff Courter

    Sergeant First Class

    Army National Guard

    Author, “Afghan Journal: A Soldier’s Year in Afghanistan”

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