Monday, October 13, 2014

Lone Survivor

I saw the movie Lone Survivor on DVD.

Depending on when you want to start counting, America has been involved in active military conflict in Southwest Asia for the last 25 years. Yet it has taken Hollywood until just this year to give that conflict a war movie.

Yes, Hollywood has given us a passel of message movies with the war as a backdrop; Lions for Lambs, Three Kings, Courage Under Fire, and Green Zone come to mind. But none of them were about actual or even typical military engagements. We did get at least three TV series: Generation Kill, Over There and Occupation.  I haven’t seen Occupation, but the other two, while heavy on message, were at least plausible if not actually historical.  But with the partial exception of Zero Dark Thirty, Lone Survivor is the first movie about a historical engagement. The movie closely tracks Operation Red Wings, the 2005 effort to apprehend the Taliban-allied leader Ahmed Shah in Afghanistan. The mission goes awry when the SEAL reconnaissance team is discovered by shepherds in Shah's auxiliary service, and becomes a crisis when one of the Sikorskis sent to rescue the team is brought down by an RPG. Three of the four members of the recon team are (SPOILER ALERT) killed, as are all 16 SEALs and crew on the Sikorski.

The movie is solid, directed crisply by Peter Berg, with great supporting performances by Ben Foster and Eric Bana.  I should note that Mark Wahlberg is an effective actor only within a narrow dramatic range; he doesn’t do “panic” particularly well, and in the moments before he briefly expires on the operating table, he looks way more energetic than I would expect a man in that condition to be.

The plot turns on the debate among the recon team as to what to do with the captured shepherds. Instead of killing them or leaving them tied to the trees to freeze in the mountain cold, the team ultimately decides to release them, whereupon the shepherds promptly report their presence to Shah's militia.

I'm all for negotiating with an adversary's competent authority for the human treatment of prisoners and non-combatants, and strictly honoring such agreements as we might arrive at. But in the absence of such negotiation, and in the face of the adversary's known preference for decapitating prisoners on YouTube, I fail to think of an ethical requirement why our own Rules of Engagement should not be governed by military necessity and proportionality, both of which, in the case at hand, argue in favor of the swift dispatch of these particular prisoners.

In the movie, after the first of the rescue helicopters is shot down, and the second helicopter is retreating, there is a brief scene, perhaps only a second long, shot inside the second helicopter, of one of the SEALs waving a pistol at the cockpit as other SEALs try to restrain him. The scene is over before the brain can process the question, why is the SEAL waving a pistol at his own aircrew? And realize the answer: notwithstanding he has just watched half his team die in a fireball, this guy wants to jump into a hot LZ so badly that he's trying to FORCE the pilots to try to land anyway.

Where do we find such men?

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