Thursday, May 19, 2011

The pity of war

I was thinking about Anthem for Doomed Youth, the first poem I ever memorised, when I watched Restrepo, a documentary released in 2010 and made by Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington (who was recently killed in Libya). Restrepo is the story of a valley in Afhganistan, named by the US soldiers stationed there after their friend and platoon medic, Juan Restrepo, who died there.

The overwhelming impression on watching this film is how young and naive the soldiers are and, ultimately, how futile their occupation is: they refer to fighting for their country without, at first, any reflection on how the battle for a benighted little outcrop in a foreign valley could possibly fit that description; then, as the reality of their situation sinks in, they realise, implicitly if not explicitly, that there is no reason for them to be there, no purpose to the deaths, and no meaning to the sacrifice. It's a profoundly depressing film, in many ways, in the sheer banality of the everyday existence in stultifying conditions, punctuated by brief, fierce skirmishes with an almost unseen enemy; the fear of overgrown children under fire; and the terrible anguish of loss with no gain.

Hetherington and Junger were criticised for their lack of objectivity as embedded journalists; but it's clear from this film that they were incredibly, almost recklessly brave; and they don't need to be didactic (there's no voiceover): terrible events speak for themselves.


Mr Creighton said...

Something troubles me about this entry, and re-reading it I think it's this - the way you contrast the bravery of Hetherington and Junger, who are "incredibly, almost recklessly brave"; and the penultimate line of the preceding paragraph about the soldiers, where you refer to "the fear of overgrown children under fire".

Doing something very dangerous, and continuing to do so day after day - and doing so even if afraid - seems to me the definition of bravery.

The behaviour of a child, even an overgrown one, would be to be panic, to run away. The soldiers in Restrepo are very young, as soldiers tend to be, and the way they tease and rough-house with each other reminds us poignantly of the children some of them so recently were. Since none of them do run away like children, it's probably not fair to describe them as such. Young men, maybe painfully young men - but certainly not children - least of all Doc Restrepo, for whom they name that benighted firebase (forward-base?) after his death.

LottieP said...

I didn't actually intend there to be a inference about the lack of bravery of the soldiers, although I can see why that would come across: they, of course, are brave too (albeit no one, whether soldier or jorunalist, seems to realise until it happens that death is possible).