Lone Survivor: Did Americans die in vain?

Actor Jerry Ferrara attends the premier of the film Lone Survivor. Jerry Ferrara portrays a US Seal in Lone Survivor, which some have claimed glorifies the war in Afghanistan

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The film Lone Survivor, about an ill-fated mission by a US Navy Seal team in Afghanistan, has become a surprise hit at the box office. Perhaps not so surprising, however, is that with its popularity, the film has set off a heated debate over US involvement in Afghanistan and the movie's portrayal of the conflict.

Scattered among the straightforward reviews of the film, which premiered in US theatres at the end of 2013, were some articles objecting to the perceived glorification of warfare and dehumanisation of the Taliban forces that fought against the US servicemen.

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What are we meant to learn from this waste of life?”

End Quote Amy Nicholson LA Weekly

LA weekly's Amy Nicholson described Lone Survivor as "a jingoistic snuff film".

She writes that although the four Americans in the film were heroes, their motivations were greatly simplified:

As the film portrays them, their attitudes to the incredibly complex War on Terror, fought hillside by bloody hillside in the Afghan frontier with both US and Taliban forces contributing to an unconscionably high civilian body count, were simple: Brown people bad, American people good.

She asks: "What are we meant to learn from this waste of life? Who is even to blame?" The film provides no acceptable answer, she concludes.

In Salon, Andrew O'Hehir writes that the glaring transgression of the film is that it "conveys the unmistakable impression that American suffering and death is qualitatively different and more profound than the death of some dudes from an Afghan village about whom we know nothing."

With those guys, there is no possibility of grieving wives or children, or a complex back story with many motivating factors. They just keep coming like ants for the Coca-Cola ham at the Fourth of July picnic, and keep getting squashed just as easily.

He concludes that the film is "trying to tell us that whatever we may think we think about what our country did over the past dozen years - this SEAL team was based at Bagram Air Force base, where some of the worst acts of CIA or military torture were committed - dying for the red, white and blue is still a holy enterprise."

The Atlantic's Calum Marsh writes that films like Lone Survivor help "legitimize feelings of xenophobia and American exceptionalism".

"It's no accident that Lone Survivor ignores the question of whether the SEAL team's mission was justified or worthwhile, just as it ignores, even more broadly, the merit of the war in Afghanistan to begin with," he writes. "Not asking is its own kind of answer. It tells us to focus elsewhere: on the heroism of these men, on the bravery of their actions. The moral issues are for another day."

Articles like these are evidence that "anti-military and anti-American sentiment may be rediscovering its Vietnam-era voice", writes the National Review's David French.

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There is no moral equivalence in this fight, and there is no moral equivalence in their deaths”

End Quote David French The National Review

The Taliban forces are portrayed as evil because they are evil, he argues. If the average viewer doesn't know this going into the theatre, then they've "lost their moral compass".

"The suffering and death of honorable men is qualitatively different from the suffering and death of men who murder, rape and terrorize as a matter of course and as a matter of jihadist religious principle - especially when the honorable men die in an effort to protect others from terror," he writes. "There is no moral equivalence in this fight, and there is no moral equivalence in their deaths."

The New York Post's Rich Lowry writes that "Lone Survivor has run up against part of the culture that can't stand the most straightforward depictions of American heroism and the warrior ethic".

"These are extraordinary men, and the tale of their valor, deserves to be told over and over again, whatever you think of the Afghan War or the broader war on terror," he writes.

Priscilla on the blog NewsHounds bristled at the conservative criticism. "It was fine for Phil Robertson [of the television programme Duck Dynasty] to make vile comments about gay people, but when writers claim that war movies glorify war, that's tantamount to treason," she writes.

The debate also spilled onto television, when an interview by CNN's Jack Tapper of Marcus Luttrell, the Seal team member who wrote the memoir on which Lone Survivor is based, turned tendentious.

Mr Tapper: "I was torn about the message of the film in the same way that I think I am about the war in Afghanistan itself. I don't want any more senseless American death. And at the same time I know that there were bad people there and good people that need help."

Mr Luttrell: "We spend our whole lives defending this country so you tell me because we were over there doing what we were told to do was senseless and they died for nothing?"

Cue up a round of sparring over whether Mr Tapper was questioning the sacrifices of soldiers or expressing a reasonable critique of US war objectives.

In Foreign Policy, author and former intelligence officer Jim Gourley writes that the Seals did indeed die in vain. Saying so, he contends, doesn't mean he doesn't support the soldiers who carry out their orders:

Throughout history, our nation's greatest leaders have understood on a deeply personal level that however honorably a soldier acquits himself, he can die in vain, and that it is the responsibility of the leaders and citizenry to see to it that they don't. Our country has lost its sense of that responsibility to a horrifying extent.

Business Insider's Paul Szoldra writes that it's not too late for Lone Survivor, and the controversy it has stirred, to prompt a serious debate about US wars:

It's time we have an adult non-screaming-at-each-other conversation about what we want to accomplish in Afghanistan, as well as an objective assessment of whether we are succeeding. If you look at Iraq right now - Fallujah specifically - there are plenty of veterans wondering if their losses there were all for nothing.

When Lone Survivor premiered, few likely suspected that it would provoke such a spirited (and, at times, mean-spirited) debate over US foreign policy, the portrayal of combat in film and the sacrifices of war.

The issues are of grave importance, though, and however we arrived at this discussion, Mr Szoldra is right - it's one worth having.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    I am baffled by the comments demanding that a political lesson be taught by this film. I certainly do not agree that the film paints Afghans in a negative light. The bottom line is that War is Hell, and this film glorifies the courage and self sacrifice of twenty men who were willing to lay their lives on the line for each other, not the political decisions of the folks who sent them there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Oaktree: defending the denial of that Right to others?

    Whatever we did wrong in the Iraq and Afghan wars is because of our politicians who gave the orders,
    not because of our soldiers

    You can blame our politicians all day for such and I will agree with you
    But I do not accept criticism or demonizing our soldiers who are innocent and who are heroes

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.


    I am trying to defend your life --and you are busy defending the denial of that Right to others ?

    ..because they are not American ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Palmer: In Rambo 3 Afghan lives that had value

    Its hard to watch that film because the same people we were trying to save in it is today the people we are at war with

    Palmer: did you demonstrate?

    No because I, like many Americans, thought it would last less than two years at most

    When it went on longer is when I realized it was wrong

    P: what an empire does

    USA is not an empire

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    #38 Lucy J

    "Its not like old wars where Nazis, ect wore uniforms"

    --I presume you also do not ?


Comments 5 of 44

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