Film Review: Korengal – War! What is it Good For? Still Absolutely Nothing!

War correspondent Sebastian Junger’s Korengal provides a grunt’s eye view on combat from the unique vantage point of the eponymous vale that is reputedly “the most dangerous valley in Afghanistan.”  It is a sort of “reality TV”, you-are-there type of documentary, its cinematography by journalists embedded with Battle Company of the 173rd Airborne Brigade at a lonely outpost that frequently comes under heavy fire in Eastern Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley.  Korengal is the sequel to the Oscar-nominated 2010 documentary Restrepo, which was co-directed by Junger and photojournalist Tim Hetherington, who was killed in 2011 while covering conflict in Libya, although much of the footage he’d shot is used in Korengal.

This cinéma vérité type doc effectively captures the frenzy, futility and sheer boredom of warfare in the never ending Afghan imbroglio, now America’s longest lasting (if undeclared) war.  About a dozen of the soldiers who are seen in country in both docs also appear in interviews shot after their deployment, in Vicenza, Italy, where the 173rd is based.  (You might well ask why Yanks are still stationed in Italy almost 70 years after Mussolini was executed and hung upside down at a Milan gas station — your tax dollars at work!)

America’s armed forces are a taboo subject — we’re not supposed to say anything critical about these sacred cows in public (that is, unless it’s Sgt. Bergdahl being maligned by conservatives — somehow, that gets a pass).  Indeed, both the current First and Second Lady have made “military families” their pet cause, as they pander to the right.  So, at the risk of being condemned as “unpatriotic,” this reviewer makes the following observations about Korengal’s soldiers: They don’t appear to be very bright.  Although a couple of them reveal themselves in subsequent interviews to be capable of self reflection, for the most part these G.I.s come across like a pack of uneducated, immature young guys.  And I mean guys — no gals in Korengal.  What kind of supposedly straight young men volunteer to remove themselves from the company of women for months at a time?

The same is true about characters in another Afghanistan film, 2013’s Lone Survivor, which is supposedly based on actual events.  This feature’s action is sandwiched between a propagandistic gung-ho prologue and epilogue that seem designed to distract the viewer from drawing the conclusion that the Navy SEALs depicted in the movie are a bunch of idiots, some of whom are inclined to commit war crimes.  Their behavior back at base is deplorable and dubious, on a sub-frat boy level (as it’s doubtful these jerks attended college).  It’s no wonder that their sheer idiocy gets most of them killed.  (The sole rewarding thing about this movie is that the eponymous Lone Survivor is the only member of the unit who warns against carrying out atrocities against Afghan prisoners.)

Now, before conservatives start denouncing your humble scribe as “elitist,” he hastens to add that vis-à-vis U.S. wars the biggest idiots are the politicians, military brass and corporations who connive and conspire to unnecessarily send Americans into harm’s way at far-flung locales around the world.  Bush is a preternaturally stupid pig who invaded a country that hadn’t attacked us on false pretenses, while O-Bomber ran in 2008 promising to escalate the war in Afghanistan.  In fact, he was so bellicose that candidates Clinton and McCain denounced his announced intentions to cross the border into Pakistan.  Indeed, O-Bomber’s campaign pledge to intensify combat in Afghanistan is just about the only election promise he kept, and the majority of U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan were there by him, not Bush.  (But seriously folks, if this character was a white Anglos Saxon Protestant do you think anybody in his/her right mind would accuse O-Bomber of being any sort of “progressive”?)

Perhaps the most insane path pursued by today’s brainless leaders is, after they unnecessarily invade a country, to unilaterally declare when that war will end.  Can you imagine Lincoln, Grant and Sherman announcing shortly after Fort Sumter was shelled that the Union will defeat the Confederacy by 1864 and withdraw all its troops from the South then?  Or for FDR, Eisenhower and Patton to declare that by 1943 the U.S. military will have defeated Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo and will bring the boys home?  We now see exactly how this arbitrary drawing of dates to proclaim victory has worked out in Iraq.  Such hubristic arrogance is truly mind-boggling.

The U.S. military is often ballyhooed as the world’s top fighting force but for 11 years these losers have been unable to defeat a ragtag force in Afghanistan.  While the Jihadists blow our soldiers and others up in suicide bombings, our veterans kill themselves at an astonishing rate.  (Perhaps in a moment of lucidity they grasp that they’ve been used as Washington’s geopolitical cannon fodder and pawns.)  If they manage to return home outside of a body bag, the VA throws them on the scrap heap because using a cost/benefit analysis, wounded veterans are no longer profitable for the war machine.

In general, Korengal’s soldiers do not express patriotic motives for joining the military; a few espouse altruistic notions of helping the Afghans, while others clearly despise and disdain the people they’re purportedly there to protect and serve (hey, sounds like LAPD!).  Listening to these dogfaces talk and watching how they behave made this reviewer think that the next time some red-white-and-blue redneck tries to justify his joining up by telling you, “I’m protecting your freedom,” the appropriate response is: “Please don’t.  I didn’t ask you to.  In fact, I marched in the streets and pleaded with you not to go.  Now I’m stuck paying for your deployment and for your treatment for lost limbs and/or your PTSD for as long as I have to pay taxes.  And you are NOT serving your country — you’re serving the interests of the 1 percent and carry out policies that make America hated around the world and less safe at home.”  I’m just saying!

Anyway, you can get up front and personal with some of these mostly thoughtless volunteers by buying a ticket to see Korengal at Landmark Nuart Theatre, where it is currently making the world safe for imperialism in L.A.  The doc is rolling out nationwide throughout the summer.

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