January 17, 2014

It Should Be Tough

Lone Survivor  is a hard movie to sit through, and that’s a good thing. Bringing to life former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell’s book by the same name, the movie recounts the story of Luttrell’s miraculous survival when his four-man team is ambushed by a group of Taliban fighters in June 2005 in Kunar Province, Afghanistan. 19 Special Operations troops died during the initial firefight and rescue mission. Unexpectedly, the strong camaraderie between the team members and graphic nature of the violence depicted makes the audience feel these losses. Every shot, scrape, tortured breath, and broken bone these men experienced is projected into the theater. The hardships become real, and for a brief moment, the viewers are connected to the military community that is for all intents and purposes, independent of the United States public.

In November 2012, The Onion published an article called “Nation Horrified to Learn about War in Afghanistan While Reading up on Petraeus Sex Scandal.” With its usually spot-on satire, The Onion nails it as the piece tackles the hard truth that a large majority of Americans are not engaged with anyone associated with the United States military, and consequently, the wars they are fighting. The creation of an all-volunteer force meant a vast majority of Americans no longer had, or have, a stake in the wars the military are fighting. There is no longer an investment, and subsequently, no reason to pay attention. Numerically, “less than 0.5 percent of the population serves in the armed forces, compared with more than 12 percent during World War II,” and the “drift” occurring between that military and non-military populations is only likely to increase.

Conversely, and because of this disconnect, there is an enormous respect throughout American society for service members. “Thank you for your service” is a phrase uttered in baseball stadiums, restaurants, and airports, among other places, with genuine sincerity, and a plethora of perks are available to active-military members. The federal government and all 50 states offer a variety of services and programs aimed at helping them through their service-connected injuries, getting them through school and off the streets, and re-integrating veterans into society. I’ve noticed a recent upswing in orchestrated “surprise” reunions between deployed service members and their families at major sporting events, much to the delight of spectators. That reunion is an incredible moment every time.

But a danger lies within the selectivity of these engagements. The reunion between a deployed service member and his or her loved ones is the greatest moment that a family can experience. The 3am call from Afghanistan that a soldiers has been injured is not depicted at a Nationals game. Neither is the state of mind each wife, husband, mother or father must endure while always potentially waiting for two officers to knock on their door with the worst news imaginable. Those difficult times are harder to face, and the remaining .95 percent of the populations need, at the very least, to be reminded of those moments. By seeing only the good, the bad is often overshadowed and minimalized. 

A strength of Lone Survivor is that it exposes the public to some of the hardships members of the military and their families face. The movie succumbs to some Hollywood interpretation at times, which Luttrell admits to in one interview, but is overall on the mark. The film successfully depicts a compelling tale, and is not just a tribute to Navy SEALs but to all of the men and women in uniform. The gruesomeness is reminiscent of Restrepo, and does not cut corners on the realities of war. Most importantly, though, it hits you in the gut by making you suffer with those SEALs on the ground. In doing so, it temporarily brings together the military and the rest of American society—however briefly. Service members fully appreciate every ‘thank you’ that comes their way. But behind that ‘thank you’ must come an uncensored understanding of what exactly those men and women face. Watch Lone Survivor, and see for yourself.

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