This piece originally appeared at TomDispatch.
I’ve never heard a shot fired in anger. But I might know a little bit more about war than Sebastian Junger.
Previously best known as the author of The Perfect Storm, Junger, a New York–based reporter who has covered African wars and the Kosovo killing fields, and Tim Hetherington, an acclaimed filmmaker and photographer with extensive experience in conflict zones, heard many such shots, fired by Americans and Afghans, as they made their new documentary film Restrepo—about an isolated combat outpost named after a beloved medic killed in a firefight. There, they chronicled the lives of US soldiers from Battle Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, during a tour of duty in eastern Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley.
The film has been almost universally praised by mainstream reviewers and was awarded the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. A New York Times "critics’ pick," Restrepo moved the newspaper’s A.O. Scott to end his glowing review by telling readers: "As the war in Afghanistan returns to the front pages and the national debate, we owe the men in ‘Restrepo,’ at the very least, 90 minutes or so of our attention." In the Los Angeles Times, reviewer Betsy Sharkey concluded in similar fashion: "What ‘Restrepo’ does so dramatically, so convincingly, is make the abstract concrete, giving the soldiers on the front lines faces and voices."
Along with Hetherington, Junger, who has also recently experienced great success with his companion book War, shot about 150 hours of footage in the Korengal Valley in 2007 and 2008 during a combined ten trips to the country. "This is war, full stop," reads website prose above their directors’ statement about the film.
Junger and Hetherington may know something about Afghanistan, a good deal about combat and even more about modern American troops, but there’s precious little evidence in Restrepo that—despite the title of Junger’s book—they know the true face of war.
War on Your Doorstep
Earlier this year, Junger reviewed a new Vietnam War novel, veteran Karl Marlantes’s Matterhorn, for the New York Times Book Review. In a glowing front-page appraisal, he wrote, "Combat is not really what ‘Matterhorn’ is about; it is about war. And in Marlantes’s hands, war is a confusing and rich world where some men die heroically, others die because of bureaucratic stupidity, and a few are deliberately killed by platoon-mates bearing a grudge." Analyzing Junger’s misreading of Matterhorn helps to unlock his misconceptions about war and explains the problems that dog his otherwise cinematically-pleasing, and in some ways useful, film.