Required Viewing | Restrepo

This past weekend I finished reading Sebastian Junger’s new book War – which along with the accompanying documentary Restrepo (directed by both Junger and photojournalist Tim Hetherington) – documents one U.S. Army platoon’s entire 15 month deployment to Afghanistan’s Korangal valley, one of the most dangerous places in the world. Rather than focusing on the politics of the War in Afghanistan, both War and Restrepo center on the soldiers on the front lines. The book and film are a sobering look at the everyday GIs that are out there in the shit; dividing their mountainous existence between boredom, firefights, reinforcing their post and dealing with the local Afghans. I highly recommend both the book and the film, which each provide a poignant perspective on the war in Afghanistan, and at the same time manage to avoid the pitfalls of the typical modern war documentary. [Restrepo / War]

"Restrepo" film directors Sebastian Junger (left) and Tim Hetherington (right) at the Restrepo outpost in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan.
Misha Pemble is startled by the sound of gunfire during a firefight across the valley with insurgents. Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan. June 2008.

Further reading: An interview with the Restrepo filmmakers in The Wall Street Journal and previous reports from Junger in Afganistan via Vanity Fair.

Comments on “Required Viewing | Restrepo

    peter on June 28, 2010 9:30 AM:

    war is war however it is portrayed. same as miller high life- redesigned, it’s still american piss water.

    Michael Williams on June 28, 2010 9:45 AM:

    Peter — thank you for your insightful commentary.

    JonIndiaâ„¢ on June 28, 2010 9:52 AM:

    i feel for those dudes, they live in extremes. Extreme boredom, then to crazy ass firefights, and back to extreme boredom. This is gonna be a sweet movie.

    kenyan on June 28, 2010 10:15 AM:

    There really is nothing for us to win in Afghanistan. Our mission has morphed from apprehending those who attacked us to apprehending those who threaten or dislike us for invading their country, to remaking an entire political system and even a culture. I remain highly skeptical that as foreign occupiers we can ever impose Western-style democracy on another country. Our troops have debilitating restrictions on defending themselves against enemies which are so often indistinguishable from civilians. They also face dire setbacks in winning hearts and minds when innocents are mistakenly harmed, which happens all the time. We can never make friends this way, and yet the tactic never works.

    This is an expensive, bloody, endless exercise in futility, though few are willing to admit this just yet. But every second they spend in denial has real cost in lives and livelihoods. Many of us can agree on one thing, however: our military spending in general has grown way out of control. This is largely because fiscal accountability and military budgeting is seen by many as “weak on defense.” This is absolutely wrong in a dangerous way to think. It is certainly possible for the military to waste money, or to spend money counter-productively, and indeed it has. But out of political correctness the military has been getting blank checks from the administrations and Congress for far too long.

    It is important to defend our soil, but let us defend us our own soil instead of defending Europe’s soil. Our willingness to defend Europe enables their lavish social spending at our expense while they criticize our model of capitalism. It’s time they allocated the money for their own defense. The same goes for Korea, Japan and other countries like Egypt and Israel. It is also important that while our troops are in combat, our soldiers have what they need to do the best they can even if we disagree with why they are there. It’s an embarrassment that some soldiers and families have had to buy body armor at their own expense when billions are awarded to politically well-connected defense contractors for weapons systems that don’t work, are over budget and past deadlines.

    This is the kind of waste that needs to end. I firmly believe that there is enough waste in the military budget that we can both save money overall and at the same time make us safer. Of course, the obvious way to save money and be safer is to stop meddling in the affairs of foreign countries and just bring our troops home. This will happen eventually if our empire, like every other fallen empire, insists on spending itself into collapse. If we want to avoid this we must look into ways to bring our costs under control. The military budget must be on the chopping block along with everything else.

    mike on June 28, 2010 11:25 AM:

    Well-put Kenyan, I just read the ‘Runaway General’ article thats been the center of so much attention lately and was just further confused by our role there. I’m sure there’s interest in securing access to the supposed $Trillion worth of Copper and Lithium deposits recently found, but replacing foreign oil dependancy for foreign Lithium dependency….America’s green movement? (sarcasm?)

    Archie on June 28, 2010 12:29 PM:

    i’m dying to read the book. i read a piece junger recently wrote for the daily telegraph mag which was a superb depiction of modern-day warfare.

    Hallock on June 28, 2010 12:44 PM:

    One thing that confuses me, and I see apparent by comments here, is the assimilation of the conflict in Afghanistan as an analog to the conflict in Iraq.

    They are different, by landscape, intent, and origination of conflict. Certainly, parallels between the two can be made, but I do not understand why people are so quick to merge the two as unjustifiable as if they have the same origin.

    Malcolm Love on June 28, 2010 1:28 PM:

    The subject in WAR that is most profound is that of the soldiers’ need of combat life to fulfill themselves as men. Junger spends much time describing how these soldiers are wired for combat and cannot function normally in society. Given their makeup and the eagerness of government and military leaders to accommodate them — is war an inevitable and permanent characteristic of our kind?

    I can’t wait to see RESTREPO — it opens July 2 in Boston, my town.

    K.A. Adams on June 28, 2010 1:58 PM:

    I saw the movie this weekend and it only reinforces the concept that the war in Afghanistan is un-winnable by ANY definition.

    I don’t know what response to Al Qaeda would have been better but this one isn’t working

    The indigenous people neither want nor respect democracy

    And the blood of our young soldiers continues to flow

    Jonas on June 28, 2010 1:59 PM:

    Check this trailer:

    If it does not give you goose bumps, nothing will.

    I am of the opinion that sending a Company of Marines into a desperate situation, a military stalemate as it were, to win the “Hearts and Minds” of an indigenous people is flawed from the start.
    It is like trying to peel a orange with a sledgehammer.

    xris on June 28, 2010 2:54 PM:

    I would suggest reading both of Eric Margolis’ books on the region. This is not a “winnable” situation. The social, historical and ethical ignorance — not to mention hubris — that put the USA and others there is just unbelievable. Ever tried nailing jello to a wall?

    It’s no wonder that McChrystal fell on his sword. He wanted out while pissing on the men who put us there. Petreaus will fair no better. This is the front that brought down Britain as an empire, brought down Russia as a super-power, and it will bring down the USA unless we get out now… maybe it is too late. Seriously fubar.

    Tintin on June 28, 2010 3:02 PM:

    I was pretty happy when my old man came home from Vietnam. He was there for 13 months. He showed a village how to generate income by growing strawberries, make clay roof tiles for army buildings and use bulghar wheat for fish farms. That village made a lotta money. And when the NVA came to attack my dad’s camp – the ville warned my dad. That was early in the war. 1966.

    A year later my dad was home. And another Special Forces Army Cpt went to the camp. A year later he left. Who stayed? The NVA. They never left. Let me ask all of you a question. Who, in that situation, would you back?

    jbjones on June 28, 2010 3:06 PM:

    my neighbor’s son will deploy for afghanistan any day. supposedly his company is replacing the one that has taken the most casualties. obviously his mother is worried sick about it but i told her he’s a good kid, a smart kid, that he has a good head on his shoulders and that he’ll return just fine. she said she wasn’t worried about him, but rather all of the people who will be out there, way out there, trying to kill him.

    as the first time father of an 8th month old son, i can only begin to fathom the depths and complexities of her emotions. i pray for the safe return of all our fighting men and women. i literally pray for it.

    Travis on June 28, 2010 5:00 PM:

    Saw the move last week with the Directors Q and A afterwards. The film does a great job of getting the viewer into the mindset and the chaos/boredom of the soldier’s day to day. And like one of the comments mentioned it shows the sort of epic and impending failure of our mission in Afghanistan. The success of the film is that it doesn’t create a polemic about our motives for being in Afghanistan but rather just how the soldiers have to deal with the situation they find themselves in. And someone had mentioned . This is going to be great documentary, of course I am biased because that is about my youngest brother’s unit. He was with the 2nd Bt 8th Marines Echo company on the first trip to Helmund Province. Needless to say I am ecstatic that he has returned physically unharmed. We can only wait and see how his two wars by the age of 21 have affected him down the line.

    Chris on June 28, 2010 6:17 PM:

    To Peter and MalcolmLove and those like them, I have to say that it must be nice to speak with no experience. As a 22 year veteran of the Army, a combat infantryman, and military physician, I think it it is pathetic to to even have an opinion when one has answered the call. It is emblematic of a gutless and selflish society to clickety-clack on the computer in the comfort of your homes while 18 year old soldiers are willing to lay it on the line. It’s one thing to disparage those misguided politicians but the soldiers that are willing to fight for the freedoms we hold dear should be off limits. MalcolmLove and Peter are anachronsims.They are sad caricatures of the hippies that are now in charge. Look at where they have taken us then see if those two douchebags are worth listening to.

    Michael Williams on June 28, 2010 7:48 PM:

    Please don’t turn this into the comments section on YouTube.

    Ted on June 28, 2010 11:13 PM:

    To be a patriot, one had to say, and keep on saying, ” Our country, right or wrong,” and urge on the little war. Have you not perceived that that phrase is an insult to the nation.

    -Mark Twain 1906

    ryan d on June 28, 2010 11:25 PM:

    What are the “pitfalls of typical modern war documentaries”? Which pitfalls? Which documentaries?

    Thomas on June 29, 2010 10:20 AM:

    Thanks for posting this. I’ll look forward to seeing this film. I recently had a student who had returned from a tour in Iraq and another in Afghanistan. He never mentioned his time in either war (which seems rather odd given that the course was about 20th century warfare) until we had a meeting about his final project. He said that he returned to school because the wars left him with a series of questions he simply could not answer. He hoped that more knowledge and experience would help him gain some perspective and just maybe generate some answers. Quite a remarkable young man.

    Chris, your bravado is a bit strange here. So, you went to fight a war to “protect our freedoms” and then you return and instruct us that we cannot have an opinion on something as dire as the wars that are bankrupting our nation? That seems odd. Should we just cede all opinions, discussions, and perspectives on the war to those who have been there and the journalists and media operating under state and military restrictions? Does that logic also extend to other areas of public interest: finance, education, etc.? Last I checked, we are all paying for this war. Until the Afghan war is funded without taxpayer dollars, I think we all have a vested interest in it.

    xris on June 29, 2010 2:15 PM:

    Comparing Afghanistan with Vietnam is apples and oranges. 50+ years of French and European influence laid a foundation in Nam that the Afghanis have never embraced, never.

    Besides, in Afghanistan the USA is now backing and using the Northern Alliance, the same guys that Russia trained and used to slaughter Afghan civilians in the previous debacle. So, the Mujahideen, who we supported, are now our enemies, and the murdering-Russian puppets our allies. Now, if you were an Afghani, what would you do?

    Fubar, seriously fubar.

    xris on June 29, 2010 2:23 PM:

    The American military has always been under civilian command. This is constitutional. Civilians are supposed to comment on the military. We vote and pay taxes. According to your logic, we should all just shut up. If you want to call the Framers a bunch of hippies, go right ahead, but you are about 200 years late. Sure, Benjamin Franklin smoked some weed, had long hair too, but I think he made some nice distinctions that have kept us all free.

    We are not under Caesar, at least not at this point.

    David on June 29, 2010 3:36 PM:

    I just finished War and thought it was great. And read Matterhorn, a novel about the Vietnam War right after that. They go together very well. Junger is really at his very best here I think.
    Junger also has a fun little bar in NYC called The Half King.
    I think it is going to be mandatory to see this film.

    Victor on June 29, 2010 4:14 PM:

    Waging war and nation building are two very different things. The error of our politicians was to believe they could be combined. There is no way we’ll teach Afghanis to build a democracy and embrace western values. But there was a way for our military to be successful — by letting our forces fight without their hands tied behind their back. The task of defeating the enemy was started successfully (the talibans were routed from power), but never completed. Had we fought in WWII as we have in Iraq and Afghanistan, we would not have been victorious.
    I look forward to watching Restrepo. Any film paying homage to our troops is a rarity worth seeing these days.

    Luke C. on June 29, 2010 4:58 PM:

    The first post by peter seems the most spot-on.

    Duncan on June 29, 2010 8:38 PM:

    This is just the rant of one guy so bear with me, however, it’s really hard for me to watch this & not feel really pissed off about the both wars we’re currently fighting.
    I don’t think Afghanistan is a winnable war however you choose to define that.

    If Obama had a pair of nuts down his pants & was a man, he’d end the damn conflict & get our decent troops out of Dodge, instead of extending & pretending these silly wars from his predecessor.

    RAZ on June 30, 2010 12:36 AM:


    Tintin on July 1, 2010 11:35 AM:

    xris- Seems to me the same problem in Vietnam and Afghanistan is with the rotation of the military. A soldier does his tour and moves on. The Taliban is not moving on. They’re the ones in it for the long haul.

    DoD is also aware that most soldiers are not cut out for ‘Stability Operations.’ The job is to fight and win wars without cultural sensitivity. While Special Forces has always been better with local cultures versus a buck Sgt in the 82nd Airborne – – more and more civilians, some ex-military, are working to win the hearts and minds. These are older men who are doing the same relationship building with locals that my dad did in Vietnam more than 40 years ago.

    But it will not work if we just rotate people in and out.

    Matthew Carter on July 2, 2010 9:54 AM:

    Peter is totally wrong. “War is war no matter how it is portrayed” is a cop out. First, we are fighting an illegal war in Afghanistan. That is different than, say, the American Revolution. Second, the “war” there is the longest “war” we’ve ever been involved in, save the Cold War. Third, the occupation in Afghanistan deserves special attention, given it’s post-modern, robot-armed context. In a world where the real bad guys are being taken out by robots, and the real soldiers are being blown to bits by gangsters, it only serves that Junger shows us the real units on the ground. The absurdity is fitting. Samuel Becket had it right; Vladidmir: “Well? shall we go?” Estragon: “Yes, let’s go.” (They do not move).

    ryan d on July 2, 2010 10:22 AM:

    Still a racket:

    Evan on July 2, 2010 2:10 PM:

    I read the request not to succumb to youtubian commentary, but I cannot stand by and have Peter say that High Life is as bad as war.

    brad on July 3, 2010 2:01 PM:

    Michael, akin to your recommendation of Junger’s book , I will try to bring this post back around from the vomitous dribble of opinions (from what reads more like that part in good will hunting where Damon says he could have recited all the same crap if he spent a buck in overdue fees.. ) Did you guys just recite crap you read in the Times OppEd columns?

    hey tinton – you been over there? I have … you HAVE TO rotate folks in and out – they have families, dummy.

    I have a great recommendation – Read recent release about Pat Tillman’s life – as mapped by the great Jon Krakauer (called Where Men Win Glory) – he writes about pat’s life as it developed – in parallel to how the situation in middle east was building momentum. Very interesting.

    chace on July 3, 2010 7:03 PM:

    The wars which America fights for now are perversions

    ryan d on July 4, 2010 3:14 AM:

    I don’t think Tinton’s point was one of NOT knowing rotations happen, but that it’s impossible to successfully win a war against an opponent that lives the war 24/7 and who is much more organically linked to its outcome (because they can’t rotate out) than the invaders.

    Tintin on July 5, 2010 11:23 AM:

    Gen. Bradley- I forgot about the families. Thanks for reminding me. I was wondering why my grandfather didn’t get rotated in WWII. And why there didn’t seem to be rotation in the Korean War.

    “And we won’t be back till it’s over over there.”

    I’m well aware of the families, Brad. And when I was in the army there was a lot of talk about rotation and how it contributed to losing Vietnam. For some insight, try Hackworth’s, About Face.

    I’d love to hear about your service. I mean it. To that end, please email me at: I just saw the film Friday. I like the SGM’s observation near the end. “everything is about just getting home.” Well, the Taliban are home.

    And what about a draft? I’m sure the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan would be over by now if there was one.

    Peter on July 27, 2010 10:35 AM:

    Restrepo is a truly powerful film… my wife and I saw it a few weeks ago.
    we both agreed that while not having served but knowing several (including my cousin who put in two tours in Iraq with the USMC) that it gives a very visceral experience of what it is like to serve in combat.
    I agree that Restrepo should be required viewing for everyone: hawk or dove, young and old. (with possible exception of military families, for whom this could well be too painful to watch)
    this movie is a powerful reminder that we as a nation should fully understand what we are sending our youth into – combat in any war is a horrific situation.
    I wonder just how damaged (mentally and physically) is this generation of Americans who have fought and died in these two wars over the past nine years?

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