Check out last night’s reaction from Lone Survivor author and former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell when CNN’s Jake Tapper says that watching Peter Berg‘s Lone Survivor imparts a sense of “hopelessness” about the deaths in the Afghanistan War. To which Luttrell responds, “You’re telling me my guys died for nothing?” Luttrell’s equation is more or less “these were good guys who were loyal, strong and true, so their deaths can’t be futile — their deaths have to ring with honor.” Really? Okay. Question for Luttrell: Did the 58,000 U.S. casualties during the Vietnam War die for something? If so, what was that?
If there’s anything lacking in Lone Survivor, a film I greatly admire for its versimilitude, it’s a recognition of the basic reality behind the American military effort in Afghanistan, which is that it’s been more or less futile from the get-go. However right or noble the goal might have been (i.e., defeat the Taliban and other elements contributing to anti-U.S. terrorism, support pro-Democratic, pro-U.S. factions), it’s always been a can’t-win situation. The invader cannot prevail. The invader will always go home sooner or later.
And so the three out of four Navy Seals who spearheaded Operation Red Wings died, in a sense, for nothing. Certainly in a geopolitical sense. They honored themselves by the vigorous way they fought and watched each other’s back, but in terms of having been part of a massive effort that accomplished its goals? Nope.
There’s no question that Lone Survivor lies through omission about what’s really going on in Afghanistan in the broader, bigger-picture sense. It honors the toughness and the bond of brotherhood between the four leads (played by Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster) and it’s certainly a frank depiction of the horrors of combat when things go wrong. But the frankness is selective, in a sense. For realism’s sake Lone Survivor chooses to isolate its audience inside the operational mentality of the SEALs. “Here’s the job…let’s do the job…oh, shit, the job isn’t going well.” Not a word or a thought is given to the feelings of confusion or frustration or futility that surely existed over there, at least part of the time, for all U.S. combatants.
Forget the whys and the wherefores, the film is saying, and just concentrate on the fact that these guys were men of incredible dedication and loyalty, and that their lives were defined by strength of body and character and spirit, and that it was just ghastly that they bought it over there. Don’t worry yourself about why they were there in the first place or what the chances of success were and what the whole damn war may have been about. That’s another movie. That’s not the movie we’re making here.