Anyone anywhere who wonders what New Mexico is good for might consider this minor masterpiece of military history of recent vintage. It is as good an illustration of soldiering as can be had within the context of a commercial movie. The man himself, upon whom the film was based, Marcus Luttrell, had (or has now) an encyclopedic knowledge of the Taliban. As much comes from the book of the same title. Readers may not want to purchase a copy. Understandable. Getting to know the Taliban is a thankless task. But so much more does learning about them abound to the credit of a soldier whose assignment it was to engage and eliminate an individual who caused U.S. Marines a great deal of aggravation.
The book is not all about the Taliban. It is also about the SEALs. Only a handful of Navy SEALs are in on the task. In the movie, as they make contact, it becomes clear that the enemy is numerous, well-equipped, in control of higher ground, and very competent. We rightfully call ourselves a superpower. But this word alone has consistently failed to impress the high country Afghanis. Their whole heritage in battle has frequently been against superior forces. They are highly motivated. Their rocky terrain that New Mexico simulates is their only home. Certainly, they will not be permitted to live in civilization with the degree of savagery they consistently maintain. So, they have much to fight for.
So do the SEALs. There is a great deal of pain in the film. It is not for everyone. To read up on the matter, one finds that SEALs are, in addition to all else, prepared to be hurt. Luttrell is also a medic. Later, he will have to doctor himself. What I found interesting about the movie is how well put together it was. It does not just string together action scenes. It shows, procedurally, how soldiers enter a combat zone, climb, navigate, square off, shoot, get pinned down, and fall back. The actual lone survivor somehow manages to keep his head, though by the end, he cannot quite grasp reality. This is the demonic handiwork not of post-trauma but trauma itself.
News commentary is one thing. The Current Affairs section of bookstores are another. In addition, movies provide a decent and useful supplement. We call them bad guys -- these pitiless men in mountain camps with their AK-47s. But they are much worse. It is a good thing that there is not just land but oceans between them and us. Apparently, distance is not quite good enough. As I write this movie-based article Taliban's cousins, Al-Qaeda, are making a comeback in Iraq. This spells trouble. They are wicked. The film depicts the underlying reasons for our reluctance to use ground forces.
But American warriors do not wander behind enemy lines unprepared. A reflection of their preparedness is evident in the film. The book goes into more detail. They are tested by Hell Week and pool competency, both designed to shake loose those not qualified to make the final cut. The remainder are then immersed in demolition and tactics, weaponry, jump school, a medical program, submarine study, sniper lessons, and air control. But they are not automatons. In both the book and the movie, they come across goat farmers who probably double as Taliban spies. They are let go to avoid a media disaster should a liberal press decide to play up the murder of innocents -- so-called. This is a judgment call not without complexity nor risk.
Again, I find it interesting. Soon enough, these few good men will confront eighty or more Taliban. The mission is to kill a single man. But the author and lead character show just how hard the task is. With lightning speed, the SEALs find themselves on the defensive side of the equation. In sum, this film is truly an education. The level of hatred for Americans and ability of terrorists to connive against them and fight harder than anticipated probably does not come across so easily elsewhere. The ongoing war we are involved in is tough, to say the least. To make matters worse, anti-American forces are not nations, as such, but ideological clusters of angry militants. They have capable sympathizers, too. Pakistan, for one.
There is another element in the movie that won my admiration. The lone survivor is helped by an ancient tradition, Lokhay, over two thousand years old. Non-belligerents (No Taliban! No Taliban!) feel compelled to offer aid to a besieged man regardless of his affiliation. Factor this in and try to make sense of what is happening. It is as if everything in human history lying dormant were suddenly resuscitated. Hard times are ahead. The SEALs favor the 23rd Psalm. The author, and protagonist in the movie, reminds us that "in these lawless mountains the plan to smash New York's Twin Towers had been born." Afghanistan is inhospitable terrain. Hide behind boulders and militants blow them away. Fly overhead, and planes are shot. If nothing else, let us not underestimate the bastards.