I watched Lone Survivor recently with a friend. I’m a fan of war movies (my favorites being “Patton,” “Midway,” and “Gettysburg”), so I figured i’d probably enjoy this one. I was surprised at points at the depth of the film’s narrative. Here, I will be commenting on the content on the film; not on the true story itself or any side-stories that came off of it. There will, of course, be SPOILERS for the movie in what follows. I will not be summarizing the plot, which may easily be found here.
Early in the film, the SEALs encounter a situation which brings them to a trilemma: local goat herders compromise their mission security. They are left with three options: they may let the herders go and run for the hills themselves, knowing that a huge number of hostiles will be pursuing them; they may tie the herders up, hoping that they would be found before they died from local predators or cold; or they could terminate the prisoners. The latter two would violate the rules of war, but the soldiers themselves had little chance of surviving with the first option.
Their decision is eventually made after some tense debate; they free the prisoners and flee to try to call for an extract. The SEALs clearly did the right thing in this situation, not purely from a legal perspective but from an ethical perspective as well. The murder of innocents to preserve one’s own safety is not justified. However, the situation also illustrated the intense complexity of the situation of such a war. It also illustrated the very human emotional struggle we would go through in a similar situation: how would you deal with the trilemma? Can you answer it honestly that you would put your own life in extreme peril? Tough questions.
Kill Everything that Moves?
I was a bit worried that the film might serve to portray a simplistic good/bad guy dichotomy in which anyone who looked remotely Arabic was painted as a villain and everyone that moved was to be killed. That was not at all the case. Although it is clear that the Taliban are the “bad guys” in this film, Marcus Luttrell, the “lone survivor,” is ultimately saved by a local who was following Pashtun codes which grant protection for those in need.
There is thus illustrated in the film a greater range of rightness and wrongness than simply good/bad guy. Ancient customs may present a beautiful way to provide succor for someone in need; even a possible enemy. The adherence to strict codes for hospitality is something to which Christians should relate; one need only to read the Bible to discover numerous commands to give relief to the foreigner in the land of Israel or to take care of those in need. The situation in the movie is made interesting because Luttrell was a combatant and it was truly dangerous to those who would take him in to do so.
A Complex Situation
Christians have a wide variety of views when it comes to war. There are strong traditions of pacifism and just war theory, with a spectrum of variances of these two major positions along the way. I am not a political analyst, nor am I up-to-date on the facts related to the war in Afghanistan. Thus, I’m not going to try to comment on the specifics of the war because I would betray ignorance. However, I do think it is important to note that the film does depict some truly evil actions taken by the Taliban in the beheading of a man simply because he may have spoken to the Americans.
But does the issue of violence end there? Does that mean we should intervene? After all, if Americans weren’t there to begin with, such violence (perhaps?) would not happen, for there would be no Americans to inform. But I, again, want to emphasize I don’t know the whole story. I do think that a book by William Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence, brings into question some of the assumptions we have regarding religion and violence in situations like Afghanistan.
“Lone Survivor” is, unquestionably, a brutal film. There is much violence as well as quite a bit of vulgar language. But amidst these things, the film managed to convey a picture of the war in Afghanistan that was more than a simplistic black-and-white picture. It poignantly portrayed the difficulties of ethical situations in war. It also called into question the notion that there can be quick-and-easy lines drawn for friend and foe. I recommend the film for adults.
Book Review: “The Myth of Religious Violence” by William T. Cavanaugh– I review the book which has led me to discuss the ways the category of religion is used to stigmatize the other and also forced me to rethink a number of issues. I highly recommend this book.
Lone Survivor and Insufferable Anti-American Self-Righteousness– The film has caused quite a bit of critical discussion. Here, a soldier reflects on the reaction to the film. Having now seen the movie, I think the viewpoint offered here is interesting and worth the read.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.