Monday, June 29, 2009

The most entertaining movie review ever

It was inevitable. For all the reviewers that threw a temper tantrum when an Iraq movie had political undertones, there had to be one guy that goes further and laments a lack of the right kind of political undertones. That (dubiously) brave man is Alexander Marlow, a columnist whose review of The Hurt Locker is serious deadpan masquerading as high-satire.

If you get past the use of the word "bromance," Marlow beclowns himself by not actually talking to someone in the military before he rushes to conclude what they must feel about war at the physiological level. He takes issue with the movie's tagline "War is a drug" by breaking it down to moral terms. If war is a drug, and drugs are inherently bad, then war is bad, and eureka! Marlow dug long and hard enough find a nugget of anti-war, leftist, Hollyweird propaganda. By applying the phrase to a peculiar model of moral and political equivalence, Marlow tries to shove the square peg through the round circle to make a claim about the movie's secret perspective.

Marlow quickly neutralizes himself by failing to understand the nature of war. In a bizarre acknowledgment, he tells the reader that he "has not ruled out a stint in the military." That must give his readership pause; he has at least considered service. His strenuous claim is a feeble attempt to put forth some understanding of the military and war. Sadly, Marlow investigates the political significance of "war is a drug" rather than consider what the phrase actually implies. War is indeed is a drug, a horribly destructive thing men do to themselves that gives a rush unlike anything you can find on this planet. I've never had heroin or cocaine, but I bet it hovers near the feeling of a sniper's bullet missing your head by inches. Or the tremor in your guts when you have a live body in your sights - how the world drops away, and there isn't a thing on the planet that matters more than you, him and the rifle in your hands. And when those rounds explode out of the barrel in a brilliant flash and the acrid smell of gunpowder burns your nostrils, you know that no amount of skydiving or drag racing or sex will ever come close to what war makes you feel in your bones. That's why I can't stop getting speeding tickets or rewatching old videos from my deployment. I want that feeling back. I haven't kicked the war habit yet.

One particular criticism of the movie is rife with unintentional hilarity. Marlow quips, "There is no plot. Just a series of unrelated missions. Much like my high school dates, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this thing wasn’t going anywhere." Marlow, to his credit, accidentally quoted the thought of every infantryman in history without ever speaking to one. From the street level, there is no plot in war, just a series of unrelated missions that fit in The Big Picture on some Powerpoint presentation. Especially in EOD units where there literally is no mission, just bomb interdiction. They get a call to check out a possible threat and move to disarm it. Over and over like Groundhog Day. There is nothing romantic about that procedure. That's the nature of the game. In my infantry unit, protecting each other and bringing everyone home safe was the primary goal. Bringing democracy to the proud people of Iraq and "quashing evil" was an afterthought. There is no way those elements could come across in a movie without feeling forced or stilted. Unfortunately, obtuse people like Marlow absolutely hate it when a movie, book, TV show without an overt political agenda emerges and forces the audience to make up their own mind. They'd rather watch Autobots kick over commie tanks with American soldiers in the background than watch an Iraq movie and weigh the contents seriously.

You have to wonder about a writer when he bemoans "Won't you please think of the Iraqis?!" in a review of a movie about American soldiers. It's like asking why James Cameron didn't focus more on the iceberg in Titanic. While important, it's secondary to the conflict. The same goes for The Hurt Locker. The conflict is between a man and his EOD team, and from what I can tell, the inner conflict he faces when he goes outside the wire to confront buried IEDs. It's almost an art form to be so intellectually dishonest, and Marlow seems to be an up and coming Picasso.

Above: The lack of Iraqis in this picture is absurd. It just has an American soldier tugging on an IED wire! OUTRAGEOUS!

Even if you take away his silly posturing about what a war movie should be, he's just not very convincing with his argument. Iraq movies have been absolute garbage so far, but each should be taken individually instead of blurting out a kneejerk "liberal bullshit!" before the previews start. It's base, it's silly, and if you depend on vacuous reviews to provide insight, you might let a good movie slip by. I'll see the movie on opening day and write a review here, but I'll have to leave my rose-colored glasses and handheld patriotism detector in the closet and judge the movies on its own merits. You know, the way movie reviews used to be written.

Edit: 7:45 PM central 6/29/09 - Removed ad-hominem comments. I'm trying to broaden discourse, not debase it.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Father and Son

Click out of that Michael Jackson retrospective and read about the life and death of someone who mattered.

(Thanks Sal for the link.)

The Baqubah Dilemma

While Mosul is getting a lot of press lately (thanks Stars and Stripes), the residents of another smorgasbord of insurgent activity are rethinking the June 30 pullout deadline. Baqubah is still a tangled mess of weapons trafficking, cross border movement and militia activity (the bad kind, not the sometimes-good kind). As of late 2007, they had the most shoddy, unprofessional and lazy Iraqi units I saw from Nineveh to Baghdad. Mosul and Baghdad won't be the cities to look at when June 30 rolls around. All eyes will be on Baqubah and the ISF there. The locals don't seem to have a vote of confidence, so let's hope they can hold the line. If it's going to break anywhere, it will be there.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Spoiler Alert!

Sometimes I hate war movies. Mistakes in uniforms, rank, SOPs and military vernacular that should have been caught by technical advisers are left staring at you in the face (the spec-4 master sergeant in Basic comes to mind). I hope the upcoming Iraq movie The Hurt Locker is generally free of errors, but I could not help but notice the nametape switcheroo from this clip:

For the uninitiated, the U.S. Army goes on the left side of your chest. Last name on the right.

Hey, Hollywood. I'm looking for a job, and you guys need some help. Just sayin'.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

First Cav and MND-N show their ass in Mosul

This is everywhere, as it should be:

In a story on its Web site, the newspaper known as Stripes said the military violated a congressional mandate of editorial independence by rejecting a request to embed reporter Heath Druzin with the U.S. Army's 1st Cavalry Division, which is attempting to secure the city of Mosul.

Public affairs officer Major Ramona Bellard denied the request of Heath Druzin, a Stripes reporter, to embed in Mosul after "various problems" in his reporting. Major Bellard injected herself into the paper's editorial process after Druzin reported "many Mosul residents would like the American soldiers to leave and hand over security tasks to Iraqi forces," a shocking revelation to a public affairs officer whose only interaction with real Iraqis is probably a visit to her FOB's Pizza Hut.

A spokesman for MND-N pumps up volume:

"U.S. Army units in Iraq remain committed to the media embed program and appreciate objective media reporting," said Lt. Col. David H. Patterson Jr., a spokesman for Multi-National Corps-Iraq. "The relationship that Druzin established with the command during a previous embed did not facilitate being invited back."

Translation? "You didn't pick the stories we wanted. Get lost."

The problem with the whole scenario is the Stars and Stripes is a DOD funded newspaper that retains First Amendment rights. Congress created the newspaper in the 1940s with those guidelines specifically to prevent interference from commanders, the kind interference that we're seeing now. The Army is showing a pretty weak hand with their decision. Their best argument is Druzin didn't purposely seek out a fuzzy, feel good sunshine story. What the good colonel and major fail to realize is that the opinion of Mosul residents is a very important story. Especially on the heels of an Iraqi city pullout that may or may not include Mosul. That the story doesn't sit well with some lite colonel is trivial when considering the men and women on the ground in Mosul. They need to know if there is a certain resentment to their presence, especially in specific neighborhoods, so they can tailor operations to it. Counterinsurgency principles demand acute awareness of surroundings, house to house and sheik to sheik. That includes the amount of gratitude, or resentment, that is in the air.

When I went to DC for the Milblogger's Conference a couple months ago, it included a visit to the Pentagon to meet with public affairs liaisons to trumpet the military's outreach to social networking and new media. They sought to bring down the wall that has traditionally separated the public and the military so a free exchange of information could occur. This whole debacle flies in the face of the hardworking PAOs in the Pentagon trying to coexist with the new and old media. Denying an embed and giving the flimsiest of reasons isn't helping anyone and instead halts the advance of the information warfare front.

UPDATE: Helpful reader LL links to two of Druzin's reports from Mosul. One of them appears to be the offending article. The other is pretty positive. Both are evenhanded and fair. Like I said in the comments section, it's up to MND-N to come up with some compelling evidence beyond "he should have picked better stories."

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

US on track to pull out of Iraqi cities

Not so fast, Mosul:

American soldiers who had been expected to withdraw from their bases within Mosul by the June 30 deadline might be allowed to stay under an agreement being finalized with the Iraqi government, United States officials say.

"We're waiting for a final decision, and we're prepared to execute whatever they tell us to execute," says Col. Gary Volesky, commander of the 1st Cavalry Division's 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team.

Monday, June 22, 2009

BoB: Redux

Band of Brothers solidified my desire to be in the Army. I couldn't get enough of the series when it premiered when I was in high school. Now years later, Spielberg and Tom Hanks are at it again. The Pacific isn't set to air until 2010, but you van check out the trailer here. It's a ten part miniseries, so I imagine it'll have the same narrative structure as Band of Brothers.

Stupid premium channels. I might have to wait for the Blu-Ray release.

UPDATE: Darrell "Shifty" Powers, the sharpshooting Southern gentleman from Band of Brothers, has died at the age of 86. Farewell paratrooper.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

An Iraq movie that might not suck

The Hurt Locker is an upcoming movie about EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) in Iraq. From IMDB:

An intense portrayal of elite soldiers who have one of the most dangerous jobs in the world: disarming bombs in the heat of combat. When a new sergeant, James, takes over a highly trained bomb disposal team amidst violent conflict, he surprises his two subordinates, Sanborn and Eldridge, by recklessly plunging them into a deadly game of urban combat.

Check out the trailer. Sure to raise some goosebumps.

New Photo Album

The photos I took in Iraq have always complemented the narratives I've spun over the years. I never did anything special to them, just a simple resize and that was it. But now that I've been playing with Picasa for awhile, I thought it was time I revamped my pictures. Please take a moment to browse through my new Flickr account. There you will find not just familiar images, but never before seen photos. Enjoy!

Friday, June 19, 2009

More Stryker brigades on the way?

I've said it many times: the Stryker is the perfect vehicle for counterinsurgency operations in Iraq. Tougher than a Humvee and smaller than a tank, it moves nimbly through crowded markets and streets that would otherwise thwart a Bradley. While the 5th Stryker Brigade will test its mettle in Afghanistan for the first time this summer, the Army is looking to add more Stryker brigades to the arsenal:

“There are about 3,600 Stryker vehicles, and over 2,700 have been fielded to-date. There are seven Stryker brigades. One of the things the Army is looking at in terms of force structure is, do we need more Stryker brigades to provide a balanced force with different capabilities across the spectrum?” said Lt. Gen. Ross Thompson, military deputy to the Asst. Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

A Noble Undertaking

On leave in April, 2007:

Pointe-du-Hoc, Normandy

American Cemetery Statue

Steve, reflecting on wars past and present

Among the fallen

A roundup of required reading.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

AoD: The True Hollywood Story

Question: What does, Craigslist and this blog have in common? Besides being read by degenerates and fecal maniacs (please don't Google that), those sites comprise the list of's The Web's Most Controversial Web Sites feature. So in spirit of raising a good ol' fashioned ruckus, I dug up some old pictures from my deployment that relate a bit to the topic. For longtime readers of the blog, it'll be a stroll down memory lane. For you new cats, I hope you enjoy and take a look around.

Mistaken Identity

Much has been said about the effectiveness of flipping insurgent loyalties to the home team, but in the beginning things were very tense indeed. The 1920 Revolution Brigade was our enemy for the better part of the year, but in a surreal twist, they broke with Al-Qaeda and began to work with us against their former partners. From the start we shared a mutual distrust but followed through with our orders. That didn't curtail the complications and confusion of urban warfare; we often killed members of the new militia force because they looked just like the other bad guys. The car pictured above was the aftermath after one such instance, torn to pieces by a gunship. Look closely and you can see the blood among the grass.

Enemies with Benefits

Things weren't always so tense with the 1920s folks. After working with them for a few weeks, it was common to see their checkpoints all around Baqubah. After a rash of accidental killings, they adopted a simple uniform: brown army t-shirts and orange reflective belts. That would help discriminating American soldiers with discerning quasi-foe and foe. But their power and influence grew by the day, and soon they were operating with little supervision from us and likely no guidance from legitimate Iraqi security forces. The image above comes from a checkpoint run exclusively by the 1920s - checking the ID papers of anyone that ventured past.

Blackwater Down

I've detailed the events of the downing of a Blackwater Security helicopter in downdown Baghdad before, but I haven't shown the angle of the crash that you see above. You can see where the bodies of the operators were dragged out of the chopper and onto the ground, nearly taken away by vicious insurgents before we chased them off. The mission quickly turned from a rescue to the recovery of five dead Americans, climaxing into an hour long shootout among high rise buildings. Fortunately we recovered the remains but arrived too late to save lives.

Above: James after the firefight. Spent shell casings litter the ground.

PR Stunt

One of the more puzzling moments of the deployment came in our fifteen and final month. Our undermanned unit held the city of Baqubah months before reinforcements arrived to help us overtake and pacify the city completely. Diyala Province, as a result, was kicked firmly out of the "enemy stronghold" column into "troubled region" status. To witness the dramatic change, the deputy prime minister of Iraq came to visit our neck of the woods to show what kind of progress was being made. In tow were members of the media - the LA Times, New York Times and Associated Press. What they didn't cover in their reports was the complete lockdown of the sector once the deputy prime minister arrived. Photographers were snapping images of crowded markets and cafes. People were trying to leave out of concern there would be an attempt on the deputy's life, but the cordon was sealed. No one in our out. The result? "Salih told reporters he was encouraged by what he saw in Baqubah, the provincial capital: streets full of shoppers, produce and sodas for sale in the market, and men with graying beards smoking cigarettes and sipping tea at a cafe."

And who could forget: mooning Apache helicopters after a long, hard day on patrol: