By Jonathan Raab, Uniform Stories Contributor
Ever since I was a little kid, watching films about the heroism in war captured my imagination.
When I came home from Afghanistan in 2008, I struggled to find war films that reflected my own experience, or my own depiction of heroism in war. Afghanistan was nothing like I had imagined before deployment. It was long, boring, sand-covered, and frustrating. The glories and neatly-packaged life lessons portrayed in many war films I had enjoyed and watched religiously were non-existent.
Movies like Wind Talkers, The Hurt Locker, and Saving Private Ryan seemed maudlin and inauthentic. I wanted something pointing to my personal experiences while in war. For those reasons, these six films (and mini-series’) are the ones I deem most authentic.
1. Generation Kill
It wasn’t until I found Generation Kill, an HBO mini-series, that I recognized my own experiences in a production. I was in the Army (not the Marines like Generation Kill features) but I saw myself and my buddies in the show. Not only in details like spending hours in the hot sun and eating disgusting MRE, but also the way the show highlights heroism. In Generation Kill, heroism is by way of the grind: In the face of fear, exhaustion, and anger, soldiers get into trucks and gear up for missions, even when the odds were against them and the likelihood of losing limb or life was high.
The show was lambasted by conservative critics, and by many war-film junkies. They claimed Generation Kill was too boring, or too anti-American. On the contrary, I appreciate the show's audacity to show Marines swearing, being crude, and being bored in Humvees. In my opinion, it is the most accurate and entertaining depicting of contemporary desert ground combat operations I’ve ever seen.
2. The Objective
The Objective is classified as a horror and sci-fi film, but the military details were realistic to me. The film is set in a remote part of Afghanistan. It’s about a military special operations team searching for a mystic religious leader whose influence could turn the tide against the Taliban. It veers into fantasy, but the actors, equipment, and setting all seem authentic. To me, the film is an allegory about the confusion and frustration of the conflict, which is why I deem it authentic.
3. The Pacific
Another HBO mini-series, set in the Pacific during World War II, is a darker companion piece to Band of Brothers. Spoiler alert: The final episode is The Pacific is the best. It focuses on reintegration within a culture that simultaneously wants to congratulate its war heroes while ignoring their trauma.
The Pacific shows the pure horror and moral degradation of being in battle, and the difficulties soldiers face transitioning into civilian life once they returned home.
4. Taking Chance
Based on real events, Kevin Bacon plays Lt. Col. Michael Storbl, who volunteered to escort the body of a fallen Marine to his hometown. There’s not a single action scene in the film, but it shows the care, respect, and crushing sadness involved in the ritualization of acknowledging our war dead.
5. Operation Homecoming
Operation Homecoming is a collection of poetry readings set to music and video vignettes that show military service reuniting with their families. The stories submitted by Iraq War veterans are read and visualized by different actors and filmmakers. Colby Buzzell’s “Men In Black” feature is one of the many that stands out to me as incredible.
6. A Bridge Too Far
This film is one of the few World War II movies that doesn’t glorify combat, rather it examines both the command level’s politicized planning process and the on-the-ground soldiers caught up in a failed operation. While most World War II films emphasized heroism and clarity of purpose, I found my favorite film depicting that specific conflict to be A Bridge Too Far.
Comment below, what is your favorite war movie? Do you like it for its authenticity or for the romanticization of war?