RANGER AGAINST WAR: Which Way is the Front Line From Here? <

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Which Way is the Front Line From Here?

--WSJ Breakfast Briefing w/ 
Sebastian Junger

 Third boxcar, midnight train
Destination...Bangor, Maine.
Old worn out suits and shoes,
I don't pay no union dues 
 --King of the Road,
 Roger Miller

"Happy Birthday!" cried the four old grandparents as
Charlie came into their room early the next morning.

"Charlie smiled nervously and sat down on the edge
of the bed. He was holding his present, his only present,
very carefully in his two hands.
FUDGEMALLOW DELIGHT, it said on the wrapper."
--Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,
Roald Dahl

[Happy Birthday, to me.]

Mr. Junger has created a moving homage to his friend and fellow film maker, Tim Hetherington, in his Which Way is the Front Line From Here? screened yesterday at the third annual FSU Student Veteran Film Festival.

I see his film Restrepo differently from Ranger, however. The  documentarian's hand was subdued but quite visible in scenes like that of the flummoxed village elder before a Capri Sun drink packet; the frustration of the Captain with the tribal elders he felt were misleading him, and the relentless view into the soldier's faces as they appeared many leagues away from the camera's lens. As Junger said yesterday, the role of the film maker is not to tell you what to think, but rather, what to think about.

The relationship of Mr. Hetherington and Mr. Junger to the wars they covered is complicated, as they say. Mr. Junger's book War covers some of this ground. He looks at war from a sociological viewpoint, and seems most fascinated by the connections between soldiers and the even finer interstitial zones therein. He explained why soldiers miss war in an NPR interview, arguing that understanding is key to their successful reintegration into society.

Hetherington, who died from a mortar round while covering events in Libya in 2011, shared Mr. Junger's interest in the group dynamics of the men who carry out the war policies of their nation or tribal affiliations. In one outtake from the film, Restrepo, Hetherington had labeled that rocky outpost stripped of any civilizing luxuries as a "Man Eden", and we hear a voice over saying that regardless of a man's status or achievements off of the COP, if he's not shoveling sand into a HESCO, he's nothing. There is no "man-caving" to compare to the adrenaline of battle.

While Junger admits this, he said he decided to stop covering war within the hour of hearing of Tim's death. He says that he and Hetherington understood that by the act of documenting these tragedies, they were also playing a part in them. Though both had a goal of understanding how and why men commit these atrocities, they realized that they were at once outside of the action and yet also somehow complicit.

Perhaps Junger understood that though there would always be a new conflict to record, it would simply be a reiteration of the same actions in a new town, with men wearing different uniforms and perhaps toting different weapons; the urge to war always emanated from the same impulses, the bonds between the soldiers would remain. His work will continue now off the front lines.

In recognition of the freelance journalists who will continue the field work -- often without any sponsorship due to the extreme cutbacks in foreign news bureaus -- he has launched the non-profit  Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues (RISC) to help train reporters gratis in basic life-saving procedures. He formed it in response to Hetherington's death, which might have been prevented had someone in his group known basic triage procedure.

Junger's next project involves a cross-country tour of the United States following railroad lines which he took with a couple of ex-soldiers. They lived off the land and gathered perspectives from individuals encountered along the way vis-a vis war.

We wish him luck in his continued endeavors to reveal and heal fractured peoples.

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