I went and watched Lone Survivor. As was no surprise — the audience preferred a fairly apolitical war movie more than the reviewers did.
Peter Berg may be a victim of Hollywood dogma in some of his more vocal opinions, but his dad is a Naval Historian, which seems to keep him grounded and from running way off the rails on his war movies like most of Hollywood does. And while there is a bit of Hollywood’ing in the film, it stayed fairly true to the book, which is way more honest view of the military than what usually comes out of the land of fake boobs and faker people.
(NOTE: I alternated growing up between rural Orange County, and spending my summers in Hollywood. I used to walk sunset strip, and hunt in Griffith park with my homemade silenced pistol).
Hollywood is often the land of followers, which is why the same film made over and over again, keeps winning awards for such imagination as being French Bean Vanilla, instead of ordinary Vanilla. Once Coppola won awards of Apocalypse Now in the late 70’s, the recipe was set for Hollywood for every movie since then:
(1) Take every John Kerry/Jane Fonda’esque exaggerated story of everything bad that everyone ever imagined happening in a 15+ year war
(2) Mix liberally, and put them altogether and happening in 120 minutes to your lead characters
(3) show 1/2 the military as incompetent, and the other half (those that ignore all authority and are openly rebellious to their chain of command) as broken because of the horrors of war, but the only sane ones left.
And viola: Hollywood liberal dogma, injected on your audience, over and over again. No good could come out of war. The best characters would later come to reject what they did. And anyone that believed in the military or their job would either come to reject it, be an asshole, or get killed for being too gung ho.
Now there were the invincible action flicks as well, that glorified war and hollywood plugged their noses and made money on. But those were just about appeasing the ignorant with over-the-top action, and showed good versus evil in a very cartoonish setting, so would never win awards. I think they were intentionally stupid plots and over-the-top action to mock anyone that would pay to see them.
The REAL Hollywood depth, and award winners would be the same liberal view of the military, over and over again (disturbed people either in war, or because of the military): Apocalypse Now, The Boys in Company C, Rolling Thunder, Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, Hamburger Hill, MASH, POW The Escape, Casualties of War, Rules of Engagement. And about disturbed folks coming home, Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, Born on the Fourth of July, Welcome Home, Heroes, Coming Home, The War at Home, Jackknife and so on, and so on. All selling the same message about the military. You can’t be in there if you’re sane, and once the war is over, you’ll adjust poorly to not killing people as a way of resolving problems. Even the best they could create (and claim were balanced) like Saving Private Ryan, Forrest Gump or The Hurt Locker, had the same undertones, they just weren’t quite as blunt about it. So you kind of know what to expect.
Surprisingly, this wasn’t that.
It was a book written by an actual military person, and Berg and team seemed to stick fairly close to it. The military guys were not disturbed misogynistic jerks. They were professionals, mostly family men, trying to do a nasty but necessary job, of killing really really bad people. And yes, the Military did SNAFU things, but it didn’t try to overstate it. They were running many missions in many places, people really cared what happened to other military folks, and were trying to do the best things they could, in some pretty shitty situations.
A friend I saw it with had read the book. And where the movie deviated from the book, you could smell Hollywood. Instead of one character getting killed unceremoniously killed by a sniper later, he had to make the suicide charge across open terrain in order to radio home. There had to be an argument about whether they should kill a shepherd who would report them, instead of them following their rules of war automatically (and not killing a unarmed prisoner). And instead of sliding down shale mountains, they had to tumble and run into trees that would kill the ordinary person. But it stayed true in most of the important ways. You had pretty good guys, trying to stop generally pretty foul guys. And whether you agree with Afghan war or not, there were some good civilians in pretty sucky situations, and sometimes doing the right thing, in spite of great personal risk.
So the fact that it tried to stay truer to the actual events, may not have made it the best action film, or most entertaining war film to come out of Hollywood. But it make it one of the better ones.
While thinking about this, I was thinking about curious (and ignorant) Hollywood/Media meme’s about the military and how wrong they get it. (Or how much omitting context confuses the public).
Look, the military screws things up a lot. But how often do you hear about how many things they get right? They do the latter far more than the former: it’s just the screw ups make news, and are quite significant.
You hear about suicide rates — which is a serious problem. But do you ever get context?
The military has a suicide rate of 30 per 100K, which means a rate of .03% — or 99.97% are not suicidal. That number is roughly double national averages (2x), which isn’t good. But averages go up with low-income, youth, travel/unstable home, and stressful professions. Let’s pretend there was a journalist out there to give you context of what that means compared to other things?
Well that puts military suicides at just a tad worse1.9x for Doctors, Marine Engineers or 1.7x Dentists and 1.6 Veterinarians, and 1.5 Finance workers. For White Women, physicians were 2.8x, sales was 2.4x, and Police was 2x national averages. For black males, being a detective in the police was 2.5x more likely suicide far exceeds the military. For Black Women, protective service was 2.8x. And sales supervisor or packing machine operators were roughly equal to military suicide rates at 2x.
So when you hear of military suicides, this isn’t to say you shouldn’t care. It’s an issue that we should try to address. But we should also not let it play into this "crazy" soldier syndrome that the media is trying to sell us. They’re less crazy than your doctor, despite having a more stressful job. And if there’s a problem with the single-payer healthcare (the VHA), perhaps the problem is the structure of the system itself? Maybe we should just give the military vouchers to get private health insurance instead?