Wednesday, July 8, 2009
The Hurt Locker, a film about a bomb squad in Iraq is a most amazing film, and one of the few films of recent vintage which actually tells the truth about what it means to be a professional soldier. Indeed, it is so different from the usual politically charged tripe about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that one wonders how the director Kathryn Bigelow ever got it made.
Indeed, ever since Vietnam, American servicemen, especially those in enlisted status have been characterized by the mediaocrity as using the services as a kind of last resort, a collection of losers at the bottom of the social barrel who join the Army to suck up benefits they could not get as civilians. Hollywood, which gets its cue from the same source, has often failed to understand the motivation of the professional soldier.
At the screening I attended, Kathryn Bigelow was on hand to answer questions posed by the audience. It was a theater in the west side of Manhattan, a place that is normally characterized as ground zero of the liberal intellectual elite, where ferment, contention and argument are in the oxygen.
By itself the movie is mesmerizing and the puzzle of the bomb defuser’s motivation is posed by a quote at the beginning that indicates that war was as addictive as drugs. The soldier defuser, despite the danger and risk, clearly loves his work. Played by a superb actor, he brings to his role absolute fidelity and while those who asked questions admired the movie, they seemed unable to understand the man’s motivation, which was far from what passed for the prevailing opinion in this area.
I wished I had gotten up and asked a question largely because I wanted instead to make an assertion based on my own experience as a soldier. I was more of an observer, a reluctant conscript, but I did observe the professional soldier in action. Like any true professional, a dancer, a writer, a mechanic, an athlete and on and on, the consummate professional is indeed addicted to his work. In the case of the hero of this movie, yes he is addicted to his job, not war, but the job itself.
This man is proud of his expertise. Despite the horrendous risk and danger, he loves the defusing process, the challenge of the wiring, the instinctive discovery of how the bomb was constructed and placed for maximum impact. He must get into the mind and motivation of the bomber to fulfill the objective of his job.
The bottom line of his effort is to prevent the bomb from killing people. Thus, the movie at its heart is about saving lives. By the tenor of the questions asked of Ms. Bigelow, the audience seemed reluctant to admit that it was possible for a soldier to love his work and to be proud of his expertise.
Indeed, the movie makes clear that the soldier feels never more alive than when he is doing his job on the battlefield. In recent years, however one feels about the origins and conduct of the various wars in which America has been engaged, somehow the military man has suffered the brunt of the negative criticism. This movie turns that concept on its head.
Looking back on my years in the Army, I have come to deeply respect the professional soldier. I saw many of them in action, doing their job with professional pride, just as in any occupation and calling. These are not people at the bottom, not, as some have portrayed them, life’s losers. No way. We are lucky to have them.
Kathryn Bigelow and her team are to be congratulated for their courage and persistence in getting this independent film made.
Posted by Warren Adler at 9:18 PM