War docu 'Korengal' explores Afghan vets

Posted: June 27, 2014

SOME SAY there's nothing new in the Afghan war documentary "Korengal," but the context of its release certainly makes it feel urgent.

Surely the movie should be seen by Tony Blair and/or Dick Cheney, who are now trying to put their let's-go-back-to-Iraq band (the Zombies?) back together.

"Korengal" is assembled from footage Sebastian Junger (and killed-on-the-job war cinematographer Tim Hetherington) couldn't fit into "Restrepo," the you-are-there Afghan war documentary about GIs stationed at a remote outpost on a mountain top overlooking a Taliban-infested valley, one of the few really good views of the war afforded moviegoers during that conflict.

"Korengal" revisits some of the men featured in the original, talking to them stateside about their experiences. They make poignant if not unprecedented insights into the warrior code, and into the complicated lives of stateside veterans.

Among these insights: Soldiers fight not for a cause, but for the guys next to them. The men are forever marked by the violent death of comrades, and by the killing they did, sometimes with an unnerving enthusiasm. Soldiers cannot find relationships in civilian life to match the bonds of brotherhood forged under fire, they never recover the vividness of life lived at the point of death.

Most affecting is the remark by the veteran who does not want to be told that he did what he had to do, because - in his words - he didn't have to. He volunteered to fight, to jump out of an airplane, to go to the front lines. He killed people, and now wonders if God hates him - wonders if "I did what I had to do" will pass muster with whomever greets him at the gates of heaven.

It's hard not to contrast the haunted ambivalence of men like this - men who do the actual fighting and killing and dying - with the cartoon "Team America" certainty of interventionists like Cheney, who always seem so sure that bloody grievances between Sunni and Shia dating back to A.D. 680 could be resolved by just one more U.S. troop deployment, a few more dead.

I don't know who will greet the haunted soldier of "Korengal" on his day of reckoning at the pearly gates, but right now, my money is not on our former vice president.

Blog: philly.com/KeepItReel

Online: ph.ly/Movies

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