America’s meddling

This is the America’s meddling comic take a bit of time and read the synopsis at the end and you’ll get a better understanding.

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Weekly shuras, and all that

An excellent review of three recent books on Afghanistan. Running through my mind were the images of the American Captain in “Restrepo” participating in the weekly shuras with the village elders.


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Final Essay: Revisiting Aslan

Your final for this class consists of a revision of your first writing assignment in which you were asked to choose the most important theme from Aslan’s Beyond Fundamentalism and discuss why it was the most important.

For this revision we would like you to reassess your point of view in light of everything that you have read, written, seen over the course of the semester.

You should approach this in a few steps:

  1. Re-read your essay and determine what your argument was.  Find it and write it down.
  2. Knowing what you know now, ask yourself whether or not you feel the same way still.  Go back through the syllabus, your notes, your blog posts, your classmates’ posts, looking for specific readings, discussions, films, or overall course themes that you feel changed the way you look at Aslan’s book and your reaction to it.
  3. Sit down and begin writing about how the new knowledge, understanding, or stance that you have come to as a result of that reading, discussion, film theme has changed your perspective. Be sure to cite those readings, posts, and/or discussions.
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A True War Story… The Real Deal


“A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things they have always one.

If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue.”


“The raiding team then presented the President with an American flag that had been on board the rescue Chinook. Measuring three feet by five, the flag had been stretched, ironed, and framed. The SEALs and the pilots had signed it on the back; an inscription on the front read, “From the Joint Task Force Operation Neptune’s Spear, 01 May 2011: ‘For God and country. Geronimo.’ ” Obama promised to put the gift “somewhere private and meaningful to me.” Before the President returned to Washington, he posed for photographs with each team member and spoke with many of them, but he left one thing unsaid. He never asked who fired the kill shot, and the SEALs never volunteered to tell him.”

Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger:

“The war in Afghanistan has become highly politicized, but soldiers rarely take part in that discussion. Our intention was to capture the experience of combat, boredom and fear through the eyes of the soldiers themselves. Their lives were our lives: we did not sit down with their families, we did not interview Afghans, we did not explore geopolitical debates. Soldiers are living and fighting and dying at remote outposts in Afghanistan in conditions that few Americans back home can imagine. Their experiences are important to understand, regardless of one’s political beliefs. Beliefs are a way to avoid looking at reality. This is reality.”

After I completed my reading of Schmidle’s piece on how America got bin Laden, I’m not ashamed to say that I pulled out my US passport and looked at it lovingly. Sometimes it feels so good to be an American I can hardly stand it. So, if that was Schmidle’s intention with his article, bravo. Job well done. Really.

However, if his intention was to tell a true war story portraying how US Seals killed Osama bin Laden as accurately as possible, leaving room for human error, he may have failed. We discussed in class why he might have failed, so I won’t get into that. If his intention had been to tell a true war story, he defiantly failed. Additionally, it must be noted that I don’t believe accurately portraying how bin Laden died and a true war story are the same thing. In fact, they can’t be. O’Brien presents complex criteria for what a true war story is, but from the shards I’ve tried to pieced together a summary.

  1. A true war story shouldn’t make you feel good.
  2. A true war story shouldn’t leave you with hope for the war. Or humanity. Any hope you feel must come from something else in your life.
  3. Unless you’ve been in a relevant combat situation, a true war story shouldn’t make a whole lot of sense. If it does, don’t trust it.
  4. A true war story shouldn’t stand up to reason or common sense, but it should seem legitimate all the same.
  5. A true war story doesn’t need a plot. Often, it can’t have one. It just happened.
  6. A true war story isn’t about war. It’s about people with families and lives and hearts killing other people with families and lives and hearts. It’s about life at a base level, and it’s about being human in inhumane conditions.

In summary, Schmidle didn’t tell a true war story. Restrepo was a true war story, because it was about the lives of people in places greater than their own personal world. Schmidle wrote a blockbuster.


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A True War Story?

Schmidle’s article, “Getting bin Laden”, about the night Osama bin Laden was killed, was a very realistic-sounding retelling of the mission. After further evaluation, however, it is clear that Schmidle was not being completely honest with the audience. He never interviewed the actual Navy SEALs or anyone else who witnessed the events of that night first hand, and yet there were some very specific details about the mission in his article. It seems he, at the very least, embellished his story, giving details about how the air smelled and how the SEALs felt at a given moment.

Restrepo, however, is much more based on a first-hand account of war. The producers, Hetherington and Junger, lived with the soldiers in the middle of it all. They witnessed the struggle, the pain, the reality of war. The audience is able to see the war first-hand, without a recreation, because they were videotaping what they saw. This type of journalism is much more genuine and believable, because we are not hearing it through the bias of a third-party.

Restrepo portrays more of the ugly side of war, although that could perhaps be because the event itself was much more grim than the victory of killing Osama bin laden. Either way, both pieces were very intriguing, although Restrepo is a seemingly much more realistic reflection of the events.

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Nothing More Than Jumbled Pictures

Upon initially reading  Nicholas Schmidle’s article titled “Getting Bin Laden,” I was entranced with this dramatic telling of the night that Osama Bin Laden. It was almost too much to mentally take in. There was absolutely nothing left for the reader to question because everything was told with such detail. However, then it came in to question how could this “freelance writer” know all of those minute details? Especially after reading Tim O’Brien’s “How to Tell a True War Story” and watching the film “Restrepo” I have no faith in Schmidle’s article. While watching the movie, it almost gave me an idea of what war was like. If I were in the position of any of those men, I probably would not have remembered anything. They were getting shot at from all different angles, in the middle of the night, and from an unknown enemy. It would be impossible to remember details, like what was in your pocket, if you were constantly worrying about being shot at, being killed, or losing one of your friends. In addition, throughout “How to Tell a True War Story” Tim O’Brien is constantly expressing how war is nothing more than jumbled pictures, that’s it’s hard to remember what really happened versus what you think happened, and that when telling a war story there are often many made up events. Even if Schmidle had actually talked to the SEALS who killed Osama Bin Laden, he still would have gotten a mixed up crazy story. The fact that he received second and third hand information on top of that concept just makes his story all the more unbelievable.

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Fact or Fiction?

I was a little upset when I found out that Schmidle’s article was not based on his accounts of the story.  They were actually based on second and third hand accounts of the operation.  I was upset that he told it like he was there and it was his view on what happen.  They didn’t even put an editor’s note saying that this is not a first-hand account.  I think that is what made me not believe Schmidle’s article.

The question is should we believe Schmidle’s article?  This is a hard question to answer.  I am sure that there is some facts in his article which are true but I also think there are some facts that could have been somewhat made up.  This is the accounts told by people who were there or someone who knew someone who was there.  Like O’Brien said when you are in war your perception of things that happened might be different from the guy next to you because of the high stress situation.  So the facts that he had gotten from these people may not have been one hundred percent true because they were in an extremely stressful and intense situation.  Schmidle almost made it seem like the American’s were happy and excited to go into this place to kill bin Laden.  This was probably not the case since this mission was probably one of the most dangerous and important missions in this whole war.  I think Restrepo made you have a deeper understanding and emotion about war.  It shows you that war isn’t pretty and that it is a very scary thing to be a part of.  I still think of Schmidle’s piece the same way as before: some parts may be accurate and some may be not completely accurate do to storytelling.  We also have to take into account that Schmidle was not there so he couldn’t possibly know all of the details of this mission because he did not see it for himself, he was relying on other accounts.

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Schmidle’s Article in Contrast to O’Brian’s Writing and “Restrepo”

When watching Junger and Hetherington’s “Restrepo” I was relieved to see them still able to dance – that they still had some remnants of a sense of humor.  The other scenes of “Restrepo”, Tim O’Brian’s How To Tell A True War Story, and other modern media such as The Hurt Locker and news leave us with images of such broken men and women.

This drew quite a contrast to Schmidle’s article drawing out the events leading to Bin Laden’s assassination. Schmidle glorified the war.  He did not present many flaws, and showed the soldiers in a primarily positive light, where O’Brian only showed the ugly side of war.  But both of their pieces had very different purposes.  Schmidle’s article was going to be immediately more widespread, while O’Brian’s will have a much longer life.  Schmidle’s intension while writing his article was to quickly provide the nation with news— however questionable— his article conjures support for their heroic actions and fosters a sense of American nationalism within the reader.  He was writing to praise American soldiers and their brave actions, but he was completely detached from the situation.  O’Brian, Junger, and Hetherington were directly connected to the war.  O’Brian had gone to war and he could credibly criticize it— he had experienced the horrors first hand.  Because it was personal for him, his approach had to be different from Schmidle’s.  As for the creators of “Restrepo”, they knew the soldiers who were fighting overseas; while they were not in combat, they were still more emotionally linked than Schmidle.

Schmidle will always be criticized for his lack of direct evidence, but he should not be condemned for presenting the war in a much different light than the other writers.  His article was written to entertain the people, O’Brian wrote to express something he finds emotionally troubling because he wants people to better understand what war can do to a person.

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Looking Back

After re-reading Schmidle’s article after watching Restrepo and reading Tim O’Brien’s piece, my view on the New Yorker article is still the same.  Having read a lot of articles, I have learned to read anything that is not written as a first hand account with a grain of salt.  Stories of war unfold the way the person telling them wants them to.

Soldiers exposed to the dangers of combat in a place like the Korengal Valley are forced to deal with emotions ranging from one extreme to the other.  When watching Restrepo, I saw, through the soldiers’ eyes, the pain they endured.

Taking into account the movie and the O’Brien piece, my view of the Schmidle article still remains the same.  I feel that the article does have some truth to it, but it cannot be considered an account of what really happened the night they finally killed Geronimo.  Each source Schmidle used for information to use in his article was a small piece of a large puzzle.  If that puzzle had been completed, countless lives would have been at risk. That puzzle includes every last detail of the night Osama Bin Laden was killed, including the names of the SEALs and details that the American people will never know for certain.


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Restrepo vs. What I Thought

For my Girl Scout Gold Award project, I interviewed elderly citizens in the community and collected their stories into a book. Almost all of the men had been in some war. Usually Vietnam or Korea. Sometimes World War II. Not a single one of them wanted to talk about it. My Opa was a teenager in Nazi occupied Holland in World War II and had to write down his memories and email them to me because they were simply too painful to say. Another man told me in an interview that he spent some time in Vietnam and fell silent for almost a minute before saying, “That’s all I have to say about that.” I took an excerpt from my great grandmothers diary. She was also in Holland during the rise of Hitler. She told a story about one of her young children being held at gun point by a Gestapo officer for being too loud in the streets, and how she went into the Gestapo headquarters and demanded to speak to an officer, who apologized. She rode her bike with two babies strapped to her in the middle of the night to get to a farm house in another town where they would be safe. “You do what you have to do.” She wrote.

I had these men running through my mind during the screening of Restrepo. The moments captured on screen were so new and so real, and that is all they will ever be to us, as viewers. To those men, those are their memories, their stories. They will age with them, and they will change. The hurt will grow, or the edge of the blade will dull.

Honestly, I am not sure how to relate what I saw in the movie to the Schmidle piece. What I saw in Restrepo really made me think about Army life. When they were over there the question really wasn’t who was President, or who was Democrat or Republican. It wasn’t about any of the huge political questions. The second they were on the ground, the only thing that seemed to matter was the men to the left and the right of you. They were there for each other, and a loss of one of them was a loss to all of them. The way civilians see war and the way that it is are very different. They simply follow orders, and they look out for each other. They do what they have to do.

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