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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