Oscar-winning screenwriter Mark Boal must be thrilled about this whole Libya thing, since he seems to be making a cottage industry out of articles, books and movies about American soldiers and how they are a bunch of incorrigible psychos whose desire to murder everyone they see is constrained only by their limited intellect. Who knows what doors the latest “kinetic military action” might open for him in Tinseltown.
His current anti-soldier hit piece, The Kill Team, is about a group of disgraceful scumbags in Afghanistan who decided to murder several civilians. With it, Boal seems to be following his tried and true formula – write something for publication in a past-its-prime magazine that makes American troops look like cro-magnons then work to turn it into a movie. He took a Playboy article on Americans murdering each other and soon we had In the Valley of Elah. You may have seen it – though the odds are stacked against it. It was ignored by popular demand.
Another article, this one on bomb disposal experts, became The Hurt Locker, which took some of the bravest and most dedicated people in our armed forces and made them out as undisciplined, drunken, unprofessional clowns. In fact, Boal got sued by one of the guys he allegedly wrote about. To be fair, it did win an Academy Award . . . from the same band of geniuses who passed over Saving Private Ryan in favor of Shakespeare In Love and once picked as “Best Song” the unforgettable hit “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp.” So, there’s that.
Boal’s technique is to chronicle the most degenerate fringes of the warfighters’ experience and repackage the most sordid episodes as its totality. One can easily imagine the Rolling Stone editors eager for the chance to please their dwindling audience of aging Garfunkel-digging hippies and Chomsky-devouring clove-smokers with another prejudice-reinforcing piece about how those Middle-American Army guys are barely one step above gorillas. Rolling Stone even promises a glimpse at the grim photos the mean old Pentagon doesn’t want you to see – as if there was some moral imperative for the military to provide gist for the jihadi propaganda mill. Hey, that’s Boal and Rolling Stones’ job!
What is particularly cunning in his approach is that there is no excuse for the crimes these savages committed, and Boal uses this fact to deflect any kind of perspective. Hundreds of thousands of young, heavily-armed and stressed American men and women have served overseas since 9/11. Several dozen have murdered people. You won’t find any city in America with a murder rate like that for that demographic.
Michael Yon, who has embedded with the unit involved, sums up his feelings in the title of his response: “Calling BULLSHIT on ‘Rolling Stone’”. Unlike the chaotic rabble Boal imagines, the unit Yon embedded with was squared away and effective. Yon’s critique of the story is devastating and deserves a close read. And Yon knows what he is talking about; in contrast, when Boal makes obvious errors, like referring to a battalion commander as the “battalion chief,” he self-identifies as a poser.
For his part, Boal chooses to focus on one squad out of dozens, a handful of losers out of several thousand in a Stryker brigade, and to subtly extrapolate that the entire brigade was on some sort of rampage. His article contains lots of hints about a greater, grander conspiracy, but offers nothing like convincing evidence to anyone familiar with either the law or the military. In fact, it was the Army that investigated every aspect of the case. The murderers are going to jail for decades, yet he leaves the impression that there was some sort of collective shrug of the shoulders on the part of the Army – despite the fact that the Army uncovered, investigated and prosecuted the case long before ace reporter Mark Boal appeared on the scene with Final Draft loaded on his iPad.
What’s missing from Boal’s article is the usual implication that these murders are simply a manifestation of some sort of malignant wink and nod from the very highest echelons of power. Of course, with the Bu$Hitler/Cheney-satan cabal out of power, instead of the evil originating in the Halliburton-spawned machinations of the neo-con White House, today it simply bubbles up from the poisonous minds of those poor, benighted Americans unfortunate enough not to be born in New York City and who enlist for the sole purpose of living out their homicidal fantasies. Boal’s nothing if not fully in tune with the expectations of his Hollywood masters.
Of course, there’s plenty of innuendo in there about the officer corps too; if he’s going to sell the screenplay, he needs some villains and the killers themselves are already slotted as the designated victims of a murderous American culture. Boal describes ominously how the brigade commander, a decorated colonel, has critiqued the current counter-insurgency strategy. Now, being part of the liberal media establishment, Boal is probably not used to the idea of diversity of thought. Since he and all his friends think exactly alike, he probably can’t conceive that within the military community and its many professional journals there is a healthy and invaluable debate about the best way to fight a guerrilla war.
The fact is that an infantry squad leader – the toughest job in the Army and one that should only be entrusted to leaders of the highest moral caliber – appears to have carefully surrounded himself with a small collection of thugs and weak-willed pawns and lived out his sick fantasies in a combat zone. He is a disgrace to every NCO who ever wore stripes. He and his band of misfits did their best to exploit the understandable and justified leeway given to troops in a hostile fire zone to hide their crimes. Boal seems to see this tragedy as his next film credit; unfortunately, the American men and women in Afghanistan will be paying the price for these criminals’ actions – amplified by Boal’s breathless reporting – for a long time.
The real story of American warriors in Afghanistan is one of courage and compassion, of bravery in the face of almost overwhelming challenges. You won’t see that in Boal’s article or his movies. The truth is off-message. The truth doesn’t pay.
Let me share a story from Desert Storm 20 years ago that sums up the truth about American soldiers. The ground war had just started and I had to go out to a field hospital in the middle of the desert to take care of some business. I was in a tent with a young specialist who had – as American troops will do – decked it out pretty nicely. Among his amenities, he had a small fridge packed with sodas running off a generator.
There was an announcement that a Blackhawk was inbound with a lightly wounded Iraqi prisoner – the big, bad Army sent a crew in a multi-million dollar chopper forward to pick up an enemy with a minor injury to take him to an American hospital for treatment. The specialist thought for a moment, went into his fridge and grabbed a Coke. Then he looked at me and said, “Do you think he’d want one of these?”
That’s an American fighting man – an unequalled warrior in battle yet compassionate and kind when the shooting stops. I’ve seen it. Millions of other vets have seen it. Millions of civilians all over the world have seen it – in fact, they are seeing it as we speak. But we won’t see that in Boal’s next opus. Boal knows what sells in Hollywood, and it sure as hell isn’t the truth.