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Thread: Restrepo and The Battle of Algiers

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    Council Member MikeF's Avatar
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    Default Restrepo and The Battle of Algiers

    All,

    Saw Restrepo last week. IMO, hands-down the best post-9/11 film to date, but they lost a wonderful opportunity to do it better given some space, time, and reflection. In the coming month, I am looking at doing a Point-Counterpoint style review with a journalist friend of mine, and I wanted to test out one analogy with the group before I proceed.

    This attempts to drive towards the greater issue of how we perceive external interventions in small wars. Thanks in advance for your thoughts and time.

    When I first watched The Battle for Algiers in late 2005, I had just returned from my third deployment from leading a tank platoon to serving on a Special Forces staff. At the time, I thought that I knew a lot about combat. I had done the high intensity fights of the Thunder Runs, I was immersed into the indirect methods of Foreign Internal Defense (FID), but I still had no idea about how to comprehend the chaos of failure in Iraq much less any understanding on how to preceed.

    Watching Battle for Algiers, I thought the lessons were simple. If, on the tactical level, one is too aggressive with violence, population control measures, and, in the most aggregious failings, resorting to torture, then one is apt to win the battle but lose the war. This film was regarded as the best comprehensive, neutral film of its genre. That's what I walked away with.

    Going back to Iraq in 2006 changed everything for me. As the situation deteriorated into a civil war, we forced very violent measures to attempt to regain control and force arbitration. With exception to torture, my actions were reminiscent to LTC Mathieu. In some ways, I was much more violent than his paratroopers. I returned to the United States to continue studying these type of conflicts at the post-graduate level. I wondered about the disconnect between my thoughts of the theory versus my actions in practice.

    Finally, I realized the gap. The neutrality of the movie became it's biggest failure. There is no such thing as a neutral narrative. What is missing is the French counter-guerrilla effort was doomed to fail because ultimately, colonialism is doomed to fail. The military effort is extraneous to this discussion. The actions of the French paratroopers could only prolonge or shorten the length of the conflict. They could not influence the outcome. The native Algerians simply wanted their own independence.

    Restrepo falls into a similar trap. The lack of context fails to inform the viewer of the overarching struggles in the nearly nine-year old conflict. Through ommision, the producers show a tragic failure to understand insurgency theory. While the film depicts the war for the soldier, it fails to capture the essence of the fight. In doing so, it fails on a very deep fundamental level.
    Last edited by MikeF; 07-26-2010 at 02:28 PM.

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    Council Member MikeF's Avatar
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    Default Seriously?

    200 views and no discontent? I guess that I assumed my thoughts would be contreversal. Again, what say you?

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    Default Feekling lonely, Mike ....

    Maybe, no one else watched Restrepo.

    Cheers

    Mike

    PS: I could make some comments on the Battle of Algiers and on Charlie Gallstone pulling the plug on Algeria because France's greater political interests lay in disengament; but it's too darn late. Sorry.

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    Council Member MikeF's Avatar
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    Default yup

    Quote Originally Posted by jmm99 View Post
    Maybe, no one else watched Restrepo.

    Cheers

    Mike

    PS: I could make some comments on the Battle of Algiers and on Charlie Gallstone pulling the plug on Algeria because France's greater political interests lay in disengament; but it's too darn late. Sorry.
    sadly seeking affirmation or discord. I'm about to just go about the business of pushing onward. And yes, Michael, I owe you a PM uupdate.

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    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Hi Mike,

    Well, I haven't seen the movie, but one thing you said really stood out for me

    There is no such thing as a neutral narrative.
    Yup. Not only that, I am increasingly persuaded that a "neutral narrative" is impossible because of the way our (HSS) brains work. I do, however, see some potential from another quirk of our brains - the ability to hold mutually opposing and contradictory narratives so, even if we can't create a "neutral narrative", we may be able to create multiple narratives that can act as triangulation points towards a larger vision (as opposed to neutrality).
    Sic Bisquitus Disintegrat...
    Marc W.D. Tyrrell, Ph.D.
    Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies,
    Senior Research Fellow,
    The Canadian Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies, NPSIA
    Carleton University
    http://marctyrrell.com/

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    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    "Neutrality" is inherently dishonest, and makes everyone equally nervous of what ones true intentions might be.

    If you don't believe me, next time your wife asks you what you want for dinner just say "I don't care." You think you just made things simple for her, in fact you created complexity and hard feelings.
    Robert C. Jones
    Intellectus Supra Scientia
    (Understanding is more important than Knowledge)

    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Hi Bob,

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob's World View Post
    "Neutrality" is inherently dishonest, and makes everyone equally nervous of what ones true intentions might be.

    If you don't believe me, next time your wife asks you what you want for dinner just say "I don't care." You think you just made things simple for her, in fact you created complexity and hard feelings.
    LOLOL - Too true! Hades, you might end up with rat brains sauteed with cockroaches!

    Far better to state your biases and build a narrative around that......
    Sic Bisquitus Disintegrat...
    Marc W.D. Tyrrell, Ph.D.
    Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies,
    Senior Research Fellow,
    The Canadian Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies, NPSIA
    Carleton University
    http://marctyrrell.com/

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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob's World View Post
    If you don't believe me, next time your wife asks you what you want for dinner just say "I don't care." You think you just made things simple for her, in fact you created complexity and hard feelings.
    Being the cook in the house, I can testify to the truth of Bob's statement.
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
    T.R. Fehrenbach This Kind of War

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    Council Member sabers8th's Avatar
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    Default Saw it but left me wanting more from it

    Mike,
    I did see the movie here in Fayettenam when it came out. A good film but at the end of it I was like was that it? Seriously for 15 months of filming I think they could have gotten more out of it. The film does bring to the forefront even more the subject of PTSD. the one question that sticks out in my is when the camera man asks the one SPC "What are you going to to do when you get back after going through this?" (paraphrase) That is the million dollar question that they didnt answer.

    Kelly

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    Council Member MikeF's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sabers8th View Post
    Mike,
    I did see the movie here in Fayettenam when it came out. A good film but at the end of it I was like was that it? Seriously for 15 months of filming I think they could have gotten more out of it. The film does bring to the forefront even more the subject of PTSD. the one question that sticks out in my is when the camera man asks the one SPC "What are you going to to do when you get back after going through this?" (paraphrase) That is the million dollar question that they didnt answer.

    Kelly
    Hi Kelly.

    I had a similar reaction. Half way through the movie, I distinctly remember feeling underwhelmed; however, many of my civilian friends that have seen it were blown away. That's why I want to do a point-counterpoint review so that all of us can get a better perspective given two completely different points of view.

    Mike

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    Council Member Backwards Observer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bob's World View Post
    "Neutrality" is inherently dishonest, and makes everyone equally nervous of what ones true intentions might be.

    If you don't believe me, next time your wife asks you what you want for dinner just say "I don't care." You think you just made things simple for her, in fact you created complexity and hard feelings.
    A girl sat me down once for a talk about the direction she thought the relationship should go and some of things she wanted to happen. I listened and said it all sounded fine or within the bounds of possibility given where things were headed.

    She then asked if there was anything I wanted to say about the future of the relationship. I said, "Don't get fat." You'd be surprised how well this was not taken.

    (Sorry, I haven't seen Restrepo, either.)

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    Default Mike

    I had to look up Restrepo to have any idea of what you were talking about.

    As far as Battle of Algiers is concerned, don't make the mistake that any of the film makers sought neutrality. Saadi Yacef - who wrote the orignial story & starred in it - was playing himself almost without amplification. Gillo Pontecorvo, the Director, was a committed Italian communist and anti-colonialist. The film is very, very pro Algerian independence and anti-French colonialism. It is, however, honest in its portrayal of the players and treats each of the human beings involved with sympathy.

    Cheers

    JohnT

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    Default What JTF said ....

    except I would have had to look up the names, etc., for the Battle of Algiers.

    For a communist (small "c") film, it has much less agitprop than one would have expected - and, of course, the Algerian insurgency was not Marxist in ideology (though it used many of the then common tactics used by Marxist insurgentsl), many French officers to the contrary.

    See, Mike, great minds run in the same channels - and are sometimes joined by rugby players from That Place on the Hudson.

    Cheers

    Mike

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    Council Member tequila's Avatar
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    Liked it quite a bit, but was also somewhat underwhelmed compared to the overall rapturous reviews:

    http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/restrepo/

    Another excellent film which I actually liked more and which felt more visceral was an A&E film called Combat Diary: Marines of Lima Company about Lima 3/25 in Iraq in 2005. Most of the footage in that was actually shot by the Marines themselves rather than an embedded journalist.

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    Council Member MikeF's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jmm99 View Post
    See, Mike, great minds run in the same channels - and are sometimes joined by rugby players from That Place on the Hudson.
    The key is sometimes. What's that saying? A broke clock is right twice a day .

    John T Fishel is right on that Battle for Algiers is not neutral. Restrepo is supposed to be, but what is left out takes so much away from the story. The biggest thing is that they talk about how important OP Restrepo is, yet, they never explained why it is important and to what value. That's just a disservice in my book.

    I watched the movie with my old JTAC (Joint Tactical Air Controller) who had also served in the Korengal in 2005 with the Marines so he was able to fill me in on some of the rest of the story.

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    Default Free Range International review.

    I thought his take was interesting: http://freerangeinternational.com/blog/?p=3356

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    Default Hello, MikeF ....

    I picked up a DVD player (re-manufactured 2008 combo VCR & DVD - so I can copy old tapes to discs). I'm slow (a year tardy) but sure.

    BLUF: I picked up Restrepo & have watched it more than once. The theme that I saw running through it (common to WWII, Korea and Vietnam - from the folks I've known well) are the deaths of the people to the right and left of the infantrymen who were there. I don't know if my dad would have liked it; but he would have understood it - far better than I.

    Regards

    Mike

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    Council Member ganulv's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jmm99 View Post
    BLUF: I picked up Restrepo & have watched it more than once. The theme that I saw running through it (common to WWII, Korea and Vietnam - from the folks I've known well) are the deaths of the people to the right and left of the infantrymen who were there. I don't know if my dad would have liked it; but he would have understood it - far better than I.
    I liked that it really was a movie rather than cut-and-pasted pieces of footage. Heart of Darkness is impossible to miss in the early sequence with the footage shot from the helicopters, and the image quality overall is excellent.

    I have to say that I slept very poorly the night after my initial viewing of the film. I just had thought things were going better than that for the US effort in Afghanistan. I know that it was a selectively edited view of one small part of things, but still. One scene that seemed particularly telling was the increasing frustration on the young officer’s face as the older fellow keeps haranguing him and he can’t manage to produce the first non-English word to try and calm the situation.
    Last edited by ganulv; 08-13-2011 at 05:52 PM. Reason: typo fix
    If you donít read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed. Ė Mark Twain (attributed)

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    Default Heart of Darkness ....

    I didn't see Conrad in the opening heliochopter sequence - so I'm living proof that it's not impossible to miss that Congo classic as a model.[*]

    No doubt that the Korengal was Astan's "heart of darkness" then (now ?) - a hard-headed Pashtun mountaineer area; where lowlanders and outsiders have a tough time fitting in. Cf., Dayuhan's present environs.

    Anyway, after one run through the film, I saw I was not going to add anything to a "DIME" review of it. And, in any event (as with most films), I got caught up in the characters - primarily the young men of the 2nd Plt. (the residents of OP Restrepo).

    What came across to me was the impact that the deaths (e.g., Vimoto, Restrepo, Rougle) had on them. Which made me think of one WWII survivor I knew well (my dad) and two Vietnam survivors and close friends (both now dead) - and the impact that combat deaths had on all of them.

    Of course, all is not morbid - e.g., the scene where Elliott tells of his 80-year old grandpa and the Bikini Car Wash (one of the outtakes). I can attest; the spirit is willing even if the flesh has become weak.

    --------------------------
    [*] Heart of Darkness was assigned in an honors class in 1962; but I re-read the thing together with Peter Forbath's The River Congo and Mike Hoare's Mercenary within the last 12 months.

    Regards

    Mike

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    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    I watched Restrepo yesterday.

    This is a story of soldiers dropped into an impossible situation, over which they have little control, and throughout which they can all sense that what they do is not apt to produce the larger effect that led to them being placed into such a situation to begin with. The result is that "bubble", reducing each soldier's world to him, the few men around him, the faceless enemy that oppose them, and the daily contest to stay alive.

    This is a powerful story, but it offers little insights on insurgency or how to best deal with the situation in Afghanistan.

    The irony of a group of foreign soldiers dropping into a region so self-governing and disconnected from anything in Kabul in order to convince the populace there to support something so irrelevant to their daily lives being "sold" to them by a foreign army bringing them promises that cannot be comprehended, wrapped in death and violence that are all too real is huge.

    This is a microcosm of the application of foreign military power to defeat a resistance that is supported by a revolution. We attempt this all over Afghanistan. The Korengal Valley of Restrepo is a microcosm of the Helmand River Valley. One can, as the company commander does, draw a very real sense of accomplishment from establishing a small outpost such as Restrepo and holding it through hard effort; or in Clearing the Sangin district of Helmand as Gen Petreaus did; both efforts being equally valorous and honorable, and both efforts being equally moot and inappropriate to problem at hand.

    The producers of the movie Restrepo have little understanding of the nature of insurgency, that is to be expected, they are just telling a story of human drama. Sadly, those who craft our efforts in Afghanistan tend to seem equally unable to see past the human drama to the greater elements behind the same.
    Robert C. Jones
    Intellectus Supra Scientia
    (Understanding is more important than Knowledge)

    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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