Dr. Polak's Reading Blog.
Questions to Consider
Restrepo is a consideration of perspective. Through variations in perspective in terms of person, cultural positioning, camera angle (particularly the rapid switches between aerial and on-the-ground), and placement in relation to actors, it considers how location changes what can be seen and how it is seen. I was particularly fascinated by the battle scenes in this review of the film. They bear many of the same hallmarks (tracer fire, explosions, crouching, etc.) as the battle scenes depicted in fictional films, yet there is also a distinct visual gulf. The men often stand fully erect behind the barricades, there is not as much fear on their faces (and in many cases, their faces are expression-free), and there is—in an odd way—altogether less energy than the battle scenes in the fictional works we’ve surveyed.
Certainly, this is a distinction between types of battles as well as a commentary on the routine nature (in some sense) of battle. Can it also be a commentary on the placement of the audience? As Phil lay remarked about Iraq in an essay for The New York Times, “If the past 10 years have taught us anything, it’s that in the age of an all-volunteer military, it is far too easy for Americans to send soldiers on deployment after deployment without making a serious effort to imagine what that means. We can do better.” His idea about the “failure of imagination” is important in terms of complicating our notions of the ethical boundaries between types of experience. While we by no means want to lay claim to the experience of combat simply because of a camera angle of a documentary we watched, in the same breath, we should also acknowledge our responsibility as citizens to imagine ourselves in different positions and how that positionality may affect our ethical stance on issues like war.
Of course, the correct answer isn’t necessarily one opposed to combat, nor is it one in full-throated favor of military intervention. What can we gain from this imagining, though, if not a particular position? On one hand, in the case of Restrepo in particular, it could be the process of managing the existential realities of Afghanistan. In Klay’s “Money as a Weapons System,” Bob’s stance that “his was not to question why” is—I think—insufficient for most of us when we think of war. But the existential viewpoint—the conflicts exist outside of opinions on them—can open a line of inquiry about how to improve that reality. This can only occur, of course, by carefully looking at that reality and making the effort to imagine and understand.