This is What Winning Looks Like

If you want to see an amazing perspective on what’s going on right now in Afghanistan, treat yourself to this movie series on youtube. I’ve only watched the first one, but I couldn’t wait to micro-broadcast/archive it here.

There is so much to recommend this documentary. The filmmaker has been embedded with western military units for much of the invasion/occupation of Afghanistan. This movie covers events of the last year and is not, as you might at first expect, about the physical violence of the occupation–at least that’s not a feature of part 1. Rather, it portrays the absolutely bizarre nature of the charade of transition. The playing out of the hand-off of power to the police units of the nominal government as US forces withdraw.

Throughout the film, it’s clear that nobody believes this is going to go well. The police commanders are abandoning their posts, the afghan poice are tending marijuana gardens and are high as kites on opium, and the US soldiers are travelling from place to place attempting to convince the various police units that they really are leaving–no more gas, bullets, air strikes, etc.

It has a very “Apocalypse Now” feel to it, but real. In one scene a base commander is on opium riding a bicycle through the wasteland outside the base when he’s supposed to be having his men fill up sandbags. The men pull over a car and make the occupants fill the bags which they then have children carry back to the base. In another scene, US soldiers stop a man firing at targets he can’t see in the streets outside the base. The policeman, angry at being told what to do, storms out of the base firing wildly as he wanders down streets and alleyways. He returns later to ask for more ammunition.

Also darkly humorous are the lessons about law and ethics that come up throughout the piece. In one scene, US soldiers find an impromptu prison where a local politician is keeping some of his personal enemies. The soldiers try to explain how warrants work and how “it’s not legal just to kidnap any person”. In another scene soldiers attempt to keep the afghan police from firing when there might be children around. The impossibility of teaching a lessons on ethics when every bit of context is the result of gross violations of the the most basic ethical principles is reflected in the faces of the afghan soldiers. It’s not surprising that many of them open fire on their supposed allies

The crazy meta-mystery to me is how this documentary got made in the first place. Have all the censors and press liasons already left the country? The candor of the interviewees is remarkable. One of the most fascinating pieces is with a US Major who, as the filmmaker notes, “couldn’t tell lies.” He details the various types of corruption and rackets being run, talks about a Afghan base commander who they have to allow to capture and rape boys. The entire time he has the pained expression–he’s clearly a man who would like to do the right thing, but has no idea what that could be other than to be honorable where it doesn’t contradict his orders. If movies like this had been coming out during the entire occupation . . . ah well, it probably wouldn’t have made any fucking difference, but it should have.

I’m looking forward to the next two parts, also available on youtube.

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