“Based on my combat experience and the large number of war movies I’ve seen, I believe that I have found three that accurately capture war on film.”
Everyone loves a good war movie. Big explosions, intense firefights, and slow salutes at the end are typically what we’re treated to, and this is usually a recipe for box office success. From Platoon to Saving Private Ryan, these movies are often blockbusters, raking in a ton of money for Hollywood. They’re usually really good too. Most war movies do a decent job of entertaining us, but they actually fail to capture what it’s really like to be in a war.
There are three things that most Hollywood war movies do not accurately depict or even acknowledge: the struggle many combat veterans experience when they come home, the daily horrors and anguish we go through when we’re there, and the unbelievable horrors of modern warfare. Based on my combat experience and the large number of war movies I’ve seen, I believe that I have found three that accurately capture war on film. One is a Hollywood film and the other two are documentaries.
I would urge every American to watch these films for their entertainment and education this weekend. While we celebrate all veterans of the US military, take the time to better understand what it’s really like to go to war and, if you’re one of the lucky ones, to come home from one.
When you come home from war, it’s uncomfortable to be called a hero. It’s confusing when people thank you for your service.
This is the finest war documentary I’ve ever seen. The film follows a platoon of American soldiers during their deployment to the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan in 2007. No other film I have yet seen does a better job at showing an audience what it’s like to be in combat, and it’s not just the shooting.
I’m talking about the miserable living conditions, the daily boredom punctuated by a few minutes of the most adrenaline-pumping high a human can ever get. You see up close the intensity of firefights and the pain of losing a brother in combat. We experience with these men daily patrols to meet with villagers in a frustrating cycle of zero progress and the audacity of enemy fighters to get close enough to American soldiers that they can take their weapons and equipment.
Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger knocked it out of the park when they made this one, but the real credit belongs to the men of Battle Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.
Flag of Our Fathers
I was tempted to not include any Hollywood movies in this list, but I couldn’t resist adding Flag of Our Fathers. No other war movie has resonated with me as much as this one. It’s not so much the battle scenes on Iwo Jima that I found myself relating to so closely, although they are superb. It’s the struggle that we see Navy Corpsman John ‘Doc’ Bradley, Marine Private First Class Ira Hayes, and Marine Private First Class Rene Gagnon go through when they come home to participate in the war bond drive toward the end of World War II.
The three flag raisers were treated like celebrities and were greeted with cheers and thank you’s when they came home from the Pacific. Perhaps most painfully for them, they were called “heroes,” and we watch Ira in particular struggle with this throughout the film. Adam Peach, who plays Ira Hayes, does an incredible job portraying the guilt and sadness that is common among combat veterans who return home to high praise while all they can think of are their brothers who didn’t make it home alive.
One scene that stands out for me is when Ira is talking about the guilt he feels. He doesn’t consider himself a hero at all. He’s emotional as he talks about Sergeant Mike Strank, his squad leader and one of the flag raisers who was killed at Iwo Jima. Ira says that he’s not proud of some of the things he’s done, and as he fights back tears, says that Mike was a great Marine. It’s emotional and very well-acted. The entire film is powerful, patriotic, and eye-opening for anyone who hasn’t been to war.
Baghdad ER is a documentary that takes place at Ibn Sina Hospital in the Green Zone in Baghdad during the Iraq War in 2005. The hospital was occupied by the US Army’s 86th Combat Support Hospital (CSH) as a front line medical treatment facility for combatants at the time of the film. Rather than seeing the frontline fighting that we’re so accustomed to in war movies and documentaries, we see the result of the fighting. The human toll.
You try to not get shot, you do your best to protect your brothers, and you get through the daily struggles one day at a time.
We see the amputations, the tearful phone calls, and the awarding of the Purple Heart to US soldiers for wounds received in combat. We see the frantic flight medics rolling in the latest casualties and the fight to save the lives of American servicemen as well as Iraqi soldiers. It might be difficult to watch this one, but give it a shot. It’s a powerful glimpse at the indescribable carnage that’s a daily part of war, and you will come away with a better appreciation for all service members (especially medical personnel) after watching it.
When you come home from war, it’s uncomfortable to be called a hero. It’s confusing when people thank you for your service. You try to not get shot, you do your best to protect your brothers, and you get through the daily struggles one day at a time. It’s impossible for someone to understand what it’s like to be in war without actually being in one. Watching films won’t do it either, but these three films give their audience the closest and most accurate perspective I’ve seen yet.