Restrepo on Cyber-Monday

It’s amazing how our culture comes up with new spending rituals– Black Friday, Cyber-Monday, National Administrative Assistants’ Day.  Even traditional rituals seem to have whole new levels of consumption associated with them–weddings planned for years, graduations celebrated from nursery school on.

Then, of course, there are holidays that have become primarily shopping days–Presidents’ Day, Labor Day, Veteran’s Day.

On this Cyber-Monday evening, I find myself watching the very non-festive documentary, Restrepo, a movie by Sebastian Junger and Tim Heatherington, about U.S. forces in the Korangal Valley in Afghanistan.   The film documents a platoon that sets up an operation post some distance from the base camp which is named for Restrepo, an individual soldier killed in the Valley close to the beginning of the deployment.

It’s a very sad movie–so much good will, energy, and, of course, life, spent in an effort that seems doomed from the start.  (In fact, U.S. forces have now evacuated the Korangal Valley.)  The idea that American soldiers, creatures of a culture that invented Cyber-Mondays (a triumph of the insular, yet gung-ho, consumer), can persuade village elders to work against their traditional (and sometimes related) strong men is just crazy.  It’s especially crazy given the relatively short (if interminable seeming) time frame of U.S. deployment; the dual role of the military (fighters/diplomats); and the youth and cultural inexperience of many of the soldiers.

Then in the midst of the fear and digging, drawn faces, gunfire, tension, loss and profanity of the infantrymen comes repeated LEXUS commercials.  “No one ever found a gift too big,” says a voice as a beamingly groomed woman leads an incredibly clean-looking (compared to the infantrymen) guy to a huge wrapped package stationed in (alternately)   (i) a landscaped driveway or (ii) a huge and sparkling living room.  The wrapped package splits in the middle to reveal–tada!–a new car!  For Christmas!

It all has to make you wonder:  what are we doing there?  What are we doing here?

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