Winning the Afghan War — In Hollywood


W.J. Astore

A new movie, “12 Strong,” is opening on January 19th.  I’ve been seeing a lot of trailers for it while watching the NFL playoffs.  It’s being advertised as America’s first victory in the “war on terror.”  Based on a popular book, “Horse Soldiers,” it features American special operations troops charging into battle on horseback.  The synopsis of the movie (at Fandango) describes it as follows:

“12 Strong” is set in the harrowing days following 9/11 when a U.S. Special Forces team, led by their new Captain, Mitch Nelson (Hemsworth), is chosen to be the first U.S. troops sent into Afghanistan for an extremely dangerous mission. There, in the rugged mountains, they must convince Northern Alliance General Dostum (Negahban) to join forces with them to fight their common adversary: the Taliban and their Al Qaeda allies. In addition to overcoming mutual distrust and a vast cultural divide, the Americans—accustomed to state-of-the-art warfare—must adopt the rudimentary tactics of the Afghani (sic) horse soldiers. But despite their uneasy bond, the new allies face overwhelming odds: outnumbered and outgunned by a ruthless enemy that does not take prisoners.

I don’t think it will surprise anyone that, despite those “overwhelming odds” and being “outnumbered and outgunned by a ruthless enemy,” U.S. troops prevail.

Watching the trailers on TV is a surreal experience.  You get the impression the U.S. cavalry sounded the charge and won the Afghan war in 2001.  You’d never know U.S. forces are still fighting in Afghanistan in 2018, facing a “stalemate” and a resurgent Taliban that controls vast swaths of territory, and that U.S. forces face a “generational” slog to an endpoint where victory is indeed ill-defined.

Even though America is treading water in the Afghan war, Hollywood has cherry-picked an episode from the early days of that war, in the tradition of a John Wayne movie (like “The Horse Soldiers“).


The Wild West has been reset to Afghanistan with U.S. troops as the new sheriff in town, with the Taliban serving as the “savages” in the old Western tradition.

It’s the U.S. cavalry to the rescue, in the wild Afghan mountains.  Yet highlighting this one episode in America’s quagmire war in Afghanistan is more than misleading.  It’s as if the Japanese made a film about World War II that began and ended with Pearl Harbor.

Remember when Candidate Trump boasted that, when he became president, Americans would win so much, we’d get bored with winning?  “Believe me,” he said.

Maybe this is believable … at the movies.

12 thoughts on “Winning the Afghan War — In Hollywood

  1. WOW! Hollywierd to the rescue! Thanks! Now I won’t have to read anymore Rudyard Kipling! Amerika isn’t lucky enough to have a well bred poet & writer so pro-Imperialism!
    Of course I’ve boycotted all Hollyweird films on CIA/MIC induced – & partially financed – garbage for a LONG TIME.
    Hope they keep the budget low: call me “weird”, but I question if this trash makes any money. Or call me crazy; your choice.
    Is THIS why decades old sexual scandals are recently becoming front page “news”? I’ve read in financial papers Harvey’s production company hasn’t made a dime since 1999.
    Yeah, we get Hollywierd instead.
    Interesting story I just read. Strange analogy, but I believe it. America
    Donna Summer made herself in Germany – with Italian producers/writers. They moved to LA to produce ‘Bad Girls’. Out of no where came claims she was “anti gay, against abortion”.
    All a lie, to protect Casablanca Records – who were cheating them on HUGE record sales. She fought it in court – and won. But she could never discuss the decision. She obliged, took the money!
    That story is why I HATE big business & MIC today. They worked hard for a good product; take it or leave it.
    MIC is another matter – pay for it!
    We have to get back to the real roots of capitalism & freedom.
    Maybe Donna Summer did! And didn’t even know it! She did all over the world; just wanted to sing a song…


  2. I wrote my PhD dissertation on how John Ford influenced American cultural memory.
    The need for redemptive violence against a Muslim country after 9/11 is a religious ritual we believe will make us loved again.


    1. Or perhaps a ritual to conquer our fear so we can regain our swagger — another version of making America great again?


  3. Some how John Wayne who never placed himself in harms way on a real battlefield emerged as a “hero”. After I returned from Vietnam and the ARVN collapsed, we had a series of commando movies where our American Heroes trash the North Vietnamese Army looking for POWs. The implication being that if only we grunts in Vietnam had a more gung ho attitude we would have prevailed.

    Bottom line we have not won a war since 1945. Yeah, we beat up Panama and that grave threat to American Freedom the island of Grenada. So to keep the idea of AmeriKan military invincibility alive, we have to win some battles here and there. The Hollywood propaganda wing of the Pentagon probably has hopes these movies will stir up some “patriotism” among the proles and result in enlistments.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I guess in keeping with the Hollywood and video games we had an incoming missile alert broadcast in Hawaii. Given this age of instant electronics I wonder how many people here in the continental US became privy to the alert. Does anyone remember Duck and Cover??? I can almost imagine the movie War Games played out in some subterranean bunker. Thankfully, the Trumpet (Agent Orange) was out golfing at the time.

    The excuse now given is someone in state government pressed the wrong button in Hawaii. Why would anyone in state government even have a button like that??? I would have thought that only the Defense Department could initiate an incoming missile alert.

    The expert pundits rounded up by the McMega-Media placed the blame squarely on North Korea for having created this atmosphere of fear because of North Korea’s bellicose attitude. Even though it was a false alarm, maybe we need a few fly by B-52’s or some stealth bombers. The Navy and Marines will want to prove their worth by sending some ships packed with warriors off the North Korean coast. Not to be out done the Army may need to conduct some maneuvers and live fire drills.

    Just wondering how many defense contractors are lined up presenting a new warning system and a missile defense system for Midway Island.


  5. Lost my post, but I always appreciate them from Monotonous Languor & new Robyn Blanpied. Looked into Ford. Great dissertation idea! So talented but ‘driven’, as far as I can ascertain. George Clooney’s production of “White Helmets” is just a personal disgrace. That Hollywierd AWARDED it a PRIZE even more disgraceful!
    We know in Europe this fraud is a last gasp attempt to conquer Syria. Funded by US, UK, France, possibly Saudi Arabia & Israel, these actors have NO medical education. Their antics on CNN etc. prove it! But hurt – or killed – a lot of innocent civilians.
    What’s so important to these idiots running such a blood drenched show?*
    Hasn’t – and won’t – “Make America Great Again”.
    *It’s getting simple folks: US, UK, France, want WORLD Domination again. It won’t happen. And the ENORMOUS costs to achieve such a “victory” – has bankrupted us!


    1. Thanks for the link and the comments, RS. I’ll add this article by Major Danny Sjursen to my collection of others that I have read. In this particular piece, I can agree with his observation that a great deal of U. S. Army activity stems from an institutional desire to maintain a death grip on the nation’s budget: “to appear busy,” as he says, so that the other service branches, dogs-of-war mercenaries, and corporate camp followers don’t make off with most of the treasury loot. I don’t want to get further into this right now since it takes us off the topic of Hollywood movies as recruiting propaganda for our increasingly debilitated armed farces. Still, I would like to say something about the graphic photo that Major Sjursen uses to illustrate his theme of an exhausted military.

      First, consider the caption underneath the picture:

      Members of the Guam Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 294th Infantry Regiment, relax during an early-morning, exhausting flight from northern Afghanistan to northern Kabul International Airport aboard a C-160 aircraft in Oct. 2013. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Eddie Siguenza/Released)

      Now, think of Afghanistan as about the same area as Texas and then consider what you would think if someone told you that they had just taken an “exhausting” plane ride from Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle to Dallas/Fort-Worth, a distance of 350.2 miles which you could drive in 5 hours and 28 minutes on US-287 S. The plane trip would most likely consume perhaps an hour-and-a-half, since you can fly from San Jose (south of San Francisco) to Los Angeles, a distance of 341.2 miles, in an hour and twenty-five minutes. How “exhausting.”

      Second, consider something Major Sjursen goes on to say later in his article:

      “Something, it seems, would have to give—a drawdown in other missions, compressed training schedules, or—heaven forbid!—calling up the reserves, something American politicians certainly wish to avoid.”

      Look again, if you will, at the picture of that deployed reserve unit from Guam and tell me that they don’t look already “called up.” They certainly look “called up” to me! Apparently, Major Sjursen doesn’t know that the U.S. military has long-since integrated the fifty state militias into the regular armed forces, calling them “national” guards and deploying them globally with little regard for any conceivable political blowback from the individual states or — as in the case of Guam — from the “leadership” of America’s South Pacific island territories. Back during America’s undeclared and illegal War on Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos) privileged political princelings like George “Deputy Dubya” Bush could hide out in the Texas reserves without fear of having to actually fight anyone, anywhere. We active-duty types called them “weekend warriors” because they only had to show up for “training” — meaning drunken parties — one weekend a month and two weeks every summer. Deputy Dubya Bush couldn’t even manage that and took off for a year to work as a volunteer in a friend’s political campaign in Alabama. Then he got a six-month “early out” discharge so that he could return from his AWOL desertion to attend graduate school at Harvard. I got a six-month early out from my six-years of active duty service, too, only I had to extend my normal one-year tour in Vietnam by another six months to get it. Anyway, no privileged, wealthy, and politically connected princelings like Dubya the Dimwit have to serve in the reserves any longer. They have nothing to avoid so why bother? Quite obviously, no U.S. politician or general has anything to fear from letting the U.S. government deploy desperately poor working class American reservists in place of “regular” miltary forces. In fact, since the reserves enjoy fewer benefits than the “regular” military careerists, it even costs the American government less to “employ” them instead of regular Army and Marine Corps bullet catchers. I would have thought that Major Sjursen understood this long-standing reality.

      Anyway, I have to ask: “What the hell business does a South Pacific Isander reservist have in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains “exhausting” himself or herself flying for an hour and an a half from one part of Northern Afghanistaan to another part of Northern Afghanistan?” Doesn’t he or she have a duty to defend their homes and families on Guam from North Korean invasion or long-distance bombing. Don’t those Guam reservists have to protect all those nuclear capable B-52 bombers that regulary buzz the Korean de-militarized zone just daring the North Koreans to blow one or more of them out of the sky?

      Just some reflections that I had after looking at that picture, reading the text that followed it, and then thinking for a few minutes …


      1. Well put, Mike. When I read “exhausting flight,” I first thought they were coming from the USA — indeed an exhausting flight.

        Yes — and what are Guam National Guard members doing in Afghanistan? I suppose the Army would say “gaining valuable experience” while collecting combat pay.

        May I borrow one of your sayings? We win the day we leave Afghanistan …


      2. The flight Mazar – Kabul takes one hour, and if they rather had flown to Bagram it would have been even shorter. Possibly a slip of the pen and the ‘exhaustion’ probably refers to the whole flight from Guam, but that is hardly the point. With all due respect to all you veterans (and particularly those of you who now fight against wars) and to armies in general when they are used exclusively to defend one’s country against an invader, who are these ‘heroes’ to complain about flight exhaustion to start with? Sixteen years and eight days ago such airplanes (and who knows, maybe even some of those complaining military ?) started transporting hundreds of bewildered men and boys, some as young as 14 – think about it if you have (grand) children that age – including perfectly innocent Afghan peasants. They were kidnapped, beaten and otherwise assaulted and then chained to the plane’s floor, hands and feet shackled, hooded, eyes and ears goggled and taped shut, all the way from Kabul or Kandahar to Guantanamo, Cuba. Ever tried sitting on a bouncing metal floor with your legs stretched in front of you and your hands tied behind your back, without any possibility to change your position, for some 17 hours?
        Now that indeed was a gruelling journey that left its ‘passengers’ truly exhausted.
        A fact worth remembering if ever watching the Four of the Apocalipse in ‘Once Upon a Time in Afghanistan’, this latest whitewash movie. The film’s story and the lawless renditions took place in the same period, as did Dostum’s main war crimes …
        Some of the victims are still locked away without ever having been charged with any crime – but having been tortured all the same ‘just in case’ – and even those who after many years have been released, never received even an apology, let alone reparations.
        As for the airport in Mazar, it used to be an oasis of peace. Tiny, relaxed, maybe somewhat inefficient :-), friendly, human. Thanks, however, to the never-ending ‘training & support’ interventions, Afghan airports have all been militarised and have become a nightmare for civilian passengers, who are merely tolerated at best.
        So allow me, as a civilian, to feel no admiration or compassion whatsoever for the whining of this ‘overstretched’ army. They had a choice, their victims didn’t.


  6. Well explained W.J Astore. Such movies preserve more cinematic value; I have always been excited for movies that display script from soldiers’ view. I have written about 12 Strong this year and listed it in the finest War Movies of 2018 because of the reality it houses.

    Would love if you give your thoughts on the list I have curated. Here it is –


Comments are closed.