DVD Review: Rethink Afghanistan (2009)

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What a difference a day makes. Brave New Studios documentarian Robert Greenwald recently released his urgent plea to Rethink Afghanistan in the hopes that information and awareness would lead to action in helping enlist viewers and politicians to prevent our government's commitment to send an unspeakable amount of troops overseas. Yet the moment for which Americans were both prepared and dreading occurred on Tuesday night as President Obama addressed the nation to explain why he feels we risk more by simply bringing our troops home than we do by sending in more men and women.

Despite the fact that just “twenty-four little hours"
and Obama's recent speech have managed to greatly impact the way you watch Afghanistan as to whether you're resigned and numb, inspired to protest, or ready to enlist in the armed forces is concerned, the film should be mandatory viewing for anyone of voting and therefore fighting age regardless of what your politics may be.

While my reaction to the film, prior to the speech was one thing and I'm still adamant in my own beliefs, initially I hesitated to write this review because I first thought that we would no longer have a voice or a chance to act. Yet because the business of our country should be of greater concern than why a certain athlete crashed a car on his own property, we should understand that as long as we're involved in these two wars, films like No End in Sight and Rethink Afghanistan will always be timely. And this is especially important because we don't have the luxury of apathy or feeling defeated when it comes to this war, which ironically like our Christmas decorations has been one filled with the colors of red and green.

On television, the main focus has been on the green as 24 hour news channel political pundits love to emphasize the cost of the war itself. And obviously, it's heartrending to understand that our commitment will have cost at least a trillion dollars by the end of this decade when so many of us are out of work in this country and we can't even afford quality health care or education. Yet because human cost is always greater, to me it's the red that should be of main concern.

When a child is in jeopardy, no matter how broke a parent may be, if those precious few seconds wherein a life can continue or end depend on signing off on expensive ambulances or helicopters, parents will undoubtedly sign even if the result of this medical emergency could
find their home foreclosed and the parents who opted to save a life spending the rest of theirs living on the street. The instinct to preserve a life doesn't require any pundits to weigh in since it's not part of the decision and money will always come second when individuals are losing limbs and lives in an endless sea of red blood both preceded and followed by more green.

And although staggering facts and expert testimony by CIA agents, journalists, and field experts quoted by Greenwald in the documentary are sobering enough, the footage of talking heads, graphs and numbers pale in comparison to actual on-the-ground accounts. And disturbingly, some sequences that focus primarily on the increase in disability, dismemberment, and death for citizens in both countries of displaced orphans and families feel eerily familiar, echoing some of our own devastation as if blending Michael Moore's Sicko and Capitalism: A Love Story with Spike Lee's Hurricane Katrina documentary When the Levees Broke.

For when you look in the desperate eyes of those whose homes have been destroyed by bombs,
you're able to identify with the entire experience on a humanistic global citizen level. Sadly, we've discovered that the Taliban has perfected attacking us from peaceful communities and fleeing the scene instantly so that when we retaliate, it's the innocent civilians instead of the insurgents that are caught in the crossfire.

Therefore again, just like those of us who've been foreclosed or thrown out of our homes for failure to make payments when we lost our jobs or used every cent in our bank accounts and credit cards to try and prolong the life of a loved one, we must think about what life is like for those in a country of such extreme poverty coupled with so much violence. Greenwald informs us that contrary to reports that aired during the Bush administration, women have been the opposite of liberated and it's unspeakably horrifying to see the citizens of Afghanistan forced into refugee camps and left so desperate that in one scene a man offers to sell his daughter simply because he has no money to feed her.

Of course, with so much going wrong already as our soldiers are thrust into a needle in a haystack situation in difficult terrain and surrounded by a culture, language, and religion many do not understand, there are even greater
implications by our very presence which threatens to destabilize the perilously dangerous nuclear situation in Pakistan even further as noted throughout the documentary. Although Greenwald does illustrate the ways that some efforts are trying to change one of the growing problems of our involvement, the efforts of paid jobs and actual reconstruction can't compete with one horrifying fact, which is that the Taliban have decided to use our nightmarish uphill battle to their advantage by pushing us further downhill.

Eagerly turning not only civilians but the Afghan military and police force against us, the Taliban has become Afghanistan's fastest growing employer by offering the only wage earning job in the country to poach angry individuals whose lives were inadvertently destroyed by bombs to come work for the Taliban to fight against us. Thus, we're left with the terrifying realization that in addition to being unable to capture Osama Bin Laden and with money sent for reconstruction being pocketed along the way to the country, one of the major outcomes from eight years of war is that we're now facing a far more powerful, united front against us.

And this is perhaps one of the most dangerous truisms that Greenwald includes in his film since the other side is not only growing but getting stronger than ever which is in contrast to our strained resources, loss of lives and general side of the events where a majority of us support the troops but not the war since we voted for a man who campaigned to bring our soldiers home. Similarly, it's unbelievably dire to note that we're now sending troops overseas for four or five tours since people aren't exactly volunteering to fight when we're more outnumbered than we were before. And it's all the more arresting when you consider the troops who manage to make it home but have done so either disabled and/or
suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, will obviously and deservedly incur more costs of both red and green than we can even begin to anticipate. Likewise, we'll be paying for this war both emotionally and financially during my generation and the next one as the soldiers' families try to cope with what exactly happened along with the understanding that there's no way to anticipate what lingering effects will remain if and when this war ever ends or just expands further into the middle east.

While the underlying thesis is obviously to end the war in Afghanistan, near the conclusion Greenwald's ambition gets the better of him as he tries to work in so many different voices that at times it's simply overwhelming. Despite this, it's a necessary and very patriotic work that reinforces our right to question our involvement and acknowledge that perhaps the reasons we originally went into the war are no longer valid eight years later.

Although it's easy to simply say that by leaving we'd be quitting, we can learn a lot from history, if we choose to do so. Whether it's looking back only forty years ago to Vietnam or analyzing the conflicts that countless other countries have faced, one thing you ascertain is that sometimes it's braver to know precisely when to stop.

Withdrawing the troops after all from a ground war perspective isn't quitting because as pointed out the problem has only grown in size. Yet if we did bring the soldiers home and took a breath to begin addressing things from a far less hostile situation, our government and those of others who are still standing with us will be able to reexamine our strategy and reach a better solution for a problem that has spiraled so far out of control that the red and the green have begun to mix together into an indiscernible disaster that eventually we may be unable to fix.

Text ©2009, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com

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FTC Disclosure: In order to think about Afghanistan, I was provided with a review copy of Rethink Afghanistan. However, this is not a paid review nor is DVD receipt hardly an issue of financial gain since segments of the work have been made available freely to audiences for nearly a year from a grassroots perspective to educate with more than "500 house parties and screenings" to "thousands of citizens" in recent months. Overall, Greenwald's film is designed to make you share with others; think and then react-- whether it's by hosting a screening in your community (as he encourages) or in my case by posting this review to exercise first amendment rights in sharing our own thoughts, regardless of "how" and how we saw the film.