What is combat in Afghanistan like? For those of us who have not been embedded as reporters, but want to know what our soldiers in this difficult war are up against, there is now Restrepo, a documentary film by Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger. The subtitle of the film is “One Platoon, One Year, One Valley,” and in 90 riveting minutes that is what it delivers. The valley in question is the Korengal, adjacent to Pakistan, where many Americans—some 50 by the time this film was shot—have perished in combat.
Restrepo is a forward operating base on high ground in the center of the valley, named after a medic who was killed in one of the firefights that constitute daily life for our forces. Whatever one makes of the war in Afghanistan, Restrepo is essential viewing for what it tells us about the nature of the Afghan war and also the character of American soldiers—who come across as astonishingly brave and high-spirited in the face of an unimaginable challenge, and tragically vulnerable as human beings, in every sense of that word.