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War Machine - movie review

Reuven Ben-Shalom

I began watching "War Machine" on Netflix without knowing what the background was. Several minutes into the movie, I realized that Brad Pitt was portraying General Stanley McChrystal. I paused, went online, and discovered it was supposed to be some kind of satirical version of the events leading to McChrystal's resignation.


I resumed the movie, but found it disappointing and totally biased.


I have no problem with ridiculing the strategic reasoning behind military campaigns. And movie-makers have full artistic freedom to deliver the narrative that military generals have an incentive to incite and inflate the need for military might, as it shines the light on them and makes them into heroes.


The only thing is - I don't think it's true. I’m not saying everything is perfect. And I certainly can attest that not all generals are smart and worthy. But General McChrystal is. Extremely smart. And extremely worthy.


If you haven’t met Stan McChrystal, you should know that he’s nothing like Glen McMahon. Yes - he eats one meal a day, and I've seen him jog around the base like Gen McMahon does. But that's more or less where the resemblance ends.


McMahon is shown to have meager communication skills and his interaction with both his subordinates and locals is awkward and disconnected. McChrystal is the opposite. He not only brilliantly articulates what he means and expects, but manages to instill a shared purpose and coherence of perception and action. His communication with host nation representatives and coalition members is based not only on deep respect and cultural awareness, but on the fundamental belief that only an integrated, networked effort can lead to success.


It’s not only McChrytal himself that is poorly portrayed. I have had the honor to witness the dynamics within his close circle of advisers and aids for multiple times over a span of several years. I can assure you that it looked nothing like the bunch of yes-men in the movie. Each member of the team was an accomplished professional, highly valued by McChrystal, and expected to speak his mind freely in order to support not only McChrystal himself as the commander, but the mission. From his aide-de-camps, through his intelligence officers to the augmented interagency representatives, this was one of the best teams I have ever seen, and this teamwork methodology has become a model for collaborative efforts everywhere.


Another outrageously biased narrative in the movie is the despondent morale of United States Marines. I’ve worked closely with Marines, during training immediately before deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan, and also in after-action reviews and lessons-learned sessions.


They were nothing like depicted in the movie. On screen we see confused and hopeless kids, who have no idea why they are being sent away to fight, and haven’t a clue as to what it is they are supposed to achieve.


The Marines I’ve had the honor to work with were not kids, but men. They knew what their mission was and were not only willing, but eager to fulfill it. They had confidence in themselves, in their comrades and in their leaders. They knew that they were privileged to serve their country in the best and strongest fighting force in history, and they were honored to continue the proud heritage of the US Marine Corps.


Conclusion? Remember that a movie is just… a movie. And be proud of those who serve, sacrifice and ensure your freedom.

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