War is a politically toxic subject. In a world that has been ravaged by two world wars, a 13 year war in Afghanistan and an 8 year war in Iraq, this has never been more true. In the liberal, humanitarian West, the idea of going to war, promoting war or even discussing the prospect of war can now ruin political careers and divide whole countries. Western powers are still only just recovering from the deep wounds and distrust left by conflict in the Middle East, uncertain as to how to deal with ongoing upheaval in the region.
Considering this, it is unsettling how the bulk of contemporary war films aim to portray recent conflicts, and refreshing when something new comes along. Lone Survivor, Zero Dark Thirty and American Sniper all make the list of recent war films dealing with conflict in the Middle East. But what is so off-putting about some of these ( American) films is how they deal with previous campaigns in the region. American Sniper, for example, has been critiqued for having a pro war, pro military agenda. While it reminds you that ‘War is hell’, it also justifies killing in the name of patriotism, deifying a man who killed more than 160 people. Lone survivor, similarly, is a flag waving flick.
The never ending flow of these jingoistic films is incredibly tiresome. They beat you over the head with a common ideology justifying wars that have been extremely questionable. It is refreshing then to watch a film like Kajaki, the new Paul Katis film following a group of British troops who became stranded on a minefield in Afghanistan in 2006. Kajaki offers no political statement about the war in Afghanistan, nor does it idolise soldiers and their actions. There is no faceless enemy either, and instead the enemy is organisational cock ups and human error. Not a single shot is fired at a taliban fighter in Kajaki, the focus being less on combat and more on human behaviour.
This is not to say war films should not be made. As Thomas Hardy wrote in The Dynasts, “War makes rattling good history”. But the current string of borderline propagandist, archaic war films needs to have more of a counter balance. We need more films like Kajaki that tell human stories and not ones of gung ho action heroes.