Restrepo: An Oscar for Afghanistan?

post to UNC Press Blog, 25 January 2011

Update 21 April 2011: The lamentable news of Tim Hetherington’s death covering the civil conflict in Libya reached us yesterday (20 April 2011). Restrepo is one of this fine and courageous documentarian’s major achievements. His record of what it meant for U.S. soldiers to fight in the Afghan War will stand the test of time.—MHH

Ignore all the vacuous policy statements, the bland strategic reviews, and the overblown political rhetoric inspired by the U.S attempt to pacify Afghanistan. Instead sit down for an hour and a half with the documentary Restrepo. It takes you from the abstractions about war to the experience of a platoon caught up in it. The footage patiently and courageously assembled by filmmakers Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger recreates these soldiers’ fifteen trying months in 2007-08 manning a small, exposed outpost in the inhospitable Korangal valley of eastern Afghanistan. The outpost, like the film, bears the name of an early casualty, medic Juan Restrepo. Read More »

Wikileaks is a gift – but what is it worth?

post to UNC Press Blog, 7 January 2011

Think of the Wikileaks’ release of State Department cables as one of your holiday gifts that will keep on giving … and giving and giving. Julian Assange and Company got generous just before Thanksgiving. A steady dribble from the quarter-million purloined documents should keep us happily diverted well into the new year and perhaps beyond.

But what kind of gift have we gotten? To judge from the initial government reaction, the material was earth-shaking in its importance. After thundering about dire consequences for a while, officialdom seems to have calmed down. Journalists were certainly taken by the material’s seeming importance, featuring one Wiki-derived story after another. My own experience as a historian of U.S. foreign relations leads me to a lower valuation. Let’s start with what these materials are not. Read More »