General David Petraeus

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By Govindini Murty. After watching the fine documentary The Surge recently, my first thoughts to myself were: “Why hasn’t everyone in America seen this?” Why does it take a documentary made by a group of independent filmmakers (and just recently screened at the 2010 G.I. Film Festival) to finally, clearly and rationally explain to me what was going on with the sectarian violence in Iraq in 2006 and 2007, and how the military surge defeated it? Why couldn’t the media do a better job of covering the war and explaining what was happening to the public?

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Oh, that’s right!  As The Surge recounts in one very telling scene, the media were all sitting back in their hotel rooms in the Green Zone and were too afraid to even venture out and see for themselves what was going on in the rest of Bagdad. Lacking the first-hand knowledge that would come from going out and doing their jobs as reporters, the media fell back on its usual playbook of anti-American cliches and Vietnam-era allegories to report on the war each day.

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For there was voluminous media coverage of the war in 2006-2007, but it was so biased and so distorted that one could never get a clear sense of what was really going on on the ground, even if one followed the news avidly. The overwhelming impression the media conveyed about Iraq was that it was just a hopeless welter of violence, and that no matter what the U.S. military did, it was in the wrong. Then you add to that all the anti-war Hollywood movies that were coming out in 2006 and 2007 that painted American troops in Iraq as sadistic killers and rapists (In the Valley of Elah, Redacted, etc.), and that portrayed the Republican leadership in Washington as incompetent cretins who callously sacrifice American troops overseas (think Tom Cruise’s portrayal of a careerist Republican senator – who needlessly sends American troops to their deaths in Afghanistan – in Robert Redford’s Lions for Lambs), and you get a very distorted picture of what is really going on. Watch The Surge online today (it’s only 34 minutes, and you can watch it above), and the thicket of lies, obfuscation, and anti-American propaganda that is the crowning achievement of our media and pop culture establishment will be rapidly cut away by the clear, objective truth.

What interested me the most about The Surge was the manner in which it reaffirmed the importance of being grounded in reality and appreciating the lessons of human experience in order to achieve real-world victory.  The Surge worked because General Petraeus and General Odierno emphasized the need to work on the ground with the Iraqi people.  As a conservative, this respect for reality and personal experience is one of my core beliefs, and that is why I am in a constant rhetorical battle against the left’s attempts to obfuscate reality and rewrite history (which is after all the sum total of all our personal experiences). This is a theme I will be discussing a great deal in the weeks to come: the importance of “not-forgetting,” or what philosopher Eric Voegelin calls the importance of “anamnesis.” The left would like us to forget the success we just achieved in Iraq, but The Surge records it and presents it before our eyes in an insistent act of remembering.

As General Petraeus and General Odierno express in their interviews, what allowed The Surge to work was a new strategy that was based on sending American troops directly into the worst, most violent neighborhoods, having them take up residence and get to know every Iraq family personally, and then literally working house by house to both defeat the terrorists and to get the Iraqi people on the American’s side.

As The Surge shows, this strategy worked brilliantly. The Iraqis finally got fed up with Al Qaeda, saw first-hand that the Americans were sincere in building a democratic Iraq and were there to help, and turned on the terrorists themselves. It is also amazing to see depicted in the film the bonds that the American troops built with the Iraqi people by living and working with them – and what patience, hard work, and ingenuity this counter-insurgency strategy took. It’s a complex, dramatic, and ultimately touching story of good winning out over evil.

The story of The Surge would make a great feature film – but of course Hollywood will never make a film that depicts this kind of American military success. Fortunately, Hollywood doesn’t have a strangehold on filmmaking, and with current digital technology, perhaps some independent filmmakers can get together and make a fictional drama based on the events of The Surge. I would be the first to line up to see it.

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4 Responses to “Further thoughts on The Surge: An Insistent Act of Remembering.”

  1. Thank you Govindini for a most interesting and informative post. I had no idea that “The Surge” we heard so much about a few years ago was anything more than additional troops on the ground to add to the available firepower. From what you and Jason have written and from what is in the documentary, “The Surge”, it clearly was so much more. What a wonderful approach the soldiers followed. It was marvelous to read about its success. How sensible, to get to go from house to house, to get to know the local families and to gain their trust, and have them recognize on their own what a negative path the Al Qaeda operatives were following. Sounds so sensible, one can hardly believe that it was actually used! How inspiring to know that it was. Thank you both so much for bringing this wonderful documentary to our attention. Agree that it would be a worthy subject for a full length film or documentary. How sad that we have a Hollywood film industry that doesn’t look for stories like this as a basis for its films and focuses more on the things that put America in a bad light. There are many good things being done by Americans around the world and it is time to learn more about these rather than so much that is negative. Where oh where is Hollywood in this effort…sadly, it seems to be MIA (in more ways than one.)

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Looksoverpark! Yes, I agree it was very interesting to finally learn about the human dimension to the strategy behind the Surge, and that’s why we enjoyed this film so much. It’s also interesting how these same principles of putting people first are proven right in international development, which is something else I am thinking about posting on. I grew up in a family that was involved in international development projects, and had many interesting experiences I will have to tell our readers about (such as what the theme of freedom means for cultures around the world)! :) We will be posting about many more films like “The Surge” in the days to come that reveal fresh perspectives and new ideas from what Hollywood is currently offering, so stay tuned!

  2. Lorenz Gude says:

    I haven’t watched The Surge yet, but I will. I was so interested in the Iraq war that I followed it closely through blogs that did inform anyone who was interested about what was actually going on. Particularly Bill Roggio’s Long War Journal and Michael Yon’s blog and Iraqi and US soldier’s blogs. But also Kimberley Kagan’s Institute for the Study of War which laid out in alarming detail the strategy and much of the operational detail of the surge before it happened. And it was authentic material – another Kagan (I can’t remember if it was her husband or not off the top of my head) had a lot to do with developing the idea of the surge and selling it around Washington. By itself this story is an outline for one heck a blockbuster documentary or fictional drama. But what I want to say over everything else is that the real story reads like fiction – the massive dysfunctional bureaucracy that is the US Government actually – against all the odds, not just the MSM and Hollywood – turned itself around and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. And with the help of the majority of the Iraqi people as you so accurately point out. That too is part of the truth that is lying hidden in plain sight on the shelf and why the citizens of Ramadi have a more accurate picture of the US military than the citizens of Hollywood.

  3. Sarah Rolph says:

    Great post, great blog. I can’t wait to watch the documentary.

    Here’s an interview with General Petraeus about the Surge of Ideas that led to the Surge:

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