Veteran Film Review – The Hunger Games

I saw The Hunger Games last weekend and really liked it. I didn’t know anything about the books but I’m a fan of hype and spectacle, so I was naturally sucked into this. I’m not sure that this film really fits into the intent of this blog (Soldiering, writ large) but I liked the movie so much and have a few things I’d like to share that I’ll try to fit it in here somehow.

First, I can’t tell if the movie is kid friendly or not. It is rated PG-13, but there is something more disturbing about kids hacking up other kids than the usual PG-13 fare. While the violence in this movie might be comparable to any other PG-13, it just seems worst – and creepier – when it is done by children to other children. The filmmaking is partly to blame for this. There is significant drama and build up to the part where the kids enter the ‘arena.’ I felt the fear and anxiety.

The adult part of me thinks that this was probably too violent and too heavy a subject for kids. Then, I try to think about what I would think about the movie when I was a kid. I’m sure I would roll my eyes at any adult telling me that I can’t handle a movie like that. And I could only imagine that kids today see a whole lot worse way before they get in the theater. I think it’s more a matter of my own sensitivities becoming more – sensitive – than anything kids are experiencing. Kids are tough.

Second, the film appealed to me for a couple of reasons, albeit, after the fact – I didn’t know much about the movie before walking into the theater. I love post-apocalyptic scenarios. It speaks to the general anxiety about where we are (as a society) and where we are going. This, coupled with the voyeur, reality television super-celebrity of seemingly ordinary people made it feel incredibly relevant. Add to this the individual struggles that each of the contestants faced and the moral and ethical dilemmas strewn throughout, and it has me hooked.

Stranger still, are the reactions I felt to some of the scenes. Even though I was repulsed by the idea of kids being forced into this impossible situation of having to fight for their own survival for the entertainment of others, I couldn’t help feeling that the main character (Katniss) should have killed each contestant whenever the opportunity arose – even in the climatic scene (I won’t spoil it). I liked the character, and wanted her to win and survive, even though it meant doing something I didn’t like.

Then, I was bothered by the fact that winning didn’t even constitute winning, since by being forced to play the game in the first place, the contestants already lost.

The other thing that intrigued me about this movie was the hyper-reality celebrity culture that promoted The Hunger Games. It was a mix of Live From The Red Carpet (the entrance of the Tributes), the reunion show of any Housewives series, and American Idol – with pedestal mines and blades. The character Caesar Flickerman (brilliantly casted – Stanley Tucci) is a mix of Ryan Seacrest, Andy Cohen and Harvey Levin – the ultimate reality show announcer/provocateur!

This really isn’t much of a review, just some ramblings about the movie. I’m a fan of things that get me thinking, and this did it. I liked it so much I’m about to start reading the books.

Lastly, here’s a link to an interesting article about some people’s reactions towards the races of some of the characters.

And may the odds be ever in your favor.

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Enough with the ‘infidel’ stuff. Seriously, stop.

I keep a list of things I plan on writing about and they sit and wait for me to get to them. One of them that has been sitting there for awhile is a blog post about the way some troops enthusiastically embrace the title ‘infidel.’ Well, I missed the ship on this one and there was actually a great article on this topic over at It’s worth the read and I’d be happy if you stopped here and just read that article, but there are a few things I would like to add.

First, this is a topic that I naturally gravitate to because it sits at the intersection of my two lives: the infantryman and the Middle East Studies student. Without question, Middle East Studies and studying abroad has made me more aware of things in that orbit. And having been an 11B for five years, I feel confident that I understand how the infantryman’s culture works.

Second, I see this stuff everywhere. Bumper stickers on post, t-shirts in the gym, posts on Facebook. Without question, there are a number of people in the military who enthusiastically embrace the term ‘infidel.’ And there are a host of companies out there ready to cash in on the trend.

I get it. The word infidel sounds cool, and there is something neat about repurposing a supposedly negative title and owning it. When I speak with people on the subject, enthusiasts of the term usually speak in generalities (“That’s what we are to them, infidels. So it’s not like we’re saying anything outrageous.”) The problem is that when people say “them” they are usually referring to jihadists (a loaded term itself). But enthusiasts are using a term that is generally religious but not necessarily tied to Islamic terrorists. Yes, there is an Arabic word كافر and it means a number of things to different people, with varying degrees of intensity. That is, just like there is no such thing as one Islam (just as there is no universal Christianity), there is no one way in which the idea behind the term ‘infidel’ is understood or used.

My problem with this phenomenon is twofold: 1) whether people mean it or not, the word casts a conflict in religious terms, which is what we don’t want, and 2) the brand is worn to be antagonistic, not simply factual.

More importantly, what are people trying to communicate by wearing a t-shirt that says كافر or a bumper sticker, like the photo above, that says ‘Major League Infidel?’ The word كافر (kafir) can mean a number of things: irreligious, unbeliever, infidel, atheist, ungrateful (Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, 1976). Since I haven’t seen any shirts with the word ‘atheist’ or ‘unbeliever’ paired with كافر, I would assume most of the time people are aligning themselves with the word infidel: “a person who does not believe in religion or who adhere’s to a religion other than one’s own.” (Oxford Dictionary). So by using the term, the person is declaring themselves an atheist or some religion other than Islam, since that is where this is directed.

The word is completely wrapped in religion and doesn’t belong in our discourse on war, officially or unofficially, seriously or playfully.

Just like the Vibram Five Finger shoes “controversy,”, this is a topic that attracts strong emotions. Look at the hundreds of comments and some of the vitriol over at the article on It’s bad. Why is this the topic that people want to get excited about or hold strong feelings on? I don’t know the answer to that, but it must get to something at the core of people to pull such bitter feelings.

I’m doubtful that this will be going away anytime soon. I’m hopeful though that people will keep writing about it and exploring the topic. I know I will.

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VAntage Point – Back in the Army, But Still Feel like a Veteran

I wrote a blog piece for VAntage Point this past week about being back in the Army, but still feeling like a ‘veteran.’ I spent the past five years building an identity as a veteran and talking about veteran issues from the perspective of someone who was in the Army, but out. Now that I’m back in, I still have the feeling of ‘being a veteran’ and I’m trying to reconcile that with my duties and responsibilities of being a soldier.

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“We are facing an enemy unlike any we’ve ever seen before.”

One of my favorite parts of OCS was receiving our three days of ‘tactics’ training. This included Troop Leading Procedures, graphics and symbols, and course of action (COA) development. The coursework was interesting, but the instructors were the ones that made it memorable. They called themselves “Team Five” and they teach all of the OCS courses – and probably some other courses – the same stuff. They were senior infantry NCOs, mostly E7s who had seen combat a few times and were now doing their time teaching fresh-faced Officer Candidates how to be a junior tactician. They were professional, engaging, and funny. They were the first real interaction most of the OCs had with infantry NCOs, and they made a very good impression.

Anyway, at one point one of the instructors was describing the process of templating the enemy and how it can often be more challenging when facing an insurgency. He began… “Ladies and gentlemen, we are facing an enemy unlike any we’ve ever seen before.” He went on to describe some of the tactics used by guerrilla fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When I heard that line I couldn’t help but think that this was the exact kind of a line a grizzled sergeant would deliver to a room of space-infantrymen before they went out to fight aliens after the invasion. I laughed out loud a little, and looked around the room, realizing I was the only one having that thought.

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The moral equivalent of war

“What we now need to discover in the social realm is the moral equivalent of war; something heroic that will speak to man as universally as war does, and yet will be as compatible with their spiritual selves as war has proved to be incompatible.”

-William James
American Philosopher

COL (Ret) Ralph Puckett mentioned this idea in his talk to IBOLC students a couple of weeks ago. I forget what sparked him bringing it up, because it didn’t sound like it was something he always mentioned. It’s an interesting idea, the “moral equivalent of war.” The idea that war is is something universal that does something to people that draws them to it again and again. That it provides people with something they seek. Why do people join the military or seek out that excitement? There is some part of it that is about crawling out the edge to see what is there. Can you really experience that anywhere else?

As far as I can tell, no one has discovered the moral equivalent of war, yet.

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The things I carried (in the field!)

Last week, I had my first “real” field experience since being back in the Army. The field time at OCS wasn’t bad at all. We slept on cots in heated tents each night – so that didn’t really count.

Like always, we had a pretty standard packing list, designed to meet a certain weight threshold and provide the soldier with the minimum stuff he’d need for a week in the field. There are a few things that I packed in my ruck that I knew would be good to have based on prior experience. And then there were some things that I forgot to bring, based on a faulty memory. I won’t forget again.

The things I remembered to bring:
Vaseline: Chaffing happens in the field. It didn’t happen to me this time, but it happened to some friends and they came begging for it.
Gold Bond Body Powder: When you can’t wash, you can at least get dry.
Foot care kit: Moleskin, gauze, tape, and band aids. Only needed the band aids this time.
Dust brush: A barber’s brush, for weapons maintenance. There is nothing more annoying than people constantly asking to borrow your dust brush.

The things I forgot to bring:
Watchcap: How I forgot this, I don’t know. My bald head is the only thing that pokes out of a sleeping bag, and we lose a lot of heat from the head.
Bug juice: As in, insect repellant. I suppose I thought it was still Winter. It’s already Spring here in Fort Benning. My face, head, and neck have the bug bites to prove it.
Canteen cup: It wasn’t on the packing list, so I left it out. I could have used it for hot water.

I usually err on not bringing extra stuff to the field. When I was in the 82nd, everything extra that you packed would be strapped to you for the jump in, so getting as light as possible was the goal. A watchcap and insect repellant are light enough to warrant bringing to the field for the added comfort.

What else is good to bring?

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Self-preservation mode

After branching day at OCS, the BN CDR and BN CSM grabbed all of the new infantry guys and gathered us outside to give us a quick pep talk. The BN CDR spoke about the pride of being an infantryman and the importance of going to Ranger School as a new 2LT.

The BN CSM reinforced what the CDR said, and then delved a little deeper on what to expect going forward in the infantry. He talked about what he called ‘self-preservation’ mode. As a prior service infantryman, I knew what he was talking about, but never heard it put that way before. He described the suck of being in the infantry; the cold, the hot, the wet, the fatigue, the bugs and on and on and on. Life in the infantry can suck. As humans, our bodies naturally try to protect us from these things. This protection manifests itself in the shamming soldier (the ultimate of which is embodied in the soldier in the above pic). The soldier who shuts down, stops volunteering, stops being motivated, stops talking and on and on and on.

Self-preservation mode. The goal is to preserve yourself by shutting down. Anyone who’s been in the field for a few days or has been ground down by tough training knows the feeling or at least have seen others experiencing it. I felt it at the end of last week as the culmination of a weeks’ training took hold late at night.

What I found interesting, is that since hearing the CSM describe that feeling as ‘self-preservation,’ I’ve been able to identify it when it settles on me. Before, I just thought I was “tired” which seems natural enough. There’s something about labeling this thing as ‘self-preservation’ that makes it especially repugnant. Heading towards self-preservation mode isn’t weak, though – it’s natural. Your body and mind are going to push you in that direction. By acknowledging it, however, I’ve found that I’m able to reclaim it, and choose to fight it.

Fight fatigue with action. That’s been my motto when I feel myself going into self-preservation mode. The more I sit and think about how much it sucks, the deeper I go into self-preservation. If I fight it, I stand a better chance of staying out of the trap. Granted, it doesn’t always work. Sometimes things just suck and the best you can do it grin and bear it.

My hope is that by making a habit of fighting off self-preservation mode, it will become easier and easier to do. We’ll see how it goes.

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