If you want to understand counterinsurgency… by mattsteinglass
March 10, 2009, 2:40 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

…watch the first 20 minutes of Oliver Stone’s (for the most part justly) neglected 1993 film Heaven and Earth, based on the life story of Le Ly Hayslip.

I saw it Sunday night here in Hanoi, with the impressive Ms. Hayslip offering commentary afterwards. Most of the movie is pretty lousy, and the last third, in which Tommy Lee Jones inexplicably goes First Blood and starts ranting about cutting guys’ livers out, seems to have fairly little to do with Hayslip’s life, or with reality as we know it for that matter. But the first part is the best and I think the only onscreen depiction I’ve ever seen of what it’s like to live in a little farming hamlet as first the rebel insurgents and then the government come through to vie for your hearts and minds, each side using a mixture of stirring speeches, economic incentives, and brutal reprisals for cooperating with the other side. Anybody who wants to get a sense of what’s going on in Afghanistan right now should watch those first 20 minutes. Or, better, read Hayslip’s book When Heaven and Earth Changed Places, which is even better on this score.


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