Roughly six years ago, Afghanistan’s mountainous, beautiful Korengal Valley was a hotbed for the Taliban—and for a few soldiers, it became home.
Through the eyes of photojournalist Tim Hetherington and from interviews of a platoon stationed in the valley, “Korengal” gives an unadulterated account of what war is really like.
And that’s what “Korengal” does so well. It’s not only accurate, but it’s also surprising.
Most people would assume that soldiers wouldn’t enjoy fighting in an extremely dangerous, isolated slice of Afghanistan.
But it turns out that a lot of these soldiers relish the excitement of a firefight. And even more shocking, some soldiers said that they wanted to return to the Korengal.
Now, let me get this straight. These guys want to leave their families and get on planes to fight in a valley full of people that hate and want to kill them. That’s insane.
But in actual footage of the firefights, it’s evident that they’re having fun.
Whilst saying “f—” every other word, a soldier cheers after unloading his magazine in a firefight.
And in an interview another says, “I don’t personally talk to astronauts or any kind of extremists, but until you hear the snap of a bullet go by your head or hit your head—there’s nothing else like it.”
Of course, after the adrenaline wears off, these soldiers struggle with the ethics of war.
“Everyone tells you you did an honorable thing, you did all right, you did what you had to do, but I just hate that comment,” a soldier says.
“I didn’t have to do any of it.”
There are a few of these emotional moments in “Korengal,” especially when soldiers discuss fallen “brothers.”
One black soldier comments that although some are blatantly racist towards him, he’s sure that they would all take a bullet for him.
However, apart from the emotion and excitement, life in the Korengal can be plain boring. Lulls can last up to two weeks, and at a remote outpost, there’s not much to fill the time.
In their makeshift “home”—some plywood and a dirt floor—soldiers play guitar, play cards and argue.
One recalls arguing for nearly six hours over who would win in a fight, George Clooney or Fabio.
“Korengal” is a testament to war’s complexities. From the soldiers’ perspective it isn’t simply good or evil. War can be exciting, fun, fraternal, and boring. Thus “Korengal” is a lens into the often unseen, complicated life of a modern soldier.