A few days after the fall of Kabul into the hands of the Taliban, Ann Hornaday, a film critic in The Washington Post wrote that “we have seen this movie before.” This often-used expression also has the metaphorical meaning that “history repeats itself.”
But Hornaday was quoting Lloyd Austin, US Secretary of Defense, who actually said the expression to President Joe Biden to persuade him not to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan. Austin had in mind the catastrophic and embarrassing last days of the American troops’ withdrawal from Vietnam in 1975.
Throughout the years, Hollywood produced tens of films about the Vietnam War (1968-1975), some of them as recently as last year, almost half a century later, and, as may be expected, the recent films tended to be more critical of the war.
In comparison, few films have been made about the 20-year war in Afghanistan, but most of them, starting with the first one, were critical – echoing the failed US military intervention in Vietnam.
These are ten of about 20 Hollywood movies about the Afghanistan War:
1. “Fahrenheit 9/11” (2004): Directed by, written by, and starring Michael Moore. The film was very critical of former President George W. Bush and of his invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq. It was also critical of the way the American media covered the wars, accusing the media of being "lapdogs" and "cheerleaders" for not providing accurate or objective analysis of the Bush policies.
2. “Lions for Lambs” (2007): Directed by and starring Robert Redford. The film was also critical of not only Bush but, in an indirect way, the American people for marching heedlessly into a misguided war.
3. “Charlie Wilson’s War” (2007): Actor Tom Hanks played the title character of a colorful Texas politician who supported the Afghan mujahedeen who fought, and defeated, the Russian occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s.
4. “The Kite Runner” (2007): Based on a novel by Afghani-American Khaled Hossein. A story of two boys in Afghanistan with the historical background of the fall of the monarchy in Afghanistan, through the Russian invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, and the mass exodus of Afghanis to Pakistan and the US, including Hossein and his family.
5. “Taxi to the Dark Side” (2007): A documentary that forcefully indicted the American program of the disastrous and criminal-like torture and detention of “terrorists,” as ordered by Bush.
6. “The Tillman Story” (2010): About former American football player, Pat Tillman who was killed in 2004 by a friendly American soldier near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. His heroism was enhanced because the Pentagon at first tried to hide what actually happened.
7. “Restrepo” (2010): About the incompetence of US forces in the face of hostile people, unknowable enemies, ineffectual bureaucrats, and their own American general. A memorable statement by an Afghani fighter to an American soldier echoes current events – “You will be cowards if you leave. You will be enemies if you stay.”
8. “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012): The film came out a year after the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011. It is about the decade-long search for him, his role in the 9/11 attacks, the details of the discovery of his hideout in Pakistan, and the details of the military mission that killed him.
9. “He Named Me Malala” (2015): About a young Pakistani girl who escaped the Taliban’s tough laws against women in Swat Valley where the Taliban had established a small “emirate.” She was the youngest person to win a Nobel Prize and became a worldwide defender of women's rights.
10. “The Outpost” (2019): A dramatization of the 2009 Battle of Kamdesh in Afghanistan between American soldiers and Taliban fighters. The film raised crucial questions, not only about why those American soldiers were forced to fight a no-win battle but also about the futility of the larger war in Afghanistan