I was given the opportunity this afternoon to go see 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi; naturally, I went. If you are short on time, let me give a mini-review: it is a very good war movie that will help you visualize a little of what it must have been like to be in the middle of that night of chaos, uncertainty, and death. It is not exploitative, it bends over backwards to avoid giving any specific political observations, and it does not attempt to take one or another partisan side – and it is precisely these three things that make it a literally damning indictment of Hillary Clinton, the Obama administration, and the Left’s oversight of American foreign policy since 2009. This movie is going to be make-or-break time for a lot of progressive movie reviewers; they’re going to have decide whether they’re progressives first, or movie reviewers first. I’m quite keen to see how that works out for them.
The plot of 13 Hours is straightforward, but never simple, because nothing that went on in Libya at that time was ever simple. The CIA was running a ‘clandestine’ operation in Benghazi, complete with ex-military serving as private security contractors. This meant that, when the American ambassador to Libya was ambushed during a visit to Benghazi, those contractors were the only people who were immediately available to try to help. What follows then an exercise in applied frustration and danger, because all requests for aid and assistance were… even ‘ignored’ doesn’t quite reach the level of sheer indifference implied. In the end, four men died, including the Ambassador to Libya. And those deaths were all preventable.
None of the above were spoilers, of course: they’re documented facts, and that’s what makes 13 Hours such a dangerous movie to the Democratic party. Michael Bay clearly did not want to join the partisan wars with this film; for example, nowhere is there a scene where either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama is shown condemning the Americans in Benghazi to their fate, although such a scene would be easy enough to shoot and thematically appropriate to boot. Instead, Bay concentrated on the soldiers (because that’s what they were, whether or not they were currently enlisted in an American military force) themselves, showing us their reactions to an environment that was as deadly as it was surreal*. If there were any overt politics in the film, it was all left on the cutting room floor.
And it’s that steadfast refusal to go Hillary Lied, People Died that is so damaging. There is no room for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama in this movie – at least, no room for any kind of character that would be pleasing to either politician. Which is interesting, because one quote that makes the rounds in this film is the Joseph Campbell one that goes “All the gods, all the heavens, all the hells; are within you.” Which may or may not be true in general, but I think that it’s interesting to note that the director of this film had clearly decided that neither the current President nor the ex-Secretary of State could handle that truth. In a way, Obama and Clinton got their wish. They did not wish to be responsible for what happened; and, indeed, they are missing from this movie accordingly.
The problem is, of course, that those two are responsible for what happened. And, again, that’s not partisanship. That’s simple objective reality. And another inconvenient truth here – well, for them – is that 13 Hours, by its nature, is probably going to be our go-to narrative about the Benghazi story. It’s not a narrative that flatters the people who were in charge at the time.
Anyway. Sure, go see the film. And do try to see it in theaters, because it is a Michael Bay movie, which means that Stuff Blows Up Real Good in it.
*From a cinematographic point of view, I really liked how Michael Bay showed the ambiguity of the battle in Benghazi. The Americans are supposed to have Libyan allies. And they did have Libyan allies! At least a couple are shown as sticking with the Americans throughout the entire, seriously messed up situation. But you’re never quite sure if the latest bunch of heavily armed people in civilian clothes are there to help or hurt the Americans; and the Americans are unsure about that, too, and the soldiers are all bitterly aware that if they shoot the wrong person they’ll probably end up in jail for it. It was a good source of narrative tension, throughout.