We see the men taking fire from the Taliban forces. We see them firing back. We see them questioning the locals. We see them trying to get into the minds of their foes. We watch them trying to figure out how to talk about their fucked-up experiences here with the clueless folks back home. But mostly we watch them as they bond together, creating a group identity. We see them talking about home. We see them teasing each other. We see them wrestling for kicks--in one instance stirring up a "battle of the cherries," pitting two milky-white, inexperienced newbies against each other in a friendly tussle, the onlookers egging their boy on and boasting of their favorite: "We're making him into a man, and that's the only thing that's important here." We see male tenderness right where we might expect least to see it: in the heat of combat. We see these soldiers (dare I say it) fall in love with each other. Then we see them sobbing over their fallen friends.
The Battle of the Cherries (Vaughn vs Spanky)
I mention the movie here not only because I recommend everybody seeing it, I do, but also because, watching it, I am reminded of the soft spot I have in my heart for military men. Some of this feeling comes from having grown up around them, living on and around various Air Force bases as a boy. Men like these--not GQ beautiful, but sweet, decent, rugged men with few delusions about what life is all about--were my first imprints on what manliness is and what I find attractive in men.
Periodically through the film I found myself breaking into brief choked sobs, due not so much to the spectacular awfulness of these guys' situation as to their earnest, honest faces as they try to put into words what their lives, so precariously placed, mean to them now.
And I have to ask you: Is it wrong for me to think of these men as "sexy"? Because I do. Sex is even mockingly invoked in the film, and not just in the battle of the cherries. Earlier, when three guys "mess with" the cook, dragging him to the ground to grope him, one guy states, "Look at him, look how sexy he is. I mean, look at this guy. He's a beautiful man. I'd fuck him back in the States." It's a laugh line, of course, but I would argue that it comes from someplace. Which is not to suggest these men are queer, but rather the opposite: that what in the States is considered "queer" is really a fundamental part of the male psyche, regardless of one's number on the Kinsey Scale.