Afghanistan

This Marine Videographer Went Rogue To Show the Brutal Reality of War

Miles Lagoze: "They weren't really watching an 18-year-old Combat Camera kid and where he was going, what he was filming."

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Since World War II, the U.S. military has been sending teams of soldiers onto the battlefield with film and photography gear to document the action. These so-called Combat Camera teams often capture the only depictions of major military operations, and their work helps shape public perceptions.

They've been called propagandists, guilty of sanitizing the realities on the ground. In 2003, for example, when army soldier Jessica Lynch was captured by Iraqi forces, it was a Combat Camera team that captured her rescue by U.S. Special Operations. The Pentagon was later accused of dramatizing details of the rescue to lift waning public support for the war.

In 2008, an 18-year-old recent high school graduate named Miles Lagoze signed up for the Marines and became a Combat Camera videographer for his unit in Afghanistan. After his deployment in 2011, Lagoze went rogue, capturing footage that undermined official messaging, including scenes of Marines smoking hash and joking about death.

After discharging from the Marines, Lagoze compiled that footage into Combat Obscura, a new feature-length documentary that aims to show the real story of what's happening on the ground in Afghanistan.

Interview by Nick Gillespie. Shot by Jim Epstein. Edited by Paul Detrick.

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25 responses to “This Marine Videographer Went Rogue To Show the Brutal Reality of War

  1. They’ve been called propagandists, guilty of sanitizing the realities on the ground.

    Well, yeah–these guys are all attached to Public Affairs units. Their whole mission is sanitizing operations for public consumption.

  2. Lagoze went rogue, capturing footage that undermined official messaging, including scenes of Marines smoking hash and joking about death.

    You mean people in combat joke about death and relieve their stress through mind altering substances? Let me get my shocked face.

    Yeah Nick, war is hell. If only someone had pointed this out before now.

    1. I was curious about what the shocking part is. Yeah, people in very unpleasant locations tend to use a lot of really dark humor to deal with it. And drug use to try and deal with the stress? While I think drugs, by and large, are fucking idiotic — what the hell does one expect youngsters to do who are stuck in a shithole with the fear of death surrounding them?

    2. Somebody get Nick a copy of Platoon.

  3. We’re a long way from the state-controlled messaging possible during WWII and the Korean War. I don’t know anyone that has a very romantic view of war these days…

    1. No one had a romantic view of war back then. Go back and watch the war documentaries that were made back then sometime. Watch “The Battle of San Pietro” or “The Memphis Bell” sometime. They are graphic as hell. Nick is confusing war filming with Hollywood here.

      1. “No one had a romantic view of war back then.”

        I don’t believe this. I think plenty of people had a romantic view of war prior to the ubiquity of motion picture. All you have to do is read young men’s journal entries right before they were shipped off to fight.

        1. Some young people did. But that attitude didn’t last. It never does. But that constant is just that, a constant. That doesn’t make this era any more cynical or less romantic.

          1. I didn’t take your statement ‘No one’ literally. You will (rightly and justifiably) always have marine staff sergeants.

            The key, I think, is that you’d have to collect all the journals of those that didn’t get chosen and those that conscientiously objected in order to compare/contrast with those who were chosen to go. Even with all that, you’d only be able to just begin to tease out subtleties like who was eager to go even without propaganda and who was reluctant to go and used propaganda to make the best of a bad situation.

          2. Of course that attitude doesn’t last once you’ve seen combat. Its like we’re talking right past each other, John.

            I don’t believe populations hold constant views about the horrific realities of war or any other subject. I reject your contention that these things are constant — a great example being the public’s views on marijuana or gay marriage. Once vilified, personal impacts of prohibition and the ubiquity of media has caused the public’s general perception to turn on government policy surrounding these subjects. I think the public’s views on war are just as ever-changing and are most certainly more cynical than they used to be. I know this doesn’t serve as data – but I’d be willing to bet you don’t interact with too many young folk (my age group).

        2. People have always had differing views of war. And this is not limited to those who have never experienced it first hand.

          Ambrose Bierce didn’t have a camera. And didn’t need one either.

          This guy isn’t going to add anything significant to what has already been said. Thinking he will, or thinking he can says more about what you (and/or Nick) want people to believe.

        3. Very true. The book “With The Old Breed” was basically E.B. Sledge telling his story about his transformation from a starry eyed kid who romanticized the war and volunteered for it to a barbarian fighting the Japanese in the Pacific.

      2. I don’t know about “romantic view”, but plenty of guys get off from combat. And not just from cruelty or something else nefarious, Churchill said that “nothing is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result” and that is part of that attraction, having survived such an extreme test in the company of other men. For many it will be the biggest adventure of their lives and they take a lot of pride in it, make whatever you will of that.

        1. It’s certainly a rush that you can’t get anywhere else and many people take pride in it post hoc. But the majority of people do not “get off” on it and can’t wait to get out of there. I’ve only seen a small handful of people who volunteered to keep going because they were addicted to it. Everyone else counted down the days to get the hell out.

  4. So, anything worse than the beating of Kelly Thomas? The shooting death of Daniel Shaver? Philando Castille? Harith Augustus?

    Do we get footage of Taliban and the Afghan Armed Forces as well? Any footage of the Taliban or the Afghan Armed Forces smoking hash or making glib jokes (or worse)? It’s certainly a good thing to criticize our forces in an impetus to do better, but without the backstop of relativity, it could be construed as just abstract criticism. It’s not like if we just got the darned Americans out of Afghanistan, everything would go back to being unicorns and rainbows.

  5. Wow! I would suppose @6:07-6:19 sounded like “Hey Nick, fuck your open borders narrative with a baseball bat wrapped in barb wire.” in Nick’s head, but that would require me to assume Gillespie has a shred of self-consciousness or the ability to introspect on the matter.

  6. There was plenty of gruesome combat camera footage taken during World War 2 and you can see it in lots of documentaries.

    Some of it was officially released to be shown in newsreels in theaters at the time as well. Footage of bloated blackened bodies of dead Marines floating in the surf at Tarawa was shown in a newsreel about that battle.

  7. ‘Marine Videographer’ had me thinking this was about some 21st century Jacques Cousteau. My naïveté is showing.

    1. glad I wasn’t the only one that had that reaction

  8. This guy served his country and thought that he was special.

    He’s not. Its why junior enlisted people dont make the big decisions. He had a job to do and record modern conflict involving US troops. He could not even do that without stealing footage.

    I actually want to see modern combat footage to see how well the US military is fighting these days. I just want the footage neutral as possible with embedded propaganda balanced by the reality and horrors of war.

    If you think war is not one of the greatest horrors of human nature, then you are fool in my book. Young people need to understand this so they don’t let older politicians send them to die for shitty reasons.

    1. “stealing footage”

      Can’t steal from the biggest thief in the world (the US govt). That would assume they own anything.

      “Young people need to understand this so they don’t let older politicians send them to die for shitty reasons.”

      Every reason a politician sends someone to die for is a terrible reason. Fighting to protect the State’s interests is awful.

      1. Every reason a politician sends someone to die for is a terrible reason. Fighting to protect the State’s interests is awful.

        Those decisions belong to the individual.

        1. Objectively, they are awful reasons. The choices are still the individual’s to make, but that doesn’t make the reason any less awful.

    2. “I actually want to see modern combat footage to see how well the US military is fighting these days.”

      The way the US military is fighting these days really cannot be adequately captured by a single cameras on the ground.

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