When boredom turns to war

This is first piece on OWOP by former Danish soldier Christian Rye Hougaard, and I hope it is not the last one. Christian is writing about a documentary movie Armadillo which shocked Danish public by its roughness. You can read in Czech more about the film here or watch the interview with director in English here.

Armadillo is an unusual and impressive movie for two overall reasons. First it gives a unique view into the everyday life of the Danish soldiers at the frontline in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. A picture that is fascinating not only for Danes, but for all countries involved in armed conflicts around the globe since it depicts how war affects the young men send out to fight it. Besides, the technical level is very high. The pictures are ironically beautiful and it basically looks like a Hollywood war movie and not a documentary. The photographer Lars Skree however, doesn’t let the artistic value of the picture break the integrity of the characters. There is no voice over and the pictures and statements form the soldiers form the simple story.

The movie follows a group of soldiers from the kitchen tables in their homes to the endless routine patrols and boredom spend by playing computer and watching porn.

As a viewer you start to feel the boredom and frustration slowly crawling in. The frustration worsens as the platoon leader is badly wounded during one of the patrols. The central scene is a fire fight between the Danes and Taliban. The fire fight is at a very short distance and two Danes are wounded. As a viewer it is difficult not to have a strange feeling in the stomach since the cameras are attached to soldiers’ helmets and filming in the middle of the fire fight. Five enemy combatants are killed and the camera follows the soldiers to the ditch where the bodies are. It is a strong scene to see the mutilated bodies and the laughing Danish soldiers posing with their enemies’ weapons. This scene should make one feel immediately disgusted and question Danish soldiers’ actions. For me, however, it felt like there was nothing else to do in the situation. Their job is to track down and kill Taliban. The scene further describes the dilemma between boyish fascination of war and real war where it is either you or them.

The above described scene is actually one of the most discussed topics during the eight years of Danish military involvement in Afghanistan.  The reason is that one of the soldiers during the following debriefing of the episode describes the killing as a pure liquidation. This caused the Danish army lawyers to start investigating the case. For many Danes it comes as a surprise that Danish soldiers’ main job is actually to track down and kill Talibans. The reactions to the central scene just shows how little the Danish population knows about what they have agreed to send the soldiers into. Afghanistan is not a first such conflict, but fortunately works as a breaking point when it comes to the view of the Danish soldier. The jolly and clumsy “Jens” that should protect Denmark against Soviet invasion is forever gone.

He has actually started disappearing since Danish involvement in Ex-Yugoslavia where Danish soldiers were involved in firefights with snipers in Sarajevo and later in the famous tank battle in Tuzla in 1994 where several hundred Serbian soldiers – according to UN sources – were killed. The later Danish involvement in War on Terror (Afghanistan and Iraq) did not catch the attention of the Danish public either. The probable cause is the low interest from the media and a friendly wall of silence on the side of the Danish army.

Hopefully, the movie will help the Danish population to understand the gravity of sending out soldiers. More importantly, it could also make them care of what happens to them when they once get back.


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