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The Danes in Afghanistan

A War was the Danish submission to the Oscars this year for Best Foreign Language Film of 2015. It lost out to a Hungarian movie set in a Holocaust concentration camp, but A War is well worth seeing, with or without awards. It’s in Danish, with large and clear English subtitles—you will have no problem following the action.

A War follows a company of Danish soldiers in Afghanistan. You may be as incredulous as I was—Danes in Afghanistan? And as soldiers? It turns out, however, that the Danish government and elites were able to sell the war to Danes as a humanitarian effort, to assist Afghans in retrieving their country from the Taliban and help women gain rights. Around 2010 Denmark had about 750 troops in the war, one of the highest participation rates for any country based on national population, and Denmark’s casualty rate was exceeded only by Canada and Estonia. So the idea of a movie about Danish troops in Afghanistan is not as incongruous as I originally assumed.

Denmark ended its participation in the war in 2013, disillusioned and convinced that their soldiers were sent on a “wrong” and “impossible” mission of introducing democracy to Afghanistan. Even the Conservative foreign minister when Denmark entered the war has admitted that “of course it didn’t go like we had wished.”

This background may help explain the stark realism of A War and the intense emotional involvement of a movie so spare in its cinematographic depiction of war.  No patriotic crusades here. We follow a company of Danish soldiers as they try to distinguish friends from foes, keep from being blown up by landmines (which kill an estimated 10 to 12 Afghans every day), cope with a member of the company being killed or maimed, and help the civilians they came to help.  War is hell, and a war like this is also confusing as hell.

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These war scenes are interspersed throughout the movie with home front scenes, as the unit commander’s wife copes with their three young children, and all the travails of bringing them up alone without the presence of the daddy they need. Again, no preaching is needed. You see it in the actions as they unfold.


The commander of the company makes a decision under heavy fire from the Taliban to save his troops, but civilians are also killed in the response he orders and he is sent home to Denmark to face trial for a war crime. We in the audience are placed in a dangerous moral dilemma ourselves. Having experienced the horror undergone by the troops and their commander in the heat and confusion of battle, our natural reaction is to side with the alleged war criminal and root for dismissal of the charges against him. But was he justified, and are we justified?

The courtroom drama is as intense in its own way as what we saw in Afghanistan. And with what we now know about Danes entering the war as a humanitarian gesture, the idea of their own troops killing the civilians they were sent there to protect is—well, unthinkable.

A War did have one serious limitation for me. When the commander comes home, everything is idyllic. Dad loves Mom, Mom loves Dad, Dad and Mom love the kids, the kids love Mom and Dad. If these family relationships were so Hallmark-perfect even before, as the film seems to indicate, why did Dad volunteer for service in Afghanistan to begin with? As his wife does taunt him toward the end of the movie, he has direct responsibility for three of his own young children, so why leave them to help children he doesn’t know? There are limits to humanitarianism, she seems to say. This is a question the film does not explore—perhaps because Danes are pondering that question collectively with regrets. And perhaps the answer is to avoid getting involved in the first place with wars that don’t directly involve your country.

That was not the mood in 2002, when America’s neocon governors were pressuring European politicians to join and create a “coalition.” After 14 years of an unwinnable war in Afghanistan, and with refugees now flooding into Europe as a result of America’s misadventures elsewhere in the Middle East, Europeans can be excused if they now decide to pay attention to their own interests above those of the American Empire.

A War is about the true nature of war itself, however, not politics, and it is uncommonly thought-provoking for a war movie. See it at risk of grave discomfort—and your moral edification.

David Franke was a founder of the conservative movement in the late 1950s and early ’60s. He was a proud follower of Ron Paul in his antiwar presidential bids, a candidate who, he notes, had more followers from the military than all the other Republican candidates combined.

12 Comments (Open | Close)

12 Comments To "The Danes in Afghanistan"

#1 Comment By vato_loco_frisco On March 11, 2016 @ 11:15 pm

Another Danish film worth watching is Brothers (2004), which also deals with a returning vet from Afghanistan and the affects of PTSD on his family. An American remake came out a few years later. Don’t bother with it. Watch the original.

#2 Comment By Lee On March 11, 2016 @ 11:34 pm

Just a few thoughts to consider as to adjusting the “hallmark” lens…

Danish men participate more actively in child-rearing activities than almost any other nation. The small nuclear family is considered to be the center of the culture. It is perfectly safe to leave a baby carrier out in public, or a bike outside without the need for locking it up.

Of course all of that is in process of changing, thanks to the destructive nature of immigration and multiculturalism.

#3 Comment By BaldurDasche On March 11, 2016 @ 11:43 pm

The Danes made an earlier documentary of their time in Afghanistan. It’s called “Armadillo” and it’s simply brutal.

#4 Comment By Jake V On March 12, 2016 @ 6:28 am

Quote: “Even tiny Denmark suffered significant losses in America’s War on Terror. A new film tells their story.”

This is the kind of introductory quote one expects in the HuffPost or one of the lefty websites. It says that the whole war on terror is something dreamed up by those evil neo-cons in America against innocent Muslims in the Middle East.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with the way America has conducted this generation’s war against Islamic terrorists, one should acknowledge that those who started it are terrorists who are acting the name of Islam.

#5 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 12, 2016 @ 10:34 am

The one Danish woman I know is a nurse. She’s smart, tough, intelligent, loving, kind and deeply sensitive.

She as most Danes think the US is a bit overdone with it’s tendency to shoot people down in the streets. She proudly described for me a situation in which a mental patient with a shot gun was talked down while in open area outside. She knew my response that such a man would dead before the first word could be uttered. It was tragically funny.

But on the immigration issue. She was fairly clear — no more. And on the issue of 9/11 the Danes were totally supportive.

#6 Comment By Nick On March 12, 2016 @ 2:18 pm

Thank you for this. I deployed over there. Worked an office-ish job that occasionally gave me the chance to rub shoulders with some tough men. One those men, was, at the time anyways, a Danish general. Tall and stoic like you’d expect. He asked about my day and for whatever reason I said it’d been tough. With no condescension at all, he replied, “It’s war Lieutenant, it’s not supposed to be easy.” I’ll never forget that.

#7 Comment By J Harlan On March 13, 2016 @ 12:24 pm

The former PM of Denmark, Anders Rasmussen was Secretary General of NATO. If you want your guy to get such a lofty job you have to kick in some troops. The real goals for the Afghan mission were in the coalition capitals and not the Hindu Kush. Prestigious jobs, cash, and justification of the military were the real aims.

Why did Dad sign up? That’s easy. Adventure, to command on operations, to be part of the in group, experience, get a medal(s) extra cash, ticket punching. Most importantly you don’t want to be the officer who missed the war. There is a stampede towards the sounds of the guns among “professional” soldiers.

#8 Comment By HIDE BEHIND On March 14, 2016 @ 11:01 am

U.S. Gen. Smedly Butler a Spanish Americanand, later Latin American invasions, and WWI heavily decorated hero once led a movement that Declared “War is a Racket” after his well detailed book was released, and his findings are even more prevalent and truthfull today than back then.
There is always some nefarious personalities usually of financial interest who use the political systems to profit from wars and even more to point today, the threat of some as yet unseen and undefined future dangers.
The one fact both far Right and far left have in common is their perchant to hide Humans that like wars also like to hide behind glorious sounding ideals their lust foor manhood staus. Personal profit and foremost of all the lust of bloodletting.
Wether the stiff upper lip is for loss of innocent lives or for loss of a comrade in arms, comrade in arms are all heroic but never more than when dead, and the leaders get the glory, financials the profits, and the lower massof populace pay the cost for making of heroes.
Forget the cost of foreign lives caused by high tech that gives euro-centrics a kill ratio of hundreds of thousands of enemy to loss of 1of own.
There are no loss of killers searching for outlets to fill their urges, nevrr will be for that matter.
In USbwe praise the fact that if one cannot find employ they can always join military and help expand the empire by killing those of Black and darkened skins.
US military are paid more than what40-55% of civilian men or women and family groups earn

#9 Comment By Medusa On March 14, 2016 @ 12:07 pm

Really? Another “poor soldiers and their families movie? With all the suffering the people in the Middle East are going through due the aggressive and immoral actions of Western governments, why should anyone care about the issues of the very troops causing that suffering? Humanitarian efforts? Read a newspaper before you join the military so you can’t hide behind “humanitarian” excuses.

#10 Comment By Dan On March 15, 2016 @ 4:10 am

The biggest Danish deployment in Afghanistan came around the same time as the Brits going into Helmand province and some of the politics around it was as much to do with Iraq as Afghanistan.

The ‘surge’ was a purely US initiative very one else wanted to get out, some were persuaded to stay longer then they would have, some used Afghanistan as the ‘excuse’ to say we can’t stay in Iraq but look at the important work we are doing over here instead.

One of the problems was it was done in a rush and not planned properly as the real reason for doing it was unclear. So Helmand province initially was going to be a UK only operation with 3,000 men, (1,000 combat, 2,000 in support). By the end there were 11,000 Brits, 1,000 Danes, various Baltic States and 10,000 USMC, closer to 25,000 were required, so you can imagine how bad the first few years were.

#11 Comment By ZZ On May 22, 2017 @ 10:34 pm

The pansy civilian asks “Why”. What he doesn’t know is that the Danes are badass Viking warriors and only the dead have seen the end of war…

#12 Comment By Daniel On April 11, 2018 @ 6:05 am

Quote: “Dad loves Mom, Mom loves Dad, Dad and Mom love the kids, the kids love Mom and Dad. If these family relationships were so Hallmark-perfect even before, as the film seems to indicate, why did Dad volunteer for service in Afghanistan to begin with”
– You clearly haven’t done a minute of research in the mentality of danish people. The average danes’ life is indeed very idyllic, also for soldiers. Danish soldiers keep their civilian life, while they serve in the military. Most of them are highly functioning family dads and mothers. It seems the author thinks they are turned into inhumane war robots? Do you realise that it’s their duty to disobey any order that they deem inhumane, even at war? Things are good at home, so they go to help other people in need. How is that difficult to understand?