BY BLAKE STILWELL – WEARETHEMIGHTY.COM
To be clear, Paramount’s new film, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is not a war movie; it’s a memoir about a journalist covering a war zone. Specifically, that journalist is Kim Barker, whose book, The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is the basis for Tina Fey’s new film.
“I was always more curious about what it was like to live through war than what it was like to die in it,” Barker says. “You’ve got aspects of real people in the movie and things that actually happened … but they make Tina Fey braver than I ever was.”
Barker, who is now a Metro reporter at the New York Times, was a war correspondent covering Afghanistan for the Chicago Tribune starting in 2002. Her time in the field was her first real experience with U.S. troops. Sometimes, those deployed soldiers talked to her as if she was their therapist.
“I love to embed with the troops,” Barker recalls. “But I found that they just wanted to talk to me about living, their lives back home, and how grueling this was on relationships to have deployment after deployment after deployment.”
In her time embedded with deployed troops, Barker saw the stress of fighting two wars take its toll on the U.S. military and those who served.
“It made me so grateful to all the people who were willing to share their stories and were super honest with me,” she says. “Those were the stories I really loved to tell, not going out and getting shot at — because I’m a chicken, and I’m not that reporter.”
Barker looked for stories that described the daily life of troops and everyday Afghans, the people who lived the war day in and day out for years.
“You wanted to be true to what they were telling you and not censor yourself, yet you really cared about the people that you were meeting there,” Barker adds. “Watching them adjust to going from Afghanistan to Iraq and back again… the stress that’s been put on our military fighting two fronts at the same time changed my view of my troops because I actually got to know them.”
Many of the Afghans in her circles want Western troops to stay in Afghanistan longer. While Barker admits she’s a reporter and not a Washington policy maker, she says the troops do provide stability for the coming generations of Afghan people.
Kim Barker with warlord Pacha Khan in 2003. Khan’s forces ousted the Taliban from Paktia Province during the 2001 invasion, with American backing. (Photo by Ghulam Farouq Samim)
“They [Afghans] are a bit more modern, they live in the cities,” she says. “I think their feeling is, ‘Hey, just give us enough security and enough civility here to let the next generation take over, and to let some sort of stability to come underneath democratic institutions.’”
For anyone who might be anxious to get out and do some war reporting in this environment, Barker believes it’s a great opportunity, but cautions the uninitiated against going in completely unprepared.
“There are openings to be able to sell stories, great stories,” she says. “When I went overseas the first time I had no clue, but I had these people around me who did, and I had a newspaper that would back me. I didn’t know what I was doing and I worry about folks going into these places without any kind of safety net at all.”
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot opens in theaters on Friday, March 4th.
Blake Stilwell is a traveler, writer, and adventurer with degrees in design, television & film, and international relations. He is a veteran US Air Force Combat Photojournalist who has worked for ABC News, NBC, and HBO. Blake is based in Hollywood, but often found elsewhere.
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