Winded on a Hillside


In the 21st century, you can watch war being waged in high-def first person, an impoverished but often visceral analog of combat. These three and a half minutes of bald terror stuck to me:


An Army infantryman (looks like 4th ID) draws Taliban machine gun fire away from his squad, bullets chipping at scree that keeps giving under his feet. He skids across the hillside and take four hits, including one that knocks his rifle away, before the tape ends on his cries for help. It doesn't tell the whole story; after the tape ends he got down the hill and eventually returned home "with no permanent injuries."

The YouTube war porn genre is dominated by JDAM impacts and the like, unseen enemies turned into dust clouds and cheers, so it's jarring to see cask-strength fear pop up in Related Videos. And with ballin' fidelity: you hear rounds snapping, his ragged breaths, a magazine clacking into the well. The view swings between a lovely valley and the damned grey hillside offering no purchase and even less cover. The footage doesn't show the other side of this exchange, not even a muzzle flash, so it's only those dainty little puffs that tell you why he's running and shooting and sucking wind and likely cursing the 80 pounds of gear that cost him his mobility and maybe his life. It does a great job of putting you there, specifically the there where no one would ever want to be.

I put it in the same "required consumption for anyone looking to be part of the sharp end" canon as this book, whose horror will probably make you nauseous. Both of them ring the same bell: oh sweet mercy, keep me away from that hillside and solidly in this chair, and an infinitude of kudos to everyone who's ever picked their way down under fire, with or without a GoPro stuck to their helmet.