Movies And Shows You Need To Watch To Understand The US Military, By A British Army Officer

The Long March

I’m not sure that books are necessarily the best medium for understanding the US military. I’m inclined to think that a combination of television and movies (the ultimate expression of American culture as they are) are probably more help in understanding the US military.


At the very least they show us (foreigners) how the Americans want to see themselves.

So here, in no particular order, are my five suggestions all Allies should watch before working with the Americans and why.

  1. Three Kings – Showcases the idea that many of the most patriotic Americans sometimes have deep concerns about what they are doing for their country and why, but also shows that they will do the right thing in the end, even if it is against their orders and own best interests.
  2. Band of Brothers (any episode) – An unmatched depiction of basic, unvarnished heroism. All American officers see themselves as Dick Winters, apart from the small number of odd balls who seem themselves as Lewis Nixon.
  3. War Machine – Worth seeing if only for the moment when the General’s guard is down and he expresses his true feelings of contempt for a British Lt Colonel. I suspect that this is closer to a lot of senior officers’ viewpoints than they would wish to admit.
  4. Restrepo – The best film of the Afghan War, which means you really have to see it if you want to understand a military to a degree shaped by and still fighting that war.
  5. Generation Kill – Proof that, underneath it all, soldiers/marines are pretty much the same no matter where you come from. Most of them are pretty good guys, some officers are better than others, and there is always at least one person that you really wouldn’t want your sister to date.

Honourable mentions go to Pentagon Wars, which will prepare Allies for the difficulties they will face with American bureaucracy, while The Dark Knight explains how the Shining City on the Hill ended up behaving like the British Empire and U571, which as well as being the worst movie in the whole of human history (yes – it is worse than Weekend at Bernies) also highlights the fact that the Americans will undoubtedly write Allies out of history when they come to record it.

Tom Mcilwaine is a British cavalry officer who is a 2012 CGSC and 2013 SAMS graduate and has served on operations in command and staff roles in Afghanistan and Iraq alongside US forces. He is currently Chief of Staff of 51st Infantry Brigade, part of 1st United Kingdom Division.

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