As the United States of America exits Afghanistan after fighting the longest war in its history, and the city falls back in the hands of the Taliban, it seems to be an appropriate moment to ruminate and examine the legacy of the war on terrorism.
Netflix’s latest documentary, Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror, released on 1 September, documents the events which led the United States to declare war on terror and its aftermath.
Directed by the filmmaker Brian Knappenberger, known for The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz and We are Legion, the documentary tries to make sense as to what went wrong and how America finds itself trapped in one of the messiest wars in one of the most difficult terrains in the world.
Though the American troops have hastily left Afghanistan, the war is not yet over, and its repercussions will be experienced all across the world.
Perfectly timed to be released just before the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, one of the most harrowing events of the twenty-first century, the documentary opens with the audio clip recorded on 11 September, 2001 — air traffic controller giving take-off clearance to Flight 11.
The first episode chronicles the events immediately preceding the attack on the twin towers, the 9/11 attack, and its immediate aftermath — chaos, confusion, uncertainty, death. From there, the narrative moves on to 1979, where it all started — the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
By combining the testimony of experts and people engaged in the geopolitical conflict, the documentary lays down the framework from the American aid to the Mujaheddin fighting against the Soviets, the hasty retreat of the Soviets from Afghanistan to the power vacuum which led to the emergence of Al-Qaida and Taliban.
A five-part docuseries, it narrates all the key events, though not a minute-by-minute shot, from recounting the survivors’ stories to the first troops moving into Afghanistan, to the opening of prisons in Abu Gharib and Guantanamo Bay, to torture, to the killing of Osama Bin Laden, to the present day — the signing of a peace deal with Taliban.
Following America’s longest war, it tries to understand how the just war declared by the U.S. has gone awry to such an extent. As one of the interviewees says, “It may be because we tortured.”
Piecing together the interviews conducted with the U.S. administration officials, former CIA agents, military veterans, Afghan warlords, Taliban leaders, soldiers and other civilians, the documentary recounts the poor policy decisions and vague strategies that caused America to lose the plot so badly.
The documentary, however, is mostly an American lament, their story and doesn’t shine a spotlight on those who plunged the country into war. No judgment is passed on the architects of war or of torture.
The series attempts to grasp the trauma caused to Afghans and those wrongly tortured under the banner of the war on terrorism and condemns the hubris that inevitably created more terrorists. But it is essentially a commemoration of America’s war on terrorism.
Though the actions of the Afghan soldiers are condemned (rightfully so), the American soldiers are not called to account for the horrors perpetrated by them on Afghans. Ending with a piano rendition of America the Beautiful, it is an American narrative through and through. The Afghan narrative is mostly missing, and they are the mere spectators in America’s war.
To that extent, the series is disappointing and does not add much to the multiple 9/11 narratives out there. But it gives a broader picture of events that are no less important today than 20 years ago. More so, today, when the world is trying to grapple with America’s hasty retreat, and the Taliban is emerging as a threat once more.