The Beast

The Beast

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The Beast (aka The Beast of War) is about a Soviet T-62 tank lost in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1981. The movie was released in 1988. It was based on a William Mastrosimone play entitled Nanawatai. It was directed by Kevin Reynolds, who later directed Waterworld. It starred George Dzundza, Jason Patric, Steven Baldwin. A Soviet tank unit in Afghanistan helps "clear out" a village, destroying it. One of the tanks, led by a ruthless Commander Daskal, orders the crushing of a captured prisoner under their treads of the tank. Leaving the village, Daskal's tank is separated from its unit and is soon lost. Mujahadeen warriors, led by the murdered prisoner's brother Taj, discover the lost tank and see an opportunity to take revenge. Knowing that the tank is in a valley with only one exit, they begin following its tracks, intending to use a captured RPG to attack it. Some women from the village also follow along with captured grenades in hand. The tank crew is made up of four Soviets and one Afghani. As night falls and the crew sets up camp, the Afghan tank crewman Samad teaches the tank driver, Konstantin Koverchenko, about the fundamental principles of Pashtunwali, the Pashtun people's code of honor: melmastia (hospitality), badal (revenge), and nanawatai, which requires even an enemy to be given sanctuary if he asks. We then see that Commander Daskal, called "Tank Boy" during the Great Patriotic War for destroying a number of German tanks in the Battle of Stalingrad, is not ruthless only to the enemy, but also to his men. He despises Samad and kills him on the pretext of suspecting him a traitor. After Konstantin threatens to report Daskal for the killing, Daskal orders the other two crew members to tie Konstantin to a rock, with a grenade to serve as booby-trap for the Mujahadeen. Some wild dogs come upon him and as Konstantin tries to kick at them, the grenade rolls down the rock and explodes, killing a dog but leaving Konstantin unhurt. The sound, however, draws the group of Afghani women. They begin to stone him and are soon joined by the mujahadeen. Konstantin is saved when he remembers Samad's lesson about "nanawatai," sanctuary. He calls out the word and the mujahadeen are obligated to take him with them. Camping out in a cave, they feed him and ask him to fix the broken RPG.

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The rebels have so far been unable to fire it properly, and Taj insists that Konstantin should, as he knows how to use it and they have only one round left. Seeing an opportunity for revenge against Daskal, he agrees. Just as the tank crew begins to realize its hopeless situation, a Soviet helicopter appears and offers to rescue them. Daskal, caring more for his tank than his men do, refuses. This part of the movie reflects the total insanity of war and how dysfunctional commanders can be. Once refueled they begin to head back into a narrow mountain pass, looking for the way out of the valley. The mujahadeen and Konstantin catch up with them and fire their last RPG round, but hit only the main gun. Just as it seems the tank will escape, an explosion in the cliffs above the tank sets boulders rolling onto it, disabling it at last. The village women with their grenades set off the explosion. The crew is forced out and Konstantin pleads nanawatai on their behalf. Taj reluctantly agrees. Konstantin tells Daskal that he wants him to live to see the Soviets lose the war, which he believes to be a bad war. The men flee on foot, but Daskal meets up with the women, who carry out their revenge by stoning him. Meanwhile, a rescue helicopter appears and despite the camaraderie that has developed between him and Taj, Konstantin goes with the helicopter. I found the ending to be a bit of a surprise. In looking and the movie and researching the reality of the Soviet invasion, one would come to the conclusion that the Soviet Union miscalculated their strength. When the Soviets sent troops into Afghanistan in 1979, they wanted to expand their power in Asia. They also wanted to preserve the Communist government that had been established in the 1970s, and was collapsing because of its lack of support other than in the military. Third, the Soviets wanted to protect their interests in Afghanistan from Iran and western nations.
The Soviets brought in over one hundred thousand soldiers, secured Kabul quickly, and installed Babrak Karmal as their puppet leader. However, they were met with fierce resistance when they ventured out of their strongholds into the countryside. Resistance fighters, called mujahidin, saw the Christian or atheist Soviets controlling Afghanistan as a defilement of Islam as well as of their traditional culture. Proclaiming a "jihad"(holy war), they gained the support of the Islamic world. The US gave them weapons and money. The mujahidin employed guerrilla tactics against the Soviets. They would attack or raid quickly, then disappear into the mountains, causing great destruction without pitched battles. The fighters used whatever weapons they could take from the Soviets or were given by the US. Decentralized and scattered around Afghanistan. The Soviet invasion had a devastating effect on the Afghan people. Because the rural population fed and housed the mujahidin, the Soviets tried to eliminate or remove civilian populations from the countryside where resistance was based. Soviet bombing destroyed entire villages, crops, and irrigation, leaving millions of people dead, homeless, or starving. Land mines maimed unsuspecting Afghans, especially children who mistook them to be toys. Refugee camps around Peshawar, Pakistan sprang up and quickly became overcrowded, unsanitary, and insufficiently supplied. In addition, many internal refugees fled from their region. The invasion in Afghanistan elicited a strong reaction from all over the world. The United States condemned the occupation immediately. We sent hundreds of millions of dollars worth of guns and food to Afghanistan to aid the mujahidin and the refugees. The United Nations voted to condemn the action, and repeatedly exhorted the USSR to pull out. From throughout the Arab world, people gave money and aided the mujahidin. One of these benefactors of the war was Osama bin Laden. Although the primary reason for the Soviet withdrawal was their military failure, diplomatic pressure from around the world gave then a perfect excuse to leave the country. In 1989, Soviet forces pulled out of Afghanistan. Fifteen thousand Soviet soldiers and countless Afghans had been killed in the decade-long war. Billions of dollars had been spent each year to support troops in Afghanistan. Unable to defeat the mujahidin and pressed by world opinion to leave Afghanistan, Soviet leader Gorbachev decided that the USSR had to get out. In part, the tide of the war had been turned by the introduction of US-made shoulder-launched antiaircraft missiles in 1987. With these missiles, the mujahidin shot down Soviet planes and helicopters every day, increasing the monetary and human cost of the war, and making Soviet strike tactics ineffective. Demoralized and with no victory in sight, the USSR's forces left Afghanistan. The War had critical effects on Afghanistan, the Soviets, and the US. Several million Afghans had either fled to neighboring Pakistan for refuge or had become internal refugees. In addition, millions more had died from starvation or from the Soviet bombings and raids. Among the survivors were a generation that had known only war, hatred, and fear. Homes, animals, and precious irrigation systems were destroyed, leaving the country barren and in ruin. In addition, thousands of miniature land mines dropped by the Soviet planes continued to pose a hazard to the Afghan people long after the war with the USSR ended. The USSR lost fifteen thousand troops, but the true damage done was in the loss of their image and billions of dollars it spent during the war. This fall from invincibility and vast expenditure of money to finance the invasion in part caused the USSR to fall apart in the early 1990s. One long-term effect of the Soviet invasion and pullout was the establishment of a weak state full of religious hatred and hatred of richer nations: a breeding ground for terrorism. Though supplying the Afghan resistance with American guns and anti-aircraft missiles seemed like a good idea for the US in the 1980s, and was the reason for the Soviets' defeat, now as the US invades, they are met with their own guns. Our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq after the 9/11 terrorist attacks can now replace the main actors in the movie. We see in the movie the atrocities made by the Russians killing women and executing prisoners much like our own troops are doing in Iraq. The case against some of our troops for killing and raping a 14 year old girl and her family is especially troubling in that the rhetoric around Washington is we are doing well in Iraq. This movie has really opened my eyes to our plight in Iraq as it now appears that we are The Beast.
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