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TV and Film

The Ethics of “13 Hours”

By Amy Brown
21 Jan 2016

Michael Bay’s new film 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi was released on Friday. The film is meant to depict what happened in the infamous 2012 Benghazi attack in Libya that left an American ambassador and three other Americans dead. Benghazi has been prominent in political rhetoric since its occurrence. Since it only happened less than four years ago, and is still being investigated, whether or not this movie is ethical is in question.

Bay’s approach to the film appears to be a straightforward war movie filled with action sequences. He does not focus on the government very much or offer any deep political analysis. However, in his attempt to make the movie less political and more action-based while still broadcasting it as a true story, he present theories as facts and take liberties that maybe should not have been taken. Since the investigation is still ongoing, and the American public still hears about the attacks in the news, presenting unverified information as fact is risky. In order to make the film more wildly appealing, Bay gives into some conspiracy theories, which will only serve to further muddle the facts in the eyes of the general public. He also simplifies the situation – in order to create a better action story with heroes, Bay makes the CIA the real villains, showing how bureaucracy gums up the works for the military contractors protagonist, and how the delay from the intellectuals giving the orders actually lead to the deaths. Whether or not some of these events actually happened is in serious question. The order to stand down from the CIA likely never came; the movie blames military incompetence for the lack of air support, but there actually were no combat-ready planes close enough to help. Bay strips many details that show the complexity of the attack. Another criticism is that with the events happening only a few years ago, it is somewhat insensitive to depict the attacks in such a format.

There has been some praise for the film’s depiction of the difficulties of securing American personnel in dangerous locations. Reviews also praise that Libyans were humanized, which is different from many action movies about or involving the Middle East. The story depicted has also been called inspiring, as it shows men willing to lay their lives down for others, with a touch of patriotism. Bay’s depiction of the logistics of the situation – the location of the two American buildings that were attacked, the accessibility as they bordered public streets – is accurate. The movie has been rated enjoyable despite its factual pitfalls and plot holes.

In short, America lacks the hindsight to put the events into perspective in a dramatized version, so the release of a movie about the event only serves to add to the jumble of confusion around the events. Bay took an event that is inherently political and attempt to make it apolitical, but that is impossible to do with a situation such as Benghazi. Despite the positive aspects of the film, there are many controversial elements in the adaption. Is it ethical for Bay to have made this movie? If the film had more closely followed the events as uncovered thus far in the investigation, would that be better?

Amy graduated from DePauw University in 2017, and was a Hillman Intern and the Digital Media Assistant Managing Editor at the Prindle Institute for Ethics. At DePauw, she was an Honor Scholar and Political Science major with a Russian studies minor. She has spent time abroad in the Czech Republic and now works in Washington, D.C.
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