Tino Calabia (Peru1963-65) Comments on "13 Hours: the Secret Soldiers of Benghazi"

Most RPCVs, new Volunteers, and staff know of RPCV Christopher Stevens’ model service as a PCV and then a U.S. Ambassador until he was slain in Libya in 2012.  Many may be curious to see how Hollywood would portray him.  Now we know.  In “13 Hours: the Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” Stevens is, in Hollywood-speak, “a bit player.”

Nonetheless, “This is a true story” declares a typed preface rolling at the film’s start.  The name of Libya’s second biggest city has become an epithet of scorn meant by many to besmirch Hillary Clinton’s record as President’s Obama’s first Secretary of State.  The killing of Stevens and three colleagues had fanned the partisan flames of the 2012 Presidential campaign, and surely those flames will flare up again before this year’s Presidential election is over.  But little in this movie can be easily argued to derail Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

The reason?  “13 Hours . . .” focuses like the laser beam of an automatic assault rifle on the actions of a small band of CIA and contract security personnel assigned to protect the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi and a nearby CIA outpost.  Questions about any specific culpability by Hillary Clinton can’t be definitively answered by the movie which shares more in common with a car-chase, bang-bang, shoot-em-up video game than it does as a documentary.

Tino Calabia

Tino Calabia

As for Stevens, he’s briefly depicted as a likable, youngish preppy-dressed diplomat who eventually becomes victimized by the initial decisions of a stuffy, inept CIA station chief.  Stevens was slain at age 52, and his personal family and his Peace Corps family know and revere him as warmly engaging, fluent in Arabic, and loved by those with whom he lived while a teacher in Morocco before going on to become a model American diplomat in the Middle East.  There’s little hint of all that here.  Seen pumping hands with admiring Tunisians, sitting alone on the side of a swimming pool, and mortally choking in smoke while the consulate in Benghazi is mortar-shelled and set afire, Stevens is on screen for a mere fraction of the almost two-and-a-half hour movie.

Instead, the movie’s storyline lives up to the movie’s title.  It’s mostly about the unflinching bravery of the “secret soldiers” who skillfully outmaneuvered militants chasing them through the city in broad daylight only to become cornered in the CIA outpost.  By nightfall, left to their own devices, they take up arms against waves upon waves of Libyan attackers.  Fans of out-gunned but brave warriors — who on one hand may be homesick fathers but can also turn into invincibly macho gunfighters — such movie-goer fans won’t be disappointed.

Maybe in decades hence, some moviemaker will produce a well-rounded film about a PCV hero that the Peace Corps community can be genuinely proud of.

Tino Calabia (Peru, 1963-65) assisted the Peruvian Embassy when Peruvian nationals voted in metro DC during their 2011 elections, served as a neutral observer for national elections in Bangladesh, led seminars for international exchange alumni in Russia, Ukraine, and Azerbaijan, earned Georgetown and Columbia degrees, and was an exchange fellow at Munich’s Ludwigs-Maximillians-Universität.  He claims spending “quality time” elsewhere when his three children variously worked in Basel, Bogota, Buenos Aires, La Paz, Sydney, and Tokyo.  His wife and one son are Life Members of the Council on Foreign Relations.


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