Readers familiar with the work of C.J. Chivers might know him best for his portrait of Vladimir Putin from Esquire or the writing that helped The New York Times score the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting. Lately, however, he has not only been writing traditional articles for print while blogging about Marines who shave daily and shower every two months—he has wielded a camera to take his virtual audience along to places that we might not be willing to go in real life.
In “The Inches that Matter,” which came to us via Gangrey.com, Chivers joins Marines trying to push Taliban forces out of Marja in Afghanistan. The narrative arc of the video begins with an exchange of fire and the realization that the Taliban forces have a sniper—or at least someone drawing a bead effectively on forces, figuring out the distance to his targets and adjusting ever more accurately for the wind. The tension builds and comes to a climax when an American soldier is shot.
The video takes place in broad daylight. Chivers’ voice conveys drama without melodrama, and his writing chops show in how much he conveys with the dialogue he leaves in, as well as the concise explanations he gives for the visuals. It is the simplest of storylines: Soldiers shoot at an enemy that shoots back at a distance. But the surprise comes when we learn that a ground-to-ground missile fired to support these Marines lands a few hundred yards from its target, killing 12 civilians.
Chivers tells us about two missed marks: One has the fortunate result of a minor wound that, a little to one side, could have been fatal. The other turns an attempted strike against the Taliban into tragedy. While Chivers can only hint at what the deaths will mean for the residents of Marja and for the Marines themselves, in just 5½ minutes, he tucks a story of soldiers trying to fulfill a mission into the complex reality of war.