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Jan 31, 2006 1:54 pm


Perpetuating War by Exalting Its Sacrifices



For the first time in ages I watched the 1964 movie The Americanization of Emily, directed by Arthur Hiller, with screenplay by the great Paddy Chayefsky (available from Netflix). I won't go into the details of this antiwar romance set during World War II, just before D-Day. For that, click here to read Rick Gee's excellent run-down.

All I'll do is quote the lead character Charlie Madison's (James Garner) perceptive speech to his English girlfriend's (Julie Andrews) mother, who has lost her husband, son, and son-in-law in the war:
I don't trust people who make bitter reflections about war, Mrs. Barham. It's always the generals with the bloodiest records who are the first to shout what a Hell it is. And it's always the widows who lead the Memorial Day parades . . . we shall never end wars, Mrs. Barham, by blaming it on ministers and generals or warmongering imperialists or all the other banal bogies. It's the rest of us who build statues to those generals and name boulevards after those ministers; the rest of us who make heroes of our dead and shrines of our battlefields. We wear our widows' weeds like nuns and perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices.

Cross-posted at Free Association.

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Keith Halderman - 2/1/2006

To clarify, my previous comment was directed to The Americanization of Emily, however, I do agree with David's characterization of The Bridge Over the River Kwai.


Aster Francesca - 2/1/2006

"I don't trust people who make bitter reflections about war, Mrs. Barham. It's always the generals with the bloodiest records who are the first to shout what a Hell it is. And it's always the widows who lead the Memorial Day parades . . . we shall never end wars, Mrs. Barham, by blaming it on ministers and generals or warmongering imperialists or all the other banal bogies. It's the rest of us who build statues to those generals and name boulevards after those ministers; the rest of us who make heroes of our dead and shrines of our battlefields. We wear our widows' weeds like nuns and perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices."

Oh, so true. I say we will never get rid of our warrior societies until renounce our civilisation's sense of self. As long as conquest remains the metaphor of human action and the battelfield the test of human strength- as long as willingness to suffer, and not capacity for enjoyment, displays one's greatness, none of this will change.

But how many today are prepared to confront those who give such names, and build such statues?

Aster

And when we're done
soul Searching
and we carry the weight
and die for as cause-
it's misery
made beautiful
right before our eyes.
Mystery will be reavealed,
or blind us where we stand.

Sarah Maclaughlan.


David T. Beito - 1/31/2006

Look at the last twenty minutes and you'll see what I mean. Jack Hawkins' closing line is "Madness, Madness."


Mark Brady - 1/31/2006

It's been decades since I saw The Bridge over the River Kwai and enjoyed it immensely so my memory may be at fault. However, I fail to understand why it would be characterized as an antiwar movie. Please enlighten me.


Keith Halderman - 1/31/2006

My nomination for best anti-war movie ever.


David T. Beito - 1/31/2006

Movies made during the Cold War period that had antiwar themes regarding World War II were extremely rare. The only other one I think of is Bridge Over the River Kwai.