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Americans love movies. We sit in the dark, eat butter-flavored chemical popcorn, sip three-gallon high fructose sodas, and let that beautiful silver screen command our brains.
Our teenage daughters fall in love with narcissistic vampires. Our sons cheer for cannibalistic psychotics to eat their next victim. We watch elves and orcs fight for control of Middle Earth (I rooted for the orcs).
The cinematic carnage consumes us for a couple hours, and then it’s back to the dull reality of the world outside.
But perhaps the best example of recreational ruination is a nice war movie. A classic deluge of putrid dialogue can be enjoyed from the 1943 movie, “Destination Tokyo.” My favorite scene is the one in which Cary Grant spews out an amazing pontification of why the Japanese are such evil people.
When a crewman (Mike) attempts to rescue a downed Japanese pilot from the sea, the satanic Japanese soldier pulls out a knife (by the way, it was a gorgeous Tanto style blade) and stabs him in the back, killing him. To help his crew cope with the horrible death of their friend, Captain Cary Grant explains:
“Mike bought his kid roller skates when the kid turned five. Well, that Jap got a present when he was five, only it was a dagger! His old man gave it to him so he would know right off what he was supposed to be in life. By the time he was 13, he could put a machine gun together blindfolded. That Jap was started on the road 20 years ago to putting that knife in Mike’s back.”
Yes, I do love old war movies. They presented the world in such easy to understand terms.
We good. They bad.
How things have changed since those old style propaganda films of the 1940s.
My generation watched Vincent D’Onofrio go crackers and murder his drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket. Robert Duvall taught us how nice napalm smelled in the morning (Apocalypse Now). And Nick Nolte and Sean Penn managed to take all the fun and playtime out of the battle of Guadalcanal.
Our movies no longer portrayed war as comical and fun. The Hogan’s Heroes style movies of the past lost their flavor (much like that chemical popcorn).
I remember watching “Saving Private Ryan.” After the 27-minute opening scene depicting the U.S. invasion on Omaha Beach, I was physically exhausted, consumed by the intensity of the assault, the mind numbing bloodshed, and the shocking extent of destruction and despair.
Perhaps William Tecumseh Sherman said it best; War is a terrible thing, War is cruelty, War is hell.
Yes it is, and that’s the way it should be. It’s unhealthy for society to get too comfortable with the idea of going to war.
And maybe that’s the problem with war today. It’s become too antiseptic, a hygienic and sanitary killing process. Our military admits that we often don’t even know who got killed in a drone attack. It’s a video game with “collateral damage” being some boring statistic tossed aside with little regard to the lives attached to that number.
Satellite surveillance and laser controlled bombings wash away the hell and leave us with the impression that somehow war is a good thing.
What would Sherman say today? War is immaculate?
One thing I’ll say good about the Vietnam “war” is that we got some great music out of it.
Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son.” Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction.” Pete Seeger’s “Bring ‘em Home.”
Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth,” known more commonly by the lyric “Stop Children, What’s That Sound,” is probably the best known protest song of that era.
(Actually, it wasn’t an anti-war song. It was written to protest a city curfew imposed on the Los Angeles Sunset Strip.)
Despite today’s laundered window dressing (rock infused military commercials) that promotes wars as delightful and exciting activities (much like mining “clean coal”), Sherman had it right. War sucks.
Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Libya, North Korea.
(Yawn!) It’s just no fun any more! Well, maybe I could enjoy our modern incursions if we could just get some decent music out of them.