Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Images of War

A couple months ago, we rented the movie Windtalkers. A very good flick, but I simply could not deal with the battle scenes. This pack of guys runs up a hill into the face of machine gun fire, so that what’s left of them can silence the guns on that summit, and charge up the next hill, into the face of more machine gun fire. All I could think, while I sat there cringing, covering my eyes, and waiting to see which of the principal characters was next to meet a bloody demise, was, "WHY in the world would you do that???? What is wrong with the human race that we would make people do that? We are beyond redemption."  Grief and despair gripped my soul. I was so upset, I was literally in tears. After that experience, I told the husband, "No more war movies. No Saving Private Ryan, or Band of Brothers, or We Were Soldiers. No more. None. I just can’t deal with it."

Then I found out that not bringing the movies into the house doesn’t necessarily keep me safe from that despair. Channel surfing the other day, we came upon "Sergeant York." This 1941 Gary Cooper vehicle is about a backwoods Southern Christian man, a would-be conscientious objector during World War I, who ended up being a hero when he…charged up a hill in the face of machine-gun fire and took out the guns at the top. True story, though certainly Hollywood-ized. In the movie, they had a re-enactment of the battle…not as bloody and realistic as movie-goers demand these days, but still, authentic enough for 1941. And that same strong feeling came over me… "Why would anyone DO that? Why would anyone create a situation where someone would have to do that? What is wrong with the human race that we created war, for God’s sake?"

Somehow, I don’t think this is the audience reaction that the directors are looking for. Root for the good guy, cheer when the bad guy gets his, marvel at the outstanding bravery of the heroes, and go home resolved to raise up sons to be just like them. But don’t sit shell-shocked in your seat at the end of the film, shaking your head and saying, "Why?" over and over.

I’m a child of the "Greatest Generation." Raised on nostalgic images of the event that forever changed my parents’ lives. War movies were just something I grew up with, along with war TV shows and live war images from Viet Nam piped into our living room during the dinner hour. Here in the dawning years of the twenty-first century, we so celebrate the idea of humans killing other humans that we have added scores of video games and children’s cartoons to our arsenal of media that glorify fights to the death. You would think I would be desensitized to it by now. That I could sit and watch pretend war ("It’s only a movie…") with no more thought than if I was watching a sappy sitcom.

I don’t know. I used to do that. But I can’t. Not anymore. And maybe in the end, that’s not such a bad thing.

 

 

12 comments:

  1. I find that movies like that bother me more the older I get...Maybe because I have learn that life is so precious...especially now that I realize I so few days left
    Donna In TEXAS

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  2. I don't know. I honestly don't know. I wish I had an answer. It's so weird we'll spend billions to blow each other up and quibble over spending a fraction of that to build and staff schools for our kids.

    Jackie

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  3. That you have not become desensitized to war is a good thing, a hopeful thing.  When some of us can retain our horror, we have hope of delaying, minimizing, shortening the military struggles that are and could exist.

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  4. I won't watch war movies becasue I react the same way you do....   horrified... how could human beings do that??  I haven't seen Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers or any recent violent or war movies.  I actually got up and walked out of the theater during Braveheart.  Just as bad as the movies themselves can be the cheering/laughing reaction of the audience.   Stacy

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  5. well said!
    marti

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  6. I can not watch them either. Rather, I choose not to watch them. I am just too empathetic.  I guess the point of this genre is not so much to glorify war but to teach us, force us to learn from them.......so far no one seems to listen. ( I did watch Troy, but only because of Brad Pitt.... the fighting scenes were very well done, not too graphic at all)

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  7. I am so glad to get the chance to be online and read your journal!  I agree, war movies make me ill, but I still end up watching them...paralyzed.  Poor Sgt. York ended up alone and miserable and broke at the end of the war, always wanting to seek absolution for killing other humans. He was an Appalachian, like me.

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  8. i'm so glad you are still writing in this journal, after all.  when i was a kid, i loved war movies.  go figure.  i think it was a natural outcome of being raised an army brat, playing with other army brats, playing war and army much of the time.  now i feel just as you do, it's all incomprehensible to me.  why, how, we as a race of beings, can do this - life is hard enough, natural disasters happen so frequently - how is it that we aren't devoting ourselves to helping each other Make It Through?  but it has ever been thus, it seems to be one of our many enormous flaws.  

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  9. When I was in elementary school, there was a tv show on called Combat! that my brothers loved,, and Combat! was our favorite game -- we would break up into 2 teams of 2 and go outside in the dark and crawl around the woods and pond hiding from each other.  I guess we thought of war as glorified hide-and-seek, with plastic bazooka guns as the icing on the cake (how's that for a mixed metaphor?).

    When my own boys were babies, Chine Beach was on tv.  I would sit there and literally sob through each show, devastated by the thought that they might someday be such young men having to say their last good-byes to nurses they had known for maybe minutes or hours.  And now they are 20 and we are at war.  I have no idea how parents are managing to say goodbye to their sons and daughters being shipped overseas.

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  10. It was non-stop NPR and BBC radio about the Vietnam war in our home when I was growing up too. At one time, I wanted to be a war correspondent. I was not desentisized either. I can't stand war movies. I can't be a spectator in what seems to be a game for many but the stakes are people's lives, and I am deeply affected by it. http://journals.aol.com/dcmeyer420/DearDiary/  

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  11. I hear ya! They've been playing a lot of war, and/or military, movies on cable lately, Windtalkers being one of them. I used to love watching these movies, especially the Vietnam based ones. I find it difficult anymore. I only watched a portion of Windtalkers before changing the channel. I bought Troy and even found it difficult to watch. I guess when you know that there are those dieing somewhere today that will be the next decade's blockbuster story plot, it loses its appeal. It seems quite gross to find entertainment in it. :-) ---Robbie

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  12. You bet it's not a bad thing!  I swear that I went to the movies to see "Saving Private Ryan" and the violence was so overwhelming that I didn't even enjoy the movie.  i don't know what I *thought* it was going to be about, but I guess I wasn't expecting anything so graphic.

    Too many people *have* become desensitized to it all.  I have not, and I don't desire to.  I know several who avoid watching the news on television at all, because it's just too much to see all the images of violence.

    I don't celebrate it; that's for sure.  But here lately it doesn't make me despair any more.  Although it is very sad, indeed.  But there are so *many* sad things in the world, you know?  If I let myself become too engrossed in those, I"ll miss out on being able to enjoy all the good things.  
    Donna

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