Just following my thoughts earlier begun on the way the c(v)ulture industry skews our experience of war (“our” meaning those of us who haven’t actually experienced war). Here is a link to the beginning of an ongoing series of reviews of episodes of the The Pacific by a Marine veteran who did fight in some of the battles portrayed. Why does this man buy the HBO/Spielberg version of war while my student Ross Canton, a thrice wounded Vietnam veteran, doesn’t? Does this man want to remember his life as a made-for-TV movie? Is that what happens to memory and the imagination?
The question of whether a war film, memoir, or novel seems “authentic” and a true portrayal is almost anti-climatic to me. Of course the culture skews how we see war and the war experience. Do we ever show our wars in a “bad” light? How many books or movies are about our defeats? About the horrific and long-lasting effects war has on the participants and the families of both the survivors and those who were wounded or killed in a war? The “culture” wants us to believe we are in the “right”, that God and Country is on our side, that the Japanese, or Koreans, or Vietnamese, or Iraqis or Taliban or the Cubans or whomever we’ve chosen to attack is wrong, “sub-human”, on the wrong side of righteousness or history or whatever; that all but a few of our soldiers were heros; that death in war–all wars–is somehow justified. We are an empire and a warring culture so this must be so, but to change our consciousness, to start understanding how so much of the world perceives us as dangerous aggressors, how even our lexicon–the war on drugs, the war on poverty, the war on illiteracy, the war on whatever problem the cultures perceives as a “problem”–is a result of inability to grasp the daily consequence of living inside a militaristic society. Our apathy and our inability to accept responsibility for our actions allows us to perpetuate and continue wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for perpetuity–10 years and counting–without protest, without understanding the impact on our own culture and others, without even basic answers as to why.
So on to The Pacific and a response to a participant’s review. The Pacific does show much of the horror of war. The battle scenes are as “realistic” as Hollywood can make them. They are based on “authentic” experiences. So the good war is well-fought, and the enemy is grudgingly defeated. The men do horrific acts, undergo all kinds of trauma and privation, and somehow it is okay, somehow because it is a good war, the horror, death, and sacrifice is justified. But what is the cultural purpose and effect? To show us “real” war is horrific and justified so that we won’t think about the two unjustified wars we are in; so that when we see the effect of our bombs or our drones on Iraq or Afghanistan or Hiroshima we will be desensitized to the destruction. War is war. It’s hard for me to think there is any good or “realistic” war. The sacrifice is too much, the folly and absurdity too far-reaching and long-lasting. Every sacrifice is too large; every casualty a trauma too much to bear. I do not see war movies or read war memoirs these days to see how realistically they portray the horror of war. I read them to see if the participants understand the larger context and effect war has on an individual and a culture. I would hope everyone who watches or reads such stories go beyond the intensity and glorification and see the experience for the effects it has on our culture. It would be like asking what breeds serial killers of women or rapists or pedophiles in our culture. Or what circumstances contribute to Colombine or Virginia Tech or Jones Town in our culture. Those are the questions that interest me about war and what is missing from our portrayals of war.
Thank you, Ross, for helping me to understand the reality of war. Thinking of all who have served on Veteran’s Day tomorrow.
Patty, Thank you for responding. I’ll alert Ross who is busy producing plays these days. It is the day we should remember them all.