Log Cabin Chronicles

Royal Orr

Unleashing the dogs of war

ROYAL ORR

Six months after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, I feel myself being prepared for war. I don't like the feeling.

Reading a book about Japan's military and psychological build-up to Pearl Harbor, I was struck by how the domestic media, both the commercial press and the film industry, were intimate partners in the process. Patriotism is an enormously powerful force and its darker side is easily fed by xenophobic celebrations of particularity and denunciations of foreign slights. And who better to exploit the market for this emotional hunger than the media, both private and public.

As press accounts of war preparations against Iraq grow in volume and doctrines of surgical nuclear attack are preached to primetime audiences, I find myself wanting to get away from it all. Maybe go to a movie to clear my head.

But our movie screens are now drenched in heroic blood. The ironies and injustices of war do not intrude in current movies like Black Hawk Down and We Were Soldiers. The foolishness and stupidity of the civilian and military politics that led to any particular platoon being pinned down in any particular firefight is not an issue for Hollywood these days.

There is deep but only partial truth to the adage that in battle all that matters is your buddies.

Like many of Hollywood's productions, these movies target young male audiences. The boys and men who will march off to Desert Storm II when the shooting war starts fill the theatre seats. Advances in movie F/X technology should mean that they are being made so aware of the violence that awaits them that they will turn away from the soldier's life. As one review of recent war movies said, "Saving Private Ryan raised the bar on visceral horror in combat pictures, and We Were Soldiers hurdles it." But the industry has become equally good at coating the bitter pill of violent death with even more powerful images of courage, comrades, and country.

I find myself in the odd position of thinking that we absolutely need to remove Saddam Hussein from power while I hate the jingoism that seems an inevitable part of the build-up to combat. Is this the only way to prepare ourselves for the awful reality of a sustained war? If we marched into battle with a clear mind about what a dirty, sorrowful business it all is, would we condemn our young troops to defeat? If we cursed the history of Western imperialism and branded the Anglo-American manipulators of the past as the co-authors of our misfortune, would that kill the élan that leads to victory?

This world we live in is a tragic place. These last six months have taught us that, at least.


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