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maandag 9 december 2013

It might just as well


 Paul Jelinek

Uit het artikel Phony War Films (1963) van James Jones, wie zelf soldaat is geweest en op wiens boek  The Thin Red Line van Terrence Malick gebaseerd is.

"Most deaths in infantry combat are due to arbitrary chance, a totally random selection by which an unknown enemy drops a mortar or artillery shell onto, or punches an MG bullet into, a man he has never seen before - and perhaps never does see at all! Such a death is totally reasonless and pointless from the viewpoint of the individual, because it might just as well have been the man next to him. It only has meaning when it is viewed numerically from a higher echelon by those who count the ciphers. And for that very reason, it is a much more terrifying death to the individual soldier, and to an audience seeking 'meaning'. About the only good thing that can be said for such a death, really, is that the individual is generally so dehumanized already, and so dulled emotionally and mentally, that being killed doesn't really hurt him half as much as he may have once imagined that it would.

Why is this kind of information not put into modern war films? [ ] Today in the United States [ ] there is no such thing as an antiwar film. They all pretend to be; "nobody likes war"; but the true test of a TRUE antiwar film is whether or not it shows that modern war destroys human character. None of these films does. Instead, they show that (for our side, if not for the enemy) war develops and enlarges human character, through the exercize of personal courage. [ ] The United States today simply cannot afford to admit what modern warfare is, i.e., essential dehumanization; if it did, it's 'citizen' soldiers would not be nearly so willing to become part of it.

And there may be some truth in this answer too. But I myself believe the truer, deeper answer is even more frightning and more sad, than that. I think that modern man, victim of an impersonal, too complex society created by himself initialy for reasons of safety, but now 'a society grown too big to be comprehensible in human terms', has, in order to escape, reverted to the simpler 'battle ax' philosophy of the Middle Ages and before. In this way he can avoid facing -among other things- the fearsomeness of the essentially organizational, dehumanizing factor, which is the quality of modern war, by believing in the Individual Champion-Hero and/or the Misunderstood Leader, both concepts which have been antiquated in all military thought since the last Grant-Sheridan campaign against Lee at the close of America's Civil War.

This paradox -of willingly living and fighting as an unhuman cog in a machine because of a belief in unique individualism- is the same one which allows Time magazine to speak seriously of an invasion of Cuba that admittedly could result in 25000 to 40000 U.S. casualties as an operation of 'surgical speed."


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