Hollywood used to make terrific war movies, inspirational stuff, which I consumed by the hundreds when I was a kid.
Young boys aren’t dew-eyed about the world. (I can’t speak for girls — but my assumption is that the same principle applies to both sexes.) They know good and evil, and they understand the terrible conflict that has raged across history because these mutually exclusive tendencies exist in all places and times.
Boys share a high tolerance for the cinematic depiction of mindless violence, fear, uncertainty, mistakes, even in certain cases of defeat. But they won’t put up with the muddling up of good and evil. The good may lose, but they are noble in defeat (Bataan), and their deaths are sacrifices on the altar of freedom (Sands of Iwo Jima). Even the youngest boy knows that much.
The old Hollywood moviemakers knew it too. They presented a world of difficult choices: kill or be killed, fight or lose our way of life, die in some forsaken corner of the planet or wait for an armed enemy to come where we live. It wasn’t complex, but it was true. Flag-waving and pandering occurred to various degrees, but there was little jingoism and no militarism whatever.
The war movies I grew up with gave a pretty clear accounting of the cost of freedom. Some people had to fight for it, and some had to die — and those who did were heroes. Because otherwise the world would be ruled by the likes of Hitler and Tojo, monstrous and restless tyrants who considered freedom anywhere to be an insult to their ambitions.
Again, every kid knows this.
Andrew Klavan, writing in City Journal, reports that much of Hollywood has forgotten this simple truth. They find nationalism of any sort abhorrent, and in recent war movies seek to depict not the sacrifices required by freedom, but — in the words of Clint Eastwood — the “futility” of war. In the movies they produce, good is evil, and evil good.
Redacted, Rendition, In the Valley of Elah, and Lions for Lambs characterize our soldiers and government agents as rapists, madmen, murderers, torturers of the innocent, or simply victims caught up in a venal and bloodthirsty American foreign policy. All this at the very moment when our real-life soldiers and agents are risking, and sometimes losing, their lives fighting the most hateful and cancerous worldview since Nazism.
But I guess that’s showbiz.
Klavan’s article traces the growth and triumph of self-loathing in war movies. Needless to say, the Vietnam War had a lot to do with this mindset. The peculiar narcissism and moral blindness of the Baby Boomers goes into the mix as well. But whatever the causes, we shouldn’t delude ourselves, any more than a young boy would, about the way the world is portrayed by today’s Hollywood.
The American way of life, they proclaim, is evil. America’s interventions in the world result in evil consequences: bloodshed, exploitation, lawlessness. The American government is a mass of greed and corruption — a perpective, Klavan notes, the artsy war movies share with unpretentious thrillers such as the Bourne series and Shooter. At the movies, democracy is a fraud.
These are not anti-war movies, they are anti-us. They are exercises in self-flagellation. They are wartime propaganda of an unheard-of kind: the moviemakers are propagandizing on behalf of the enemy, whose bloodthirsty actions are never part of the plot. Klavan offers a brief overview of The World According to Hollywood:
Redacted is the worst example. Politically repellent, emotionally dishonest, artistically incompetent, and, at 90 minutes, about an hour too long, the film shows American soldiers raping a 15-year-old Iraqi girl and slaughtering her family. Writer and director Brian De Palma, a vastly overrated hack, used the same trope in his so-so 1989 Vietnam film, Casualties of War, which tells you exactly how far his thinking has progressed. The other three films take a more earnest, if smarmy, approach, smothering our fighters in loving pity, but the principle of extrapolation is the same. In Lions for Lambs, patriotic youngsters are sent to die for a wartime scheme meant to advance a cynical conservative politician’s career. In Rendition, the CIA ships off a wholly innocent man to a foreign country to be tortured for information that he doesn’t have. And In the Valley of Elah has enough murderously loony post-traumatic veterans to make up a sort of nutcase rifle battalion. Put on a uniform, serve in Iraq, and zappo, you’re kill-crazy forever.
There is no other side of the story. There are no movies about heroic Americans fighting a murderous and unrestrained enemy in Iraq or Afghanistan, even though such Americans actually exist in the real world to which Hollywood is blind. There are no Islamist terrorists, no slaughter of civilian innocents, no beheadings of adulteresses, no butcher-houses full of body parts.
There’s only one side, one issue, one evil: us. As a character in Platoon proclaims, “We did not fight the enemy, we fought ourselves. And the enemy was in us.”
Self-loathing can be expressed in many forms. This, I think, is the purest: rich industrialists in the movie business chopping away at the roots that feed and protect them. I am on record in my belief that only a minority of Americans embrace this suicidal attitude. Part of the loathing of the self-loathers, part of their hatred of America and democracy, arises from frustration at the ballot box.
But it isn’t just the movies that are infected. It isn’t all in fantasyland. In Berkeley, California, the city fathers have determined that a Marine recruiting station should be evicted from their jurisdiction. The Marines, being Marines, haven’t yielded to pressures that include harrassment from self-loathing fanatics. But the reasons given for the attempt to expel them bear some reflection:
“In the same way that many communities limit the location of pornographic stores, that’s the same way we feel about the military recruiting stations,” said PhoeBe sorgen [sic], an initiative proponent and a member of the city’s Peace and Justice Commission. “Teenagers that really want to find them will be able to seek them out and find them, but we don’t want them in our face.”
Consider: the American military as pornography. No doubt, for PhoBe sorgen, pornography is not a problem, it’s something “other communities” object to. Such moral confusion is almost beyond the power of a normal person to conceive.
Fortunately, it’s also self-limiting. All kinds of proposals have been put forward to cut Federal subsidies to Berkeley. But why not go the whole hog? Let Berkeley declare its independence from the foulness that is the rest of us, then (with a wink and a nudge) pass the word to the North Koreans. . .