Yearning for War

I had a coffee-induced insight this morning that I think helps me understand part of what’s driving the part of our society that’s drawn to Tea Party politics. My train of thought went like this:

Last night, I watched the 1977 film, A Bridge Too Far, starring, well, pretty much every hot male actor in Hollywood at that time (Sean Connery, Robert Redford, Gene Hackman, Michael Caine, Elliott Gould, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier, Ryan O’Neal, etc.) The film depicts the attempt by the Allied forces in WW2 to strike a decisive final blow against the Nazis by carrying out a daring, multi-faceted massive surprise attack that was known as Operation Market-Garden (cool BBC animation here). For a bunch of reasons, including the unwillingness of military higher ups to take heed of intelligence warnings that indicated the plans might fail, Market Garden ended up being a bust, and many thousands of soldiers died in the process. bridge too far

But for all the questions A Bridge Too Far raises about modern warfare, I didn’t see it as a purely “anti-war” film. It glorified the war, the soldiers, and the excitement of the attempt to pull off Market Garden even as it critiqued the human foibles that led to its failure.

And in reflecting on the movie this morning, I remembered a moment from my childhood, in which my dad and one of his good friends, Charlie, were reminiscing about their childhoods. They both grew up during WW2. At one point, Charlie lamented what he described as the selfishness and vapidness of present day society (this was in the early 1980s), and he spoke about how great it was when he was a kid, and the entire nation was united behind the war effort. My dad vigorously agreed, and the two of them started talking about the sacrifices people made on a daily basis, and on the moral clarity people had about defeating the Germans.

“That was our war,” Charlie said, and I was puzzled by the defensive, and even possessive, tone in his voice. “Yes it was,” my dad concurred.

watching A Bridge Too Far reminded me of how shockingly beautiful Robert Redford was in his youth
watching A Bridge Too Far reminded me of how shockingly beautiful Robert Redford was in his youth

So, a few years ago I read parts of Chris Hedges’ book, War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning. His basic thesis is simple, and perhaps so obvious that some might wonder why anyone would need to write a book to make this case. Hedges argues that for all its horrors, and for all the proclamations that politicians and generals make about the evils of war and their desire for peace, in point of fact humans, as a collective, look to war to provide meaning in our lives.

Now, from the literature about war we have from places like ancient Greece or even biblical Israel, it’s obvious that war gives meaning to peoples’ lives. While there may be some literature from these societies lamenting the sufferings of war, for the most part war is the way that men win glory, and that nations achieve all kinds of greatness. It’s our modern society that outwardly says “war – none of us want it” while simultaneously returning to involvement in war after war. Continue reading “Yearning for War”