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War is War is Film Part I

(To read the entire "War is War” series, please click here.)

Since we’ve finally figured out how to embed Youtube links on the site (Or more accurately, I got around to figuring out how. It took all of two minutes.), and, since we ignored art posts all last month, we decided to combine our love of film with our hatred of “war is war” in a two-part post, “War is War is Film”.

Today’s section opens with films we haven’t written about at On Violence. Tomorrow we’ll re-cover films we’ve discussed before.

But before that, a digression: this post isn’t an ad hominem attack on “war is war”-iors, though it may come across that way. When I first started researching this post, I expected to find mostly bad ass action heroes like John Rambo or “Dirty” Harry Callahan. Instead, I mostly found super villains. And comparing “war is war”-iors to Grand Moff Tarkin or General Jack D. Ripper is like comparing them to Hitler. (That said, on a forum Michael stopped reading a few years back, a commenter made that point that Hitler was great at stopping counter-insurgencies. Just saying.)

Or it might just be that if super villains espouse your military theory, you may be on the wrong side of history.

Grand Moff Tarkin

Despite our love of Star Wars, we’ve never really written about the greatest trilogy of all time here, except for the stray Star Wars reference. Luckily, Grand Moff Tarkin--the best of the Grand Moffs in our opinion--allows us to legitimately discuss Star Wars on the website, because Tarkin is the greatest “war is war”-ior ever. What’s the best way to stop a rebellion? Torturing prisoners? Yeah, Tarkin does that, and then he blows up planets.

More than the what is the why. Tarkin explains his “war is war”-ior philosophy to Leia, “The regional governors now have direct control over their territories. Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station.” And next, “No star system will dare oppose the Emperor now...Not after we demonstrate the capabilities of this station.”

Fear. Tarkin’s enemies will fall because of fear. Overwhelming, crippling fear. Make your enemy scared enough, and he will quit. You just have to blow up a planet and kill billions.

General Jack D. Ripper

Primarily, “war is war”-iors believe that, if you just make the opponent scared enough, they’ll give up. After that, they want the politicians to get out of the way. In a film filled with awesome dialogue, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, General Jack D. Ripper stands out with this monologue making just that point:

General Ripper is a villain, and a fool. (“Purity of essence!”) Sadly, though, the idea that Kubrick, through General Ripper, ironically mocks--that war is “too important to be left to the politicians”--many conservatives and pundits now unironically embrace. Researching our series on Iran, one paper said that Iranians would be bolstered by Americans political bickering back at home.

In fact, war is too important to be left to the generals. The Constitution of the United States specifically limits the power of the U.S. military, firmly placing it under civilian control. Because America has an elected government (again as defined by the Constitution), everyone in the U.S. (of voting age) has the right and obligation to comment about the American military.
Colonel Kurtz

Of all the “war is war”-iors, Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now most eloquently espoused this twisted philosophy. Here’s an excerpt from his famous, closing monologue:

“I remember when I was with Special Forces, seems a thousand centuries ago, we went into a camp to inoculate some children. We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for polio, and this old man came running after us and he was crying. He couldn't see. We went back there, and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile. A pile of little arms.

“...And then I realized, like I was shot, like I was shot with a diamond, a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought, my God, the genius of that! The genius! The will to do that! Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they were stronger than we, because they could stand that these were not monsters, these were men. Trained cadres. These men who fought with their hearts, who had families, who had children, who were filled with love, but they had the strength, (the strength!) to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men, our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral, and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling, without passion, without judgment, without judgment! Because it's judgment that defeats us."

Two thoughts:

1. I can’t confirm that the Viet Cong ever cut off inoculated arms. I’ve heard many people and pundits say this, but I can’t find confirmation of it. If anyone knows of any books or papers on this subject, I’d appreciate it.

2. Kurtz endorses this insane do-what-it-takes strategy, literally praising the insurgents for cutting off children’s arms. That’s both insane and “war is war”.

Dirty Harry

The first good guy on our list, “Dirty” Harry Callahan, doesn’t play by the rules.

District Attorney Rothko: Where the hell does it say that you've got a right to kick down doors, torture suspects, deny medical attention and legal counsel? Where have you been? Does Escobedo ring a bell? Miranda? I mean, you must have heard of the Fourth Amendment. What I'm saying is that man had rights.

Harry Callahan: Well, I'm all broken up over that man's rights!

Substitute “that man’s rights" with “rule of engagement” and boom, you’ve got yourself a “war is war”-ior.