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We’re Sick of World War II: An Introduction to Oscar Week 2014

(To read the rest of our posts on the 2015 Oscars, check out the articles below:

- A Partial Review of "American Sniper" (the Book) or: Good Luck to Anyone Who Wants to Slog Through It 

- Debunking (Or Not Debunking) “American Sniper” 

- On V’s What to Read on "American Sniper" Link Drop)


Since we started blogging, we’ve tried to do a week of posts on the Academy Awards. (Though the series didn’t always line up with the ceremony.)

In 2010, we did posts on Avatar, District 9 and others. In 2011, we wrote about the documentary Restrepo and its sister book, Sebastian Junger’s War. We skipped 2012, because aside from War Horse, we didn’t have anything to write about (and didn’t/weren’t going to see Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close). In 2013, oh man, we had a plethora of riches including Argo, Zero Dark Thirty and The Invisible War. (That series came eight months late.) Last year, aside from Captain Phillips, we were blanked again, but we spent over a month writing about Lone Survivor, which didn’t get nominated for Best Picture.

What about this year? Any war films? As matter of fact, three of the Best Picture nominees are war films, including The Imitation Game, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and American Sniper. Two other war films--Unbroken and Fury--earned critical praise, but didn’t get nominated.

Quick question: what war do you think four of those five films take place in? Don’t think too hard...

World War II.

Of course they’re about World War II. Hollywood doesn’t make films about any other war. That’s an exaggeration….they just mostly make films about World War II. This is a huge problem.

My simple take, which I hope to expand elsewhere, is that there are moral implications to this myopic focus on World War II above all other wars. World War II actually has less to teach us about war than most other wars, all based around simplified narrative that America and England needed to go to war to defeat the evil Nazis and stop the Holocaust. (As we’ve written before, World War II wasn’t nearly that simple.)

That’s why we--not just Americans, but most of the West--embrace World War II. In a strange way, it’s comforting. You can enjoy a war film without having to think too hard. No grey areas over here! Even if a World War II movie shows the horrors of war, it actually reinforces the morality of committing them; sometimes you need to do horrible things to stop evil.

This World War II focus has a real world impact. It sanitizes war. It justifies it. It makes our country more likely to go to war. Just look at politicians rhetoric about “Munich moments”. If you’ve just seen a film about World War II--and last year, that’s probably the war film you saw--you might think, “I hope ISIS isn’t Hitler.” instead of, “I hope this isn’t another Vietnam.” (Or Iraq, strangely enough.)

This isn’t the case with other wars. The war in Vietnam and World War I force us to ask moral and ethical questions about war. And about ourselves. Most importantly, they show how pointless war can be.

Speaking of pointless military conflicts...what about American Sniper?

We’ve had people emailing us and tweeting us requests to “debunk” this book since the film was announced. This week we will somewhat fulfill that request with a (partial) review of the book, a post on debunking (or not debunking) the memoir, and a link drop.

Is this as thorough as our work on Lone Survivor? No, and we will explain why over the next two posts. Fortunately for us, many writers and columnists have gone after written about Chris Kyle’s extreme politics and many critics have lambasted the film’s inaccuracies and simplified view of war. (Though the film depicts Chris Kyle as war weary and troubled by killing, his memoir tells a somewhat different story.) Expect those links in the link drop. Except for Chris Kyle’s arguably illegal interpretation of rules of engagement, they basically hit everything.

Based on the success Lone Survivor and American Sniper, movie studios are probably going to greenlight Iraq war films like crazy. But if they follow the mold of their predecessors, that’s not actually a good thing.

Hollywood hasn’t made a film about Vietnam war film in a while. Like Vietnam, Hollywood will eventually stop making films about Iraq and Afghanistan. These wars, too, will fade from public consciousness in the coming generations.

But we’ll probably always have films about World War II.

Sigh.

five comments

Glad you guys are deciding to tackle American Sniper a little more. Was curious what you guys thought of Fury, though. Aside from the super cliche Hollywood ending, I thought the movie was amazing, particularly the sound editing, WOW. And that battle with the Tiger tank, good god.

I also thought the execution of the German soldiers and the savagery of the main cast really painted Americans in a way that American WWII films usually fail to do, or if they do, don’t take it very far. Like you said, it’s easier to think of ourselves as the clear cut heroes in that war even thought we did some seriously horrific things as well. I thought Fury was refreshing in that way.


@ Erik R – We just didn’t get a chance to see it yet, but I’ve heard good things.

Still want to see other wars though…


If you’ve had enough of WWII films…I recently saw the German tv series Generation War, set primarily on the eastern front. A very flawed but interesting attempt from a contemporary German point of view which we rarely see (it is still a very controversial part of German history).

I initially dismissed Fury, but Erik R has me curious now. Thanks!


@ Dee G – We actually wrote a post pitching that idea…

http://onviolence.com/?e=671

So, I think a film about the Eastern Front is a good idea. like you said, it’s a pint of view we don’t see.


@ Eric C- No doubt. I’m just glad we got a good war movie on tankers. I was skeptical they would have been able to make a great movie out of such a cramped and dirty occupation. But they did!

As I was watching it I thought about how we could have had a great movie on Iraq War 1 & 2 tankers. Where as WW2 tankers had much to fear in Tigers, Panthers, and Flak 36 88mms, the absurd power imbalance of an Abrams tank crew violently plowing through inferior Iraqi armor and infantry would have made a great subject to explore.