And meanwhile, in Florida, combat veterans with assault weapons are ‘protecting’ an Arts School. Surreal.
I’m a vet and I’d turn a job like this down flat, but I know it’ hard for brothers and sisters to get work anymore, so I can’t judge. just an endless conveyor belt of tragedy, shame and crime.
The narrative seems to me, needs to be changed like: the prospects of huge war profits are nascent if Amerika starts wars against Venezuela and Iran.
There is a recording of this song on YouTube and there is a video of Ochs performing “The War is Over” on there as well. Even Bob Dylan said how impressed he was with the songs of Phil Ochs.
As a Veteran who did not serve in combat and who is very much against the Wars I still have a deep longing and wish that i would have served side by side with my brothers in arms. I very much respect Chris Hedges work and perspective and he has for sure had more time in war zones than i can imagine. All the same I am surprised he did not have a more nuanced opinion on, “They Shall Not Grow Old”. The movie is a bit or more than a bot propagandistic in its perspective but the movie did accurately express that sort of deeply felt esprit de corps that a good number of soldiers feel even when they dont want to ve there. The First WW had a special sort of innocence as it was the first war of tje modern age and before that the common perception was that most wars were over in a single battle, which usually lasted no more than a day.
Big money, supply lines, and modern recon are a bitch. They keep the stupid things ongoing forever and ever.
I just saw the film in 3D Imax this past Wednesday. I was struck by the inane commentary and the idiotic attempt to make it some sort of exciting adventure for men who were portrayed as having rushed to enlist in order to escape their boring factory and office jobs.
The truth was told though when the film showed hordes of men who couldn’t get jobs even though a lot of them were promised that their jobs would be there when they returned from the war. The war was so terrible that truth did come through although they did their best to sanitize it.
They couldn’t help but show dead bodies and one soldier commented how his best friend lay up dead in the wire so long that he turned black. But the film mostly concentrated on the unpleasantries of living in muddy trenches with vermin, the hardships of not bathing and the difficulties of taking care of personal hygiene and basic needs. The film tried to portray mostly idle men who might have the misfortune of being blown away by an incoming shell. It wasn’t until the end of the film that men were shown going into the infamous meaningless charges into the German machine guns and then the film actually portrayed a successful charge into German lines!
Nevertheless, they couldn’t completely sanitize it. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to forget the face of one completely terrified soldier who was about to charge out of a gully. During the film, they went and showed how the gully hadn’t changed at all since then. One had to stay past the closing credits for a special feature with the director’s commentary during which one found out that most of the men in the gully were in their last half hour of life. But most of the commentary was about the making of the film.
I confess I went to be entertained and was. I’m a lifelong history buff so I didn’t expect to learn anything I didn’t already know but I also didn’t expect the film to be so shallow and propagandistic. The real price i’ll pay is seeing that terrified soldier for the rest of my life. I hope everyone else also can’t forget him. It is definitely a film where images not only speak louder than words but are at war with the words,
By the title of the article, I thought it was going to be about Lord of the Rings, which is very battle oriented. It’s hard to say if a fantasy battle movie glorified war too much, given that it was understood to be a fantasy. Also, a main point of Lord of the Rings is that the main protagonist, Frodo, cannot re-integrate into his old life afterward, and chooses to leave for a fantasy version of heaven. I heard somewhere that Tolkein’s book was partly inspired by the horrors he saw or heard about in WWI.
Thank you for sharing your story. As a boy, I too had a lengthy love affair with war and militarism and especially World War Two, fueled primarily by my mother’s experiences as a young war bride and munitions worker in England in the latter stages of World War Two, having to scurry into the shelters during German bombing raids. Being (Northern) Irish, she could spin a yarn, but even though the first half of the war was bleak–Britons genuinely feared that things could end badly for them–she admitted more than once that, particularly after the tide turned by 1943, she had never felt more alive than during the war. I just assumed that when I was of age, I would enter the military. That seemed the logical conclusion to where my interests lay.
But I did have a reversal of conviction that I term a “slow-motion explosion”–an expression that stuck with me from watching Force 10 from Navarone, the not-very-good sequel to the rather excellent The Guns of Navarone–that occurred from my pre-teens to my late teens.
It began with the movie MAS*H, which I first saw when I was about 11 or 12, and at that age I watched it several times. I can’t deny that, at that age, much of its irreverent commentary went over my head, but it was a war movie unlike any I’d seen to that point, which were the same ones as you described, which “made you yearn for a chance to be a war hero and to fight the forces of evil.” But when I was about 15, I read Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, whose climactic moment comes during the Allied firebombing of Dresden near the end of World War Two, which Vonnegut himself experienced as a prisoner of war. His tremendous novel made me stop and realize that war is not glorious by any means. So, by the time I read Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 when I was about 19, I was fully prepared for Heller’s brilliant satire of the absurdity and horror of war. Ironically, my brother, who had regarded my militaristic inclinations with amused disagreement, did enlist for a stint in the Marines.
My larger point here is the impact, positive and negative, the arts can have on us. I have not seen Peter Jackson’s documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, so I cannot comment on it. I do plan to see it although I suspect that, as Christ Hedges suggests, it will lean more toward Triumph of the Will than Hearts and Minds.
And based on the Jackson films I have seen, I was already expecting his documentary to be shallow and solicitous anyway. It was about halfway through The Return of the King, the third of his Lord of the Rings trilogy, when I finally realized that all the “good” people/beings/creatures were fair-skinned and all the “bad” people/beings/creatures were dark-skinned. This carried over into his bloated, overblown Hobbit trilogy (it must be nice to have a billion dollars to spend on fan fiction that tries to function like your own version of George Lucas’s Star Wars prequels) and even in his typically elephantine remake of King Kong. That was when I began to suspect that Jackson has a race problem. The natives of Skull Island might have been restless savages in the 1933 original and in the 1976 silly-but-amusing remake, but their actions were understandable as people confronting invaders of their territory. But Jackson’s remake paints them as inherently malevolent and (if I recall correctly) even darker-hued than in the previous versions. As a mixed-race (Anglo-Indian) man, I have issues with Jackson’s depictions.
And it is intriguing that Robert Fisk’s sweeping history of the post-World War One Middle East is titled The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East, which was the motto on a campaign medal awarded to Fisk’s father, a World War One veteran. I doubt that Jackson is even aware of that book as he doesn’t strike me as a deep thinker, but it seems that, at least based on Hedges’s article, Jackson has made a documentary that echoes that sentiment, a sanitized homage to the men fighting to preserve “civilization.”
Four dramatic films about the First World War I would recommend are All Quiet on the Western Front, Gallipoli, The Grand Illusion, and Paths of Glory.
I watched MASH, read Vonnegut and Heller and even enlisted in the Marines when I was a young and naive teenager. Mistakes are made, but as long as we learn from it, we will be better off for it.
Too be honest though, it was my time at university when I was instructed to research various aspects of history and politics for my undergraduate degree that I finally began to understand how the world works. It was at university that I was introduced to Chomsky and Zinn. It was also in university where I first debated MLK, Marx, Malcolm X, Gandhi and Nietsche and started to realize that I was fed a lot of hooey growing up. It’s not easy to break from our traditional upbringing, especially when my new found ‘truths’ alienated so many people around me, but at the same time the ‘truth’ set me free.
My education is far from over and the solutions are still elusive, but at least I can see the trees through the forest. I suspect that you also feel that our shared ‘enlightenment’ is a burden, but one you carry with pride. Hopefully we will live long enough to see the end of war in our lifetime.