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"It Just Was A Thing That Happened"
By Ed Driscoll · October 2, 2007 09:50 PM · Bobos In Paradise · Hollywood, Interrupted · Oh, That Liberal Media! · War And Anti-War

James Lileks:

I am watching “Flags Of Our Fathers,” which I believed was a gritty, realistic, reverent account of the battle of Iwo Jima. It may yet become that. So far, aside from some horrifying battle sequences, it is movie about the cynical, callous exploitation of the famous flag-raising picture. Apparently every state-side government employee was a brittle, shallow, two-faced, glad-handing PR-minded ass who regarded soldiers as ignorant cattle. I also have the Japanese version of the movie, Letters from Iwo Jima. I have this odd feeling it will concern itself very little with the issues raised in this movie. I have the feeling I’ll be hearing a lot about honor.

I’m well acquainted with the story behind the photo. What’s odd is how the movie seems to suggest it all happened in some peculiar incomprehensible manufactured Eurasia-Eastasia struggle. I’m sure there was a certain amount of calculation that went into the photo’s eventual fame, but the level of bitter, angry, barking empty cynicism is rather remarkable. It’s amusing to be lecture by Hollywood on the devious use of imagery, of course, but apparently it’s okay if the imagery is being used to disassemble the devious use. But might that be devious itself, depending on the intention?

Later, having watched it all: A formless, repetitive mess. I get the idea: there are no heroes. Men fight for the men next to them, not abstract ideals. I get that last part. No one goes over the hill for the 7th Amendment. But a nation, a culture, fights for abstract ideals. You can make the case that the abstractions are lies or misguided artifacts of the time or the product or whatever you choose, but it’s still true. There’s no sense in this movie that World War Two was fought for any particular reason. It just was a thing that happened and some guys paid the price and the survivors were dragged out for an ad campaign.

Tempting though it might be, this is one Hollywood trend you can't blame on President Bush or the War On Terror; as Mark Steyn wrote nearly a decade ago:
Purporting to be a recreation of the US landings on Omaha Beach, Private Ryan is actually an elite commando raid by Hollywood and the Hamptons to seize the past. After the spectacular D-Day prologue, the film settles down, Tom Hanks and his men are dispatched to rescue Matt Damon (the elusive Private Ryan) and Spielberg finds himself in need of the odd line of dialogue. Endeavouring to justify their mission to his unit, Hanks's sergeant muses that, in years to come when they look back on the war, they'll figure that `maybe saving Private Ryan was the one decent thing we managed to pull out of this whole godawful mess'. Once upon a time, defeating Hitler and his Axis hordes bent on world domination would have been considered `one decent thing'. Even soppy liberals figured that keeping a few million more Jews from going to the gas chambers was `one decent thing'. When fashions in victim groups changed, ending the Nazi persecution of pink-triangled gays was still `one decent thing'. But, for Spielberg, the one decent thing is getting one GI joe back to his picturesque farmhouse in Iowa.
You could see that same worldview hidden beneath an otherwise much more comic book version of war in Paul Verhoeven's 1997 film of Starship Troopers. Writer-director Lionel Chetwynd (who wrote the made-for-TV movie starring Tom Selleck as Ike) described to Cathy Seipp his encounter with that same attitude when he pitched a story about the allies' attack on the French town of Dieppe in 1942:
When Chetwynd was a successful Hollywood writer specializing in historical dramas, he told the Dieppe story during a Malibu dinner party — as a sort of tribute to the men who died there so people could sit around debating politics at Malibu dinner parties. One of the guests was a network head who asked Chetwynd to come in and pitch the story.

"So I went in," Chetwynd told me, "and someone there said, 'So these bloodthirsty generals sent these men to a certain death?'

"And I said, 'Well, they weren't bloodthirsty; they wept. But how else were we to know how Hitler could be toppled from Europe?' And she said, 'Well, who's the enemy?' I said, 'Hitler. The Nazis.' And she said, 'Oh, no, no, no. I mean, who's the real enemy?'"

"It was the first time I realized," Chetwynd continued, "that for many people evil such as Nazism can only be understood as a cipher for evil within ourselves. They've become so persuaded of the essential ugliness of our society and its military, that to tell a war story is to tell the story of evil people."

I'm not sure when such a worldview developed; though James Piereson would argue this was the flashpoint. But in any case, the mindset that fuels Hollywood's dangerously self-destructive cocktail of nihilism and a punitive blind spot regarding America and its role in the world is surprisingly similiar to the elite news media's long-running sense of aloofness and cosmopolitanism.

Update: I haven't been watching Ken Burns' recent series on WWII, but reading posts such as this, it sounds like much of the above is driving its subtext--or lack thereof--as well.

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