Monday, October 31, 2005

"THE GREAT RAID" AND HEROISM

“The Great Raid” portrays an America that no longer exists. More precisely, the cinematic recreation of the operation that rescued over 500 POWs from their Japanese captors in the Philippines presents a nation where military service and heroism were sincerely honored--a country where flag-waving patriotism was a sentiment that didn’t require a litany of lawyerly qualifications to fend off accusations of ethnocentricity. That attitude now characterizes only a subset of the population.

Triumphs of courage and military planning such as are celebrated in “The Great Raid” have doubtless occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last three years. But they are largely ignored by the mainstream media--or buried beneath an avalanche of criticism focused on strategic and diplomatic blunders. Faux “tributes to the fallen” replace reports that pay homage to heroism within a specific mission. Such commemorative moments rip acts of sacrifice from their military context in order to utilize that blood for political ends that most of the fallen would despise.

The unstated subtext of these honor-segments is that no military mission is really worth dying for. Why else would these “tributes” omit significant reference to the objectives for which these soldiers gave the last full measure of devotion? Why else would gripping stories of individual and unit heroism be shunned? Why else would like-minded groups protest government offers to engrave on cemetery markers the name of the fallen warrior’s military operation? The implication is clear: Promising lives were wasted in battles where, in Matthew Arnold’s words, “ignorant armies clash by night.”

Well-coifed journalists, actors, and scribblers are, of course, passionately devoted to worthy causes--but their causes are devoid of serious risk. Indeed, almost all translate into career enhancements. Only actors who praise martial achievements are likely to suffer reprisals within an industry whose grandees regularly belittle acts of heroism as moronic or delusional. Friends of the Earth, by contrast, need not fear incoming fire from petrol interests who favor drilling in ANWR. Nor are anti-tobacco militants endangered by foes who produce Philip Morris’s nicotine delivery systems. And animal rights activists stand in far less danger of physical harm than their adversaries who trade in furs or employ critters in medical tests.

By contrast, enemies in “The Great Raid” are real, powerful, and brutal. Engaging in combat with these foes required more than a savvy PR agent or a simplistic slogan. It required courage, training, and a willingness to risk everything for the sake of comrades and country. Moreover, the country in which these dedicated soldiers lived acknowledged these facts and didn’t transform monstrous enemy acts into occasions for sympathetic psychoanalysis.

Today’s armchair generals are unwilling to come to grips with this basic fact: Heroism is necessary for the survival of a democratic and just society. Consequently, they also fail to recognize that our foes are frequently implacable and powerful. They cherish, instead, the illusion that withdrawal, subsidies, apologies, and diplomacy can make dangerous people go away--that political correctness can substitute for courage. They have no understanding of what the commander of the Cabanatuan raid said to his troops before setting out on their mission--words about deeds that would define their understanding of themselves for the rest of their lives.

Perhaps these critics sense within themselves the absence of the stuff it takes to face death while accomplishing a great task. That deficiency is no crime. The crime is failing to honor what distinguishes the courageous few from the rest of us and pretending that heroic sacrifice is a needless waste--pretending, in fact, that we who live soft lives devoid of danger are the true guardians of freedom. The crime is in not acknowledging greatness of spirit when it stares us in the face.

10 comments:

James Cardener said...

Richard Kirk,

I served in the Iraq campaign from it's onset in 2003 and returned to the U.S. this past May.

I saw things in southern Iraq that were some of the most extreme a human being can experience. Including but not limited to seeing fellow coalition soldiers rape, beat, and burn alive civilians. These same men were praised by their commanders for their heroism in battle. There was no correlation or reason to the men who were brave in battle and those who were noble in the rest of their lives.

I saw men that were like brother’s die from car bombs only moments after having joked around with them a few moments ago. I saw 19 yr old soldiers beat up Iraqi teenagers so badly that jaws were dislocated, teeth knocked out, and eyeballs punctured. On the other hand I did see great kindness extended by coalition forces to the Iraqi people although these moments were very rare and frequently interrupted by violent outbreaks nearby.

Soldiers die in Iraq everyday and for you to complain about heroism going unheralded in the media tells me a couple of things.

1. You have never been in combat; therefore you do not understand that heroism is a delusion distilled by governments in order to raise testosterone levels and therefore patriotism. Do you really know why Americans are dying over there right now? Do you believe that the spreading of democracy is truly the motivating force behind our involvement in this conflict?

2. You have never lost someone very close to you in war. If you did you would be able to step outside the bounds of your nationalism and see that they died as a result of rich white men making decisions mostly in the interest of rich white men. We soldiers are proles being played like pawns by forces which we cannot know or trust to have our best interests.

3. You fail to understand that so much of what determines heroism in war is pure chance. The chaos of war cannot be predicted and I know plenty of men with medals on their chests who admit openly that their actions were a combination of coincidences and their responses were guided as much by fear and hatred as by as sense of duty and morality.

4. You don’t understand how disturbing the situation is there. Do you realize how meaningless flag waving is when you see disfigured, dead, beaten, and burned bodies, crying children with missing limbs everyday?

Go to Iraq and then tell me about heroism.

RKirk said...
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RKirk said...

Mr. Cardener,

Thank you for your service.

You must know that your assessment of what is being done in Iraq and of the actions of American forces in the region does not agree with the views of most of your comrades.

All will agree with your statements about the horrors of war. Almost none, I am confident, agree that raping, beating, and burning civilians is an activity that occurs with any frequency or is praised by military commanders. One can find many soldiers (on military blogs, for example) who speak of their service with pride and who have endured the pain of having comrades die next to them. They also speak with deep sorrow of the destruction that is inflicted on innocent civilians who have become casualities because the enemy has chosen to use them as shields--or to target them directly for terroristic purposes.

War, any war, is an undertaking filled with brutality. My comment about "flag-waving patriotism" wasn't meant to suggest otherwise. Anyone who saw "The Great Raid" knows that the film isn't jingoistic -- nor does it romanticize war. What it does do is provide a decent portrait of the nature of heroism within the "fog of war."

To deny that heroism occurs within war and to suggest that all these soldiers (both past and present?)have been duped by monied interests and uncaring government officials is to say something quite damning about your former colleagues. I have lived long enough, known enough people, read extensively enough, and personally experienced enough human destructiveness and misery to be able to assert with confidence that heroism isn't simply a cynical ploy used to get naive young men to die for craven purposes. It CAN be that, but it certainly isn't always so--and even when "jingoism" is involved, heroism in battle still exists.

What I object to most strenuously is not YOUR objections. After all, you have been in the middle of the horror. I object to those who cast aspersions on persons who serve but have never served themselves--folks who hide from themselves their unwillingness to face mortal danger by implying that the enemies faced in war are phantom foes conjured up by sinister government and business types.

I know evil, and I know that it is more intractable than cowards want it to be. It doesn't vanish even when someone correctly points to the butchery involved in resisting it. That heroism exists within this context, I have no doubt. Just ask your comrades.

James Cardener said...

Richard Kirk,
You don't get it. There are plenty of veterans who are digusted with the war and find no honor in it. Many are not vocal but the voices are growing. Here is one group of such individuals-

http://www.ivaw.net

RKirk said...

Mr. Cardener,
I do "get it." I just don't agree with your POV. Nor, I will wager a month's salary, do MOST of your former comrades. A huge majority of the troops voted for President Bush in 2004 (75% according to one reckoning). I don't doubt that hundreds or even thousands of individuals agree with you--but I am totally confident that they are a small minority of those in the armed forces.

james cardener said...

Richard Kirk,

So majority = morality? Certainly support of Bush is high in the military but how does that justify a war?

Where does your patriotism for this war come from? Is it a result of watching FOX news or this film about a war fought decades ago in a differnt land. Please explain more openly the connection between heroism and the Iraq war. What fills you with pride when you think of the events in Iraq?

RKirk said...

Mr. Cardener,
If you would read my remarks, instead of viscerally responding to what you feel I might have said, you would see that I have focused on (individual)acts of heroism in the war--not on matters of policy.

You are the one suggesting that the war in Iraq has been waged (to quote the young and ambitious John Kerry) in "a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Kahn." I am confident that balanced reportage would show otherwise. (For the benefit of your stereotypical imagination, I don't have cable and can't watch FOX.) After all, the major atrocities blared over the media you perhaps prefer concern mishandled Korans and putting panties on prisoners. I have read numerous accounts of personal heroism involving combat with terrorist insurgents--often via blogs. If you deny that these acts occur or are totally devoid of worth because of the war's lack of justification, I can only conclude that your feelings have overwhelmed your capacity to make rational judgments about a war that has replaced a tyrant who paid stipends to families of suicide bombers, gave solace to various terrorists (e.g. Abu Nadal), and butched thousands of Iraqis every year. Moreover, it has replaced that regime (that daily violated the terms of the Gulf War cease-fire) with a democratic regime that has the potential of transforming the face of the Middle East (as it has already begun to do in Lebanon).

I suggest you read some of Christopher Hitchens' posts in Slate Magazine (on the web).

James Cardener said...

Christopher Hitchins is thought provoking but I'd like to focus on other matters.

I made the FOX news comment not to be stereotypical but to honestly ask you where you were getting your information. That is all. No insult intended. I do however feel insulted by your implying that my reports of abuse are based on tales of toilet doomed Korans and panties. Richard as I have indicated before, I was there and I saw with my own eyes Americans committing horrendous acts on civilians. Innocent people. No doubt good acts have been committed by Americans, I did see some of this but really what does it matter when the underlying motivation for ousting Saddam were industry ties and the bolstering of the military industrial complex?

I would like to state that I am not reacting viscerally. I am merely curious to the roots of your thoughts and I will question the foundation of some of your statements.

-James

P.S.
I do not have cable either however there are times when the sharp wit of Jon Stewart from the Daily Show is much missed.

RKirk said...

Mr. Cardener,
I have said (check esp. my first response to you above) that atrocities such as you mention occur in war. The comment to which you took offense concerned the highlighted acts of the mainstream media. YOU were the one who brought up media and the distorted view of reality I supposedly have because I haven't been there. YOUR appeal to BEING THERE led me to remark that the other troops that are also there DO NOT AGREE WITH YOUR ASSESSMENT of the way the war has been conducted. YOU then said that I was arguing that majorities are necessarily right. I then gave you some arguments that support the action in Iraq and referred you to Christopher Hitchens. YOU then said you didn't want to talk about Hitchens but missed the clever repartee of Jon Stewart. I think the question is where YOU get your information? The idea that the Iraq War is a function of "industry ties" suggests that your sources are not in touch with reality but are hardcore ideologues--folks like Michael Moore and the MoveOn.ORG crowd. The Clinton Administration urged "regime change" in 1998, and so did Sen John Kerry. One doesn't engage in a war that has cost hundreds of billions of dollars and over 2000 lives for "industry ties." That's just a puerile, ridiculous, and demagogic charge.

What do you think terrorists would be doing if they weren't fighting in Iraq? (Terrorists themselves see Iraq as the central battle in their fight against the infidel.)

I urge you to read Christopher Hitchens, who is, you may not know, a man of the LEFT--not a friend of industry or the GOP. He also is an honest man more concerned with the survival of civilization than with scoring political points against the Bush Administration.

You would also profit from looking at Richard Miniter's book, DISINFORMATION.

RKirk said...

Below is a link to a relevant columns by Hitchens on the current dabate over Iraq intelligence.

http://www.slate.com/id/2130293/