“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.