Monday, November 07, 2005

Jarhead on the value of War

As you may know, I am a firm believer in the Spiritual Discipline of Non-Violence for Christians. I am not a complete pacifist in the traditional position of the doctrine, however my beliefs regarding "redemptive violence" and war have been heavily influenced by its teachers, especially Yoder, Hauerwas and Arnold. My position is more aligned with the idea of Christian renunciation of all forms of violence as laid out in Richard Hays' Moral Vision of the New Testament.

This caveat is an introduction to a passage of my favorite book of 2003, which was released as a film on Friday. In his book Jarhead, former Marine Sniper Anthony Swofford, veteran of Gulf War I recounts the incredible boredom and philosophical questioning most soldiers go through concerning their mission, service and war in general. Too few on either side of the debate understand the psychological struggle of normal soldiers. They support a mission with no special regard to the damage done to each soldier's life and mind (worth it for the mission) or they seem to see soldiers as part of the problem.

Swofford's prose is a reminder of the truth of war. Here are a couple of passages:

I told her confidently that our war was important not because of the duration or the number of dead and tortured and burned, but simply because
we'd been there and only so many men know the horror or war and the fear, and they must suffer it, no matter the war's suspected atrociousness, because societies are made, in part, by the men who have fought. I told
her that the importance of a war is never decided within years and certainly not within months, but rather in decades, even centuries. After V Day the vision of the victory is obscured by champagne and skirts and parades, increased
profit,decreased loss, and joy, for the war is over and the enemy dead. The war is over and the enemy dead. I said, "The value of every war is negligible."

I told her that the problem with believing your country's battle
monuments and deaths are more important than those of other nations is that the enemy disappears, and it becomes as though the enemy never existed, and those names of dead men proudly carved on granite monuments cause a forgetting of the enemy,of the humans who dies and fought in other cottons, and the received understanding of war changes so that the heroes from
one's own country are no longer believed to have fought against a national
enemy but with other heroes, and the war scar is no longer a scar, but a trophy.
The warrior becomes the hero, and the society celebrates the death and
destruction of war, two things the warrior never celebrates. The warrior
celebrates the fact of having survived, not of killing Japs or Krauts or gooks
or Russkies or ragheads. That large and complex emotional
mess called national victory holds no sway for the warrior. It is a necessary civilians of this fact, to make them hear the voice of the warrior." (page 114)

War is never glorious. There is no victory for those who come home damaged. There is only a mission (usually given by someone with little understanding of the field)that can be accomplished (a small mission, like capturing a hill- not Bush's remarkably insulting "Mission Accomplished" photo op). There are only differing levels of losers (except the war profiteers, I guess).

I am yet to see the film, but look forward to it (it cannot top the previews, though).


Warren said...

Hope we can see the film together.

Did you happen to read the latest Ekklesia project pamphlet on "Just War as Christian Discipleship"? Interesting read. Perhaps we can discuss it sometime. It hasn't been posted yet, but should appear at soon. I'm emailing Kevin to ask him to get it posted.

Kyle said...

I admit that I have not read the book. However, after reading this review ( I don't think I would want to read or see Jarhead. I’m sure the social/political commentary could be moving, though likely misguided considering the focus of mainstream books and movies. The description of the sexual content of this movie should be reason enough to scratch this movie off your "to see" list.

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. Phillipians 4:8

Linda McG said...

I saw it last week, and it gets a few thumbs up from me. Don't take your kids or anyone whose morality you are concerned about though. I never read the book, and am very interested in hearing what you think about the portrayal, because honestly a lot of the film seemed to be hollywood hyped, so I wonder how true to the book it is.