War movies

The most mundane observations can get my hyperactive mind a-racin’. I was visiting my folks this weekend, and as usual, in his channel-surfing, my dad came upon a war movie. And as usual, we were both fixated. Forget the work I was trying to get done on my laptop; I couldn’t resist watching. And then he remarked that his dad, a D-Day and Battle of the Bulge veteran, didn’t much like to watch things about war, particularly World War II. My grandfather would talk your ear off about England before D-Day and Germany after the war, but he didn’t talk about the year in between. I don’t know how he earned his Bronze Star; I doubt my dad does either.

What is it about war movies that transfixes us men who have not seen violence up close? Should this worry us? What might it say about our culture? What, if anything, can be done about it?

At least in my own case, it is not the violence that holds my attention. I loathe gratuitous violence–in films like “The Departed”, for instance. It is heroism, courage, bravery–things that, sadly, we just don’t get much of a chance to exhibit in today’s therapeutic world. I watch “Saving Private Ryan” or “Band of Brothers,” and I witness men who did incredible things to save their comrades-in-arms, men who fought for a larger cause and saw that their own lives were worth giving up if it meant a greater chance to save the world from the menace of fascism. Throughout history, we have proved our worth through our sacrifices–in war, and even more often in providing for and protecting our families. The masculine virtues were esteemed, with good reason.

But today, we esteem them not. I read with horror the events of Monday morning at Virginia Tech, and I saw something that need not have happened. I’m not excusing the evil that the murderer committed, but I am fairly certain that were we living in a world that valued and channeled masculinity (as well as femininity, for that matter), the damage would have been minimized. He would have been stopped, either by treatment beforehand, or men around him at the actual shooting. But, that’s not what happened.

I think back to the movie “Fight Club,” which if you have not seen, you must. I have seen no better indictment of our society. It’s violent–but within its premise, not gratuitously so. The protagonist is trapped in the emasculated world of 9-5 office jobs and consumerism, and snaps. I won’t give away the twists and turns of the story, but it revolves around the creation of secret clubs where men take out their frustrations by fighting each other. I’m not advocating actually doing this, but I can honestly see the allure.

Comparing our safe and comfortable society with those of the past, it is easy to see how men might be out of sorts. No matter whether you hold to an evolutionary origin of man or that he is made in God’s image (or both), it should be plainly obvious that throwing him into a maladaptive environment is going to cause a crisis. We need ways to channel our energies productively, but as any student of psychology knows, repressing those energies almost inevitably leads to them popping up in unhealthy ways. How can we do that? One idea, that I’ve seen in practice, is to teach our young boys well. Don’t shy away from their fondness for weaponry and gadgets; instead teach them the value of using them properly and virtuously. There is a lot more that can be done and said, but for now, I welcome comments.


2 Responses to “War movies”

  1. 1 Argent April 22, 2007 at 9:22 pm

    The safe society…where kickball and tag are banned in school! Don’t wanna hurt anyone’s feelings. What could be more innocuous than kickball or tag? Drawing pictures of a gun or bringing a one-inch water pistol will get you expelled from school. We are insane as a culture.

    And Europe is a little farther ahead than us…I mean, banning hot-cross buns because it’s too Christian, or banning Piglet because he’s a little character in a children’s book (okay, so he’s a pig, so?) We are insane.

    Am I getting off-topic?

  2. 2 Bekah April 23, 2007 at 1:28 pm

    We’ve got a bunch of masculine little boys in our neighborhood. Sticks conveniently become bows or swords, and occasionally guns if they have the right form. I was at first concerned that the neighbors would be upset that I allow my boys to play like boys (outside, please!). But they began immitating our homemade sheilds, and all seems well. Funny, safety has been a nonissue. No one yet has needed so much as a bandaid, though I’ll admit they sometimes become a little too enthusiastic!

    I’ve witnessed the same phenomena with the men of my family in regard to movies. My father-in-law loves war movies and documentaries, except for Vietnam era. He was on a ship just outside of Nam.

    My husband’s grandfather builds wooden model warships, but will not converse about WWII. His other grandfather served on a WWII battleship, but the family knew nothing about it’s activities, until they began to attend the annual ship’s reunions.

    Now, my dad never seemed to be interested in war movies, but maybe that’s just because he was surrounded by women who didn’t care for them, and didn’t have cable anyway. He’s more content with science/engineering oriented or science fiction fare, in general, but also the occasional western. Westerns exhibit the same masculinity, but on a smaller scale.

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