"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Fashions in Falsehood

A very good column by Anne Applebaum on the whole James Frey mess. Here's the ending:

We used to admire people who claimed to fight the Nazis. Now we admire people who claim to have fought their own drug addiction -- and we really, really admire them if they beat up priests, fight with cops, frequently find themselves covered in vomit and spend lots of time in jail while doing so.
It's emblematic of something larger, I think, an unwillingness on the part of some to valorize the heroic virtues, the ones often associated with masculinity and - truth be told - war. I think it was Jonah Goldberg who noted that we have not seen any real "war" movies emerging out of our struggle with Islamic radicalism - and those that do touch on it peripherally (Syriana, Munich) are more interested, it seems, in "problematizing" the conflict than anything else. Imagine if someone made a movie in 1942 exploring the difficulties of being German in the pre-war Sudentenland or making the war in the Pacific out to be the product of conspiring oilmen, eager for Indonesia's riches. A bit odd, no?

11 comments:

Hunter Baker said...

A friend last night asked me if there were any situations where liberal democracy had essentially been imposed from without on another country. His implication was that Iraq thus became questionable in the extreme if there had not been such places. I immediately listed two:

The American South

and

Japan.

Of course, we don't wage total, will-breaking, resistance-destroying war any longer and we don't have a basically patriotic press. If the current situation had been in place post WWII, we'd still be trying to get Japan and Germany straightened out.

JC said...

War is evil. How dare you "valorize" it.

On a more serious note: I think at least part of the difference is that the Nazis were so evil that no reasonable person could even consider doing something like that. (You pretty much had to be a Nazi to sympathize with them.) The Nazis got up one day and decided to conquer as much of the world as possible, and proceeded to do so. They were so evil, in fact, that they are now the canonical real-life example of an evil agenda. We use them in arguments, like "That logic could justify the Nazis' actions, thus it must be flawed."
With Islamic terrorists, Iraq, Iran, etc. the reality is more complicated. There's still plenty of evil to go around, but the situation's a bit different. Terrorists are scattered among civilians and use them as human shields, knowing we have ethical limits when it comes to collateral damage. Evil dictators can attempt to aquire nuclear weapons or other WMD's without actually attacking anyone, so that when they do attack, it'll be deadly, but in the mean time we have little excuse to wipe them out.

Generally, I agree with the author that it would be nice if not every war movie took the "problematizing" approach.


Wait... there is one exception. Anyone seen the Sci Fi Pictures Original: Manticore? It's about an Islamic terrorist cleric (and his terrorist buddies) who summon a Manticore to fight the infidels. Unfortunately for them, the Manticore is just too stinking powerful and it kills/eats them all. Only the U.S. Military stands between us and the horrific Manticore.
"What the h*** is that ?"
"A lion..."
"...with wings...."
"A lion, with wings, that EATS PEOPLE!"
(No joke. I watched about half of it before I had to be somewhere, and I nearly died laughing. Definitely worth seeing.)

James Elliott said...

The American South

Not only did the South have a multi-generational history of democracy, it had its own democratic institutions in place. The same is true of Germany during WWII.

Japan

Japan is an interesting case. There was a unique cultural milieu at work in Japan. They truly respected and admired America's economic might and quickly adopted a similar system. Having been defeated in battle, their culturally instinctive response was to figure out where they went wrong.

Of course, we don't wage total, will-breaking, resistance-destroying war any longer and we don't have a basically patriotic press.

I think you're wrong, but I don't have time to get into it. But I also think it would make for an interesting discussion.

James Elliott said...

War is evil. How dare you "valorize" it.

War is evil. Only a fool thinks otherwise. That said, there are qualities in men and women that emerge during such times of strife that are worthy of lauding, and we should not let those qualities be eclipsed by the negative qualities that also emerge. It is important to acknowledge both, and to be frank about both. I would agree that Hollywood has taken its “realism” meme too far and broken through to the other side. Many films and shows, so aware of the shiny, glossy coat placed on war and violence in the yesteryears, have lost sight of the balancing counterpart to ugly violence – the courage, self-sacrifice, and virtue that does become apparent in times of strife.

JC, you should totally watch American Ninja 4.

tbmbuzz said...

it had its own democratic institutions in place. The same is true of Germany during WWII.

??

During WW2? Which institutions were those?

Other than the short-lived Weimar Republic after WW1, the Germans had no experience with democracy (in the parliamentary sense), no legal or cultural democratic traditions at all.

James Elliott said...

Buzz, perhaps you recall how the Nazi party took control in the first place? They won elections.

And twenty years is not a blink of the eye on the human scale. That's enough time for three generations to get used to democracy.

You're also forgetting your Reformation history.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Iraq's had a little over a month, James. Geez.

As for the Reformation, it's taken Martin Luther 500 years to reform the Catholic church, and he ain't done yet.

And he's wrong sometimes, just like much of the West, which has thrown its babies out with the bathwater. They do not want to become Amsterdam, and I for one don't blame them. Give 'em another month or two anyway.

tbmbuzz said...

James, I disagree with your assessment of the Germans but have no time to respond right now, there's this stupid thing called a paycheck I have to earn! I'd like to keep this discussion open but it may have to wait till Monday. Have a good weekend.

tbmbuzz said...

Buzz, perhaps you recall how the Nazi party took control in the first place? They won elections.

And twenty years is not a blink of the eye on the human scale. That's enough time for three generations to get used to democracy.


I don't think we're talking about the same thing at all. Merely holding elections is not a definition of democracy. I was talking about the German psyche, its culture and tradition, which in no way included democracy or a sense of what it is, unlike, say, the Anglo-Saxon tradition, which developed over centuries. Mona Charon puts it quite well in an article today (coincidentally), which is exactly what my thoughts were yesterday on reading your comments: "Elections alone do not create democratic societies. Democracies must also, as President Bush noted in his State of the Union speech, respect the rights of minorities, uphold private property, preserve the independence of the judiciary and respect a free press."

German society after WW1 was in no way close to the ideal expressed here. The old, militaristic structure under the Kaiser had just been shattered, replaced by a weak government, admittedly elected. But the point is that the German people themselves had no interest in Anglo-Saxon-American style democracy, they were concerned with basic survival, in addition to coping with the humiliation of their nation. The generations you speak of were used to a 19th century militaristic structure under a strong central authority, in line with the German cultural characteristic of a desire for order (ordnung), which is why within a decade (not 20 years) the Nazi Party gained prominence and power. Sure, the Nazi Party was "elected" (after helping push the society into anarchy) but this is a classic case of tyranny by the majority in which the majority had no wish for democratic institutions and willingly placed themselves back into an authoritarian regime. Consider if Hitler had behaved intelligently - not attacking France, being more underhanded in expanding German influence toward the small East European nationalities and divvying up the region with the USSR and not going to war with same. I think it would have taken the Germans decades (with much less corresponding U.S.-British-French influence) to move toward real democracy as we know it. I remember meeting my Austrian grandparents when I was a kid; they experienced WW1 as adults. Their nostalgia was for the days of empire, of Old Vienna and Emperor Franz Josef, not messy democracy. The movements in continental Europe for "social justice" by the liberals (in the dictionary sense of the term), Marxists, anarchists during the 19th century were just that - a striving for social justice and removal of small nations from under the heels of the giants, not a drive toward democracy at all.

As for the Reformation, I fail to see what Martin Luther and the Peasants Revolt he helped to brutally suppress has to do with 20th century democracy, in Germany or elsewhere.

James Elliott said...

As for the Reformation, I fail to see what Martin Luther and the Peasants Revolt he helped to brutally suppress has to do with 20th century democracy, in Germany or elsewhere.

You're right. I should have been clearer. The Peasant Revolt carried within it a number of the seeds of democracy that would later germinate during the Enlightenment. I was trying to point out that German culture was, even then and especially post WWI and WWII, not inimical to democratic ideals. Sorry for being so vague.

tbmbuzz said...

I understand now, James. One characteristic of the Germans is that they are very adaptable. They assimilated themselves into American society more easily than any other non-English speaking group, and they also made the best Communists as part of the Soviet sphere!