It is 2018; we’re approaching the end of the second decade of the 21st century.
War is a distant memory.
Correction: War should be a distant memory.
37 million people died in WWI. In Britain, almost two million soldiers returned home disabled, of which up to 40,000 had lost either their arms or legs.
Fatality statistics for WWII range go up to 80 million. This includes 50-55 million civilians.
The truth is, these are just numbers. Telling you that almost 3% of the world’s population perished during WWII might not say much to some of us. 97% still lived right? That should be enough.
The argument runs that war was needed. It was a requirement; how else were governments supposed to resolve conflicts not resolvable through negotiation? Hitler had to be stopped. Russia had to be put in its place. Alliances had to be honored. Britain needed to protect its oceanic trade routes. America hated communism, and the USSR wasn’t ready to back down.
These few, simple condensed reasons obviously don’t make up the entirety of motives behind waging all these wars. But they do tell us something else: information can be presented in a filtered manner, and this can very well become the force behind change.
This is why the making of war movies is perhaps a real concern. There is a need to make sure war is being presented in the correct manner. We are no more living in the age of an active world war.
Back then governments would garner support through empowering headlines such as these. This phrase, in particular, was coined by British PM Winston Churchill, who was determined to keep fighting Germany till the end.
Let’s go way back to 1986 when Top Gun was released, with Tom Cruise playing the lead. He was portrayed as “the best”, as “undefeatable”. The movie was full of exciting, adrenaline-inducing scenes. Top Gun is perhaps the lightest war-related movie that comes to mind. However, you can’t ignore the fact that by glorifying the soldiers and highlighting their almost infallible strength, the movie ignores the very dark side of war.
More recent movies have gotten much better at showing the good and bad side of a war. Black Hawk Down in 2001 represented the soldiers as ordinary men with extraordinary bravery just trying to survive the perils of war. But the phrase “nobody gets left behind” was heard repeatedly, stressing on the almost sacred unity of the American Army Rangers. But the truth is when it’s war-time and you’re fighting, there might be a point when you only care about yourself. Nobody is always as brave as these war movies showcase, and that’s an important realization.
In the 2017 movie Dunkirk, the returning British soldiers were told that it was enough for them to have survived. They were heroes because of that fact. Dunkirk is a movie where perhaps the best balance is achieved; war is shown to be a futile, terrible thing. But the movie draws perhaps an overly clear line between the British and the Germans. Some might argue that German soldiers are not adequately humanized, in that they are not represented at all.
In this way, war is shown to be a black and white concept, quite akin to what was shown in The Darkest Hour, with Churchill’s adamant refusal to back down. It is a question of absolute honor and principle. But where is this honor really coming from? Is it the true, individual honor of the soldiers or just what they’ve been taught to feel?
Nobody really tells you what happens afterward. War movies don’t speak of the depth of loss afterward, or the trauma soldiers have to deal with every minute of every day. They’ll tell you a war happened, soldiers fought, friends and family died. They’ll show you guts strewn over a battlefield.
But what then? What is this “glory of war” really doing for a person? What problems has it really fixed, if any? These are questions that remain unanswered.
War is not entertainment. And it is essential that it not be portrayed as such.
*Feature Image Source: The Atlantic*