Americans and war

I recently finished Tim O’Brien’s novel “Tomcat in Love,” which, like his other books, has – at least as an undertone – elements of the Vietnam War driving the main plot. O’Brien himself is a Vietnam veteran, and his stories, it could be argued, have helped him cope with the horrors he experienced as a soldier. Indeed, in “Tomcat in Love,” the main character, Thomas, has to deal with mental instability years after leaving the war.   As a soldier, he called in an airstrike on his own men, and he has to deal with the psychological effects of this action – for which he has never been punished (besides the fact that his wife leaves him and is somewhat crazy herself; it’s a complicated story).

O’Brien is a brutally honest writer. Although most of his books begin with a disclaimer (for example, “The Things They Carried” starts: “This is a work of fiction.

Except for a few details regarding the author’s own life, all incidents, names, and characters are imaginary,”) it is clear that O’Brien uses his fiction-writing talents to assert the truth – that war, in all its flavors, is evil.

This being said, why does it seem that people are obsessed with the glorification of war? Video games, TV shows, movies: American culture is fascinated by the grotesque and gruesome, even though those who have actually experienced such terrible things, such as O’Brien, constantly warn us of their evils.

Today, this American fascination with war can best be exemplified in the success of the movie “American Sniper,” which, according to the website, has grossed well over $300,000,000 domestically, as of Feb. 20.

I saw the movie, and the story of Chris Kyle intrigues me (mostly, admittedly, because I am a Minnesotan, and our former governor, Jesse Ventura, recently won a defamation lawsuit against the Kyle estate). Kyle was undeniably a good soldier – the military confirmed him as America’s most deadly sniper – but what does it mean that his story, the complete truthfulness of which is coming under question (see the Ventura case), has made so much money at the theaters? Is this not a glorification of war? Are members of American special operations forces not supposed to be quiet, unsung heroes?

All killing – even that in war, justified under the American flag – is a tragedy. If killing and war have to happen, then we should work to vanquish them and establish peace, not condone them with popcorn and soft drinks.  Kyle fought for this country and deserves its respect, but war is not something to be sensationalized, made into entertainment and celebrated.

In the book “The Things They Carried,” O’Brien writes, “A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story feels moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made a victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil.”

The things that get our attention these days are, sadly, obscenity and evil. America, perhaps to justify its military practices, props up war onto a pedestal of nobility. Yes, war can be a last resort necessity – to save people, to end tyranny, to liberate minority groups.

But all wars, even those with justifiable ends, are ugly and obscene. Let’s fight wars quietly, respecting the men and women who die to protect our freedom, but keep war’s glorified form out of the movie theaters.

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