further thoughts on friend;y fire

Ben Friedlander (V080L3NP@ubvms.cc.buffalo.edu)
Wed, 17 Jul 1996 08:17:54 -0400

Drieux's mention of "Brass Ring" brought "The Best Years of Our Lives" to
mind--still a pretty solid document of civilian life after WWII.

After further mulling over I saw a precedent for "Courage under Fire" in
the "Rambo" series--both manage to reconcile damning indictments of war
with a more or less romanticized view of soldiering. In the "Rambo" series,
the fact that the government is corrupt and hides the truth in no way
compromises the morality of what the U.S. army did in Vietnam. (Would
anyone who was pro-war at the time have conceded the dishonesty of the
government? They certainly wouldn't have reveled in it!) In "Courage under
Fire," the Pentagon wants to hide the ugly truth of friendly fire, but
the movie suggests we'd all be better off if we just accepted f.f. as
the necessary cost of war and got on with our lives and the business of
defending democracy.

I'm glad that we've transcended the simplistic opposition of
our-soldiers-are-war-criminals/our-soldiers-are-John-Wayne, but the evolving
consensus has its own drawbacks. Last year, I showed my comp students "Four
Hours at My Lai" and assigned some essays on Vietnam. I was taken aback to
hear more than a few say, "Yeah, ok, so we were Nazis at My Lai, but it's
not for us to judge the actions of the soldiers--their behavior was a
natural response to the insanity of the war and they had no choice." What
about morality? "Morality and war are incompatible."

I don't like to generalize about generations, but I do fear that cynicism
about the government and despair about the possibilities for change have
robbed these kids of the capacity to feel outrage. Meanwhile, movies like
"Courage under Fire"--which sugarcoat f.f. and PTSD by turning the
insanities of war into purifying rites of passage--scarcely help.

Ben Friedlander