Tonight, once again, I watched the late Stanley Kubricks' 1957 internationally acclaimed antiwar tour de force, the ironically titled "Paths of Glory". In the words of famed movie critic Leonard Maltin, a "shattering study of the insanity of war." A movie so profound, so powerful, so intelligent and deeply disturbing, so exquisitely wrought by a director of such singular genius and vision that it remains removed and aloof forever from any rational consideration of its true intrinsic value. Tonight, however, I watched it a little more closely and a little more critically through my wary post 9/11 eyes.
Somewhat sadly, I watched an altogether different picture tonight. Still moving, still poignant, still powerful, still filled with the bitter aftertaste of remorse and shame. So masterfully crafted is this unquestioned indictment of war that we willingly abandon ourselves to its most obvious message. We dare not think to question the basic premise of the argument, to do so would merely prove how far we have degenerated in our common morality. War is wrong. Period. End of argument.
The only socially acceptable reaction to this realistic depiction of this global madness is one of bitter regret and shame. Deep cultural historical shame. This is where we have come to today. In place of a national sense of pride, a pervasive and relentless awareness of shame.
And our dead warriors, those endless rows of crosses, merely serve to symbolize our shame, and our collective guilt. There is nothing here to celebrate anymore, nothing here to honor. How can we celebrate and honor these victims of our most egregious mistakes? The answer of course is that we cannot. We push them out of our consciousness with our gaudy parades and our honorific barbecues.
All we can offer up now are second-rate speeches and second-rate emotions. We feel self-conscious saluting our imperialistic American flag when it passes. We think we'd look silly if we stood up to attention. What would our neighbors think? Would they think that we actually approved of all this?
War, we have now learned, is nothing but a massive criminal enterprise. And our fallen warriors, for all of their individual valor, are really nothing but criminals -- innocent criminals perhaps, coerced into their catastrophic crimes by patriotic propaganda, but criminals nonetheless. We offer them only our grudging token condolences then quickly sweep them out of our consciousness and prepare our grills for the cook outs, hoping it's going to be a nice day and that it won't rain and spoil everything.
Occasionally, we feel a twinge of something approaching guilt about the true meaning of this special day -- but it's so insignificant and fleeting it's hardly to be noticed -- like forgetting about Jesus Christ at Christmas or Columbus on Columbus Day. This is our real Memorial Day tradition now. To avoid the embarrassment of the dead and celebrate the overwhelming reality of the living.
This, then, is how we have learned to think about war, and about our warriors. When there is no discernable enemy landing on our shores, when we feel safe and comfortable in our daily worries, lost in our selfish familial concerns, this is how we feel about war and about our war memorials.
In the comforting bosom of peacetime, we philosophize about war and make high-sounding moral indictments of it. We denigrate our warriors, because they represent a failed paradigm, the antithesis of our own great paradigm. We have learned that all wars for whatever reasons are absolutely evil and unnecessary, that to succumb to war is weakness. All wars, we have been taught, are essentially futile, gross senseless wastes of innocent lives. Young men sent to the proverbial slaughterhouses by cynical self-serving old men who have nothing to lose but their ideological arguments.
We lounge in our comfortable ignorance and refuse to stir from our virtual realities. We refuse to confront the glaring incontestable facts that we are only breathing now because men were willing to go to war and die to protect us. To protect our forgetfulness, our complacency, our self-centered myopic unconcern for their ultimate and final sacrifices. We are not in pain now so we refuse to believe in it. The threats, after all, are only virtual threats, manufactured ploys from our right-winger war-mongers. They have no real legitimacy and in no way conflict with our deeply held convictions that intelligent tolerance and understanding will see us through. We are, after all, civilized men and women, aren't we?
In short, Memorial Day is a farce. War is wrong and we protest it and we despise it. Warriors are, at their best misguided, and at their worst merely soulless unthinking brutes. We have convinced ourselves that we have risen above the necessity of all violence. We have moved beyond all that.
Well, my friends, I'm afraid we're in for a rude awakening.
Our 'brutal and senseless' wars have saved our precious tender skins. Our murderous brutish warriors have given us our lives and our freedoms and we use them to denigrate their victories. Soon, however, I fear that we will be reminded once again. Soon, I believe we will learn once again the truth that war is not an aberration, it is our American heritage. We have had to fight for every damn thing we have and we will have to fight again. The enemy is at our shore and they truly are real and they truly will take everything we have or they will utterly destroy us -- if we do not fight back.
Memorial Day is a day to remember. Not just to remember our warriors, but to remember our wars, and why we fought these wars. Once again, we must remember the hard won lessons that we have learned. That all peoples have learned: Defensive wars are simply refusals to submit.
And we will not, we must not submit.