Skip to comments.The Myth of the Anti-War Warrior
Posted on 11/12/2007 2:52:53 PM PST by Richard Poe
|by Richard Lawrence Poe
Monday, November 12, 2007
| Permanent Link
"HE WAS a war hero who hated the war."
So intones the narrator of a classic film. Some readers may remember it. Who was this war hero who hated the war?
Was it Senator John Kerry, who turned to anti-war activism after earning a Bronze Star, a Silver Star and three Purple Hearts in Vietnam? Was it Congressman John Murtha, a former Marine intelligence officer in Vietnam, who now demands that we cut and run from Iraq? Or was it perhaps Norman Mailer, who died this past Saturday? Mailer fought in the Pacific during World War II, then built a lucrative career writing anti-war novels and diatribes.
Who was the "war hero who hated the war"?
He was none of the above, yet all of the above. He was a fictional character in a movie, yet he stood for something real. He embodied the twisted, stunted manhood of the American left. He symbolized the Anti-War Warrior.
We have all met the Anti-War Warrior. We studied him in school. Indeed, he was forced down our throats.
What high school student today could possibly graduate without reading All Quiet on the Western Front and A Farewell to Arms?
These books impart the myth of the Anti-War Warrior. They tell us that war is senseless; that all real soldiers hate war; and that patriotism inspires only civilians who have never seen combat.
Published during the 1920s, these books display the cynicism of the so-called Lost Generation, a coterie of intellectuals supposedly traumatized by combat service in World War I.
Ernest Hemingway's 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises shows us the Lost Generation anesthetizing itself with booze and sex in post-war Europe.
Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front tells the story of seven German schoolmates who die in the trenches, one by one. Before dying himself, the narrator pronounces his generation "broken, burnt out, rootless".
In Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms an American ambulance driver in Italy is hit by shrapnel. He makes love to his nurse; decides that war is absurd; runs off to Switzerland with his beloved and declares that "words such as glory, honor, courage" are "obscene."
The authors drew largely from personal experience. Remarque fought in the German trenches in 1917. Ernest Hemingway was wounded by shrapnel while serving as a Red Cross ambulance driver in Italy in 1918.
Back home in Oak Park, Illinois, young Hemingway enjoyed hobbling through his neighborhood on crutches, in uniform. He was proud of his service, and rightly so.
But Hemingway also had a driving ambition and a keen instinct for self-promotion. In the cafés of post-war Paris, he imbibed the cynicism of the Lost Generation. He understood that, among the journalists, publishers and filmmakers of the day, the only good war hero was a pacifist war hero.
Eager to please, Hemingway embraced the role of the anti-war warrior. Many writers did the same.
Some did not, however. Some remained true to the old virtues. They were better men than Hemingway, Remarque and Mailer. They were also better writers.
Among them was British author J.R.R. Tolkien, who wrote The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien saw his first action at the Battle of the Somme, where more than a million men were killed or wounded. "By 1918, all but one of my close friends were dead", Tolkien later wrote.
Tolkien never yielded to cynicism. His novels extol duty, honor, courage and sacrifice. His gentle characters learn to take up the sword, becoming warriors in the face of evil.
We learn from Tolkien that war does not always render men "broken, burnt out, rootless". Some, like Tolkien, learn from adversity, returning from battle stronger, wiser and braver.
But the myth of the Anti-War Warrior lives on. It lives, for instance, in the 1971 cult film Billy Jack, now enjoying a revival on the Internet and YouTube.
The hero is Billy Jack, a half-breed Indian played by white actor Tom Laughlin. Billy Jack also happens to be a former Green Beret. "He was a war hero who hated the war", explains the narrator of the film.
Using hapkido and gunplay, Billy Jack defends a hippie commune from attacks by local cowboys. He is a cold-blooded killer in the service of hippiedom, the ultimate Anti-War Warrior. Alas for the left, no such person ever lived.
The leftists can only yearn for him, trying, with each copy of A Farewell to Arms foisted upon some hapless high school student, to conjure their imaginary hero into existence.
|Richard Lawrence Poe is a contributing editor to Newsmax, an award-winning journalist and a New York Times bestselling author. His latest book is The Shadow Party: How George Soros, Hillary Clinton and Sixties Radicals Siezed Control of the Democratic Party, co-written with David Horowitz.|
I think “All Quiet on the Western Front” is a good novel, although that doesn’t excuse the way peaceniks have exploited it. The First World War was pretty much a disaster for all concerned, and heroism was rendered almost meaningless by the idiot generals who repeatedly sent thousands out to be slaughtered for no purpose.
Those who died in that war deserve our thanks and praise. But it was not a happy business.
Hemingway, I agree, was a jerk.
I never did see Billy Jack. When I was a little kid, Mad magazine had a satire on it called “Billy Jerk”. That is the only reason I know if it.
i saw Billy Jack 2 a couple weeks ago, the absolute worst film ever made, so bad its comical.
Yes, but we also learn from Tolkien that some who fight must give up what they love the most so that others may retain it - Frodo ended up permanently disfigured in LOTR as did many of Tolkien's blinded and crippled contemporaries in real life. That was the other lesson he learned on the Somme.
There is a difference, of course, between this treatment and Hemingway's, et al. It is that knowing the horror of war and the impermanence of victory, Tolkien's characters went anyway. For them, as for most of us, becoming fashionably jaded and finding a sanctuary bought in blood by others wasn't an option. It's a lesson contemporary "peace" advocates ought to ponder - one need not love war to recognize that the alternative can be worse.
"Tom Laughlin has been an outspoken critic of the Iraq War, and his website presents several writings on why it is turning out to be worse than the Vietnam War, in addition to pieces on what he calls "realistic exit strategies." He also devotes several pages of the Billy Jack website to reasons that justify an impeachment of George W. Bush, and has also repeatedly stated the need for a viable, mainstream 3rd political party."
It’s hard to believe Tom Laughlin is still peddling this stuff. It’s been like, forever.
Just as I share my Tolkien collection with the troops I serve with, hoping that somewhere in those ranks is another Aragorn or Eowyn.
*** in the 1971 cult film Billy Jack,***
The first movie, BORN LOOSERS was horrible!
The second movie (which my wife’s cousin wanted us to see), BILLY JACK was also horrible!
The third, The Trial of Billy Jack, same horrid crap.
The fourth BILLY JACK GOES TO WASHINGTON must have been so bad it was never released.
I went by the Brook theater on Peoria in Tulsa, OK back about 1972.. Hippies and teens everywhere going to see Billy Jack.
I was in college in the late 1960’s when Tom Laughlin came to give a speech. Usual stuff. What was surprising was that he was downright fat. He had to diet to get down to “filming weight”. I always figured that was why he went around beating up on people. Hunger will do that to you.
I served with a lot of decorated men in the Army....since I was their company commander I could read their files...their actions under fire were remarkable....NONE that I ever knew did the burned out anti-war warrior act....they were hard men who drank a lot....the toughest of all were the old master sergants who had seen combat in Korea AND VietNam...it was an honor to serve with them and I miss them to this day.
I actually did like the film Billy Jack. To me, it was a typical film about a guy taking a stand against bullies. In time, the politics became more clear to me. Still, I liked it. There were various songs I liked, and still like, even though they were anti-war. “Four Dead in Ohio: is still one of my favorites. I can’t help but smile on the opening line: “Tin Soldiers and Nixon Coming.” And there was “For What It’s Worth.” Still like the song, but disagree with the words.
Whatever Billy Jack did or didn't say, there's a long tradition of war heroes who don't enjoy war.
You can see this in Sargent York and other citizen soldiers.
York had been a pacifist before he became a soldier and won the Medal of Honor.
I don't think Alvin York would have said that he was better than his fellow soldiers or that they were evil, but he'd stand by what he believed.
And no, I'm not trying to say that the rest of the army did relish killing, though there are some people in every army and country who do.
One reason why so many war heroes don't like to talk about the war (apart from not wanting to brag) is that they didn't enjoy what they had to do and don't want to be reminded of it.
You're trying to ideologize something that really doesn't need ideologizing -- introducing us/them, right/left distinctions where they aren't wanted or needed.
I certainly agree with you regarding Sergeant York.
However, Ernest Hemingway, Erich Maria Remarque and Norman Mailer were cut from entirely different cloth. All three of these men grew wealthy and famous by writing novels based upon exaggerated accounts of their military service, presented in a fashionably anti-war package.
They should not be mentioned in the same breath as Sergeant York.
We learn from Tolkien that war can indeed (though not always) render men broken, burnt out, and rootless - and that the sacrifice and suffering was nonetheless worthwhile. Frodo ends his journey with pain and exhaustion, ultimately "crossing the Western Sea", yet most certainly knows his service and sacrifice was worthy. Some of the Fellowship did not even survive the journey, yet knew that the good they did, and the ultimate sacrifice given, was needed to further those who did succeed (and those who hindered the campaign deeply regretted not the campaign, but their hindrance thereof). Those who did made it were not unscathed, but grew nonetheless, and were satisfied by saving their people - even if the people did not appreciate what happened.
Frodo indeed returned home "broken, burnt out, rootless". He also saw Samwise reunited with Rose, and the family tree continue. Without the war, there would be no continuation.
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