War and waste

One of the most powerful anti-war movies I’ve ever seen was Gallipoli—a Peter Weir film about a pair of appealing young Australians who join up for duty in World War I. Though considered to be about war, the film is chiefly about life—it exalts in the coming of age of these two with all their gifts.

The young men eventually are sent to the Gallipoli peninsula to fight the Turkish army, and, almost inevitably, one of them is killed in battle for an utterly stupid reason.

I’d seen plenty of war movies by that point in my life, including a 1974 documentary on the Vietnam War, Hearts and Minds, that wound up having a measurable impact on my future. But for some reason, on an emotional level, Gallipoli was the first movie to hit me full force with the realization that modern war is an abhorrent waste of life and engineered, almost always, for reasons of ego, profit or the political positioning of a country and/or its most powerful members.

For this week’s cover story, SN&R Associate Arts Editor Jonathan Kiefer conducted an interview with a scholar whose expertise is the crossroads where war meets the movies. Carl Boggs, a National University social-science professor, co-authored a new book, The Hollywood War Machine, about U.S. militarism and popular culture and how the two reinforce one another, especially in film. The book explains much about America circa 2006.

In his profound and disturbing book War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, author and New York Times war correspondent Christopher Hedges explores the notion that, for many people throughout history, war is an addictive force that is self-perpetuating. Example: When a soldier dies at war, his wife justifies her husband’s death by believing he died for a righteous cause and then raises her children to understand their father’s absence through the myth of the noble war. And on and on.

Do movies about war help to perpetuate this force? Do even anti-war movies like Gallipoli serve somehow to promote war? Find out on page 20 what Boggs thinks are answers to such questions.