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War is War is Film Part II

(To read the entire "War is War” series, please click here.)

Before we coined the term “war is war”-iors, we were writing about “war is war”-iors. In the second part of our “War is War is Film” post, we want to revisit the movie characters we’ve discussed before, looking at them as "war is war"-iors.

Colonel Jessup

We’ve written about A Few Good Men before, because, like other great films, it asks tough questions, like the “The "Have You Been There" Argument” and whether, in real life, officers ever get charged with war crimes.

But Colonel Jessup is also a “war is war”-ior. He does what it takes to keep this country safe, and he doesn’t want politicians or non-warriors to question his methods. Famously, he monologues:

“Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinburg?...I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand to post.”

 Aldo Raine

Aldo Raine, in an opening monologue and the trailer of Inglorious Basterds, (We’ve written about him before here and here.) explains exactly why he plans to commit war crimes and torture Germans:

“We will be cruel to the Germans, and through our cruelty they will know who we are. And they will find the evidence of our cruelty in the disemboweled, dismembered, and disfigured bodies of their brothers we leave behind us. And the German won't not be able to help themselves but to imagine the cruelty their brothers endured at our hands, and our boot heels, and the edge of our knives. And the German will be sickened by us, and the German will talk about us, and the German will fear us. And when the German closes their eyes at night and they're tortured by their subconscious for the evil they have done, it will be with thoughts of us they are tortured with.”


In the hypothetical book, War is War, Aldo Raine would write the introduction.


In one of our first On Violence posts, we wrote about Gabriel--the character from Swordfish, not the angel--who eloquently sums up a process for defeating terrorism:

“Someone must bring their war to them. They bomb a church, we bomb ten. They hijack a plane, we take out an airport. They execute American tourists, we tactically nuke an entire city. Our job is to make terrorism so horrific that it becomes unthinkable to attack Americans.”

Michael C wanted to chime in: “I would call Gabriel’s solution to the war on terror, ‘the Hatfield and McCoy logic of waging wars’. As we’ve written before, violence begets violence. Gabriel should, more accurately, say, “They bomb a church, we bomb ten, and they bomb a hundred in response. We bomb a thousand back. Someday, one side will run out of churches.”

I’m guessing we’d have to move on to schools after that.

Lieutenant-Colonel Matthieu

Do whatever it takes to win in war, especially counter-insurgencies, sayeth the “war is war”-ior. This quote by Colonel Matthieu--from the often-cited-on-On-V-due-to-its-own-excellence The Battle for Algiers--explains:

“Our duty is to win. Therefore to be precise, it is my turn to ask a question. Should France stay in Algeria? If your answer is still yes, then you must accept all the consequences."

Those “consequences” include torture, indefinite detention and all the other things that cause a population to turn against you.

John Rambo

As I wrote earlier, when I started trying to think of “war is war”-iors, I mostly planned to write about action heroes like John Rambo. (We’ve written about First Blood series before.) Rambo blames politicians for losing Vietnam, “But somebody wouldn't let us win!”   

“Somebody wouldn’t let us win” is code for massacring villages, not following ROE/loosening ROE, or bombing the hell out of North Vietnam. Basically, “war is war”.

Lt. Rasczak

Finally, we wrote about this before, but thought we’d include the link to our previous post, “War is War is Starship Troopers”, which now has the embedded video.

seven comments

I think you make a jump with the John Rambo example. I don’t think the “somebody wouldn’t let us win” is code for the desire to attack civilians, but for extending the war into North Vietnam (as you said) but further beyond. From everything I read, the politicians were not concerned about civilian casualties as much as the appearance of US losses on television. This is best signified by indiscriminate firebombing in Cambodia.

Matty P.: What indiscriminate firebombing in Cambodia?

C brothers: I was thinking, the wars do end and often, somebody loses and leaves it go at that especially if magnanimity is shown. The firebombings of Japan didn’t bagat vengence (sic) nor did the destruction of Dresden.

Magnanimity is the key. And Martin made this comment a bit a go as well. I think the issue with World War II was a lot of effort went into making the peace stick.

But the problem with nuclear issue in WWII is it made violence seem like it works. What about the Marshall plan rebuilding Europe? The creation of the U.N.? Avoiding penalizing sanctions?

So my point is WWII did end. But many many other wars begot other wars. WWII is unique for the extended peace that followed it.

@ Matty P – The line before that, which i should have included was “And I did what I had to do to win!” I think it’s pretty clear Rambo felt hamstrung.

And one of the interesting things about Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, is how the same themes keep coming up over and over again. The military and soldiers debated restrictive ROE throughout that war, from the reading I’ve done.

@ Carl – There were over a dozen operations into Cambodia sanctioned by presidential authority. High estimates are over 2.5 million tons of ordinance.

@ Eric – I agree that Rambo felt hamstrung (hamstringed?), as most Vietnam vets I’ve met have met. I don’t think that sentiment equates to the death of civilians. At least not in all cases. Though I will concede that when hands are completely unbound (or ROE are disregarded) there tends to be more collateral damage.

Matty P.: I think more precision in language is required. Firebombing to my mind is either napalm use or mass dropping of incendiaries as in WWII. I don’t believe either thing happened in Cambodia. Napalm was I believe a tactical support weapon that normally wasn’t used on the suspected truck park at coordinate x,y,z. Incendiaries weren’t used that I know of because they weren’t suitable for the targets. And none of the bombing was indiscriminate, there was always thought to be some kind of target there, though some weren’t actually there.

Fair point, Carl, but your closing line says it all, “though some weren’t actually there.”