Why We Fought: America's Wars in Film and History

Why We Fought: America's Wars in Film and History

Why We Fought: America's Wars in Film and History

Why We Fought: America's Wars in Film and History

Synopsis

Film moves audiences like no other medium; both documentaries and feature films are especially remarkable for their ability to influence viewers. Best-selling author James Brady remarked that he joined the Marines to fight in Korea after seeing a John Wayne film, demonstrating how a motion picture can change the course of a human life- in this case, launching the career of a major historian and novelist. In Why We Fought: America's Wars in Film and History,editors Peter C. Rollins and John E. O'Connor explore the complexities of war films, describing the ways in which such productions interpret history and illuminate American values, politics, and culture. This comprehensive volume covers representations of war in film from the American Revolution in the 18th century to today's global War on Terror. The contributors examine iconic battle films such as The Big Parade(1925),All Quiet on the Western Front(1930),From Here to Eternity(1953), and Platoon(1986), considering them as historical artifacts. The authors explain how film shapes our cultural understanding of military conflicts, analyzing how war is depicted on television programs, through news media outlets, and in fictional and factual texts. With several essays examining the events of September 11, 2001, and their aftermath, the book has a timely relevance concerning the country's current military conflicts. Jeff Chown examines controversial documentary films about the Iraq War, while Stacy Takacs considers Jessica Lynch and American gender issues in a post-9/11 world, and James Kendrick explores the political messages and aesthetic implications of United 93. From filmmakers who reshaped our understanding of the history of the Alamo, to Ken Burns's popular series on the Civil War, to the uses of film and media in understanding the Vietnam conflict,Why We Foughtoffers a balanced outlook- one of the book's editors was a combat officer in the United States Marines, the other an antiwar activist- on the conflicts that have become touchstones of American history. As Air Force veteran and film scholar Robert Fyne notes in the foreword, American war films mirror a nation's past and offer tangible evidence of the ways millions of Americans have become devoted, as was General MacArthur, to "Duty, honor, and country."Why We Foughtchronicles how, for more than half a century, war films have shaped our nation's consciousness.

Excerpt

Military conflicts have influenced American society and reshaped the lives of Americans in complex and subtle ways. Although public documents, legislative debates, and battlefield statistics may be the best sources for understanding some of the more traditional historical issues such as war aims, strategies, and logistical successes and failures, evidence from popular culture may show more clearly how wars can liberate and also corrupt nations morally, just as they can bankrupt them financially. On a more profound level, it can help us see how nations can be born and —like soldiers at the front—die in wars. Moreover, what Carl von Clausewitz describes as “the continuation of diplomacy by other means” (6) also involves the continuation of all sorts of other human concerns and interrelationships under pressures induced by war. Why We Fought: America’s Wars in Film and History explores how motion pictures have influenced, reflected, and interpreted the American experience of war.

War, like other critical life situations, really does bring out the best and the worst in people. And the exigencies of war provide defining moments in people’s lives. These universal principles were identified in the literature of the ancients and still surface in today’s headlines. On an individual level, war places people in frightening situations they must face on their own, yet it also lays the foundation for friendships and support networks stronger than any other. Subtle yet powerful evidence of such relationships is found in the letters written home by members of the armed forces and in the images created by battlefield artists—as well as in popular films (Chenoweth).

Unfortunately, war encourages soldiers (and civilians) to dehumanize and demonize their enemies to make them easier to eliminate, but ironically, when warriors on opposing sides of a conflict are faced with similarly perilous situations, it initiates the preconditions for comradeship that few noncombatants can comprehend. Surely brothers in arms, even allied soldiers of different na-

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