An angry man—there is my story: The bitter rancor of
Achilles, prince of the house of Peleus, which brought
a thousand troubles upon the Achaean host. Many a
strong soul it sent down to Hades, and left the heroes
themselves a prey to dog and carrion birds, while the
will of God [Zeus] moved on to fulfillment.
—Homer, The Iliad
IF, AS LÉVI-STRAUSS MAINTAINS, MYTH ATtempts to resolve conflict, then war presents a fertile ground for the flowering of mythical resolutions. Homer’s Iliad weaves a story about the Achaean war with Troy that explores the hubris at the base of human conflict. For him the resolution is fidelity to the will of the gods. Although Paris’s abduction of Helen provoked the war, Homer sings about Achilles’ anger and pride, which led to the quarrel with Agamemnon, the near defeat of the Greeks, and the death of his good friend Patroclus.
America’s wars have also supplied mythical inspiration for the nation. The Revolutionary War has served as a genesis myth, and the Civil War, our most traumatic conflict, created the myth of a unified nation. But our sense of the United States as a peace-loving nation comes into conflict with the violence and frequency of our wars. Thus, we have difficulty seeing ourselves as the aggressors and must vilify the enemy.
In this century the movies have contributed to the war effort by providing a public definition of the war. During World War II Hollywood was recruited for the war effort. Not only did it make many films for the War Department, but Walt Disney Studios, even contributed artists to emblazon insignia on bombers. In 1942 the Selective