The Horror of War Can Be Catnip for Young Men

By Lembcke, Jerry | National Catholic Reporter, May 25, 2007 | Go to article overview

The Horror of War Can Be Catnip for Young Men


Lembcke, Jerry, National Catholic Reporter


Oliver Stone's film "Platoon" came out in 1986 with predictions from antiwar activists that here was a film portraying the horror of war so graphically that, at long last, Americans would turn away from it.

The expectations I took with me when I went to see the film were dashed early when I heard the oohs and ahhs normally elicited by action films. From my vantage point in the darkened theater, I could see several pairs of men and boys. Fathers and sons, I wondered. Veterans and sons?

By the end, my mind was as much on the audience as the film. As the credits rolled, made a point to listen in on some conversations: awestruck sons asking fathers if "it was really like that"; fathers confirming that, yes, war is hell; the lesson punctuated with youthful expressions of "cool."

War is hell--cool! Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman had pronounced war "hell" just before he torched Atlanta. It became an antiwar trope during the 20th century. It was as if the repetition of the phrase "War is hell," and the evermore realistic portrayals of it, from the World War I classic "All Quiet on the Western Front" through "Saving Private Ryan," which took the genre of films-to-end-all-wars into the 21st century, would banish the discord and bring the light.

But over the years, the thought congealed for me: "War is hell" isn't working as an antiwar slogan. Worse, I feared, the horror of war might be a kind of catnip for young men. The worse we make it sound and look, the more irresistible it is. Maybe it's the Calvinism engrained in American culture that calls us to duty--the greater the risk, the greater the glory; no cost, no benefit.

When I was recently invited to speak on the cost of war at Holy Cross College, I hesitated. Sure, I could tote up the costs of the wars in dollars, lives and broken bodies, but why? Is there a tipping point at which the costs get so great that we run to the streets yelling, "No more war," and it all ends? Will a display of empty boots on the village common remind us of the living souls that used to fill them and we'll say "enough"?

Maybe. But probably not. The social chemistry joining human losses in combat with patriotism and the will to war is more complex than that. For every Gold Star mother marching with Code Pink, there is parent seeking to avenge his or her loss through more war. An eye for an eye, you know. Continue the mission so my loss will not have been in vain.

In March, I watched the ABC special on Bob Woodruffs recovery after he suffered a head wound while reporting from Iraq. The program used Mr. Woodruffs story to raise awareness of the head-injury cases of military veterans. The distended skulls, slurred speech, the difficulties they have with basic body movement were hard to watch. The memory it evoked of my own visit to St. Albans Naval Hospital in 1970 to see my friend Denny who had had half his face ripped away by a mortar round in Vietnam didn't make it any easier.

But I also watched, mindful Of what else ABC could have been showing us: hours of personal and political detail about the 1,000 GIs and Marines, still in service, who signed the Appeal for Redress opposing the war and presented it to Congress in February--a story that got a 15-minute slot on "60 Minutes" the hour before the Academy Awards began. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Horror of War Can Be Catnip for Young Men
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.