War movies during war time tell us different sides of war experiences. We're in a war and it, like Viet Nam, has become increasingly unpopular. Of course, like Viet Nam, and unlike WWII and earlier wars, Iraq is being fought in our living rooms. Though the numbers of dead are significantly less than either WWII or Viet Nam, or even Korea, the war continues to drag on with no end in sight. President Bush has made it clear that any resolution, if there is a resolution, will be left to his successor(s).
And so it's in this context that we view Clint Eastwood's Flags of our Fathers. I'll try not to ruin it for those who've not seen it -- better yet, first see it and then read what I've got to say. I just watched it this evening, and found it moving, challenging, and disturbing. The cinematography and story telling is really quite good -- I expect it to be up for if not a winner of multiple Oscars.
The movie tells the story of the Marines (and a Navy corpsman) who raised the flag on Iwo Jima. Well it tells the story of the group in the picture -- who were actually the guys who raised a replacement flag. Of the six in this group, only three survived, Iwo Jima, and they were brought back to the States as heroes to help sell war bonds. The movie goes back and forth between the battle and their experiences in the States -- their recognition that they weren't the original flag raisers, and the fact that some of the Marines were misidentified. The story is true and is the film retelling of James Bradley's story of his father's experiences (though told from the remembrances of others since his father never much talked about what happened).
The movie suggests that heroes are of our making, because we need them. The three "war heroes" in this movie, just happened to be in the "right place, at the right time." They were no more and no less heroes than anyone else. They all lived with the nightmares of battle, something that is not at any point glorified in the movie. Battle was brutal, terrifying, devastating, and more.
This is truly a movie that makes you think about war and what it does to people. I've never been in war, in fact I've never been in the military. My Father was in the Navy during WWII, but never saw battle. I came of age at just the right time, a year after we evacuated Viet Nam. The war was over for us and so was the draft.
Heroes, they're just like us, they're human beings with faults, just like us, but we need them and so we create images that even they can't live up to or live with (on many occasions). Perhaps it's better to be a dead hero than a living one.
Sherman said that War is Hell. That was not just an observation, it was a program for battle. But the reality is, no matter how, you portray it, war is hell, and this movie is a truly important portrayal of that reality. I've never been able to come to the point of embracing pacifism, though I believe that Jesus's program was pacifist in nature. But a movie like this is an important reminder of what is lost when we go to war. It's not something that we should enter into blindly or haphazardly. That's because in the end it's the young who die, not the old. The old men (at least in WWII) were back in Washington politicking, when the young ones were on the field of battle dying. It just makes you think.