Chris Walsh: Jones, Patton and the Question of Cowardice - Part 3

Uploaded by cahEIU on 25.04.2011

(Dr. Christopher Walsh). So here's this idea of war that
makes of the individual soldier a cringing digit with--and
this comes up elsewhere in the novel--with no choice,
no ability to determine his or her, sorry his.
I'm being politically correct for ahistorical reasons,
there were no women fighting on Guadalcanal that I know of,
I would be interested to hear otherwise.
The idea of the randomness of war, and John Keegan,
probably one of the great military historians of our day,
goes into a lot of this in the face of battle and how
weapons were getting stronger and in part they were meant,
because they had to get stronger because they
needed to wreck more heavily armored, bigger things--tanks,
huge buildings, fortifications, cities, et cetera.
So it became more possible for somebody who
wasn't a target to be killed.
And here is where Jean-Jacques gets shelled.
"His face hung over the side of the stretcher and his
"half-closed eyes, dulled of intelligence by the morphine
"and by shock, held only a peculiar questioning look.
"He appeared to be asking them or somebody, why,
"why he, Jean-Jacques, ASN so-and-so had been chosen
"for this particular fate.
"Somewhere a stranger had dropped a metal case down a
tube, not knowing exactly where it would land, not even sure
"where he wanted it to land.
"It hand gone up and come down and where did it land,
"on Jean-Jacques, ASN so and so.
"When it had burst thousands of chunks and pieces of
"knife-edged metal had gone churring in all directions.
Why him, et cetera."
Jones puts this a little more formulaicly, mathematically
speaking that is, in World War II in the historical memoir.
"And modern war was not man against man,
"if it ever had been.
"It was machine against machine, it was industry
"against industry, and we had the best machine.
"Our industry was better than their industry but men had to
"die or be maimed to prove it.
"Men had to die at the wheels or triggers of the machines.
"It could even be worked out mathematically.
"A number of men had to be invested and x-number
"had to die in order for objective-y to be reached
"and finale-z to be achieved.
"That was the notable, true meaning of anonymity
to the soldier."
I'll just read the first and last sentences.
"A regular business venture, not war at all."
The end of the paragraph, this is Fife.
"He did not mind dying in a war, a real war,
"at least he didn't think he did, but he did not
"want to die in a regulated business venture."
And there was reason, even military psychiatry--which
you would think would be on the side of helping soldiers
and treating them as victims-- looked at soldiers as
x, y, and z, as investments.
This is a quotation from, and I'm sure you're grateful
for the actual type here, a quotation from the
"Journal of the American Medical Association", 1941.
Regarding the work of the selective service,
one military doctor wrote, "That the aim of the
"system is to furnish the Army with the
"best material available.
"Its primary interest is the efficiency of the Army.
"The best material," said the doctor, "were soldiers
"who would establish a proper relation to their fellows
"and a sound attitude toward the representatives
of the established order."
Now the military psychiatrists are always in a difficult
position because their job is to help soldiers, but the
best outcome for them is to get those soldiers in a situation
where they can go back out into the field and put themselves
in the same situations that perhaps caused the
pyschological or psychiatric damage in the first place.
Catch-22 is the classic phrase to capture this,
and I think Jones in a way, with "The Thin Red Line"
at least, thought this wasn't going far enough.
Patton thought it had gone way too far.
Here is Jones' vision of the established order
of the way things were.
"It was a horrifying vision.
"All of them doing the same identical thing, all of them
"powerless to stop it, all of them devoutly and proudly
"believing themselves to be free individuals.
"It expanded to include the scores of nations,
"the millions of men doing the same on thousands of hilltops
"across the world, and it didn't stop there, it went on.
"It was the concept, the concept, the fact,
the reality of the modern state in action."
What does this mean for the individual?
"What the hell?
"If a man's government told him he had to go and
"fight a war, he had to go, that was all.
"The government was bigger than him and it could make him.
"It wasn't even a matter of duty.
"He had to go.
"And if he was the right kind of man he would want to go,
"no matter how much he didn't really want to.
"It didn't have anything to do with freedom,
for Christ's sake."
We go back to that idea of duty that is essential
to the idea of cowardice.
If duty gets nullified by the conditions of modern war,
there's a phrase that comes up in "The Red Badge of Courage"
when Henry Flemming, he feels himself to be in a moving box
and the walls of tradition and of his situation with the
ranks of his superior officers, he's stuck.
The moving box, I would say, in World War II is smaller
and it's moving faster.
In the movie, the phrase "moving box" comes up.
I don't recall it in the book, maybe I'm mistaken there,
but I think Terrence Mallick took a little bit from
"The Red Badge of Courage."
And I think the movie is very effective in places at showing
how stuck these soldiers are.
There's the scene in which Nick Nolte, who's Colonel Tall,
I don't think that's his name in the movie, is ordering them to
make a frontal assault on a hilltop and behind him are the
admiral's observers watching him.
And he feels obliged to make this order because the admirals,
his superiors, are watching, and then of course, the people that
he is ordering, those soldiers feel themselves stuck between
the Japanese and him.
Here's once again from World War II, the history,
and this talks about what Mr. Elliott talked about,
the evolution of the soldier.
"The only real difference, the main difference between
"World War II and later years, later wars, and I would say
"it's a difference in part between earlier wars as well,
"was the greater overall social committment to
"and therefore the greater social stigma attached to
"refusing to go.
"Besides, in World War II, there was nowhere to run.
"Just about every nation was involved one way or another,
"the whole world was caught up.
"Had some sanctuary exsisted, transportation to it
"would have been impossible under the government control
being excercised."
John Keegan talks about how the forces of modern war,
the fact that soldiers get sent across the world in transport
and the state has such a monopoly
on the means of violence.
All of these things make that moving box a stronger,
more inescapable thing.
Added to this was the material, to use [unclear audio] word,
the doctor in the "Journal of the American
Medical Associtation", these men were different
from men in earlier years.
The lifespan of Americans had gone from--I have the exact
figures--something like 42 years was the average life expectancy
of an American male in 1900.
By 1950, it was 62 years.
A couple of sociologists writing a book called
"War and Neuroses."
"The general sociological factors which have influenced
"the young men of this generation are those related
to society's feelings about war."
So this is compounding the increasing strangeness of death.
William James said that one of the hallmarks of civilization
was the decrease in the actual instances of real fear that
we encounter in our everyday lives.