Saturday, December 18, 2004


Are There Any *Pro* War Movies?

Ace had a posting Friday about a new movie reportedly in development for Harrison Ford, a film based on Marines fighting in Fallujah called No True Glory.

My initial thoughts? It'll never happen. Until I read about it having a studio, a producer, a director, and a script, it's a vaporfilm, something imagined by some two-bit Frank Whaley-type movie executive thinking up a plot hook during his spinning class.

Or if it does happen, it'll be some straight-to-video Michael Dudikoff thing.

Another thought? Harrison Ford is a freakin' awful actor. He hasn't looked like he's had, you know, fun making a movie since Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I don't think I've really enjoyed anything he's done since then. So, that's a bad sign for this Iraq movie's prospects.

Finally, as usual, Ace is overreacting. Are all people assholes? Sure. But that doesn't mean they're always shitting. This movie, lousy title and dubious pedigree aside, may end up being good.

Hey, c'mon, I'm trying to be optimistic here.

Anyways, the point of this post (yes, there is one) was to pursue a point raised in Ace's screed: are there any great pro-war movies?

I'm not going to run down the list of cheesy World War II films, thrown out there by the bucketload. Most are pro-America more than pro-war, but in many cases, they're one and the same.

Since that time, most films have played up the anti-war angle.

Now, I guess it might be useful to make a distinction, and identify two separate levels on which a war movie can be either pro- or anti-war. To use conveniently appropriate terminology, I'll refer to these levels as the "tactical" and "strategic" levels.

The "tactical" level of the war film involves the immediate and daily actions of the characters. They can all be portrayed as noble heroes in a great crusade, or heroes in a failed war. Likewise, they can be shown as terrible people engaged in a criminal enterprise. Very rarely-- so rarely, I can't really think of an example-- they can be terrible people engaged in a great crusade.

The "strategic" level looks at that big picture, on whether the war itself is worth fighting.

As Ace correctly notes, most movies, especially those today, take pains to portray the soldiers as noble heroes. I'd argue that this is mostly due to the need for any film to have a protagonist that the audience can positively identify with; however, it does seem to be the norm rather than the exception.

On the other hand, most war movies seem to go out of their way to highlight the stupidity and/or immorality of the larger endeavor. Either through the portrayal of inept officers, contradictory and illogical orders, irrational missions, etc.

So, given these categories, what war movies would I consider to be "pro-war"?

Here are a few I can think of, and some observations on them:
-- Patton. This movie, either intentionally or unintentionally, portrays war as a defining human experience, i.e. the clash of wills. Like most WWII movies, the Nazis are clearly the bad guys, but the film gives Patton the last word in every argument. From a historical perspective, the film treats Omar Bradley unfairly, but in the movie he's set up as the "candy ass" who won't listen to Patton's justifications for fighting for victory, and nothing less.

-- Glory. Interestingly enough, I think the reason this movie is so pro-war has plenty to do with the liberal sentiments behind its story. It's always easy for Hollywood to portray Southern Confederates as "American Nazis," and this movie follows suit. However, the general thrust of the film shows that some wars are necessary, even moral acts, like a war to end slavery (and, oh, save the Union while they're at it, if, you know, they're not busy being symbolic heroes and all).

-- The Big Red One. Most critics would probably paint this film as anti-war given the cynicism of most of the characters. But the overriding theme of the film is duty, and not just to the "band of brothers." And the final scenes in the death camp convince the characters, and the audience, that no matter the horrors of war, some horrors are worse than battle.

Anyways, I'd like to hear any other nominees if you have them.

I don't know about Bradley being portrayed badly. As I recall, Bradley was a credited as a consultant in the movie, so presumably he was the source of the scenes his character was in. Maybe he is treated that way because next to Patton, everybody looks like a candyass.

Again, maybe it is angel dust talking, but every movie John Wayne was in was pro-war, though given the WWII toss-outs, The Green Berets should count.Sure, it is hokey, but it is also hilarious to see "Sulu" out there with the Duke fighting the Cong.

You may not have liked The Battle of the Bulge, but I think it qualifies.

The Longest Day. I don't remember when it came out, if it counts as WWII propaganda flick, but even if it was, it was a damn good one.
In the "Glory" category, I would add "Tuskegee Airman."

"The Green Berets" is the only Vietnam movie filmed during the Vietnam war, if I remember correctly. "The Longest Day" came out in the early sixties (1962 - I just checked). It was filmed at the same time as "Cleopatra." Guess which was an expensive flop. The "Big Red One" has been recut with an additional 45 minutes of footage. I meant to see that this week, but I didn't quite make it. Fuller was a combat veteran, and the film is semi-autobiographical.

"Run Silent, Run Deep," a pro-war movie or yet another film about an obsessive captain?

Here's a movie that Hollywood will never remake, at least with American protagonists - "Red Dawn." Let's see, a movie about insurgents fighting occupiers... Hmmm, I could not imagine where Hollywood might set the remake.

The point at which war movies flipped from pro-war propaganda to anti-war was in 1970 with the release of "M*A*S*H" and "Catch-22." "Fail-Safe" and "Strangelove" should have their own category with "War Games" and "The Day After." After 1970, movies with Hollywood sanctioned violence would center on individuals like Billy Jack, Paul Kersey, and John Rambo.

Terrible people involved in a great crusade would be "The Dirty Dozen," but I think that construct is more likely found in cop movies, like "Dirty Harry" or "The French Connection."

The only pro-war movies coming out of Hollywood now involve aliens, but war is only justified after the White House has been destroyed.

The Big Red One director's cut is outstanding-- I saw it a few weeks back. I highly recommend it, it improves the original greatly.
How about "Battle of Britain" (1969) and "The Bridge at Remagen" (1969)?
Hey everybody--

Thanks for the suggestions, I appreciate the discussion.

However, I wonder if I was being clear enough in my post (seriously; I'm not sure I even *I* know the issue I was raising ;-).

Like I said, I excluded a lot of WWII movies because they take on the form of propaganda, particularly those made during or soon after the war.

For the most part, Hollywood has never strayed from the Americans good, Nazis bad paradigm. Few people would argue with that, as c'mon, Nazis are unambiguously the bad guys.

I think the issue gets more interesting when you ignore WWII, as you start to get into war movies that don't have the comfort blanket of the stark, obvious morality of that conflict.

So, to rephrase/refine the question, I'm looking for war movies that support the potential for *good* that war can achieve-- i.e., support the concept of a "just war", instead of throwing cold water on the whole enterprise.

In films like Platoon, Blackhawk Down, Courage Under Fire, and even Saving Private Ryan, Hollywood can recognize individual heroism while impugning the motives of the greater cause, either directly or implicitly.

In the rare movies that take the side of the enemy-- Das Boot, Stalingrad, Enemy at the Gates-- the theme is the same, undistinguishable from other modern war films: war is a waste, war is corrupt, men only fight for their brothers, the larger "cause" is a lie.

Now, in the heat of battle it's true that soldiers fight for the soldiers they're with. But outside of those mad minutes of hell, it's the cause that keeps them going, day in and day out. One only needs to read a milblog today to hear those motivations discussed. Or, for a more historical perspective, there's always James McPherson's Civil War research (

Anyways, that's what I'm getting at. I think a lot of WWII movies fit the bill because it's *easy* for them to do so, and the controversy of them doing otherwise renders it difficult to question the larger war (even when done, like in Catch-22, military & bureaucratic incompetence may be the most dangerous enemy, but nobody questions the reasons for fighting the Germans).

"The 300 Spartans" fits the bill, I think. The threat from the Persians is obvious, the necessity of war explained, and the sacrifice of the Spartans (and their allies) placed in the strategic context.
Oops. Two movies I think should belong on the list: Braveheart and The Patriot.

I think they fit the description I had in mind.
Star Wars.

True, like in Independence Day we watch something big (a planet) explode before the main action takes place, but the rebellion was already well underway by the time Alderan got wasted. Notwithstanding your post on why the Empire might really be the "good guys," I think it's clear that the movie clearly states the the war is good.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?