“Resist Honoring the Institution”

In honor of Memorial Day last year, Will Wilkinson posted this scene from The Americanization of Emily.  I’m posting again this year because the message is so important.  I apologize for the break, but watch both clips; the entire scene at the table outside is what you need to watch.  It starts at 6:00 in the first clip, and goes for a few minutes into the second.

Charlie: I don’t trust people who make bitter reflections about war, Mrs. Barham. It’s always the generals with the bloodiest records who are the first to shout what a Hell it is. And it’s always the widows who lead the Memorial Day parades … we shall never end wars, Mrs. Barham, by blaming it on ministers and generals or warmongering imperialists or all the other banal bogies. It’s the rest of us who build statues to those generals and name boulevards after those ministers; the rest of us who make heroes of our dead and shrines of our battlefields. We wear our widows’ weeds like nuns and perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices. My brother died at Anzio – an everyday soldier’s death, no special heroism involved. They buried what pieces they found of him. But my mother insists he died a brave death and pretends to be very proud.

Mrs. Barham: You’re very hard on your mother. It seems a harmless enough pretense to me.

Charlie: No, Mrs. Barham. No, you see, now my other brother can’t wait to reach enlistment age. That’ll be in September. May be ministers and generals who blunder us into wars, but the least the rest of us can do is to resist honoring the institution. What has my mother got for pretending bravery was admirable? She’s under constant sedation and terrified she may wake up one morning and find her last son has run off to be brave.

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2 Responses to “Resist Honoring the Institution”

  1. War is not an institution. It is a phenomenon that occurs when one nation thinks it can get something from another more cheaply through combat than through trade.

    If you know of persons who seek to institutionalize war — that is, to make it something freestanding, that persists of its own inertia without the need for a strong rationale — by all means oppose them. But it is vicious in the extreme to imply that honoring the military is the same as institutionalizing war. The most terrible wars in history arose because the aggressors believed the defenders would not fight, or weren’t well enough armed to prevail.

    Si pacem vis, para bellum. — old Latin aphorism
    Wars are caused by undefended wealth. — Douglas MacArthur
    The most expensive thing in the world is a second-best military, good but not good enough to win. — Robert A. Heinlein
    It is customary in democratic countries to deplore expenditures on armaments as conflicting with the requirements of the social services. There is a tendency to forget that the most important social service that a government can do for its people is to keep them alive and free. — Sir John Slessor
    Before all else, be armed! — Niccolo Macchiavelli

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