The War Literature This Time

The NY Times has two interesting articles on a subject I’ve written about before: film and literature inspired by the Iraq and Afghanistan War. Like me, they note the lack of novels, as compared to memoirs, although this is to be expected given the lag-time before good fiction usually appears.

Interestingly, they also discuss something that I’d ignored, namely the lack of political criticism in both the literature and cinema that has come out of the wars to date. In some ways, that was implied in my previous remarks, given the nature of the great post-War and Vietnam-era film and literature (which targeted war’s absurdity in the former case, and its inhumanity in the latter). The Times piece on war literature traces the lack of political criticism to the preponderence of the officer class among the current crop of authors, leading to a “neo-Victorian” portrayal of the duty and honor that accompanies war. The piece on film suggests that a fixation on “reality,” in both documentary and fictional portrayals, has pre-empted the usual political content.

There’s certainly a case to be made for the argument that the courage and sacrifice demonstrated by our soldiers demands that they not be turned into vehicles for political agendas. I’d suggest, though, that this case resides very squarely outside the realm of “reality” that has otherwise become the watchword of the artistic treatment of the wars. In addition to receiving a great deal of well-deserved, politically disinterested gratitude, our soldiers are also the instrument of political manipulation, whether wielded by the White House, Congress, the Pentagon or locally elected officials across the country. We, and they, all know this. So the depoliticization of the artistic portrayal of our current wars represents, not “reality,” but a significant victory of a particular view of them.

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