Tuesday, July 15, 2008

CHIMPS OR WIMPS

On the Slate site, Troy Patterson has an interesting – though not the definitive – take on Ed Burns’s “Generation Kill”.

The film is “too skeptical about authority to entertain neocons or red-meat nationalists and too depressing to delight a good liberal”. That may be a judgment on its marketability, and on its utility or the lack of it inregard to current political strategies, but it doesn’t grasp the larger import of the film.

But it’s worth a bit on its own. The film captures the Viking atmosphere of ‘boys’ at war. Of course, in that regard it’s as depressing as those queasy scenes in “Battlestar Galactica” where – in some sort of ideal alternative universe – male and female fighter pilots of the same age live in coed bunkrooms, the women equally as chimpish and loud and profane as the males - except, of course, when suddenly they are ‘feminine’.

Not to blame the scriptwriters; current cultural dogma as to the role of women in mixed-gender settings – and not just the gauzy world of college dorms but the brutal gruelling grind of constant combat - is … ummmm … mixed. In our modern American reality you can wind up in trouble for saying that women can bring an element of civilization to the combat milieu and you can wind up in trouble for saying that they are just the same as ‘men’. If you’re in the military, I imagine you can lose a career in less than an afternoon. Perhaps why one of the most essential career skills in the military nowadays is to be able to keep a straight face and talk about the weather. The situation is – frankly – soviet, a reality that did not die with Stalin or with the USSR itself but – in best science fiction form – has migrated.

The young males in this particular film’s unit – and they are all males – operate at that simultaneously winsome and repulsive level as any conflicted teens, though under the galvanizing and corrosive effect of sudden combat and the constant threat of it these highly-trained (but not matured) boyos start to shade over into the berserker, though here and there this or that one tries to get some traction for sanity with humor or insight or even a little philosophy.

The Service can train you, combat can harden you (or break you) but the Pentagon pays nobody to mature you. Nor, surely, can we expect Fundamentalist ‘witnessing’ and exhortations according to the stylings of the Book of Revelation to raise up the maturity of these youngsters. Put under this type of stress they start to cling wayyy to tightly to their Inner Chimp. And it shows.

It’s painful to watch. And that’s good. For Us. We need to see this. We need to see what they are going through, the profound dangers not only physical and ‘military’, and not only psychological, but characterological and even spiritual. Because if you clutch that Inner Chimp too long, and under too much pressure, it might be hard to let go – like those troops brought off the beach at Dunkirk, so deeply shocked that they cannot let go of their rifles even when the boat delivers them to a wharf in Old Blighty. Only this is worse. You can pry the physical muscles loose; not so the heart and the character and the spirit.

And Fourth Generation War (4GW as it’s called in the think-tanks) where there is no ‘front’ and no ‘rear’ where you can reasonably expect either combat or rest, and where the ‘enemy’ could be anybody not in your uniform, whether man or woman or child … in that type of situation, for weeks and months without significant relief, with no end in sight and every possibility that your glorious government will go back on its word and postpone your rotation home or even postpone the end of your enlistment, you are under monstrous pressures. How surprising can it be that the troops might discern as did Mark Twain: it was no place for a mature man, and I did not remain one very long …? No place for a decent man, and … the variations are numerous, and deeply disturbing.

Disturbing not because they are failing Us but because We are failing them. We failed to exercise mastery of Ourselves and so those whom We placed over the soldiers in positions of large authority were able to deploy them like pawns and plastic figures in a world far more complex than were contained in the Beltway’s dreams of easy imperium and quick-fixes.

We put wimps over the chimps. No, that’s too easy. The ‘chimp’ part, certainly, is too simplistic. And ‘wimps’ doesn’t begin to cover the numerous failings of those who surfed Our collective imbecilities to achieve large (‘great’ says too much) power. And who, as the light of power begins to fade, are looking to surf themselves to safety and – more! – continued status and influence, free from the consequences of their treacheries.

Strenuous liberty requires, by definition, strenuous maturity. And – at this point – strenuous prayer. Authentic and soul-fueled prayer. For Ourselves as well as for all of them over there.

Over there.

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