The Myth of the Anti-War Warrior
by Richard Poe
Monday, November 12, 2007
12:00 am Eastern Time
“HE WAS a war hero who hated the war.”
So intones the narrator of a classic film. Some readers may remember it. Who was this war hero who hated the war?
Was it Senator John Kerry, who turned to anti-war activism after earning a Bronze Star, a Silver Star and three Purple Hearts in Vietnam? Was it Congressman John Murtha, a former Marine intelligence officer in Vietnam, who now demands that we cut and run from Iraq? Or was it perhaps Norman Mailer, who died this past Saturday? Mailer fought in the Pacific during World War II, then built a lucrative career writing anti-war novels and diatribes.
Who was the “war hero who hated the war”?
He was none of the above, yet all of the above. He was a fictional character in a movie, yet he stood for something real. He embodied the twisted, stunted manhood of the American left. He symbolized the Anti-War Warrior.
We have all met the Anti-War Warrior. We studied him in school. Indeed, he was forced down our throats.
These books impart the myth of the Anti-War Warrior. They tell us that war is senseless; that all real soldiers hate war; and that patriotism inspires only civilians who have never seen combat.
Published during the 1920s, these books display the cynicism of the so-called Lost Generation, a coterie of intellectuals supposedly traumatized by combat service in World War I.
Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises shows us the Lost Generation anesthetizing itself with booze and sex in post-war Europe.
Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front tells the story of seven German schoolmates who die in the trenches, one by one. Before dying himself, the narrator pronounces his generation “broken, burnt out, rootless“.
In Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms an American ambulance driver in Italy is hit by shrapnel. He makes love to his nurse; decides that war is absurd; runs off to Switzerland with his beloved and declares that “words such as glory, honor, courage” are “obscene.”
The authors drew largely from personal experience. Remarque fought in the German trenches in 1917. Ernest Hemingway was wounded by shrapnel while serving as a Red Cross ambulance driver in Italy in 1918.
Back home in Oak Park, Illinois, young Hemingway enjoyed hobbling through his neighborhood on crutches, in uniform. He was proud of his service, and rightly so.
But Hemingway also had a driving ambition and a keen instinct for self-promotion. In the cafés of post-war Paris, he imbibed the cynicism of the Lost Generation. He understood that, among the journalists, publishers and filmmakers of the day, the only good war hero was a pacifist war hero.
Eager to please, Hemingway embraced the role of the anti-war warrior. Many writers did the same.
Some did not, however. Some remained true to the old virtues. They were better men than Hemingway, Remarque and Mailer. They were also better writers.
Among them was British author J.R.R. Tolkien, who wrote The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien saw his first action at the Battle of the Somme, where more than a million men were killed or wounded. “By 1918, all but one of my close friends were dead”, Tolkien later wrote.
Tolkien never yielded to cynicism. His novels extol duty, honor, courage and sacrifice. His gentle characters learn to take up the sword, becoming warriors in the face of evil.
We learn from Tolkien that war does not always render men “broken, burnt out, rootless”. Some, like Tolkien, learn from adversity, returning from battle stronger, wiser and braver.
The hero is Billy Jack, a half-breed Indian played by white actor Tom Laughlin. Billy Jack also happens to be a former Green Beret. “He was a war hero who hated the war”, explains the narrator of the film.
Using hapkido and gunplay, Billy Jack defends a hippie commune from attacks by local cowboys. He is a cold-blooded killer in the service of hippiedom, the ultimate Anti-War Warrior. Alas for the left, no such person ever lived.
The leftists can only yearn for him, trying, with each copy of A Farewell to Arms foisted upon some hapless high school student, to conjure their imaginary hero into existence.