"I went from resenting the American flag to thanking it."
January 10, 2018 10:12 AM   Subscribe

"The standard view of 9/11 is that it 'changed everything' - but in its rhetoric and symbolism, the WWII nostalgia laid the conceptual groundwork for what was to come." - "The Good War," a graphical adaptation and update of an article by Chris Hayes by Mike Dawson. posted by Rustic Etruscan (26 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
Interesting. And, to save anyone else the click: yes, it's that Chris Hayes from MSNBC's All In.
posted by mhum at 10:18 AM on January 10


"I went from resenting the American flag to thanking it."

95% of humanity isn't American. We mostly think of America as the tyrannosaurus in the first Jurassic Park - America might save the day, but only by accident and only by eating anything that happens in front of it.

Speaking as someone who's in that 95%, we're against huge flesh-eating rampaging dinosaurs.
posted by happyinmotion at 10:50 AM on January 10 [22 favorites]


I agree. The point of the comic is that Spielberg's attitude is appalling and every bit as enabling of the fever for the Global War on Terror as any openly fascist propaganda by Clint Eastwood.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:57 AM on January 10 [5 favorites]


I'm a big fan of Mike Dawson, his other strips on The Nib and his website are worth checking out, many of which are collected in Rules For Dating My Daughter. He also co-hosts the pretty great comics/interview podcast Process Party with fellow cartoonist Zack Soto.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:04 AM on January 10 [2 favorites]


About three days after 9/11 I was having a converation with the guy I was dating then, and we both discussed our growing unease with the profusion of flags. "I'm a little afraid," I said at one point, "that waving the flag is going to sooner or later turn into waving the flag at someone."

Yup.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:20 AM on January 10 [6 favorites]


waving the flag is going to sooner or later turn into waving the flag at someone.

Happened long before 9-11. That said, the fetishization of the flag, the reification of Presidents, and the deification of the military are all perversions of pre-9-11 American values.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:36 AM on January 10 [6 favorites]


Thanks for this. I just shared it on my book of faces. I feel like every time this nation has taken a turn for the good and had a chance to enter uncharted territory of justice, we u-turned back to horror.
posted by allthinky at 11:45 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]


As a thought, don't forget that the 90's were also the 50th Anniversary of World War II (at least the US involvement in it). I suspect the resurgence in World War II nostalgia from that period was more the "Hey, big round number around this historical event" than "Hey, we have no enemies, so let's revel in our past glories." The timing is such that there's a mix of those reasons, but it's neither one or the other.

There's always been those chomping at the bit for war, even during peace, regardless of the cultural zeitgeist. Reagan had Grenada and Libya. Clinton had Kosovo, and W came into office chomping at the bit to go to war with Iraq.
posted by SansPoint at 11:49 AM on January 10


That said, the fetishization of the flag, the reification of Presidents, and the deification of the military are all perversions of pre-9-11 American values.

This was Billboard's number one hit of 1966. 1,353,000 would die in the unnecessary war it celebrates.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:51 AM on January 10 [4 favorites]


The Nib is the best!
posted by irisclara at 11:58 AM on January 10


At times, post 9/11, it really seemed as if the right was trying to actually erase the so-called "Greatest Generation" and replace it with their own, new, "Greatest Generation." It was sickening.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:04 PM on January 10 [3 favorites]


Everyone’s dad in my upper-middle-class childhood had a story about how they got out of the draft during Vietnam, and in 2002 every one of them was gung-ho to invade Iraq. Nothing you could say to them would get through to them how incoherent that seemed, until something I read in a book of Evelyn Waugh’s:

"It seems there was a will to war, a death wish, everywhere. Even good men thought their private honour would be satisfied by war. They could assert their manhood by killing and being killed. They would accept hardships in recompense for having been selfish and lazy. Danger justified privilege. I knew Italians - not very many perhaps - who felt this. Were there none in England?"
" God forgive me, said Guy. " I was one of them."

Abstract away personal danger through a volunteer military and an embedded media, and you get all the glory of war and none of the downsides, at least for a while.
posted by Captain l'escalier at 12:29 PM on January 10 [5 favorites]


We had a discussion recently about where our modern notions of WW2 come from and how the reality is frequently misrepresented. It's a critical analysis of a Call of Duty game, but the article was really insightful about how our collective memory of the war has been corrupted in to the paradigm of the "noble soldier" constantly performing acts of heroism.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:51 PM on January 10 [4 favorites]


This was good, and it makes me want to finally read Chris Hedges' book War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:14 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


I think the valuable point is that movies are the story we put together because our own relatives don't tell theirs. For example, in the Call of Duty article, the only notable thing about the author's grandfather's service in WWII was 'My grandfather talked about being mightily bored and hot inside his tank during the Philippines campaign. ' Really? That's all he did? And fine, maybe some people don't want to be career military, but some do and the games are about them, not the people who want to come home and farm. I guess our own collective modesty and boredom means that we don't want/get to hear those stories from our relatives, and they don't want to tell them, but you can't blame us if the story we see and associate is more movies and books and now video games than actual lived experiences.

For what it's worth, my grandfather also served in WWII in a tank (in N Africa) and said a bit more about the war, but not too much. My dad in Vietnam, even less. And my brother in Iraq even less. I don't think bro got PTSD from riding around in a truck and being bored. Maybe he did, but like I said he won't really say. All my dad would say about it is "watch out; sometimes the person you are shooting at is a better shot than you", but not so loudly or so often to dissuade my brother from joining the Marines. And that's 3 generations who experienced war but still didn't hate it enough to say "no, you don't want to do that"- to their own children.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:39 PM on January 10 [3 favorites]


And that's 3 generations who experienced war but still didn't hate it enough to say "no, you don't want to do that"- to their own children.

Not to abuse the edit window, I personally find it interesting that we are much more vocal about not wanting to grow up to clean bathrooms for a living than about being a ground soldier in a war.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:43 PM on January 10 [8 favorites]


The_Vegetables: Yeah, my grandfather also served in WWII (82nd Airborne, parachuting into France the night before D-Day). He earned a bronze star, but until the day he died, never told my father how he earned it. The only three war stories I remember him telling were late in his life.

One was getting caught in a tree while parachuting into France.

Another was about a fellow soldier who luckily escaped death after putting his helmet on backwards over the liner—the bullet passed between the liner and helmet, not through it, saving his life.

The last was moving along a hedge, turning at an opening, meeting a German soldier head on, and both of them turning and running.

But nothing about the Bronze Star.
posted by SansPoint at 1:47 PM on January 10


Let's not forget Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation, published in 1998. It lionizes the cohort who lived through the Depression and fought in World War II - noble, selfless, patriotic, and thrifty, not like those entitled, spendthrift and whiny Boomers and X'ers.

Nostalgia is a hell of a drug.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 1:57 PM on January 10 [3 favorites]


Nostalgia for world war 2 is good intentioned at best, historically its a social landmine and equating it to 9/11 is a mistake, one I have made. Personally, I like to see my nostalgia in Tv shows like "Stranger Things"; D&D, the posters, clothes, youth. None the less, I've had the luck to talk and record many Vets from the big one. One almost common element I found was they had to fight. But MacArthur was right at the signing of "peace", a new era begin in 1945 and the world has shifted socially, geographically, technologically and even geologically.

No time for nostalgia. Time for re-analysis. The data from that war and red stringing ones way to events like 9/11 is just habberdashery.
New era people. 73+ years into it and it has been nothing but constant war and strife coupled with a world wide desire for freedom that, IMO, the world has never known or at at least has the means to do so.
posted by clavdivs at 2:13 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


I always thought that the impetus behind The Greatest Generation was really that the boomers, having built an identity around rejecting their parents and assuring themselves that they were doing life so much better than their parents had, suddenly realized that not only were their parents starting to die of old age in greater numbers but that they themselves weren't getting any younger, and decided to rid themselves of both guilt and their anti-old-people culture in one big expiatory spasm. I didn't realize how innately conservative Saving Private Ryan was, because I never saw it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:37 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


This is also true of Britain, a nostalgia for an imperial post wrapped up with ww2 is part of Brexit I feel. This has been a recent obsession of mine.

I think the reality is we won, wrote our own histories and never been forced to confront the reality. A lot of beliefs (like "the few" who saved Britain) are actually successful ww2 allied propaganda.

Consider this. The French suffered horribly under Nazi occupation. Had their freedoms torn up, their citizens sent off to death camps.

Then the end of the war comes around. What do they do but role info Indochina, reoccupy it and start locking up or killing those advocating independence. I find this amazing and horrifying. That they could have spent so long fighting for freedom only to deny other people's.

The same goes for British war crimes in Kenya. The very same greatest generation also put people into, essentially, concentration camps. Don't get me started on Churchill.

Of course the Nazi (and Soviet) regimes were a thousand times worse. I'm not going to deny that. But we've scrubbed out a lot of the nasty shit from our own history.

I kind of feel that world war one and two are ultimately western imperialism coming back around and biting us in the behind. I think this is a big part of the reason we can't deal with it objectively.
posted by Erberus at 3:50 PM on January 10 [3 favorites]


Not to abuse the edit window, I personally find it interesting that we are much more vocal about not wanting to grow up to clean bathrooms for a living than about being a ground soldier in a war.

Not to be a derail, but my research deals with blacks in the military in the 19th century, and it can't be emphasized enough that there's a long history of military service being closely tied to masculinity and especially dignity. For black American men at the start of the Civil War, not being able to fight and die for their country was emasculating. To be denied the right to fight was infantilizing, placing someone on the same level as children, who weren't seen as capable of self-defense (see also: women - I don't know the history of women advocating for military service, but it would be interesting to know more). To be allowed to serve in the military was to be allowed to exist as equals with white men.

Eventually there were other factors that drew black men to the Army, the biggest among them being the right to equal pay (fought and won by black activists in the 1860s). But militarism in this country is not only about good vs. evil narratives (not that I think anyone is claiming there's no nuance). Black soldiers by and large didn't have any interest in fighting the Indian Wars (and in fact some black writers drew parallels between the black American experience and the Native American experience), but they did have an interest in the dignity and respect that military service could provide in ways that sharecropping wouldn't.

I'd like to give more thought to the significance of conscripted armies vs. volunteer army service. The cowardly poet in Saving Private Ryan was a draftee, right? His failure was a failure to embody the ideal that was thrust on him against his wishes. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are different. They require us to volunteer to fight, and I think there's a different view towards military service as national service when it's all voluntary.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 3:53 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


Service guarantees citizenship!
posted by tobascodagama at 5:17 PM on January 10 [4 favorites]


I'd like to give more thought to the significance of conscripted armies vs. volunteer army service. The cowardly poet in Saving Private Ryan was a draftee, right? His failure was a failure to embody the ideal that was thrust on him against his wishes. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are different. They require us to volunteer to fight, and I think there's a different view towards military service as national service when it's all voluntary.

Maybe a conscripted soldier doesn't deserve the praise, or the kind of praise, that a volunteer or a mercenary soldier does, but I can't imagine that Zell Miller's obscene speech to the Republican National Convention of 2004, from which the piece quotes and which even today is characteristic of American militarism since the Cold War, is the right attitude toward either of them.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:02 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Erberus, I never got into Brokaw's Greatest Generation thing, but I have the impression he was mostly talking about a generation of Americans. Of course, that generation of Americans did rush to the ramparts to defend imperialism after WW2.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:20 AM on January 11


Maybe a conscripted soldier doesn't deserve the praise, or the kind of praise, that a volunteer or a mercenary soldier does

Oh yeah, that’s definitely not what I was trying to say. It’s not about who deserves praise and who doesn’t, I’m just curious to know if people see the military differently when it’s volunteer. People fighting for pay were looked down on 150 years ago, and I wonder if that perception has flipped with a new ideology centered on the idea of national service.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 8:26 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


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