Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Fury

Pam had a “ladies night” with the White girls last night. They do this every couple of months or so. This time it was to celebrate Lori’s birthday. It’s the sort of thing that sounds dreadful to me, going out to some restaurant and talking for three hours. But they always have a great time together and it keeps the sisters close making it a worthwhile endeavor.

For me these ladies nights mean that I must feed and occupy myself for the evening. Most of the time I eat dinner at Big Al’s and watch a game. Last night, I decided to go see a movie that I’ve wanted to see but that I know that Pam would hate…The Fury. Best decision I’ve ever made. Pam would have spent the entire time in the fetal position.

As a History major, I have always had a certain obsession with World War II. Everything about that conflict and that time fascinates me. The dominant personalities, the ideologies, the grand sweep of the thing captivates me. Add to that the fact that my mother’s oldest brother John drove a tank for Patton’s army, and you can understand perhaps my desire to see this movie about one Sherman tank crew in the final days of the war, despite the presence of the talentless Brad Pitt.

The film was gut-wrenching. Five men inside a Sherman tank is the stuff of claustrophobic nightmares. This particular crew, having survived together all the way from North Africa to the waning days inside Nazi Germany, is as grizzled a group of men as I have ever seen depicted on film. The horrors of the war have transformed them all, almost completely taking away their humanity. They have come to the dark place of rabid hatred for the enemy, a natural disposition I suppose for one’s lucky enough to survive more than the average 26 combat days lifespan for tank crews. Although their souls have been hollowed out by their experiences, they summon the courage required to make a heroic stand at the end. Their sacrifice wasn’t simply for each other, but for something that they all sensed was bigger than themselves. Knowing that they were all doomed, one of the characters says, “This is a righteous thing we’re about to do,” then quotes from scripture, “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send and who shall go for us? And I said, here am I. Send me.” It’s the most moving scene in the film.

As I watched, I couldn’t help but think of my Uncle John. My mother used to always tell us that John was a different person when he returned from the war, totally transformed in personality and disposition. No freaking kidding! The fact that John came home at all was nothing short of a miracle, the fact that he didn’t end up in an insane asylum, a tribute to mental toughness on a scale with which I am not familiar. Instead of being declared a victim of PTSD, he came home, got a job, got married and raised a family, all the while harboring private, unspeakable nightmares that must have plagued him for the rest of his life.

There is a line in this film that sticks with me this morning. Pitt’s character takes his new 18 year old replacement gunner into the living room of a wealthy German family in a freshly liberated town. All four aristocratically dressed Nazi party members had shot themselves in the head rather than be taken by the Americans. The kid asks WarDaddy, “Why are you showing me this?” WarDaddy answers, “Because ideology is peaceful, history is violent.”
It is the conceit of many in this generation to believe that we as a species have somehow evolved away from brutality. Some politicians are fond of saying that war is a remnant of a bygone, less enlightened era, so twentieth century. My understanding of history tells me otherwise. The vast majority of man’s story is one of violence, and conquest. Our experiment with representative democracy is but a mist in the wind of human history. War and warriors will always be with us. To think otherwise is vanity. But, to pursue war, to glory in it is an abomination.