Tim Parks on violence, David Brooks, and the glamorization of war, very much worth reading:
‘Basically, as Shields had promised, the book offers sixty-four very glossy war photos taken from the front page of The New York Times and arranged thematically: Nature, Playground, Father, God, Pietà, Painting, Movie, Beauty, Love, Death. The earliest picture is dated January 2002, from Afghanistan, the latest October 2013, from Pakistan. The accusation is that the newspaper does everything to make war glamorous and even, in some way, reassuring: “a chaotic world is ultimately under control,” Shields observes. In an afterword, art critic David Hickey shows how consciously the photos reproduce well-known pictorial and painterly tropes:
There is a Magdalene in white clothing nodding onto the edge of the frame as she would in a Guido Reni. There is a Rodin of two kneeling marines in a flat field. There are warriors protecting children that echo Imperial Rome, where war was an everyday fact, as the Times would seem to wish it now.
It’s hard to deny, as you leaf through these photos, that they do indeed very deliberately aestheticize their subjects, and hence anaesthetize the viewer; these are glamour pictures to be admired, rather than documentary images that give immediacy to violence and horror. “Connecticut-living-room trash,” is how Hickey sums it up. In short, we are a long, long way from the more sober black-and-white images that chronicled the Vietnam War in the same paper.’
‘And this has been going on for hundreds of years. Take the ugly subject of beheading. We have all expressed our shock over the Islamic State’s habit of posting YouTube videos of their warriors decapitating hostages. Sometimes it has seemed that we are more shocked by the existence and availability of the videos—the mere fact that they tempt us to become witnesses to such violence—than by the act itself. Yet of course our “civilization” has a long history of depicting beheading. There is hardly a major art gallery in Europe or the United States without a Judith and Holofernes. From Caravaggio to Klimt painters have enjoyed the drama of the beautiful woman hacking off the soldier’s head. Salome and John the Baptist are another popular pair, the Baptist’s head always decorously framed by the (usually silver) plate on which it is presented to the pretty dancer. In another Biblical episode the courageous young David has no qualms about hacking off Goliath’s head, and Donatello delights in showing a cute boy naked with the dead ogre’s beard under his foot. Of course, this is “art,” not documentary, but it creates a habit of viewing violence in a certain way.’
‘The truth is that the more apocalyptic modern warfare becomes, the more the opportunity for glamour presents itself. Curzio Malaparte, reporting on the German campaign in northern and Eastern Europe during World War II, saw this very clearly.’
Read the article here.
Mr. Parks could also have mentioned Isaac Babel and his collection of short stories “Red Cavalry”, which may contain the finest depictions of war, horror, and love in the 20th century.
And Borowksi and his stories about Auschwitz? Or Kertész?
I remember meeting a young Dutch soldier on his way to Afghanistan in 2006 who told me that he decided to enlist after he had seen “Apocalypse Now”.
And I’m not even sure that Bertolt Brecht’s famous “Der Kanonensong” is completely free of glamorization:
Auf den Kanonen
Vom Cap bis Couch Behar.
Wenn es mal regnete
Und es begegnete
Ihnen eine neue Rasse
eine braune oder blasse
Da machen sie vielleicht daraus ihr Beefsteak Tartar.’
A short summary in English: soldiers live on their cannons and they may turn the cultural, political and religious other into steak tartare. Needless to say that they may end up as steak tartare themselves.
If we don’t want to risk glamorizing war we should probably remain silent about it.
And we should artists, filmmakers and writers: "Don't mention the war. Don't mention any war."
But I don’t believe that this is a feasible or morally justified solution.
It’s better to admit that despite everything we know about the horrors war is still fairly attractive to many men and some women.