Midnight. Blog’s call. Here I am. I’ve been thinking of writing this for quite a few time now. But something or the other interrupted. But now here is the piece.
Where did the real Kurukshetra take place? On an actual battlefield? Or in the consciousness of Arjuna, who under Krishna’s exhortations, fought the twin adversaries of illusion and ignorance within himself?
Following September 11,The WTC mishap, war has once again occupied centre stage in our consciousness.
Is there such a thing as a just, or holy, war, sanctified by religious, scriptural or political mandate? If so, on which side of the battlefield does such sanctification prevail?
Can it during the course of the conflict exist on both sides with equal validity, the final verdict being left to the partisan judgment of the victors? What are the acceptable ‘collateral damages’, not just in terms of the bloodshed often that of civilians, including women and children — but also in the context of
our collective psyche, where the dragon’s teeth of future conflict are sown?
Today such questions form the sub-text for mass media and popular entertainment for which war provides the most marketable commodity in otherwise recessionary times. The US-led campaign in Afghanistan couldn’t have been better timed for Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, the joint producers of Band of Brothers, an American TV mini-series.
Beginning with that-day, real-life interviews with the veteran survivors of Easy Company, the series showed how the crucible of war transformed unremarkable young recruits into a heroic fraternity who helped to make the world safe for democracy. With America gripped by a fury of patriotism, the series was seen there as a topical endorsement of the US action in Afghanistan: History proved us right then, and history will prove us right again; now as then, God, democracy and righteousness are on our side.
Brothers traced its genesis to Spielberg’s 1999 World War II film, Saving Private Ryan, which featured Tom Hanks. At that time Spielberg said that, like many of his generation who had never experienced combat, he was fascinated by war, by the reactions of men in the face of violent, organised death. The director went to visceral lengths to depict the horrors of battle: actors bayoneted and fired real
ammunition into animal carcases to get the right sound effects. However, this macabre mimesis had an unforeseen consequence. What started off as an emphatically anti-war film turned into a valorisation of armed conflict. The final sequence shows a mortally wounded Hanks ineffectually firing a pistol at an advancing tank: exemplary sacrifice on the blood-stained altar of heroism.
Inspirationally, Brothers was a continuation of Private Ryan; both celebrated the grace under pressure that war brings out in men.
It is not war that makes heroes of men; war makes beasts of us. If some find in themselves a dispassionate equanimity in war, it is because they have realised that the real theatre of conflict
is the mind. This is where grace is born; war is only the messy afterbirth. Our mind is our only weapon, says the martial arts master. Take up the weapon of our mind and cleave with it that which made us think we needed weapons at all.
A non-combatant beguiled by the accoutrements of war, Spielberg misread the metaphor of the battleground and subverted his own pacifism. A soldier who fought and died on the front, saw the real enemy within only too clearly and wrote what should have been the obituary of war: “If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood/ Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs/ Bitter as the cud/ Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, —/ My friend, you would not tell with such
high zest/ To children ardent for some desperate glory,/The old Lie: Dulce et
decorum est/ Pro patria mori.”
(It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.) 🙂