Wright posted an exercise in literary criticism.
In other words, imagine a story about a fire brigade where the purpose of manning a fire brigade somehow escapes mention.
In this fireman story, no fire is put out, no people nor property are saved.
In their round robin game of mutual self congratulations, the critics somehow never mention how one puts out a house fire.
Having seen such a tale, and heard the critical reaction, a healthy man’s reaction could be nothing but howling anger or howling laughter. For, in such a case as this hypothetical, it would be crystal clear that the writer was a dishonest propagandist, trying with all his craft and cunning to persuade the young men in the audience not to become firemen.
Perhaps this is not the conscious intent of the writer or the critics, but the lack of intent in a case of self deception is no excuse. Ignorance is no excuse when it is willful ignorance. In this case, it is so painfully, blatantly, notoriously obvious that to eliminate fire brigades is to increase the frequency and danger of housefires, that an act of vast mental dishonesty is required not to see it.
So while it is possible, in theory, that a writer penning and critics praising such an anti-fire story do not let themselves consciously realize they are encouraging fires, as a practical matter that lack of realization is willful. If you cannot see a needle in a haystack, there is no negligence on your part. If you cannot see a needle sticking into the end of your nose, there is.
So the conclusion of the hypothetical is this: if someone told a story just as I described, with firefighters dying pointlessly in a blaze, with no mention of why the fire need be fought, the only sound conclusion to be reached is that the writer, and the critics who praise him, are in favor of fires spreading.
The writers and critics of an Anti-Fire story are not against fire, merely against firefighters. They are on the side of the fire.
Whoever is against an evil being fought, whether he admits it or not, is for the evil.
Now, obviously, in real life, there are no Anti-Fire books or films being written and filmed and assigned in English class to bored students. But there is a class of stories which precisely follows the formula described above, there the action of heroic men is portrayed not merely as unheroic, but pathetic and pointless. Such stories tend to avoid plot and character development, and dwell only on the message.
Does any reader think I am exaggerating? I read JOHNNY GET YOUR GUN, a story told in first person from the point of view of a blind, deaf and dumb quadruple amputee in a veteran’s hospital, which never mentions once any life saved or victory won by the sacrifice involved. ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT has the protagonist die when he reaches into no man’s land to catch a butterfly. The reason why men fight wars, or the thing that happens when no one resists the invader, is never mentioned, or even alluded to.
I wrote him an understated reply:
Dear Mr. Wright,
I am glad to hear that fiction stories should tell of heroic soldiers who fight against evil. I would like to read a story about the heroic Nicaraguan soldiers who fought against a sinister multinational corporation called the Brown Brothers. They fought from about 1909-1912. The forces of evil were led by a larger-than-life supervillain named Smedley Butler. After he retired, Butler confessed that he had been a gangster, muscle-man, and racketeer for international capitalism. (So basically Smedley Butler resembled the villain from a Doc Savage novel – after his crimes were halted, he converted and repented of his past misdeeds.) His confession is a short book called “War is a Racket,” and it is more interesting than most sci-fi stories, in my opinion.
The Nicaraguan soldiers were not fighting fire – an impersonal physical phenomenon that feels no pain when it is quenched by water. They were fighting Americans who felt pain and bled when the bullets hit them. Comparing any soldier, even these Nicaraguan soldiers, to firefighters is profoundly inaccurate. The American soldiers were not comparable to arsonists; that distinction belongs to the Brown Brothers company and to the politicians who started the war.
Also, I notice that the USA’s actions in Vietnam contributed to the deaths of two million Vietnamese civilians, but I have not determined how that reduced the evil in the world. Clearly, there were some unheroic criminals in the Vietnam conflict, such as Daniel Berrigan, who tried to prevent Americans from becoming heroic soldiers, and thus obstructed the fight against evil. Strangely, the Catholic church does not seem to have excommunicated Berrigan for his obstruction of the war against evil.
I’m going to be charitable and assume that Wright is actually self-deceived.
The situation is this.
Wright produces fiction for a living. Soldiers are potential customers of his. He can make money if he can sustainably sell war fiction to soldiers. USA soldiers tend to read the sort of fiction that will not upset their superiors by denigrating USA wars of aggression.
Wright is upset that the fiction business is not interested in supporting the particular wars of aggression that Wright favors.
Thus Wright compares USA warfighters to firefighters. This is a bad comparison, because USA warfighters shoot bullets into people who feel pain when they get hit, and firefighters squirt water onto fire, which doesn’t feel pain when it gets quenched. Further, the purpose of a fire brigade is to minimize destruction, and the purpose of a warfighter is to increase destruction by whatever amount the war strategy requires.
Furthermore, the USA engages in wars because the plutocrats who run the USA instigate needless wars. Wright apparently is unaware of this.
Even if war were heroic, Wright would need to engage in special pleading, because he wants to celebrate USA warfighters and denigrate anyone who opposes the USA war machine, e.g. the Nicaraguans who fought Smedley Butler.
Bizarrely, Wright apparently considers himself to be a Catholic. He apparently sees no conflict in his loyalties to the USA war machine and to the Catholic church, which is staffed by people like Diana Ortiz. (She’s in the encyclopedia. Look her up if you don’t recognize her name.)
Is Wright consciously dishonest? Probably not. He probably believes that his words are honest, rational, and internally consistent. He is apparently very ignorant about the economic causes of the USA’s wars, as well as the experience of combat.
At best, however, Wright has failed to comprehend the teachings of all the Christian priests who denounce the USA as an unjust invader that hews neither to jus ad bellum nor to jus in bello.
One of Wright’s commenters wrote:
I will note that while I liked The Hurt Locker for at least respecting soldiers and their commitment, I think the film is still profoundly anti-war in the sense every Hollywood film about war since the mid-80s (at least, those set in the real world involving real conflicts) has been.
The fundamental, universal attitude is simply this: War in and of itself, no matter how efficiently or competently one attempts to wage it, is so profoundly, horrifyingly destructive, on both social and individual scales, that no conceivable political goal short of preventing organized genocide can justify it. (I throw that last caveat in to explain how World War II is the one war even most pacifists will grudgingly agree was worthwhile, and then only because they can be plausibly accused of tolerating the Holocaust if they don’t.) The nuclear standoff of the Cold War and the horrific images of films like The Day After only solidified this conviction. And in itself this is not even so disrespectable a motivation: absolute pacifism does have a place in Christian thought as an honourable choice for individuals, though it is not the universal obligation some denominations would have it be.
Another one wrote:
I think of those anti-war books you mentioned, like Johnny got his Gun and All Quiet on the Western Front, can be interpreted not strictly anti-war, but as badly fought or unnecessary wars fought for no purpose, started and lead by corrupt leaders. Ordinary men were duped to fight a war that could not be won, based on the vanity of their leaders leading from behind in Chateaus and pushing flags on a map while drinking champagne, far from the blood and mud.
“Lions led by donkeys” is an tragic understatement for the idiot British Generals who ordered their troops to cross dead ground with full gear and bayonets fixed against machine guns and artillery. 60,000 dead in three days, with little gain. Entire hamlets and villages in England lost the flower of their youth in one fell swoop.A whole generation lost because some leftover monarchs and Kaisers decided to play Risk to protect their prestige. The Brits choose to fight and die for a scrap of paper to save France–Whom they had little love for– and Europe. Progressive Wilson broke his promise to keep US boys out of foreign wars. 110,000 US dead and several times more maimed, for what? A vindictive treaty that was a land grab by the winning Empires for colonies and set the stage for a repeat 20 years later? WWI, WW2 and Korea and Vietnam were all products of US progressive Liberal presidents, with their counterparts in the USSR and yes, Nazis, becasue they too practiced a perverted form of socialism–the forerunner of the same ideology we scorn on a daily basis on this forum.
The only wars that should be fought on one’s soil.Otherwise, our young men and women regardless how brave they are will continue to bleed and die for conflicts in foreign lands with no exit goals, while we form alliances with the likes of the Saudis, Turks and Afghans who have nothing in common with our western values. That’s diversity I can do without. It costs too damn much. Understand I do appreciate the need military, full of rough men as Orwell mentioned who allow us to sleep soundly in our beds at night. But I’d tired of seeing them wasted in conflicts of no purpose. The suicide rate of vets today that exceeds those of combat deaths indicates to me the meaningless they cannot endure of their sacrifice and loss for a sandbox in the Middle East. That’s why Johhny Got his Gun speaks for those who were led by donkeys into harm’s way, then forgotten and discarded like a spent artillery case.We must not forget, so as to not let the progs today lead more of our youth to slaughter on behalf of their “making the world safe for democracy”
Apparently Wright’s commenters are not as ignorant as Wright.