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Books, Films and War


By Spiros Tzelepis

How an author from the past and a film director from the present express the irrationality of war

I had never planned to write this article, but I was forced, in some way, by an internal voice in the last days here in Greece, in this little area of the planet where I live, where everything has been upside down in our ordinary lives. We stopped speaking about anything else other than war. Even in my school the kids suddenly discovered how near this can be to everyone.

Everyday the media broadcast pictures of war. In the last two days there is not anything else on the TV other than airplanes taking off in order to bomb and people leaving their homes terrified without knowing where they are going. You see images of old people crying and others of little children who hold their mothers tightly without being conscious of what is going on.

It seems that people have not learned anything from the past. History taught in schools has not helped people to avoid the same mistakes. I don't want to share thoughts generally about war with you, but just to share a book I have read and a film I have seen. A book from the past and a film from the present.

It was last summer during my vacation when I read the "IM WESTEN NICHTS NEUTES" by Remarque Erich Maria. It is a book published in 1929, but it is always fresh since it is one of the excellent antimilitary books. Today and in the future as the threat of the war exists over a terrified mankind and as the longing for universal peace is inside the hearts of the people, this book will be unique in the literature. The hero is a young man who is in the army participating in a war. He has some days off to visit his dying sick mother. So he returns home, but he realizes that everything is different, not because the world has changed, but because he has changed as he has experienced the horror of the war. The way he thinks has changed, his values have changed. He has started wondering about the purpose of so many deaths, about the purpose of so much pain and disaster. When he comes back to the army and as the war continues around him, he is totally convinced that there is not any purpose in all these. Our hero experiences the cruel reality and he dies fighting, and on the day he dies the message that comes to his division is "nothing new from the west front" which means that one death more or one death less does not mean anything to those who make decisions about our future.

I invite all of you to the cinema now. Two weeks ago, I went to watch the "Thin Red Line", an antimilitary film. It is about the fights of Americans to conquer an island in the Pacific Ocean. On their way to the island, the soldiers are afraid of what they are going to face there. They are praying, some are crying, some are skeptical about the purpose of all this. They are landing on the island and starting the fights with Japanese. One of them has the "disadvantage" to think a lot. He is thinking, for example, how this evil can fit in with all the beauty of nature around them. Is it right for them to follow the orders of their official who is thinking that this war is a very good chance for him to be promoted to a higher position? He thinks a lot. He fights, thinks and dies among all the beauty of nature, still wondering.

No matter where and when these scenes take place, no matter who the opponents are, people are always wondering about the purpose of war, about the irrationality of war. They are trying to understand how death can be the way that solves people's arguments.

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