Art Against War

The New Criterion has an article called "The New Old Lie," which treats the current demand that war always be treated as essentially meaningless.

The latter view, Schwarz has written, “that combat, even combat that defeats Nazi Germany, is without uplift, without virtue, and without purpose” is “unusually clear-eyed” about “real war.” This belief has been overlooked by a population that wants to be coddled and so refuses to recognize that true artistry goes hand in hand with, as Schwarz would have it, the accurate, nihilistic view of war. 
This conceit has long been de rigueur among professional critics of high culture. In his introduction to Patriotic Gore, Edmund Wilson equated human war to the aggression of gangs of baboons and sea slugs: “at bottom the irrational instinct of an active power organism in the presence of another such organism.”... 
Over the past half century, scarcely an American student has studied Great War poetry without finding out that Wilfred Owen produced the greatest poem of the war. With its horrifying depictions of the suffering and death of fighting in the trenches, his poem “Dulce et Decorum Est” proved “the old lie”—that it is sweet and fitting to die for your country. Tellingly, we would be hard-pressed to find a student these days who has read “Dulce et Decorum Est” in its original form by Horace. After all, the Roman poet could not possibly have produced art if it contained such sentimental pap.
We've spoken of that poem before. "The divide in our nation is between those who feel that the words are "the Old Lie," and those who engrave them in stone."


Texan99 said...

If it's Patriotic Gore for one of us to shoot the burglar who's trying to climb into our house and murder us, then I'm all for Patriotic Gore. That doesn't make every drunken fistfight glorious.

Fighting, like peaceful passivity, is neither good nor bad in itself. There are wars so stupid that they're the international equivalent of a loser going on a tri-state murder spree. And there are peacenik movements that are on a moral equivalent with the experience of your co-scout Slade.

bthun said...

T'is easy to scoff at the unfortunate necessity of violent conflict when your lambs are secured and safe from threat.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

War is a terrible thing, but the alternatives are often more terrible. I think people who are anti-war as a reflexive position just have a failure of historical memory - or of imagination.

NH's oft-criticised motto "Live Free Or Die" is only the first half. Gen John Stark completed the thought with "Death is not the worst of evils." Similarly, war is evil, but not the worst of evils.

BillT said...

I think people who are anti-war as a reflexive position just have a failure of historical memory - or of imagination.

Most do not have a knowledge of history at all, except in the vaguest of terms, and most of what they *do* know -- as Reagan said -- is wrong.

My neighbor's kids used to knock on my door after school, tell me what they'd been taught in school that day, then ask, "What *really* happened?"