As I said the pacifism seemed to hark back to the inter-war period, when the motivation to prevent catastrophic modern war so clouded the minds of great statesmen that they did not act against the belligerent fascists of Germany and Italy – or even make pragmatic steps to galvanise their offensive capabilities until the fascists had an enormous military advantage. Appeasement, the theory has been so routinely discredited ever since, and its stalwarts (Neville Chaimberlain, Sidney Baldwin, Joe Kennedy) ridiculed and repudiated. But it was at a certain time a persuasive political doctrine, as was pacifism when articulated by writers like A.A. Milne in his book Peace with Honour. He drove the point that Britain doesn’t fight wars to protect its culture, or its institutions, or its citizenry. It fights wars to protect its reputation as a belligerent nation, a first class power. Well pleaded, and persuasive as a general explanation of the wars around the turn of the century which culminated in WWI (and still worth reading). But it failed to take into account that the ground of history is ever shifting, that the passing of even a handful of years can see the arrival of a whole new set of circumstances which change the nature of a conflict and thus the case for joining it.
That is what Milne realised with the lead up to WWII and his subsequent book War with Honour sought to modify the obstinate pacifism of his earlier work. WWII was a struggle fought reluctantly, bitterly, and even with a touch of cynicism – it had to be fought, but it wasn’t dressed up in honourable trappings. Dulche et decorum est pro patria mori, that hucksterish refrain to seduce the willing participation of a generation a century ago was disposed of, and ‘blood, toil, tears and sweat’ was the mantra by 1940. There was also a humanitarian dimension to the conflict, although it failed to persuade the appeasers. What did finally spur them to action was the direct threat Germany posed to France and Britain. A self-interested motivation does not rank high on charts of moral decision making, and yet is the principal pillar beneath the doctrines of isolationism, and pacifism (do not do to others what you would not want done to yourself is a sound rule, but is predicated on self-preservation by definition).
On New Zealand
Today in New Zealand it should perhaps not be surprising that the remoteness of the country, its general tranquillity, and the suspicion of global ‘powers’ at the centre of a foreign policy that has for the last thirty years charted a lonely (though grudgingly respected) course in international politics, produces such pacifists. What I take issue with is the absolutist nature of their stance, coupled with the underlying moral relativistism which so often accompanies anti-americanism. That the values we hold at the core of our society are somehow incompatible with people in distant lands. That idea masquerades as a kind of cultural self-deprecation, but is a rejection of the universality of the human condition.
Why this is particularly irksome is the people holding this conviction – who refuse to engage in argument – are the elite. They are wealthy baby boomers in the safe haven of a rich island nation with an excessive ‘moat’ (courtesy of the Pacific Ocean which Darwin once referred to as being very poorly named). The complaint ‘but it isn’t our problem,’ is a solipsistic one. Like it or not there is a tremendous amount of suffering and desperation beyond our shores, and it deserves open minded attention. In his writings George Orwell criticised those who have never seen the appalling sights of murdered corpses en-mass, for whom murder is just a word. This gives me plenty of cause to be uncomfortable myself, as I haven’t ventured into an intrinsically dangerous zones, instead I’ve staggered in the shadows of old wars (Vietnam, Gallipoli). However I don’t hide from the fact that I live in a very rare antipodean bubble of privilege. To the elite I say that their contention that people in distant lands should be left very much to themselves constitute an abnegation of their morality, as well as a pious dismissal of real human suffering. They have abandoned reason in favour of a contrived acceptability; would sooner swap trivial exchanges than test their theories, and will let the world burn while they fiddle.
|Why is Isis posting pictures of the massacre of Iraqi soldiers? For sheer bloody terror.|
I haven’t read Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s All You Need is Kill, so I cannot possibly make a judgement as to whether Doug Liman’s new film Edge of Tomorrow works as an adaptation. I must restrict myself to a purely cinematic analysis, and my goodness this film surprised me. I won’t do a complete plot summary (go here for that) but I do trespass into spoiler territory, so this is the alert.
I suspect that I was not the only one who felt a prickle of trepidation when the trailer for the Edge of Tomorrow preceded every other 3D film this year. Tom Cruise in yet another save the world CG-fest, embarrassing us all with his ‘take me seriously I’m being intense’ style. But my expectation that I was in for another War of the Worlds clunker showed more perhaps about my limited view of the capabilities of a serial Hollywood A-lister.
Before getting into the positives I’ll give this brief throat clearing. The story is wantonly simple, in fact the entire context of the war with an alien race is shamelessly lifted straight from WWII (the Aliens being the Nazi’s of course) although without a holocaust. The big battle that dominates the story (partly because it is the centrepiece of the day that keeps being repeated) is essentially a futuristic version of D-day. It is shameless, but it is so because it has to be grasped quickly by the audience and held in mind through all of the confusing day repetitions. There is also an abundance of clichés, from the expected ‘What took you so long?’ line that seems to be attached to Hollywood with as much usefulness as tits on a bull, to all the ones you would expect in an army barracks. But again this negative is a paltry one, because it connects well with the very idea of living the same day over and over – your existence becomes cliché.
Tom Cruise’s gives a solid performance as Private (formerly Major) William Cage. He performs well physically, and only a few times drifts into his frustrating ‘I’m being intense’ moods. But the crucial importance of his character and why he does so well is that William Cage is a snobby little coward. At the start of the film he is dislikeable and unsympathetic as he tries to weasel his way out of fighting beside his fellow soldiers. When he is dragooned onto the beaches of Normandy he is authentically terrified, absent is the Tom Cruise heroism, he scurries from cover to cover trying desperately to take the safety off his weapons and pleading with his comrades to tell him how. He dies when a rare command alien attacks him and he sets off the claymore mine in a bid to kill it. The blood of the ‘alpha’ spills over his dying and burning up head transferring the alien power to control time to him. Thus he wakes up at the start of the previous day.
The repeated cycle over and hover many thousands of times justifies his very Tom Cruise heroics later. He trains longer than anyone ever could, and through dying so many times in combat knows exactly what is going to happen before it does. This provides the best comedic elements as we see Tom die in many different ways and then quite methodically start again to get it right before dying again a few steps later. The film is well balanced in terms of pace to make sure this doesn’t get boring – and it never does.
Emily Blunt plays the famous Sergeant Rita Vrataski, a ruthless fighter who once had the same power as William Cage, but lost it when she was injured and instead of dying was taken to a hospital and pumped with donated blood. She is the only one who believes Cage (and I assume must be met and persuaded every time he ‘respawns’) and trains him to fight as they hatch a plan to destroy the omega – the other half of the alien intelligence along with the alpha. If they destroy the omega they will literally save the world. A dead simple plot it is true but if it were complicated the movie would suffer, and honestly who the hell comes to a 3D film with high expectations on narrative?
Blunt is great at looking good while looking grim at the same time, and (I won’t spoil it) although there is a predictable romantic tension it is mercifully unmilked. If I had $14 spare I might go to it a second time, I really do think it is that worth it. Given my sleepiness I will cut this short, there is really not much else to say except that I give Edge of Tomorrow a solid three and a half stars (out of five), and that I wish Tom Cruise would do this kind of thing more often.