Yesterday: Reminder Regarding Enrollment Tomorrow: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Book: The Bubble Boys: How Mistaken Educational Ideals and Practices are Causing a Warped Social Fabric
So first of all this has been an amazing week, I’ve had THREE people offer to help me. Usually people just stare at me like “he’s a genius, he’s on his own”, but this week was different. Major props.
Now for the good stuff. I wrote a post on ten great war stories a few weeks ago. Obviously nothing can replace centuries-old classics such as The Iliad, The Song of Roland, and the story of David and Goliath from the Bible. But in the last century and a half several great war stories have begun to approach the level at which these were written, the most notable and best being, in my opinion, Ernest Hemingway’s novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, about an American volunteering on the side of the Republic the Spanish Civil War. If we say that from 1850-1945 there was a great resurrection of the war story, who could disagree? After all, were there not more and deadlier wars in this period than any other?
My synopsis of this book was as follows: “Robert Jordan volunteers for the Communist party to render his military expertise in the Spanish Civil War. He is sent by the General Golz (sitting in his plush office) to a hillside tribe. Here he encounters the treacherous underside of revolutionary guerrilla warfare.and the peculiar idiosyncrasies of the leaders of this group. He also falls in love with a young woman who is hanging around. (Jordan becomes Hemingway’s ideal, the manly man who gets some ass when he’s expected to be in the most self-denying state possible.) Strong religious undertones (such as the names of major characters) provide this masterpiece with a philosophical bent: what is a society without a God? What happens when the State usurps that place in people’s lives? Are the Communists better people than the Fascists, or do they simply use better propaganda? When the big battle between the Communists and Fascists breaks out, maybe we will get a better picture.” (See https://greatbooksdude.wordpress.com/2013/07/17/manly-men-and-sometimes-girly-girls/ for more on great war stories) This hasn’t changed. But what I want to cover here is the element of heroism and the mixture of love and war. What, to Hemingway, is a great hero? And what place does love have in fights among men?
The first of these questions is particularly intriguing. While it is easy to devolve into cliche and start talking about “grace under pressure”–a clear attribute of Hemingway’s heroes, no doubt, but not the only one–it is also important to recognize how little this really tells us. Other than Achilles, nearly every other protagonist in a classic war story acts with grace under pressure. This is equally true of David, Roland, Andrew Bolkonski, and Henry V, and is by no means exclusively the property of Lieutenant Frederick Henry (the hero in A Farewell to Arms) or Robert Jordan.
Instead, what marks Hemingway’s hero is his own vision of what a man “living the life” would be. Jordan is in control of an operation, but has to use his own experiences and logic to demystify certain elements. The leader of the hillside clan, Pablo, is, for instance, not altogether willing to accept leadership from an outsider, and at times he attempts to sabotage Jordan’s position outright. Jordan must keep him in line, and to do this it takes a MAN. This is one element of Hemingway’s ideal man would do. But Hemingway’s ideal man is also getting laid–if not getting paid–and comforting the traumatized at the same time. In the most brutal and noneffeminate context, Hemingway’s man is still conquering the female form. He is asserting his prowess and propagating his kind without losing his focus on the war itself.
Which to me leads to an interesting perspective. For a long time in this country our military had a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy–if you were gay and in the army, it was nobody’s business, but if you said anything you would be kicked out. As I heard from an Afghanistan veteran, though, there was quite a bit of gender-bending out there, and everyone knew who was what anyways. To me this had two symbolic effects: first of all, it marked a serious deterioration in the logical ability of the public. For a policy of such publicity–and this was easily the most famous military policy to those who are not members of the armed forces–it sent a message that we were unwilling to confront tough issues. You can’t be logical without asking the right questions; this requires a certain amount of balls to do. A philosopher is not, by nature, effeminate, but is often the most manly man of all. So here the armed forces were more or less admitting to having no nuts. And worse, since the military is under civilian control–one of the hallmark features of American political innovation–it marked a society which had no stones. Though we have since dropped this policy, it is clear that the neutered American body politic is still in existence.
Secondly, though, it marked a serious failure to acknowledge the role of love in war–the one so aptly pursued by Hemingway (who, by the way, did not have a college degree, never attended college, and yet was extremely well-educated and successful). War is so stressful, and so intense, that one can only imagine some outlet to be necessary. To what degree should that outlet be limited? Some would argue not at all–even rape is okay, since you’re raping the enemy’s wives and daughters and sisters. (Mwahahaha!) This is what Ajax Oileus did at the fall of Troy, but the gods did not accept it as honorable conduct. It is also what the Romans did to the Sabine women. Some would argue that sex in war should be limited to consensual sex between partners, which can only take place in one of two ways: on military leave when back at home, or, if the women are allowed to encumber the army’s march, during the actual campaign. This latter, though, is also not a very wise option. One other option remains, but only in the modern era, when women are allowed in the armed forces–namely, between members of the armed forces. But they’d better be in different platoons.
The only remaining option, then, is to allow sex between men. Homosexuality was, of course, the norm in Hellenic and Hellenistic times, and even great war stories reflect a casual acceptance of it: Achilles and Patroclus were, as we recall, lovers. (See https://greatbooksdude.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/the-iliad/) So too does Virgil describe a pair of gay men in The Aeneid. In fact, no matter how disreputable or repulsive it might be to some (and I’ll fully admit that I prefer it left in the bedroom as I have a very difficult time stomaching it–but am very much accepting of gays should they not hit me in the face with it, which many of them for some reason have a hard time doing), this option demands that those who oppose homosexuality on whatever grounds, religious or disgust, simply look the other way. It should be something that is admitted or acknowledged up front upon entry to the forces, and not something that is left to the user’s discretion. If anyone does not wish to partake, he doesn’t have to, but if he is raped there should be serious consequences, possibly even execution. It is a matter of accepting the flaws of the people you work with. In that way it is no different from any other job.
And I think that’s where we’re at now, once we’ve dropped “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, and where we ought to remain. I think it is the proper place. I only wonder how much damage we have done by not taking note of the problems with this policy sooner.
In the mean time I will work on getting my essays on the classics into book form so that they can be published. I have one, of course, on this topic, the use of logic and a critique of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.