Monday, November 11, 2013

Art and war: a remembrance

This isn't the usual statuary one envisions when Ottawa’s war memorial is mentioned. Still, it's the one I prefer, as it honours our country's longstanding tradition of serving as a peacekeeper. 

I've spent much of the weekend thinking about Remembrance Day and thinking as well about War Art.

In ways, the term seems almost contradictory, as what can be beautiful about war?

And the more I thought about it, the stronger I grew in my conclusion that War Art mostly turns out to be Anti-War Art. 

Last week at the library I picked up a DVD -- with no forethought or plan -- it was just one of my usual 'radar' grabs. This was truly the right weekend to watch it, with its hugely powerful statements on the horror that is war. 

It's a 1957 film by Stanley Kubrick called Paths of Glory. I'd never seen it before, but thought the title sounded familiar. I guess I must have confused it with another war-themed film, Tunes of Glory. Though both are worth seeing, they're not at all the same, and don't even focus on the same war. 

The trench warfare images presented in Paths of Glory aren't particularly graphic or nightmare-inducing. The horror lies in the details of the story, one that illustrates the pointlessness of war and also the ruthless nastiness that power can inspire. 

Oddly, this weekend also turned out to be when a cousin of mine died. I hadn't seen him since we were kids, but have terrific memories of him, a once-in-a-while pretend little brother to me. When he grew up, he followed about as different a path from me as any two people could. He attended the U.S. Military Academy, West Point and chose to spend his whole working life in the military, a career that included a long stint at the Pentagon.  

And now, I can only hope that he has found peace. 

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