Thirty-One Antiwar Movies

Below is a list of 31 antiwar movies that made deep impressions on me. These movies are built around the idea that war has no redeeming value whatsoever — except perhaps for instances of defending one’s own person from deadly assault, as in the incredible 1956 movie Kanal, about the Warsaw Uprising in 1944.

Some of these movies are clearcut 100% antiwar, others are more about stories of perseverance through war’s injustices, and many are combinations of these two themes.

Because there is such variation in tone between them, some having much comedy while others being entirely dour, some attempting complete realism while others including poetic and surrealistic elements, I do not see any value in ranking them from “greatest” on down to “least great.” I think their value in transmitting the antiwar sentiment to a viewer and reinforcing it is by seeing them all as a group, and viewing each with thoughtful attention. Each is a facet of that diamond of realization I call antiwar consciousness.

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
La Grande Illusion (1937)
The Dawn Patrol (1938)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
Kanal (1956)
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Paths of Glory (1957)
On the Beach (1959)
Hiroshima mon amour (1959)
The Americanization of Emily (1964)
Dr. Strangelove (1964)
King of Hearts (1966)
Oh! What a Lovely War (1969)
The Sorrow and the Pity (Vichy collaboration, 1969)
Catch-22 (1970)
M*A*S*H (1970)
Johnny Got His Gun (1971)
Slaughterhouse-Five (1972)
Winter Soldier (US Vietnam veterans testify, 1972)
Hearts and Minds (US Vietnam veterans testify, 1974)
Apocalypse Now (1979)
The Day After (1983)
Come and See (1985)
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Apocalypse Now Redux (1979/2001)
Fog of War (Robert McNamara testifies, 2003)
Sir! No Sir! (US Vietnam veterans testify, 2005)
The Railway Man (2013)
The Unknown Known (Donald Rumsfeld testifies, 2013)
They Shall Not Grow Old (WWI veterans testify, 2018)
Final Account (old Nazis testify, 2020)

A much larger list of 75 antiwar films is published by wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_anti-war_films). Some of the movies on that list are in my view primarily good justifications of defensive war, as with Kanal (1956) and The Battle of Algiers (1966), and yes I agree that such good justifications for desperate defensive wars can also awaken one to an overall antiwar realization. But, my list of 31 is more “concentrated,” based on my views of the antiwar genre, and I also realize that I could easily expand my list with equally worthy antiwar movies I did not include.

For me, antiwar movies are focused on showing the harm, the physical and psychological damage and stupidity of war, and are intent to deglorify war and turn the audience against blind patriotism and war-making as solutions to political and international conflicts.

Antiwar movies can have elements of adventure, heroism, “exciting’ violence, stories of personal endurance and self-sacrifice, and comedy, but they cannot be conventionally patriotic, and the center-of-gravity of these films must be fully and overtly the antiwar intent.

All war films use war in an effort to make commercially successful mass entertainment, but true antiwar films are intentionally using film-making art to motivate a mass audience to a deeply antiwar, anti-violence, pro-peace, pro-diplomacy attitude, and to divorce patriotism from unthinking jingoism, belligerence, violence and obedience to militarism.

One epic antiwar film that is missing and I wished existed would be about the Indian Wars in the American West, and in particular about the Great Sioux War of 1876-1877 that includes Custer’s Last Stand, entirely from the American Indian point of view.

There have been many, many Indian wars across North America instigated by European colonizers, immigrants and their descendants since 1492, and all those wars were lost by the Native Americans. In the American popular imagination Custer’s Last Stand in 1876 was the greatest of the temporary victories won by American Indians in their fight against the settler-colonialism warring against them.

Most American Western movies featuring conflicts with the American Indians were produced by descendants of the victors of the Indian Wars, and are thus celebrations of white supremacy colonialism, or at best sentimental regrets about the necessary inevitability of industrial civilization’s “progress.”

I was motivated to produce this antiwar movies list and commentary by the thought that it is always important to keep reminding today’s comfortable or prosperous or privileged or indolent or ignorant denizens of capitalist paradises (particularly in the United States, where 7 December 2021 will be commemorated as the 80th anniversary of the its entry into WWII) that sapping out the lifeblood of a national economy to feed a leeching and bloated military, and the technologically amplified bigotry called militarism, is chronically suicidal for the host society. Today we are all witnessing Planet Earth’s reaction — climate change — to our self-induced and suicidal civilizational affliction.

Poets and dreamers see the antiwar attitude as a first step in arriving at a species-wide sense of family for homo sapiens, and then such a grand consensus transforming all our lives for the better, on into future generations. “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”

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Cinema Art From 1968 For Today

For me, 1968 was the most consequential year in American history since the end of World War Two. It was a year filled with uplifting superlatives like: the explosion of fierce creativity and variety in popular music and the arts generally, including the premier of that revolutionary television program for as yet unconditioned humans, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood; and it was a year filled with disastrous superlatives like: the meat-grinder crescendo of the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy, and the urban riots sparked by anger over King’s murder and America’s stubbornly embedded racism.

I think that in the fifty years since, the U.S. has regressed socially, culturally and intellectually (except in a few important areas regarding the treatment of women and LGTB people) while simultaneously advancing technologically. But, so much of that technological advancement has been skewed and debased with wasteful profit-seeking and idiotic consumerism. We are a country of lowered imagination, aspirations, expectations, hopes and economic opportunities, awash in highly advanced electronic technologies diffusing stupidity and disinformation for continuous mass distraction and disempowerment.

So, I found it bracing and reinvigorating to recently see three movies — playing in theaters this summer of 2018 — that are each masterpieces of or about that time half a century ago, and remain fresh and compelling today.

WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?, a superb and touching documentary about Fred Rogers and his long-running and revolutionary children’s television program, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, is actually a film of 2018. Its very existence begs the question: why is such television programming no longer being broadcast daily as a government-funded public service? (I know, commercialism über alles). Among the many amazing stories in this film is that of the overt and explicit anti-war message of Fred Rogers’ TV show in its first week of broadcast, in February 1968, which was during the height of the Tet Offensive of the Vietnam War and also the month of the highest rate of fatalities of US soldiers in that war (it was far worse for the Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians all the time).

Remember, Fred Rogers aimed his messages against war, against bigotry, about facing death, about dealing with your parents’ divorce, and about many other real world experiences both big and small, to children in the toddler, pre-school, kindergarten and very early grammar school years; amazing!

In being free of the macho insecurities so closely guarded and secreted by so many of America’s outwardly manly men, and with his strength of character and absolute commitment to love and to the respect of children, he remains for me “the strongest man in America.”

“Love is at the root of everything, all learning, all relationships, love or the lack of it.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhwktRDG_aQ

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY premiered 50 years ago. Now, it has been gloriously reprinted as a 70mm six channel soundtrack Cinerama spectacular, and is once again being shown in selected theaters this summer. We saw it today (17 August 2018). Not only is this a movie masterpiece, it is one of the great works of art of the 20th century, and it remains an advanced work of conceptual, philosophical and cinema art today, and is likely to remain as such for quite some time to come.

This film conveys a visceral experience of encountering utterly alien intelligence in the unbounded expanse of unworldly space-time, by use of expansive and profound visual imagery combined with lush, majestic and enveloping music — classical music! — and by the use of deep silences and grandly unhurried pacing, which is so alien to our cacophonous myopic zero attention span hamster wheel earthly circus.

This movie rewards whatever exercising of your intellect you engage in as a result, by resonating with your own pondering and speculations on ultimate questions. It was grand immersing myself in this masterpiece again, on the big screen with the big sound, my eyes filled with wonder, my mind abuzz with transcendence.

“Open the pod bay doors, HAL.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oR_e9y-bka0

YELLOW SUBMARINE premiered 50 years ago. Now, it has been gloriously restored and is once again being shown in selected theaters this summer. We saw it last month, a wonderful experience. See it if you can, on the big screen with the big sound: Beatles music with imaginatively unrivaled animated imagery.

Now more than ever we need the spirit of Yellow Submarine to permeate the populace, because the Blue Meanies are out there in force devastating our world with their dour dumbfounding deadly doofusness. Revolution is first and foremost a matter of heart — many revolutionary good, strong and happy hearts — and this movie has a lot of heart. It also remains an advanced work of art, given the sad reality of our decayed, stagnant and backward culture.

“All you need is love.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOlwwoZLoKE

I don’t want to come across as an old fogy disparaging today’s youth by complaining that “things were better when I was a kid than they are today.” What I do wish to encourage is that people look back with appreciation to the real gems of the not-that-distant past, to both learn from and be heartened by them, and to help today’s vibrant (young!) people to infuse their now-time with heart, love and revolution, and thus help create both artistic and material advances of real human value to our shared national and world societies.

Enjoy!

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My Favorite Classics (Books, Music, Films)

Swans has just published a Special Summer Edition with recommendations on books, music and films, by fourteen authors including yours truly. Each author lists and comments on about 5 or 6 recommended books, 5 or 6 works of music, and 5 or 6 favorite movies. In total about 230 works are reviewed, a wide and interesting array from which you might easily find a few that would add to your summer enjoyment. I was the editor of this special issue of Swans. My own particular article in it is:

My Favorite Classics (Books, Music, Films)
30 July 2012
http://www.swans.com/library/art18/mgarci51.html

Culture is a refuge in times when the individual has little temporal power. Enjoy it and it may reward you with fresh inspiration.