War. Legs blown off in the blink of an eye. Severe facial burning. Entire villages wiped out by men controlling drones from the other side of the globe. Tears, grief, destruction, madness. What an absolute bastard.War has been on my mind lately. First I started rewatching Band of Brothers, an epic series I never completed when it was originally released almost 20 years ago (but is currently available on Sky as a box set). It’s a genuinely harrowing depiction of the hideous mania of armed conflict.
There is poetry written about war; there are spine-tingling tales of heroes and adventures; there are the cool uniforms and sexy artillery for people to fetishise. But Band of Brothers is more brutal than any of that: it tells the plain truth about one platoon’s struggle through the bloody battlefields of Europe in 1944. It is meandering, just like war. There are no neat narratives with satisfying endings. Soldiers die suddenly in front of their best friends. Just as you are getting to know or like a character, his head is blown off. There are no sacred cows in Band of Brothers, just ‘human collateral’ as today’s politicians call it.
And if you think that’s bad, World War 1 was even worse! I went on a date with my wife to see 1917, the Sam Mendes film that follows two young British soldiers on an impossible mission behind enemy lines. Just as merciless as Band of Brothers, it is even more difficult to watch, putting the viewer slap-bang in the middle of suffocating trench warfare.
When a gas bill has just landed or a VAT return is due; when your football team has lost and you’ve had a row with your other half about something to do with the recycling, it’s good to remind yourself of how lucky we are to live in a place and time where peace prevails. In fact, watching the horrors of war in the comfort of a luxury cinema somewhere in the indulgent western world can really cheer you up.
Mind you, as I said to the wife in the car on the way back from the cinema, World War 3 could kick off at any moment. “The planet is dying and the big powers are trying to work out how they can carve up what’s left of it,” I explained. “It will all boil down to America versus China fighting over the last bits of clean water and oxygen. The rest of us will either be dead or living on rafts trying not to drown or get eaten by mutant post-nuclear sharks.”
She turned up the volume on the radio and told me I’d ruined date night. Some people just aren’t ready for the realities of war.