Glorifying War in Literature and Film

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Illustration: Amreeta Chowdhury

Fairuz Shams

War is a commonly explored topic in literature and film. It is a topic that allows the general populace to learn and understand what conflict is and partially realise how it feels without experiencing any of the hardships in real life, all the while being entertained by the story, or enriched if it is factual literature. This also shapes their judgement on what war ultimately is and whether it serves its intended purpose or not.

And so, oftentimes the opinions of the people and their support of war are determined by what facet of war they have seen in various kinds of media. Throughout history, up until contemporary times, war has been supported by normal people because it is often intentionally or unintentionally glorified in entertainment mediums.

In ancient times, epics portraying war were somewhat common. The fictionalised characters were often created with the purpose of simply showcasing great bravery, skill, and success, turning them into a caricature made solely to represent good. And the opposition, the antagonist of the story, was portrayed as despicable and evil. This helped rationalise and justify war and its aftermath from a moral and philosophical standpoint.

Conflicts in these epics were illustrated by putting a spotlight on the protagonist and his companion’s bravery and other attributes. While their sacrifice was shown, it was overshadowed and made irrelevant by the substantial portrayal of the protagonist’s success. As a result, it glorified war to a position where one could earn fame, prestige, wealth, and such. Some examples of epics as those mentioned above include Ramayana, The Aeneid, and Beowulf. This trend of literature continues till today.

Alongside such literature, the opposite kind of portrayal has also existed: Literature portraying war in its true form, alongside accounts of bravery and skill. It holds up the reality of war as it is — an utterly destructive phenomenon that is often amoral and unnecessary. It displays the brutality, cruelty, and damage that war causes to its participants and ordinary people caught in it. Examples of such literature include The Iliad and the Heike monogatari. Themes of this sort are most common in contemporary literature.

War is similarly portrayed in contemporary. Novels such as War and Peace, 1971 Vol. 1 & 2, Six Days of War, etc. portray war and its brutality properly and sensibly. Such kinds of war literature are often semi-fictional, and the struggle of fictional characters in the contexts of real life wars.

The glorification of war, however, is done by a variety of war literature, whether it be intentional or unintentional. Examples of such literature are Rambo, Storm Warning, and similar novels.

With the development of themes and topics of war, the primary medium of entertainment has also shifted from literature to film. Like literature, films based around war are quite commonplace, such as Black Hawk Down, Fury, etc. All of these films hold an anti-war message. However, the portrayal of the characters and their actions and consequences result in unintended glorification. Themes of brotherhood, honour, respect, and bravery very often overshadow the horrors of war shown in these films.

However, various films often do not seem to portray anti-war themes, and war is rather actively glorified. Examples of such films are 300, 300: Rise of An Empire, Predator, etc. The portrayal of the main characters’ actions are overly positive in such films, which results in the message that one’s actions, no matter how detestable, will be forgiven if justified from a specific moral standpoint. This sort of message, no matter how subliminally delivered, is harmful and horrific.

With the growth of awareness and sensitivity among writers and directors alongside the general populace, contemporary movies are finally discarding themes and portrayals that end up glorifying war, and instead opt for properly portraying the aftermath of conflict through depicting the survivors and consequences of such events. And so, both intentional and unintentional glorification of war and conflict in literature and war is slowly becoming obsolete and archaic.

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