The Virtue of Cowardice

I have long accepted the fact that I am a coward. I would never consider dying or killing for my country, or for any purported noble cause. Yet, I have never been ashamed of that. I have never really seen the value in sacrificing for such things. However, I have also never been able to adequately articulate this vision, and was literally accused of moral weakness once when I tried to defend it.

Thus, when I watched The Americanization of Emily, a film which I was led to by the fascinating blogger Arthur Silber, it instantly became one of my favorites by doing something I could not. This movie launches an unrelenting shock and awe campaign on the futility of warfare and the idiocy of heroism, as Silber compellingly argues here (see also here and here).

I strongly encourage you to read at least the first of Silber's essays, although it may be better to do so after watching the film. If you at all trust my opinion on these matters, watch this movie. It is brilliant, absolutely marvelous, and incredible considering the time it was produced, in 1964, not even a decade after the "noble" war which serves as its setting. It is likely unlike any war film you have ever seen.

(Incidentally, those of you familiar with James' essay "The Moral Equivalent of War" might find it an apt accompaniment. I'm considering showing this film to my class in the spring along with James' essay.)

I offer this one tidbit to stoke your interest, and to give you a sense of why cowardice should be nothing to be afraid of:
War isn’t hell at all. It’s man at his best; the highest morality he's capable of ... it’s not war that’s insane, you see. It’s the morality of it. It’s not greed or ambition that makes war: it’s goodness. Wars are always fought for the best of reasons: for liberation or manifest destiny. Always against tyranny and always in the interest of humanity. So far this war, we’ve managed to butcher some ten million humans in the interest of humanity. Next war it seems we’ll have to destroy all of man in order to preserve his damn dignity. It’s not war that’s unnatural to us – it’s virtue. As long as valor remains a virtue, we shall have soldiers. So, I preach cowardice. Through cowardice, we shall all be saved.

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