Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Nick Nolte, The Falklands and Today

Two snapshots from the last couple of weeks:

1. I'm watching The Thin Red Line. Tremendous. A bunch of American soldiers are trying to take a grass-covered hill somewhere in the South Pacific. Every time they move forward they're cut to threads by Japanese machine gun fire. Their sergeant tells them to dig in and gets on the phone to the colonel.
``Colonel'', he says, ``We can't move forward. My men are being slaughtered.''
The colonel on the other end of the line is apoplectic. Ranting and raging he repeatedly orders the sergeant to get his men forward or God help him he'll cut his goddam balls off. The sergeant steadfastly refuses.

Eventually the colonel makes his way to the front where he treats the sergeant with contempt - ``Are you prepared to give an order that will result in your men dying?'' - and removes him from command. Those soldiers will go forward now!

In the immediate aftermath the colonel pauses and reflects that this is ``my first war''. That ``I've waited my entire career for this chance and I'm not going to let it slip now.'' The viewer watches horrified. These men will be driven to their death because this is the colonel's chance...

* * *

It's a compelling sequence, although I wondered if it were a little over the top. The ranting colonel is played by Nick Nolte and I couldn't help thinking he over-egged it a little...

2. A couple of days later the Today programme are commemorating the thirty year anniversary of the Falklands war. They interview two navy brass - a commodore and an admiral I think. They witter on for a while in plummy accents, then the interviewer asks one of them ``Was it worth it?'' I guess he's thinking of the 900 dead, the maimed, the wounded, the insane...

One of the two, the commodore I think, replies: ``Oh yes. It was certainly worth it... We had a whole generation of sailors who'd never experienced war. It was my first war'' (the last sentence emphasising incredulity). The admiral chimes in, ``One got to see what the navy was really for.''

* * *

Deja vu all over again. Turns out Nick Nolte got it spot on - war really is the chance that the top brass spend their lives waiting for.

You could hear the relief in those two sailors' voices when they spoke of the war and how it showed off what the navy was all about. That generation without war must have started wondering whether we really needed such a spectacularly well-equipped military. Too long without war and the armed forces were starting to look over their shoulders...

Of course, since the Falklands, this country has regained its appetite for war - we've had half a dozen in the last fifteen years. Everyone knows what the navy, the air force, the army are really for. Now no one need worry...

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