By April Wilson, Senior Staff Writer
War is a terrible part of the human experience. During my lifetime there have been U.S. military operations in Honduras, Panama, Somalia, Liberia, Serbia, Bosnia and Libya. This list is brief and doesn’t even include the current War on Terror or Operation Desert Storm, but the point is that war as an institution has been a part of all of our realities in one way or another for our entire lives.
However, for our generation the realities of death, carnage and the damage caused by war have not been front and center for most of us. Our generation is not like those who went through the first two World Wars. Those generations worldwide lost millions of lives and sent back many maimed and injured soldiers that had to integrate back into society. Perhaps because we are so far removed from those events, war is such a popular topic in literature and movies.
“By far and away the most popular course I have taught are the courses on the history of the two World Wars, it always draws large numbers,” said UNO history professor Bruce Garver.
Garver, who has taught these courses once or twice a year since 1977, has an idea of why courses like these draw large numbers.
“When I started to teach the course, we were close enough to the two World Wars that students would have had parents or grandparents in the wars,” Garver said. “Today that’s not the case, [though some] may [have had] grandparents in the Second World War. I think students probably think that war will be violent, exciting and [they] will be entertained.”
However, Garver noted, “[War] is a great human catastrophe. The human cost was frightful.”
Whatever the reason, we find ourselves interested in war. It is undoubtedly a phenomenon in our popular culture. There have been hundreds, likely even thousands, of movies made on the topic in addition to just as many or more pieces of literature and non-fiction works.
Recently, Garver was quoted in an Omaha World-Herald article noting the popularity of local war-themed book clubs and reading groups. Many of the groups meet in local book shops like The Bookworm.
As for films about the war, Garver recommends “La Grande Illusion,” a French film about World War I, German film “Das Boot,” the story of submariners during WWII, and the famous “Lawrence of Arabia,” which Garver said “doesn’t prettify war as T.E. Lawrence did not in his writings.”
Garver said the flaw in most war movies is they aren’t entirely accurate.
“American movies tend to overemphasize what the Americans did and generally underemphasize what our allies did,” Garver said. “Films also like to celebrate individuals who either, by disobeying or creatively interpreting regulations, defeat our enemies. This gives a false picture because wars are won by vast bureaucracies comprising of millions of men working as teams. Wars are not won by people who disobey the rules or go around them.”
Garver said “The Dirty Dozen” is the worst example of a war film due to its complete inaccuracy.
He also said there is a lot of literature out there written during the wars that is important and vast. One of the books he uses in his courses is Paul Fussell’s “The Great War in Modern Memory,” which deals with the literature of the First World War and won the National Book Award for Arts and Letters in 1975.
The bottom line is that war fascinates us for many reasons. However, Garver highlights the interest behind humanities fascination in general with wars and their history.
“The history of both wars is so controversial,” Garver said. “It’s not cut and dry…but why it was done, how it was done and the consequences continue to be controversial…as new evidence and information is revealed.”