Monday, January 17, 2011

In Which the Glorification of War Is Explored

I was recently asked how I can enjoy sci-fi and fantasy books involving war when I am against violence and war myself. Books are thought of as glorifying war, yet do they?

I don't know that I've ever considered the sci-fi./ fantasy books involving war as a form of glorification. The writing styles usually indicate such an insurmountable distance between Reality and Story that one cannot believe for a second the war in the book is in any way real, which would be a requirement of glorification. By its definition, to glorify is "to cause to be or treat as being more splendid, excellent, etc., than would normally be considered." A fantasical or epic war in a book of fiction is not at risk of being "normally...considered." That is, the war in the story has no reality within it. It is not believable. It is too far from truth that there is no way for it to glorify war. It does not present an understanding of war, nor does it explore any of the realities (emotional, psychological, etc) of war in any depth (and in most cases in any form).

In the case of written war, as is presented in sci-fi/ fantasy, there is no moment of depth, truth, or personal understanding as we would come across in reality. Again, what is presented does not seek to be true in the same sense, and even if it does, by the very nature of the work there is a distance not easily breached. By not understanding war, by writing about this act we do not understand or know in any intimate or personal way, have we merely misrepresented, or have we actually glorified it? Can you glorify what you do not know? 

I think the stories grossly misrepresent war (if they strive to represent war at all, that is), but do not glorify it. They are not trying to be true accounts, but rather tend towards the sensational. The exciting. The adventurous.

The Moments have no real barring on the characters. The Moments of War have no real impact. They fight. They win. They lose. They move on. They succeed. They fail. It is very limited in its scope and detail.

Perhaps it is simply that most stories of war lack a human voice, or a human level. Epic struggles against hostiles leave little room for personal development and psychological harm. We cannot experience war truly by words on a page -- that is the nature, and horror, of war.

Or perhaps it is simply that we are given a safe environment in sci-fi/ fantasy in which to explore the possibilities of war. Given the disconnection between this world and that, we are able to see what we are capable of in a safe, contained environment where we can choose to ignore the inhumane and cruel implications of the story. Perhaps we are quietly, morbidly fascinated because we are comforted by its illusory origin.

Or maybe there is comfort in the apparent black & white definitions. Good. Bad. No neutral ground. We cheer the protagonist, know our side, and everything from there seems all the more clear cut.

I sense there's so much more to ponder, but I'll leave it there.

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