(cross posted on Daily Kos)
Miss Julie and I were surfing our TiVo listings the other night when we discovered that the service had recorded Patton for us. Although it’s the last movie she would watch in its entirety, I convinced her to watch the first five minutes.
You’ve probably seen it yourself: Patton (George C. Scott), in full-dress regalia, delivers a speech to his unseen battalion while standing in front of an enormous American flag. [How big is that flag? Patton is 4-1/2 stripes high.] He begins the speech with the famous line: “No sonofabitch ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”
Men, all this stuff you’ve heard about America not wanting to fight – wanting to stay out of the war, is a lot of horse dung. Americans traditionally love to fight. All real Americans love the sting of battle. When you were kids, you all admired the champion marble shooter, the fastest runner, big league ball players, the toughest boxers. Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time. I wouldn’t give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed. That’s why Americans have never lost and never will lose a war, because the very thought of losing is hateful to Americans.
Anyway, the film came out in 1970, at the height of the Vietnam war. It came from an era during which movies were made about characters who might have been heroes to an earlier generation, but were now revealed to be deeply flawed. I’m not talking Rocky Balboa here. I’m talking Harry Callahan and Popeye Doyle, lawmen, men of the state, men who had long-since abandoned notions of right and wrong, in return for which they won and their enemies lost.
Watching that sequence also made me think of how far we’ve come in the years since Patton was a hero. It made me think of how far we’ve come since the height of the Vietnam war (“…Americans have never lost and never will lose a war…”). It made me think of how far we’ve come since 9/11 and the beginning of the Iraq war. It made me think of men who loved nothing more than to win and who would never tolerate a loser — men like dick Cheney, George W. Bush and Karl Rove and even of recent newsmakers, men like Michael Vick and Tim Donaghy.
It also made me think of how far we still have to go before this nation can see an end to the Iraq occupation and before we can be sure that we won’t enter into another disastrous adventure like Iraq.