The documentary, “Theater of War,” directed by John Walters, takes on the form of the highly disputed sub genre of essay film, which brings together many individual and overarching viewpoints to encourage the audience to form their own opinion about what they are watching. With this genre of film, it is likely that the piece will provoke different thoughts and associations for each individual, based on their past experiences or social conditioning. For me personally, the montages in the film that bring together many different scenes of protest as well as many different scenes of war were the most thought provoking. While watching it, I was amazed at how we allow history to continue to repeat itself generation after generation. It is easy for us to look back and judge the mistakes others have made, but it is much harder to look forward and prevent those mistakes from happening again.
In the essay film, Meryl Streep, who plays Mother Courage, explains why she wanted to act in the play Mother Courage and her Children. It wasn’t because of Kattrin’s bravery and kindness when she bangs on the roof to warn the people of the city of the incoming attack. It was because of the moment when Courage sings the lullaby over Kattrin’s body, a scene that Streep says seems to repeat itself over and over with each war that comes. Her interpretation of the scene almost implies the inevitability of war and the untimely death of a mother’s children. However, Brecht would have wanted Streep and the audience to understand that war and the conditions of the play are not inevitable if collective action is taken.
Brecht, a self proclaimed Marxist, was in the US at the time of the Second Red Scare and was asked to testify along with the Hollywood 10. During that time, the US citizens were scared of communism due to fear of Soviet relations and their influence. In this case, bad relations with the U.S.S.R. conditioned people to fear communism and communists, leading to the unlawful persecution and arrest of many people due to their political beliefs. More closely related to my generation is the 9/11 terrorist attack. After seeing this tragic event and watching two wars being fought in the Middle East over terrorism, my generation has been conditioned to fear people of Middle Eastern ethnicities, leading to the persecution of and prejudice towards those people. History repeated itself, just under different circumstances.
Looking back, we see all the ways we acted on impulse and out of fear during the time of the Red Scare, and one would expect we would try to improve on our mistakes from the past. However, we continue to act out of fear and use racial profiling unjustly, often associating someone of Middle Eastern descent with terrorism. The problem is not that we are incapable of reflecting on our past mistakes; it is that we have yet to learn from them. As Brecht communicated through his play Mother Courage, we require collective action to make a change, and in this case it will take a wholly educated populous to understand the consequences of our rash actions to stop this endless cycle.
(Update Nov. 17 2015)
Considering the content of this post, I think it is important for me to address the events of the past week as they pertain to the ideas presented. This past week was tragic, with both Paris and Beirut subjected to terrorist attacks. Paris experienced suicide bombing and execution style killing, while, similarly, Beirut experienced a suicide bombing attack. Over the weekend, my news feed on Facebook was bombarded by a seemingly endless string of posts about the two events, many showing remorse and sympathy for the two, however the occasional post was about fear or hatred of the Muslim community. While we have the right to fear the extremists that committed these cruel and horrible acts, expanding this fear to the entire Muslim population is unfair and unjust. Ironically, through unjust stereotyping of the Muslim community, we are only encouraging support of terrorist groups like Isis. The cycle feeds itself. I worry that this recent attack will bring rise to an anti-Muslim sentiment greater than before, and lead us to act rashly and persecute innocent people as happened in the time of the Red Scare and in Japanese Internment.
Also, for more information on the sub genre of the essay film, this video provides a good basic explanation.
Smith, John. “The Thirty Years’ War: The Movie. Transitions/Comparisons.” University of California, Irvine. Humanities Instructional Building 100, Irvine, CA. 3 November 2015. Lecture.
Theater of War. dir. John Walters. perf. Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, and Tony Kushner. Lorber Films, 2008. Film.