I just finished my most recent Netflix movie, "Reds", a 1981 movie missed during my child raising years. "Reds" is a brilliant movie co-written, produced and directed by and starring Warren Beatty as John Reed, a revolutionary journalist. Diane Keaton plays his wife, Louise Bryant, a writer and feminist.
The film is set in the period from 1915, when Reed meets Bryant, to 1920, when he died in Moscow at age 33 and became the only American to be buried in the Kremlin. How this came to be is the focus of the story. In short, he and Louise made their way to Russia and witnessed the Bolshevik Revolution and each wrote a book about it - Reed’s Ten Days that Shook the World and Bryant’s Six Months in Russia. If you see the movie, also read Louise’s letter home after Jack’s funeral in Russia ("The Last Days With John Reed").
But the point of this writing lies not with the story of the movie but with The Witnesses. Beatty advertised across the country for anyone who had been associated with John Reed and came up with about two dozen people, some of them intellectuals from the Greenwich Village circle of Reed and Bryant. Beatty interviews and films these octogenarians against a black screen with a single light illuminating the face, then intersperses interview bites of these real life witnesses throughout the movie. Brilliant.
At one point one of these wrinkled ladies -- don’t get me wrong, they were sharp in their thinking -- says “Men like war. Otherwise they wouldn’t still be at it”. I sat up. I rewound the movie to that section. Did I hear what I heard? Was this the emperor’s new clothes? Men LIKE war? How could that be with the suffering, destruction, lost lives, economic cost and chaos that comes with war? Haven’t wars come about for self-defense, protection of borders, resources, retaliation, revenge, greed, and conquest. Isn’t it all about oil? Isn’t war a necessary evil? How could it be that “men like war”?
I finished the movie but this uncomfortable concept stayed with me. Men like war. Could this better account for the "WMD" and "spread of democracy" rationales and why Congress endorsed the invasion of Iraq? Could this account for the huge popularity of football -- competition of two small armies who go head to head? Fans say “it’s just a game”, but young men suffer injury, sometimes death from this game in the name of sport and entertainment. Wrestling? Boxing? Well, these don’t involve “armies”.
“Otherwise they wouldn’t still be at it” began to make sense. Warring has gone on from the beginning of known human history but now we have a United Nations for resolution of conflict. Instant world wide communication. Summit meetings. Meetings of heads of state. Seems like infinite opportunities for solving differences. Unless, of course, men like war.