I am grateful to George McCartney for his articulate and fascinating review of Copperhead (“Reason’s Enemy,” In the Dark, September). Unlike most reviewers, he concentrates (at least this time) on the plot, theme, historicity, characters, and atmosphere, instead of the usual pointless ramblings about the previous work and personal history of the director, or technical trivia concerning cinematography, lighting, and camera angles. He made me insist on seeing the movie and reading the 1894 novel on which it is based.
I understand that half the fun of historical fiction is its application to current issues, people, and ideas. I especially appreciated McCartney’s comparison with Dickens’ Mrs. Jellyby and her preference for distant, abstract victims over her own children. “Subsidiarity” is a principle not only of the American federation, but of Church law. I loved his description of the John Brown-like character in Copperhead.
Unfortunately, McCartney verbosely finishes his review with what has become an increasingly common and, to this devoted reader of Chronicles, depressing tendency among some of your writers toward absolute pacifism. As a Southerner, I wish that the Yankees had favored it at the time. But as a devotee of Saint Augustine and the Catholic concept of just war, I should judge each war on its own merits.
Of all U.S. conflicts, I would agree that Mr. Lincoln’s War (in which I had three fighting Confederate ancestors), our entry into World War I (in which two of my uncles were killed while fighting in the Texas Arrowhead Division, long before my birth), the Panama incursion, Bosnia and Kosovo, and our involvement in Syria, among others, can be classified as unjust, as would be all other nationalistic endeavors or all attempts at foreign “nation-building” or “spreading democracy.”
However, as a decorated combat infantry commander in Vietnam, who studied Augustine and the Church Fathers and prayed endlessly before volunteering for two tours in that war against communist expansion, and the son of a World War II and Korean War hero, and as a descendant and beneficiary of the American and Texas revolutions, I am an enemy of undifferentiated pacifism.
As for the second half of the Gulf War (called by the media the Iraq War), I agree with what President George W. Bush rightly announced as its post-September-ll continuation, after Saddam’s blatant and dangerous violations of the temporary truce engineered by the uniformed politician Colin Powell, and Saddam’s Al Qaeda training camps, as well as with our punitive raid against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. I naturally praise these actions while opposing the neocons’ prolongation of both beyond victory, for their own nefarious ends.
To top it all off, McCartney throws in the gratuitous libel of soldiers “marching bravely, if blindly, into rifle and cannon fire.” As a civilian, McCartney might not know that blind soldiers can’t shoot straight. And the time for contemplative reason comes before enlisting in a war or, among commanders, before ordering an assault. The attack itself is a time for action. As with the Christian Faith, military duty consists of “endurance under crisis in what one had reasoned beforehand.” And yes, I consistently and actively condemned military conscription for the same reason that Shakespeare’s Henry V did before Agincourt.
Contrary to McCartney’s title, reason is not the enemy of a just war, but the condition precedent to it, and therefore conspicuously absent in Copperhead, according to McCartney. Perhaps his modern analogy was for fear of being labeled “neoconfederate.” But I refuse to weep for his “hundreds of thousands” (?) of dead Muslim jihadists. I save it for our dead and wounded Just Warriors. And our expense of treasure in recent wars is miniscule in light of our unconstitutional welfare state and bloated and intrusive central government.
Other than that, I admire, and rely on, George McCartney and his incisive movie reviews.
—Egon Richard Tausch
San Antonio, TX
Professor McCartney Replies:
For your kind words, I thank you, Mr. Tausch. But I must correct your assumption that I’m an absolute pacifist. I’m a selective one. Under this banner, I argued against the 2003 Iraq invasion, which needlessly sent 4,700 Americans, along with unnumbered Iraqis, to their deaths. Whom did this carnage serve? No one, other than war profiteers. Not even the Israel Firsters benefited. Mr. Tausch, I appreciate your and your family’s service to our country. Quite a few of my family members served with distinction also. Service, however, cannot in itself justify shedding blood in pointless, mismanaged conflicts, most especially those driven by clandestine ideologies.