Monday, February 23, 2015

I Really Got To Stop Watching War Flicks

I was fairly impressed with Twelve O'Clock High, if only because it actually managed to make me dislike Gregory Peck for most of its runtime. He takes over command of an American bomber squadron in England, during the early days of the U.S.'s involvement in World War 2, because the brass determine the previous commander has become too emotionally invested in his men. The result of that is he's let discipline go lax, and the performance of the squadron is suffering.

So Peck takes over, and is the sort of stock, hardass commander I w always hate in movies. He tells the men to stop thinking of themselves as special, to give themselves up for dead. He criticizes the former second-in-command for laziness and cowardice, and assigns him a crew of all the worst guys in the squadron, in a plane with the words "The Leper Colony" painted on the side. When one of the bombers breaks group cohesion on a mission to hang back with a damaged plane, Peck demotes that pilot to The Leper Colony, and makes everybody change roomies so they'll stop caring about the other guys in the squadron.

So you're supposed to care about the group, but you aren't supposed to care about the people in the group. That makes a lot of fucking sense. Just care about the group as an abstract concept, to keep everyone alive. Oh wait, but you're already dead, so who cares? Might as well get drunk and crash a jeep into an embankment, then. Saves you freezing your ass off on a flight to Germany where you can catch a 20mm cannon shell in the abdomen.

Of course, as it turns out, Peck does care about the men, he just feels the tough love approach is the only way to make them the highly disciplined unit he feels they need to be to be successful. And the longer he's with them, the more he ends up like the previous commander, too emotionally invested.

The basic gist seemed to be that yeah, they were asking a lot of these men, but it had to be done. They were all that was available at the time. So you just keep sending them up until they don't come back, but you do your best to train them so they will come back. And that apparently requires stamping out any sense of them as an individual, or any sense of the other planes as individuals.

I get all that, in theory. But the approach here just seems so wrong-headed. And heck, when Peck makes his initial, "you aren't special, give yourself up for dead" speech, every single pilot applies for transfer (which is what he said they could do at the end of the speech). So Peck has his adjutant "lose" the paperwork, so he can have time to convince them to stay. Even then, he only pulls it off because all the other pilots take their lead from Lt. Bishop, who won the Medal of Honor (for flying the plane under fire while struggling with the captain, who had gone wild after taking some shrapnel to the head), and Peck basically browbeats/shames the kid into not transferring. By suggesting the young man would be shirking his duty if he transferred to another branch of the service. Which is a pretty shitty tactic from where I'm sitting.

It just seemed he could have still achieved discipline (and avoided the paperwork hijinks) if he hadn't taken the Bobby Knight approach to leadership. The "you're all pieces of crap I'm going to mold into men" bullshit. Respect the work they've done already, rather than crapping all over it.

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