My wife and I finally got around to watching Arthur Hiller’s 1964 classic, “The Americanization Of Emily.” It stars James Garner and Julie Andrews, with a supporting cast including James Coburn, Melvyn Douglas, Keenan Wynn, William Windom, and two future stars of NBC’s “Laugh-In,” Alan Sues and Judy Carne, in bit parts.
Both Garner and Andrews said it was among their favorites of the films they appeared in. Much of that credit has to go to screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky, who had won an Oscar for “Marty” nine years earlier, but was still a dozen years away from writing his masterpiece, “Network.”
Chayefsky gave Garner what must be considered the greatest anti-war monologue in movie history. The setup: it’s the waning weeks of the Allies’ efforts in Europe during World War II, not long before D-Day. Lt. Commander Charles Madison has gone to visit the woman he’s wooing, Emily Barham (Andrews), and her mother (Joyce Grenfell). When the latter asks Charlie about his religion, he replies:
I discovered I was a coward. That’s my new religion. I’m a big believer in it. Cowardice will save the world. It’s not war that’s insane, you see. It’s the morality of it. It’s not greed or ambition that makes wars. It’s goodness. Wars are always fought for the best of reasons: for liberation or manifest destiny – always against tyranny and always in the interest of humanity. So far this war, we’ve managed to butcher some 10,000,000 humans in the interest of humanity. Next war, it seems we’ll have to destroy all of man in order to preserve his damn dignity. It’s not war that’s unnatural to us. It’s virtue. As long as valor remains a virtue, we shall have soldiers. So, I preach cowardice. Through cowardice, we shall all be saved…
I don’t trust people who make bitter reflections about war, Mrs. Barham. It’s always the generals with the bloodiest records who are the first to shout what a hell it is. It’s always the war widows who lead the Memorial Day parades.
We shall never end wars, Mrs. Barham, by blaming it on ministers and generals or warmongering imperialists or all the other banal bogeys. It’s the rest of us who build statues to those generals and name boulevards after those ministers. The rest of us who make heroes of our dead and shrines of our battlefields. We wear our widow’s weeds like nuns, Mrs. Barham, and perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices. My brother died at Anzio… An everyday soldier’s death, no special heroism involved. They buried what pieces they found of him. But my mother insists he died a brave death and pretends to be very proud…
Now my other brother can’t wait to reach enlistment age. That’ll be in September… It may be ministers and generals who blunder us into wars, Mrs. Barham, but the least the rest of us can do is to resist honoring the institution. What has my mother got for pretending bravery was admirable? She’s under constant sedation and terrified she may wake up one morning and find her last son has run off to be brave.
Beat that, Aaron Sorkin!