Sunday, February 23, 2014

Boys and Their Toys (Trying to Understand "The Wind Rises")

I'm trying to understand: "What was Hayao Miyazaki thinking (when he made his latest animated film, The Wind Rises)?"

How can this most humane (and antiwar) of artists created an homage to the creator of the Japanese Zero fighter plane?

I'm finding this particularly hard to understand since I just finished re-watching Miyazaki's 1988 antiwar masterpiece, Grave of the Fireflies.  It is hard to reconcile the unflinching portrayal of two children fending for themselves during the WWII firebombing of Japan with the airy romance of The Wind Rises.

What I did think of immediately was another dramatic work: Dr. Atomic, the opera by John Adams that tells the story of another scientist who devoted himself to creating weapons. Both works address the conundrum of smart, creative people who "just want to make airplanes" or "just want to explore physics": why can't they pursue their dreams without being part of the war machine?

And in this sense Miyazaki's work couldn't be more timely.  A whole new breed of flying machines -- they fly without a pilot! -- is proliferating worldwide; is anyone stopping to ask what is going on in the minds of the thousands of engineers who are creating drones and the elaborate information systems that support them?

Perhaps a proof of Miyazaki's success in forcing us to ask, "Why is it like this?" is the way he conveys the unrepentant joy of his airplane designer in the sheer beauty of flight and flying machines. "Can you feel it?" he seems to be demanding. (In my own case, it wasn't long before he had me thinking of my own love affair with a slightly different variety of sleek, aerodynamic machine: the white Fender Stratocaster that I played in a band in high school.)

I wonder how many young people will go to see The Wind Rises. We in the antiwar movement talk a lot about "counter-recruitment" -- obstructing the attempts to lure high school students into the military. I can't think of a more meaningful form of counter-recruitment than encouraging young people to see The Wind Rises, and to think about the questions that it asks.  It would be a privilege to be able to talk with them about their thoughts and feelings on seeing this film.

Related posts

More than anything, I have a visceral memory of lying in the grass in Lincoln Park as a jet streaked east towards the lake, and the thought occurred to me, "This would be terrifying if I were a rice farmer in a paddy somewhere and I didn't know what this is all about." Yes, I confess, up until that moment, I had approached the Chicago Air & Water Show with very little perspective, or awareness, or empathy for others.

(See I { love | hate } the Chicago Air & Water Show)

Consider the moment in the film All Quiet On the Western Front when the young soldier returns to visit his old high school. The soldier visits the class of the teacher who had goaded him and many of his classmates to enlist in the first place. Encouraged by his teacher to tell about the "glories" of being a soldier, he delivers a damning verdict . . . .

(See Back to School (All Quiet On the Western Front))

A big Hollywood production of Ender's Game provided a perfect opportunity for us to ask: Are we happy seeing our schools turned into "Battle Schools"?

(See "Ender's Game" and the Militarization of Youth: Can We Talk About This? )

The U.S. military is desperately trying to beef up the ranks of its drone pilots - to meet a "near insatiable demand for drones." There's only one way that's going to happen, and that's if we let our young people think that it's okay to sign up. The world of military service is more abstracted and foreign than ever. If ever there was a time that young people needed guidance from others about what military service might mean for them, that time is now.

(See Mothers Don't Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Drone Pilots)