JG got a set of old war movies as a Christmas gift and last night we watched one of them - Twelve O’Clock High. To refresh your memory - this is a story about the first group of American daylight bombers (1942) to attack Europe. Starring Gregory Peck, it tells of his efforts to turn around a squadron of these bombers plagued by 'bad luck' and shows how they became an effective unit. Peck's character challenges the air crews to 'do their duty' to 'become adult and take responsibility', and in so doing he leads them until he is overcome by the weight of his responsibility and cannot function. He becomes catatonic but when the squadron comes back successfully from the mission he could not lead, conducted instead by the worst of the 'slackers', he recovers.
It got me thinking, this portrayal of dedication and duty. For one thing, we don't see a lot of this type of film any more. The Vietnam war produced a genre about how the men in uniform were broken (Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter) and how they healed (I've forgotten the title of the film I want to cite here - it had Jane Fonda as a soldier's wife who encounters a maimed vet in an army hospital). Later we had 'operations' films from places like Afghanistan that are mainly concerned with the futility of heroic belief and action. The closest modern film to this 'dedicated hero' type that I can remember is not a war film but rather The Lord of the Rings trilogy that was, in the main, written during WWII.
This line of thought intersected another one, the product of several articles this weekend about a Yale professor's take on mothering - she describes her attempts to make her daughters excel in all they undertake. One response to her book has been a heartfelt howl from the proponents of nurturing (Western style?) parenting. The 'Dragon mother' has been accused of child abuse by several voices.
At close to seventy I obviously belong to the 'duty and rigour' side of the argument. I am not even a baby boomer, born as I was in 1942 while my father bobbed around in the North Atlantic in a corvette fighting submarines. I was brought up to believe that you keep your promises regardless of the cost to yourself, you do your duty no matter how unpalatable, you put the welfare of your community ahead of your own. I do not see much evidence that public figures follow these values much of the time these days. Sarah Palin, for example, lost all credibility for me when she quit as Governor of Alaska part way through her term. The parenting style of the aptly christened 'helicopter parents' is practically incomprehensible from my cobweb draped seat in the bleachers.
Some remnants of the 'duty' morality, mind you, also strike me as weird. A politician in the USA can be and is pounded into jelly for personal infidelity but can get away with huge amounts of patronage. Serial monogamy is not even questioned - Liz Taylor's seven (I think) marriages are regarded with indulgence. A person whose first question is 'what's in it for me?' is given a straight-forward answer. I have no patience, either, for people who squawk about having to pay taxes to provide community services and aids for disadvantaged kids.
I should be stuffed and placed with the other dinosaurs, perhaps.
Nevertheless, it seems to me that in the world I see now the hand has moved from the rigid morals of Twelve O’Clock High to the deep-sixing, by the 'Me' generation and those following, of many values and customs that make our society liveable. Courtesy. Courage. Responsibility for our own actions. Principles. And a little bit of putting the other guy first.