Cowardice Will Save the World

“That night, I sat in the jungles of Guadalcanal, waiting to be killed, sopping wet. Then I had my blinding revelation: I discovered I was a coward. That’s my new religion. I’m a coward. I’m a big believer in it. Cowardice will save the world.” … “We shall never end wars Mrs. Barum, by blaming it on ministers and generals, or warmongering imperialists, or all the other banal bogies. 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 battlefield.” - Charlie Madison in an American comedy-drama war film“The Americanization of Emily

Translated by Jadranko Brkic


EMILY: Mother…

MOTHER: Oh you brought chocolates, two whole box full. What a treasure trove.

EMILY: I already refused them mother.

CHARLIE: On aesthetic grounds.

MOTHER: You're an absolute flatulent Emily.

EMILY: Oh take the things if you want them.

MOTHER: Well I shall have one later and save the rest for your father. I take it you're Emily's new lover since she hasn't bothered to introduce us.

CHARLIE: You must be her mother.

MOTHER: Ah, you've found the chink in my armor. What are your religious views?

CHARLIE: I'm a practicing coward.

MOTHER: That's very fervent of you.

EMILY: Oh, I should have known you two would get on. You're as dotty as she is Charlie.

CHARLIE: Actually before the war I was assistant night manager at a diplomatic hotel in Washington DC.

MOTHER: What made you say that?

EMILY: Oh lord, I'm beginning to feel like Alice at the tea party.

MOTHER: Shh… he's going to tell us about a religious experience I think.

CHARLIE: Yes, yes. It was my job to arrange things for many of the great historical figures who came to Washington on great historical missions.

EMILY: What exactly did you arrange?

CHARLIE: Usually I arranged girls, but individual tastes varied of course.

EMILY: Of course.

CHARLIE: Well, its useful work anyway, especially in a war. I was offered all sorts of commissions in the Army and Navy, the one I have now in fact. Admiral Jessup phoned me to join his staff. But, I'd always been a bit embarrassed by my job at the hotel. I wanted to do something redeeming. Have you noticed that war is the only chance a man gets to do something redeeming. That's why war is so attractive.

MOTHER: War's very handsome. I agree.

CHARLIE: At any rate, I turned down Admiral Jessup's offer and I enlisted in the Marines as a private. I even applied for combat service. My wife, to all appearance is a perfectly sensible woman, encouraged me in this idiotic decision. Seven months later, I found myself invading the Solomon Islands. There I was splashing away in the shoals of Guadalcanal. It suddenly occurred to me a man could get killed doing this kind of thing. Fact is, most of the men splashing along with me were screaming in agony and dying like flies. Those were brave men dying there. In peace time they'd all been normal, decent cowards. Frightened of their wives, trembling before their bosses, terrified by the passing of the years. But war had made them gallant. They had been greedy men, now they were self-sacrificing. They had been selfish, now they were generous. War isn't hell at all. Man at his best. The highest morality he's capable of.

EMILY: Never mind all that. What's this about a wife?

CHARLIE: That night, as I sat in the jungles of Guadalcanal, waiting to be killed sopping wet. It was then I had my blinding revelation.


CHARLIE: I discovered I was a coward. That's my new religion. I'm a big believer in it. Cowardice will save the world. Its not war that's insane you see. It's the morality of it. Its not greed and ambition that makes war its goodness. Wars are always fought for the best of reasons, for liberation or manifest destiny, always against tyranny an in the interest of humanity. So far this war we've managed to butcher some ten million 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.

MOTHER: That was exhausting commander, absolutely occult.

EMILY: Yes, well never mind the metaphysics commander. Let's get back to your wife.

CHARLIE: Well, needless to say, that first night I wrote Admiral Jessup, saying in essence, for heaven sakes get me out of this. Two weeks later, I was transferred to Washington; I raced home to my wife…

EMILY: And found her with another man?

CHARLIE: Oh lord no. My wife, who had deceived me more times before the war than I care to think about was having the time of her life being faithful. She was furious with me for coming back. There was no reason for her being virtuous anymore. She promptly sued me for divorce on the grounds of religious differences. I was a self-preservationist, you see, and she was a high Anglican sentimentalist.

EMILY: Well, you're fair game then.

MOTHER: After every war you know, we always find out how unnecessary it was. And after this one, I am sure all the generals will dash off and write books about the blunders made by other generals and statesmen will publish their secret diaries, and it will show, beyond any shadow of a doubt that war could easily have been avoided in the first place. And the rest of us of course will be left with the job of bandaging the wounded and burying the dead.

CHARLIE: I don't trust people who make bitter reflections about war Mrs. Barum. 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 parade.

EMILY: That was unkind Charlie and very rude.

CHARLIE: We shall never end wars Mrs. Barum, by blaming it on ministers and generals, or warmongering imperialists, or all the other banal bogies. 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 battlefield. We wear our widows' weeds like nuns Mrs. Barum, and perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifice. My brother died at Anzio...

EMILY: I didn't know that Charlie.

CHARLIE: Yes, an everyday soldiers 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.

MOTHER: You're very hard on your mother, seems a harmless enough pretense to me.

CHARLIE: No, Mrs. Barum, no you see, now my other brother can't wait to reach enlistment age. That'll be in September.

MOTHER: Oh lord.

CHARLIE: It may be ministers and generals who blunder us into war, Mrs. Barum, 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, terrified she'll wake up one morning find her last son has run off to be brave. I don't think I was rude or unkind before, do you Mrs. Barum.

MOTHER: No. You better push off Emily if you've got to get to work.

EMILY: Give my best to father then.

MOTHER: Your father died in the Blitz, and your brother died a brave and pointless death in December 1940. I've carried on much to long in all this business. Now do go, honestly, I'd much rather be alone. I mean it. I mean it.

You're a kind man Commander, I hope you'll come again.

CHARLIE: Thank you ma'am. I'd like to.

[Mother cries.]



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