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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Letters from and Bombs to Iwo Jima

A case can be made that human virtue is consistent not with some ironclad rule dictated by our genes, but rather with the uncertain nature of information that we glean from a very confusing world. That is, goodness is not dependent upon who you are, but upon what you know about who someone else actually is. Thus, the results of the loves me, loves me not ritual depends upon not what rose petal you pluck, but what information you can pluck from a myriad perspectives on the world.

In Clint Eastwood's cinematic diptych on the bloody World War II battle for Iwo Jima, we have as a matter of perspectives, two. The first film gives the American perspective on the battle. It's literally guts and glory, and the Japanese are all faceless and scary, like a breed of fire ants from Starship Troopers. And like bugs everywhere, we cheer when they are duly roasted, shot, or otherwise squashed. The second film gives us the Japanese perspective, and shows that lo and behold, the Japanese are homo sapiens too, and behave just like thinking mammals everywhere! Naturally, since we're looking at the world from Japanese eyes, the Americans are the invaders from Mars, only this time microbes won't come to the rescue of the harried Asian species of mankind. Tragedy ensues, and we are sad. So upon seeing both films we end up with conflicted emotions, and that's the point. Virtue is naturally not a fixed but a conflicted thing. Like Oedipus, we'd be having our honeymoon one minute, and plucking out our eyes the next over a choice gone horribly wrong, it just depends upon what you know. Ultimately, knowledge is virtue and virtue is knowledge, as all we need to be good is a little bit of empathy towards the world.

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