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Pathos in Milblogs

Page history last edited by Stefan R. 11 years, 4 months ago

In modern day war films pathos has become a constant component in terms of war portrayal and tone. If you take a look, for example, at Band of Brothers or Home of the Brave, you can easily encounter this stylistic device which is one of the oldest in the history of literature. I will show that milblogs also use this way of "persuasion in rhetoric" and war portrayal in their diaries. Furthermore, today pathos is often closely connected to patriotism which also fits most of the milblogs discussed. 


 

Pathos in Milblogs

 

(Pictures: The Rock)

 

Table of Contents

 

I.  Introduction

 

II. What is Pathos?

 

III. Pathos in Modern-Day Popculture

 

IV. Pathos in Selected Milblogs

 

V.  Conclusion

 

Bibliography

 

 

 

I. Introduction

 

"A great general once said. 'You tell your men 'You're soldiers. That's our flag.' You tell them, 'Nobody takes our flag. Raise your flag so it flies high where everyone can see it. Now you've got yourself a castle." (The Last Castle)        

 

     "It is a privilege beyond measure to live in a country served by them [America's service men and women]," stated Senator and Presidential candidate John McCain in one of his speeches during the last months. Indeed, his speeches are full of pathos and patriotism. But what does pathos mean -- and why is it mostly connected to patriotism and the U.S.? It is a fact that modern-day popculture has significantly formed our reception of pathos, not only because of Presidential election speeches and party conventions but rather because of films, TV and -- of course -- milblogs. This essay will illustrate how popculture influenced on of the oldest stylistic devices in the history of literature. It will indicate why pathos and patriotism accompany each other nowadays and how pathos is used and portrayed in the personal blogs of U.S. servicemen based at Iraq.    

 

II. What is Pathos?  

 

"These men died for their country and they weren't even given a goddamn military burial" (The Rock)        

 

     If one takes a look at the definition of the English language Wikipedia entry one is given the basic information concerning pathos: “Pathos (Greek: πάθος) is one of the three modes of persuasion in rhetoric (along with ethos and logos). Pathos appeals to the audience’s emotions. It is a part of Aristotle’s philosophies in rhetoric.” It is a fairly short entry in the English language Wikipedia which offers way more entrys than the German one. However, the German entry for “pathos” is nearly twice as long as the English one. Pathos is an emotional appeal to convince or persuade the audience. Just take a look at the news, for example, where they use pathos extensively: starving children, crying mothers and men burrying their relatives or best friends -- it is indeed an appeal which affects us emotionally. Now take a look at the German entry for “pathos”. Apart from giving the recipient the basics of pathos in relationship to literature and rhetoric, the entry also focusses on the discourse about pathos and its use in modern-day culture. Whereas the English language entry only adds that “The term is commonly used by critics, especially in positive reference to the dramatic performances of actors,” the German language one adds that pathos had become an insulting buzzword in films and literature. According to Wikipedia especially Europeans find that American films nowadays become more and more solemn hailing their nation, their heroes and their bravery. Taking a look at modern-day war films and milblogs it becomes more and more obvious that this really is the case.

 

III. Pathos in Modern-Day Popculture

 

“’The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’” - Edmund Burke (Tears of the Sun)    

     

     As stated in the former paragraph, pathos becomes more and more important in our modern-day popculture. Especially since the events of 9/11 there was a flood of patriotic and solemn films coming from the U.S. Take a look at The Last Castle, for example, a patriotic movie about courage and bravery among U.S. soldiers. Not only is the director a graduate of the United States Military Academy at Westpoint but the movies composer, Jerry Goldsmith, also changed the title of his main theme to “September 11, 2001”. The track itself is pure pathos -- particularly because the scene in which it is used is nothing else than soliders saluting a star-spangled banner which waves in slow motion. 9/11 was a really important event not only for the movie industry but also for the U.S. milbloggers. However, pathos and patriotism in popculture did not firstly appear after 9/11, but can also be seen in a lot of movies before September 11, 2001. I already quoted a line from the 1996 movie The Rock which is basically about the brave soldier who has not only to fight against his foe but also against his own government: the soldier is good, the government is bad, and that is it.

 

     However, they are still patriotic, because they are not fighting for their government but for their country. The country is very important in any event, no matter how the government is represented. The country is the one and only thing in the life of the patriotic soldiers and it is always celebrated with a lot of pathos, like in Rambo: First Blood Part II (a film from the 1980’s):

 

     "Trautman: The war, the whole conflict may have been wrong but damn it don't hate your country for it

      Rambo: Hate? I'd die for it.

      Trautman: Then what is it you want?

      Rambo: I want, what they want, and every other guy who came over here and spilled his guts and gave everything he had, wants! For our      country to love us as much as we love it! That's what I want!"

 

     Furthermore, the jump start of it all was clearly World War II. The U.S. was on the 'right' side, there were no doubts. If one takes a look at the dozens of WWII movies out there, one does not have to count the number of patriotic and solemn ones, because almost all of them fulfill these criteria. Saving Private Ryan -- explicit in its violence and questionable in its premise, but still very patriotic and filled with a lot of pathos. And then we have the TV mini-series which a lot of our milbloggers reference to, Band of Brothers. It may not be a big surprise that it is produces by the same people who did Saving Private Ryan, but it is clearly obvious that the pathos is of the same kind: “’Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?’ Grandpa said, ‘No... but I served in a company of heroes’,” is the last line of the whole mini-series -- and it speaks for itself …

    

In addition, it is not only the movies, which play a significant role in popculture, however, but it is also a lot of other media and genres which use pathos in their way of portraying things. I started the first paragraph with a quote from a speech of Senator John McCain, a Republican politician. Especially the last months of election campaigns of both candidates showed two things: the Republican Party is more patriotic and therefore has a lot more solemn speeches than the Democratic Party. Since the Republicans are said to be more patriotic -- especially with Senator McCain who served his country a life-time and has a slogan which states: "Country First" -- this therefore indicates one more time that pathos is strongly connected to patriotism. And it is politics and the love for the country which are one of the most important issues in milblogs next to the personal diary/personal feelings.

 

Even if one now gets the impression that this pathos/patriotism thing is restricted to the U.S., one probably has not seen a lot of Asian movies or heared a lot of Asian music. Especially Korean and Japanese movies which deal with the country’s past are full of pathos. Both countrys have not had an easy past, and to replenish their history is accompanied by pathos and patriotism. Especially Japan with its war past is currently trying to gain new strength in various aspects. Aegis (亡国のイージス) for example advocates a new Japan with official military forces and a more significant engagement in the international community. Once again, it is connected to the country, its values and its history. Andy Lau, the biggest actor/singer/entertainer in Hong Kong and mainland China has songs full of pathos (e.g. “Xie xie ni de ai”) which would clearly determine him as some sort of Asian Eros Ramazzotti. His songs are about love -- not for his country but for a woman. Patriotism is nothing else than loving one’s country and pathos is the way of expressing this love.

 

IV. Pathos in Selected Milblogs

 

“Tell a veteran you are proud of their commitment, service and sacrifice, and that you're forever in the debt of the men we couldn't bring back home alive, and the men who came back forever changed.” (Army of Dude)

  

This love to one’s country is also the reason why so much young Americans join the armed forces and defend their country in a war on foreign soil. The milblogger therefore builds a bridge between our pocultural reception of war and the actual war events taking place Iraq. Since blogging contains a certain way of narrative and other literary key features and therefore is nothing else than a piece of literary work, milblogs often use pathos in order to explain why they are doing what they are doing and to “[…] appeal to the audience’s emotions”. Most milbloggers state clearly that they are in favor of the war and that they are fighting for their country, which can, for example, easily be recognized in their blogs in general. A Day in Iraq features an animated waving star-spangled banner on its homepage, a sign for patriotism. In addition, if one takes a look at the websites and blogs he is linking to (e.g. the Pentagon, Centcom, etc.) one can see that is proud of his country and of what he is doing. The real pathos, however, can mostly be found in the blog posts.

  

The last entry on A Day in Iraq from November 13, 2006, features a very solemn speech of his CO which deals with the loss of some comrades: “This Veteran’s Day weekend I thought of them as well as the other two men from Able Company killed last year.” The speech itself and the fact that he posts it on Veterans Day -- which is a day of pure pathos and patriotism -- indicate that he is touched by it emotionally and that he wants to appeal to his audience. The latter is approved by the audience respectively the commentors who stay emotionally:

  

“From one veteran to another I want to say thank you for everything you have done for me and for our great country. I understand your loss and I want you to know that your [sic!] not alone.” 

 

“There are still alot of Americans who understand as I do that this war has to be fought and won - thank you for your service to your country and always view it as one of the greatest accomplishments of your life - God Bless the USA!”

  

Even the speech itself (altough it is not from the blog author himself) is as solemn as expected, because death is always an emotional issue: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers, for he today who sheds his blood with me shall be my brother,” here for example he quotes Shakespeare and at the end of the speech he gets as emotional as possible when he ends it with the following words:

  

“I don’t know why they were taken from us on 15 October, but I do know that Heaven rejoices with the addition of the crew of Alpha 3/2, five courageous soldiers, five brave infantrymen, and five, most importantly, beautiful young men.”

  

The 9/11 post which simply reads: “Remember and be angry” and features a YouTube video showing the terrible events of 9/11. In the comments the following can be found in turn: “Noone [sic!] should ever forget the people lost that day or the servicemen and women lost in the war on terrorism.” It is obvious that the readers and commentors of the blog response to the pathos used in the post and that they are emotionally touched by the content, so the pathos was ‘victorious’.

  

            LT SMASH’s blog also features a lot of links to government agencies and military sites, however, it is not as patriotic formed as A Day in Iraq or Mudville Gazette with its symbols of patriotism and strength. Yet it is once again the post itself which features the pathos. On March 29, 2003 he posts the Navy Hymn, “Eternal Father Strong to Save”, a very solemn and patriotic hymn, which is also featured in Crimson Tide, one of these solemn American movies -- once again. In his post “Passing the Torch” Smash posts a speech by himself spoken to his unit he has to leave: “It has been an honor and a privilege to be your leader. I take pride in your continued success.” The speech shows that the whole pathos is a thing of interdependency, because the milbloggers mostly get solemn if the interact with others -- no matter if it is with the commentors or comrades or other persons linked to the blog.

  

            Army of Dude on the other hand resorts to pictures. In his entry of November 11, 2007, Alex writes about visiting Europe and World War II cemetery there. Not only does he illustrate his post with two pictures of the white tomb stones, but also does he call on the recipient to “[…] go out there and thank a veteran today,” Alex wants him or her to see and recognize what these men did for their country. The whole post is about duty, emotions and courage: “[…] I can't help but feel incredibly lucky to serve with the finest men this country has ever produced,” and in order to appeal emotionally to his audience he aks the recipient directly to contribute in order to join him celebrating the pathos: “If you're a veteran, leave a comment telling your favorite story of your service, in war or in peace.” The pictures he added to the post let one immediatley think of Saving Private Ryan. Alex probably knows that, because his image of WWII was shaped not by own experience but by veterans and, of course, popculture. The short poem which ends the post affirms the emotionality of the post and ‘unmasks’ his intentions.

 

V. Conclusion 

 

            Pathos is nearly a basic element in the narrative and emotionality of (American) milblogs. The omni-present pop cultural references to solemn movies and speeches (realized by video clips or pictures or audio clips) are a key feature in the way of gaining readers and commentors. Since all of the milblogs discussed are very patriotic and mostly in favor of the war, the way they see things and they way they interact with the recipient is automatically solemn and attached to emotions. War, a matter of life and death has always been an emotionally filled topic. Therefore it is no surprise that the people involved want to share their emotions and opinions in the most direct and convincing way possible -- and that is the emotional appeal, realized by the use of solemn stylistic devices and a solemn and patriotic narrative. The recipient can now read this in a deprecative way or in a positive, emotional way. However, since pathos is often connected to patriotism which itself is of political nature, the recipient’s approach depends -- at least to a degree -- on his political affiliation and opinion. The reactions in the seminar indicated this fact quite clearly.


Bibliography

  

A Day in Iraq. “9/11”. 08 September 2008

     <http://adayiniraq.blogspot.com/2006/09/911.html>.

A Day in Iraq. “The Crew of Alpha 3/2”. 08 September 2008

     <http://adayiniraq.blogspot.com/2006/11/crew-of-alpha-32.html>.

Army of Dude. “Savor This Day”. 08 September 2008

     <http://armyofdude.blogspot.com/2007/11/savor-this-day.html>.

JohnMcCain.com. “Remarks By John McCain On Memorial Day”. 08 September 2008

     <http://www.johnmccain.com/informing/news/Speeches/c2780187-7ce6-4226-bf6e-f04b7a1801cd.htm>

LT SMASH. “Eternal Father, Strong to Save”. 08 September 2008

     <http://adayiniraq.blogspot.com/2006/09/911.html>.

LT SMASH. “Passing the Torch”. 08 September 2008

     <http://web.archive.org/web/20030401230413/www.lt-smash.us/archives/001300.html#001300>.

The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). 08 September 2008 <http://www.imdb.com/>.

Wikipedia. “Pathos”. 08 September 2008 <http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pathos>.

Wikipedia. “Pathos”. 08 September 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pathos>.

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