My whole life has more or less led me to say, I don’t give a shit if someone was a general or not. Maybe it’s a the various media I’ve consumed as a kid, a teen, a college student, and now near forty, but I have never really in my life felt any respect or reverence towards the idea of generals. I will come back to this point.
I can certainly say the same for Boris Vian, at least in this play. Unpublished in his lifetime, this play begins with a meeting between a general and a foreign minister over tea. In the meeting, the general drinking an herbal concoction, while the foreign minister begrudgingly takes a anisette, while desperately wanting a pernod (I know, they’re basically the same thing).
Throughout the meaning, the two say platitude after platitude about warfare and an upcoming campaign, and throughout this whole meeting, we are interrupted by the general’s mother, who is still and clearly treating him like a child. This is a sticking point for me. This continues for an additional two acts, with a rotating cast of figures playing at warcraft and statecraft, while being exposed for the children they are.
I grew up with a deep irreverence for military figures and politicians, and if we ever do fall into an actual authoritarian regime, it will either be the only thing that sustains me, my immediate downfall, or something I immediately cower on. But this play reminded me of the ways in which MASH, and Dr. Strangelove, Catch-22, and Paths of Glory deeply undercut any sense that generals every really know what they’re doing or talking about.
And this is also further illustrated to me with recent generals in the news who are either completely wastes of space, pieces of shit, or both: Stanley McCrystal, David Patreus, Michael Flynn, James Mattis, and John Kelly. It’s always been the case, still is the case. I will keep reading Boris Vian, I think.