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A PERSONAL VIEW of WAR via The English Patient

A PERSONAL VIEW of WAR via The English Patient

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Published by shawn
World War II as viewed by the characters in Ondaatje's novel "The English Patient". The novel is much better than the movie by the way (the movie is like a lion with it's teeth pulled).
World War II as viewed by the characters in Ondaatje's novel "The English Patient". The novel is much better than the movie by the way (the movie is like a lion with it's teeth pulled).

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Published by: shawn on Apr 11, 2007
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A PERSONAL VIEW of WAR via The English Patient
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(on Scribd.com), for a political studies course.APR 97. . . the bombs were dropped in Japan, so it feels like the end ofthe world. From now on I believe the personal will forever be at warwith the public. If we can rationalize this we can rationalize anything(292).I believe this quotation from The English Patient to be the key to the moraldoctrine of thoughtful, self-authority within Michael Ondaatje’s Novel. Thisdoctrine is revealed by a powerful and personal ‘moment’ brought about by animportant event in one way or another for all of the characters within thisnarrative. This ‘moment’ is the point at which we become aware of this ability wehave to rationalize anything. Kip’s ‘moment’ begins when he learns of the bombingof Japan:American, French, I don’t care. When you start bombing the brownraces of the world, you’re an Englishman (287).And Hana’s moment occurs while she sweats and toils over the bodies of thewounded:I know death now, David, I know all the smells, I know how to divertthem from agony. When to give the quick jolt of morphine in a majorvein. The saline solution. To make them empty their bowels beforethey die. Every damn general should have had my job. Every damngeneral. It should have been a prerequisite for any river crossing. Icould never believe in all those services they gave for the dead. Theirvulgar rhetoric. How dare they! How dare they talk like that about ahuman being dying (84).
 
Almsay’s ‘moment’ no doubt came long before the English denied him a jeep torescue his love. He had learned to love the desert and its ability to wipe away thelines of nations. Clearly Madox had been transformed by his ‘moment’ when he shothimself through the heart during a pro-war mass in his community church.Caravaggio clearly has passed through this experience as well and always sees hislife-circumstance through this ‘moment’, an experience that is like a tinted lens, aswe can see from what he says to Hana and Kip:“Why are you not smarter? It’s only the rich who can’t afford to besmart. They’re compromised. They got locked years ago intoprivilege. They have to protect their belongings. No one is meanerthan the rich. Trust me. But they have to follow the rules of theirshitty civilised world. They declare war, they have honour, and theycan’t leave. But you two. We three. We’re free (123).The English Patient is devoid of moralizing about nations. Rather, it focusesupon the moral quandary of war in general. It has an interestingly unique view onWorld War II, with not a single reference to the Nazis or war-crimes. Unlikeother novels this one is not concerned with the modern preoccupation ofrecollecting history by cursing the loser and acclaiming the winner, it is notconcerned with denouncing the Germans nor is it wrapped up in rationalizing the
 
bombing of Japan. This is indeed a description of history to which we are notaccustomed, through the eyes of individual experiences not the experiences ofcountries, the events are not staged by armies and generals but by people whoselives are irrevocably altered.This field of moral narrative is a burgeoning young field, but its roots goback many centuries. It is a fairly recent phenomena indicative of the modern agein which moral doctrines are described and delimited in only abstract notions andconcepts. Ondaatje’s novel is a hearkening back to older times when morality wassomething contained within a legend or a myth, not dry abstract universal concepts,meant to justly govern the whole gamut of human interactions. Kant is one suchmoral philosopher. His maxims are meant to be universal. Many traditionalinterpretations of his moral doctrine show that his system is incapable of dealingwith simple dilemmas. For example, Kant’s system is usually interpreted ascontaining maxims prohibiting lying. Thus, the Dutch citizen harbouring a Jewishfamily in her attic would be required to tell the truth if asked, “are there any Jewsin your house”. The consequence of adhering to Kant’s system would be to condemnthe Jewish family to death, naturally this runs counter intuitive to most of us, butit is an interesting example of the way universal principles can play havoc on our‘sense’ of justice.

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