Zen and ‘Hurt Locker’s’ Sgt. James

Worth considering when viewing “The Hurt Locker,” which won Best Picture and Best Director at the Academy Awards last night. There is discussion about this by veterans and soldiers as some aspects of the movie — the uniforms and the informality of the Marines, for example — are not true to the reality on the ground in Iraq. But this is a work of art by director Kathryn Bigelow, not a piece of reportage, and should be seen that way.

And what is enriching about this picture is that it presents Zen Man at war without idealism, without patriotic indulgence, without interpretation, without propaganda, without bullshit. Sgt. James is the internalized warrior at the center of conflict. In Iraq, he is “the man at the center.” Like World War II-era Sgt. Rock of comic-book lore 50 years ago, he is, in Zen terms, the “common stone.” If he is not present in the conflict, the conflict will not be won.

Ordinary men and women ride with him and become brave because he is there driving the Humvee into fire. “I don’t even think about it,” he says. He brings transcendence to the others to do the common duty that must be done, but which most are not naturally equipped to do raised in a normal, happy environment. When I was in the military 40 years ago, I remember encounters with soldiers like Sgt. James. They seemed mostly as common as I was and even less so, and most, like James, were lifers of low rank and status. But when danger approached, they became transformed and we became transformed just by staying in the Jeep and riding to the fire with them.

That Bigelow’s film is winning awards in Hollywood is good karma. It means we have won or are winning the war in Iraq. Because in Zen the truth is always beneath and you can’t superimpose it from the outside. If you win the war, you get Sgt. Rock and Sgt. James. If you lose you get the crippled, drug-addicted, deranged or otherwise broken man (“betrayed by his own country”) in so many novels and movies about Vietnam.

Because war is a young Masai throwing a spear at a lion. The spear either kills the lion, and that determines a positive, fruitful and fertile domesticity for the tribe, or it doesn’t. And this failure or success pervades everything: how we dress, how we behave with our families and friends, the psycho music they pipe into supermarkets and how we will vote in 2010, 2012 and for decades on into the future.


Visit Mr. Quigley's website at http://quigleyblog.blogspot.com.