Anti-Fire Stories

Let us perform a thought-experiment in literary criticism.

Suppose you read a book or saw a film about a firefighting brigade.  Let us say there are five main characters, all firemen, who are wakened one night by alarm bells. Donning their gear and sliding down their brass poles to their firetruck, they race, sirens wailing and running red-lights, to the scene of a house ablaze. Red tongues of fire lick at the dark sky, and black plumes and smoke rise up like malignant genii.

In this story, the first fireman is accidentally killed by falling down the brass fire-pole, and the second is flung from the speeding firetruck when it takes a corner too sharply; the third dies when a blast from the hose knocks him from a tall ladder into the coal cellar where all the coal is burning; the fourth is overcome by smoke inhalation because he did not fasten his breathing gear properly; and the fifth is racing up the burning staircase when he sees a wee little butterfly trapped in the stairwell. The butterfly reminds him of his childhood. As he reaches for it, the stairs collapse under him, while the firehose, somehow contrives to loop itself around his neck and the chandelier, breaks his neck, and the flood of water to the hose makes his corpse spin around the chandelier like a grotesque puppet.

Now imagine furthermore, that, in this story, there is no mention (except in ironic mockery) of the people trapped in the burning house the firemen are there to rescue, no mention (except in ironic mockery) of any previous time the fire brigade had saved lives or put out fires, no mention (except in ironic mockery)  by any character of the possibility of the fire spreading.

In other words, imagine a story about a fire brigade where the purpose of manning a fire brigade somehow escapes mention.

In this fireman story, no fire is put out, no people nor property are saved.

Let us further imagine that there is no character development in the story, because any scenes of any of the men overcoming personal character flaws would detract from the main message of the tale. All the men are ciphers.

Nor is there any plot conflict. A plot conflict in a story is caused by the protagonist having a goal he intensely desires touching some important matter, and the antagonist (which can be an other character, or can be a setting, like the cruel wilderness) putting obstacles in the way of the protagonist which he must use his courage and ingenuity to attempt to overcome or avoid. In this particular story, the housefire is not portrayed as the antagonist, because no victory over the housefire is portrayed as being the point of the firefighting effort: those efforts are being portrayed as vain and pointless.

Now imagine moreover that the critics all are deeply impressed by this story, and any story like it, on the grounds that it is an anti-fire story.

It shows the moral height and intellectual deepness of the audience, their clarity of vision, and their profound humanitarian impulses, to say that a fire burning down a house is a bad thing. They wag their heads with ponderous self important nods, agreeing with each other that a fire burning down a house is a bad, bad thing. They nod that sometimes small children, or even little pretty butterflies, are caught in house fires.

In their round robin game of mutual self congratulations, the critics somehow never mention how one puts out a house fire.

Having seen such a tale, and heard the critical reaction, a healthy man’s reaction could be nothing but howling anger or howling laughter. For, in such a case as this hypothetical, it would be crystal clear that the writer was a dishonest propagandist, trying with all his craft and cunning to persuade the young men in the audience not to become firemen.

Perhaps this is not the conscious intent of the writer or the critics, but the lack of intent in a case of self deception is no excuse. Ignorance is no excuse when it is willful ignorance. In this case, it is so painfully, blatantly, notoriously obvious that to eliminate fire brigades is to increase the frequency and danger of housefires, that an act of vast mental dishonesty is required not to see it.

So while it is possible, in theory, that a writer penning and critics praising such an anti-fire story do not let themselves consciously realize they are encouraging fires, as a practical matter that lack of realization is willful. If you cannot see a needle in a haystack, there is no negligence on your part. If you cannot see a needle sticking into the end of your nose, there is.

So the conclusion of the hypothetical is this: if someone told a story just as I described, with firefighters dying pointlessly in a blaze, with no mention of why the fire need be fought, the only sound conclusion to be reached is that the writer, and the critics who praise him, are in favor of fires spreading.

The writers and critics of an Anti-Fire story are not against fire, merely against firefighters. They are on the side of the fire.

Whoever is against an evil being fought, whether he admits it or not, is for the evil.

Now, obviously, in real life, there are no Anti-Fire books or films being written and filmed and assigned in English class to bored students. But there is a class of stories which precisely follows the formula described above, there the action of heroic men is portrayed not merely as unheroic, but pathetic and pointless. Such stories tend to avoid plot and character development, and dwell only on the message.

Does any reader think I am exaggerating? I read JOHNNY GET YOUR GUN, a story told in first person from the point of view of a blind, deaf and dumb quadruple amputee in a veteran’s hospital, which never mentions once any life saved or victory won by the sacrifice involved. ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT has the protagonist die when he reaches into no man’s land to catch a butterfly. The reason why men fight wars, or the thing that happens when no one resists the invader, is never mentioned, or even alluded to.

Here is a list of movies made during the last administration, which pursued a serious war in the Middle East.

  • The Hurt Locker (2009)
  • In the Valley of Elah (2007)
  • Syriana (2005)
  • A Mighty Heart (2007)
  • Lions for Lambs (2007)
  • Green Zone (2010)
  • Stop-Loss (2008)
  • Grace Is Gone (2007)
  • Redacted (2007)
  • Body Of Lies (2008)
  • War Inc. (2008)
  • Munich (2005)
  • Rendition (2007)
  • The Lucky Ones (2008)

For some perspective (and laughter), please note that ultra-low budgeted independent Christian film GOD’S NOT DEAD grossed more than every film listed here.

All these films are anti-war. The filmmakers and the critics who praise them are not discouraging wars, since obviously only army brigades fight wars and stop them, just as fire brigades fight and stop fires. They discourage courage.

It is not war these films attempt to deter: war happens at the behest of the invader, and these propagandists are not discouraging invasion.

It is victory they do not want.

They are not on our side. They are on the side of the fires.